Trapped in This Body: A Review of Lock In

I saw this book when I was browsing through the “New Releases” shelves of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, and, being a big fan of cyberpunk, it seemed like the sort of book I’d like. I also hadn’t read any John Scalzi books before this (shameful, I know), and while Old Man’s War and some other books he’s written are on my list, Lock In looked more up my alley so it seemed a good place to start.

The story takes place in the near future after the rise of a disease known as Haden’s. The meningitis like sickness will, in a small percentage of victims, alter their brains and cause a condition known as “lock in”. This puts the victim in an immobile state, though he or she is still fully aware of their surroundings. An even smaller percentage of victims can go on to become what are known as “integrators”. While the virus has altered an integrator’s brain pathways, it does not leave him or her locked in. Instead it provides the neural capacity for a Haden to integrate with that person and borrow their body.

Outside of using integrators, Hadens have fostered a whole new industry based around them. The government has created a virtual reality world known as the Agora where Hadens can go to socialize. Additionally, government funding went to developing neural software that allowed both integration between Hadens and integrators but also for Hadens to be able to use robotic bodies known as “threeps”. At the start of the story, the government is about to pull the plug on a lot of its Haden’s funding, which is a point a point of tension throughout.

However, I’d have to say that one of the issues I had with this story was a lack of tension. The primary conflict of the story involves a murder mystery and a cover up conspiracy. The protagonist and narrator, Chris Shane, is a fledgling FBI agent, but he is more famous for being a poster child for Hadens. His father was a famous basketball player (now political player), and Shane contracted Hadens very young, so his early life was heavily documented and publicized to raise awareness about the disease.

Unfortunately, I felt that Shane’s wealth drew a lot of the conflict out of the story. Many situations where government or bureau under-funding might have stood in his way, he manages to quickly avoid the obstacle by throwing money at it. As an example, he goes through several threeps throughout the story, as confrontations with different antagonists leave them damaged. This ends up not being a big deal, as he has the money to continuously replace them, but this could have been an added point of conflict.

Outside of Shane’s wealth, I felt his ability to get along with people also led to a decrease in conflicts. He has a partner, agent Vann, who is something of a maverick, but he gets along with her well. He also ends up moving in with a new set of roommates, all of who are Hadens, and he gets along fine with them as well. He, in fact, ends up working with a couple of them to help solve the case, and they are able to contribute a fair bit of knowledge and expertise to the venture.

Essentially the story boils down to the mystery of the murder and how Shane and Vann are able to capture the killer. I will say that this, combined with the interesting intricacies of the setting, are enough to make this book a very fun and enjoyable read. However, I think it could have been better if there were other subplots that provided more tension or conflict.

I know that Scalzi will soon be releasing a novella called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome but outside of that, I’m not sure if there is any plan to turn Lock In into the start of a series. I think there is still a lot to explore in terms of the world and the characters. As I said, we don’t see any turmoil between Shane and his partner or roommates, which could be something that develops later on. Other parts of the world, or even the virtual world of the Agora, could be more explored as well. On the other hand, I did like where the story itself ended, and I could see this being a standalone novel.

I definitely think that this story is worth a read. The plot is engaging, as are the characters and setting, and it reads very quickly, so even if it doesn’t have the depth I might have liked, it is certainly not something you slog through. I gave the book three stars on Goodreads. I’d say it’s a fun read, but I’ve also read better.

Write About Dragons Video Classes

So I do actually have some book reviews that I will hopefully be getting to soon, but in the meantime I wanted to draw your attention to (of all things) a YouTube channel called Write About Dragons. It is the channel for the website Write About Dragons, and it has a large cache of videos featuring authors like Mette Ivie Harrison, Howard Tayler, and most notably Brandon Sanderson.

If you haven’t checked out this site before, I think it’s a great resource. You’ll have the opportunity to learn some things from very successful authors in the field of Sci-fi and Fantasy, even if you didn’t have the opportunity to take a class from them. I think Sanderson in particular has some really great thoughts and advice, which I guess should be expected given his success.

