Writer’s Ramble: Star Trek and (Intellectual) Diversity

(A note: This post will be touching on politics; I do not intend to do so often, and I’d much rather be writing about writing, or SF/F stuff I love, but this is something that needed to be said. Also, this, as it is under my “Writer’s Ramble” header, this was written in a relatively short period of time and is not meant to be some academic-level analysis–to approach it as such would be disingenuous. These are my personal thoughts and opinions, based on what I have seen, read, and experienced.)

I know I’m a bit late for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, but my schedule has only been getting busier, and besides, I only got the idea to write this post on after the actual anniversary date had passed. But seeing as I was practically raised on Star Trek (my parents remain original series purists, and love the new films), watching all of the The Original Series, just about all