Anyway, I thought I would share that while I continue to work on writing up some book reviews and other things. I hope you guys enjoy it and maybe find it helpful.

Short Story Sunday: A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

I first encountered “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in college when I was required to read it for a writing class. It’s been a tale that’s stuck with me through the years for its strange, whimsical nature. Outside of that I can appreciate the rather cynical way it looks at some people’s engagement with religion, with crowds being interested in the angel right up until another form of entertainment comes along.

The story isn’t very long, so if you want something that will mix things up between football game viewings, check it out. Hopefully you’ll find it as enjoyably quirky and memorable as I have.

Kory M. Shrum’s Blog Tour Hits SFF punk

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Hello, readers! Today my blog is being usurped by Kory M. Shrum so that she can promote her upcoming novel.

I “met” fellow author Kory on Twitter awhile ago when she was promoting her first novel Dying For a Living. Now she has released the sequel Dying by the Hour. She was looking for bloggers willing to let her speak about her book, and since I enjoy outsourcing work so I don’t have to do it, I reached out to her to offer up my blog for her promotional purposes. She agreed, and today she will be sharing her thoughts on Urban Fantasy as a genre, why she enjoys writing it, and what she thinks its strengths are.

Why Urban Fantasy by Kory M. Shrum

Urban fantasy. It isn’t a genre that everyone recognizes. I know this because when I tell people I write fantasy, they first ask: “Oh, like Game of Thrones?” and then I try to explain that no, actually I don’t write “sword & shield” fantasy–I write urban fantasy.

What the hell is that?

It gets even more complicated when after I describe it: “A fantastical element in an urban setting–think werewolves, vampires, etc.”–

A gleam of recognition in their eyes.

–I have to explain that I’m not writing typical urban fantasy–that I’ve basically taken the zombie myth, stripped it down, thrown in some angels, and went in an entirely new direction.

So if you break all the rules, why do you even write it?

I grew up reading urban fantasy. I loved Laurell K. Hamilton’s earlier Anita Blake vampire hunter books. Nancy A. Collins had Sonja Blue–both of which featured strong female leads who gave any monster a run for its money–while coming to terms with the monster inside them.

I love this genre because I think it is perfect in the limitless possibilities it offers. The complexity of urban living is a fertile playground: cultural clashes, poverty/income inequality, and discrimination. And on this playground, I have all the old monsters–and new ones– at my disposal. I can explore anything–the needs of the beast vs. the needs of the society–the desire to use your teeth rather than your brain–the instinct to survive versus sacrifice.

All together monsters + cities= primed for social commentary. Furthermore, there are the issues of present day as well as the ageless questions–who are we? Why are we here? What’s our purpose? I’m free to speculate where we are going at the same time I’m exploring how we got there.

But best of all, it’s a chance to play in the dark. Writing this kind of fantasy is shining a light into the darkness, knowing there will be eyes gleaming back at you.

But why a series? Why not just a book?

The best stories IMHO are told in a series. A series gives you time and space to explore the larger issues. You can have a battle in one book, but not a war. And it’s the war that changes you–not the battle. It might cost you something. But it won’t rock your world. It won’t have the epicness–of a series, which is why I gravitate toward this type of narrative arc.

So when someone asks why fantasy? Why a series?

I could say anything. Why not? It’s what I grew up reading. It’s a personal preference, my taste. It offers so much freedom, so much possibility. Because I want to understand the war–

But really writers write whatever they do for all kinds of reasons and each reason is profoundly personal–whether they realize it or not.

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You can order Kory’s books on Amazon and check out her site for more information about her and her writing. She currently has a Rafflecopter giveaway going on, so if you want a shot at some neat prizes, including autographed copies of the new book, check it out. She will also be having a virtual release party for the book this coming Tuesday.

I’d like to thank Kory for taking the time to write for my blog, and you should all help me thank her by ordering her new novel (or getting the first one, if you haven’t read that)!

Hullabaloo Causing Quite a…oh the puns…

Time for another crowdfunded project, though this time we’ll be turning to Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter. James Lopez, an animator who has worked for Disney on famous projects like The Lion King and Hercules, has unveiled his own animated project Hullabaloo, a 2D animated film in a steampunk setting. With the success of Pixar and rise of computer animation there has been a dearth of 2D animated features. Lopez hopes to both revitalize interest in 2D animation and finally have an opportunity to create a story of his own rather than a project for a major studio.

Hullabaloo looks like a ton of fun. I’m definitely a fan of steampunk and animated features. It also seems to feature a variety of “strong female characters” which is always a plus. This trio of elements are all things that are underrepresented in pop culture at the moment, which is why I think this project is so exciting. It funded very quickly, which shows that this is they type of thing people want to see, and once again it is crowdfunding that is allowing this to happen.

Despite it already being funded, I think this is still a project worth donating to. The original campaign was essentially to fund a short film. With more funding, Hullabaloo can easily turn into a web series or possibly a full length animated feature. If you’d like to donate or essentially “pre-order” your copy of Hullabaloo, check out their Indiegogo campaign and fork over some cash.

PSA: Sailor Moon Streaming in English Tonight

I mentioned in a post earlier this week that I often actually prefer dubbed film to subtitles (assuming the dubbing is done well). I’d also say this applies more to animated things than live action, since it’s easier to sync the lips as they’re less exact. Anyway, this is mostly beside the point. What I’m trying to get at is that the original Sailor Moon is going to be streaming tonight in English.

The first four episodes of the newly remastered original run will be streaming on Viz Media’s YouTube channel as well as some other streaming outlets. Aside from being remastered, one of these episodes will be making its English debut, as it wasn’t translated in the original run.

For more, feel free to check out the io9 press release. The festivities kick off at 11PM EST.

Happy Friday!

“Never Alone” Will Break Narrative Ground in Video Games

While they began as a simple form of entertainment, video games have become a powerful medium with which to tell a story. Their interactive nature allows for a narrative experience that is unlike anything else. We’ve seen some incredible uses of video games’ narrative style, but it is still a growing field, and its potential hasn’t been fully realized.

In fact, like many other popular mediums, games have a bad reputation for their portrayal of minorities (racial and otherwise) as well as women. The latter is much discussed and criticized, as gaming producers are viewed as overly catering to the tastes of their target demographic: young men in their late teens and early twenties. In pursuing this demographic and trying to follow the proven success of other franchises, the narrative aspects of many games fall flat with cliched stories and/or characters. Protagonists in particular tend to be white heterosexual males of boring origin, which in and of itself isn’t problematic in a single game, but can be when we’re looking at the majority of games out there.

But just because many of the big gaming production companies aren’t necessarily concerned with the potential power of story that could be used in their products, it doesn’t mean that other people haven’t noticed or aren’t trying to take advantage.

Kisima Innitchuna, or Never Alone in English, is going to be the first game to feature a story told from the point of view of an indigenous people. The game’s story is based on a myth of the Alaskan natives called Kanuk Sayuka. In the story (and the game) a young girl named Nuna and her friendly arctic fox companion must travel together to save their village which has been beset by a never ending blizzard.

Project lead Sean Vesce, a game development veteran, worked alongside the Inupiaq people to help make this project happen. He spent a long time taking input and learning about the native culture so that he and his team could bring their stories and their mythology to life in a way that was authentic and not culturally appropriated. Representatives from the Inupiaq community were closely tied to the game as well for this reason. NPR did a piece on the game, if you want to learn a bit more about its development.

Personally I am hugely excited that someone is taking the time to make this sort of game. I’m also impressed at the recognition of video games as a valid narrative format and a powerful way to reach younger generations and spread the important stories, values, and cultural ideas of a people who are often overlooked or stereotyped in more mainstream narratives. Hopefully this game will be successful and pave the way for more games like it in the future. I know I for one will be picking it up.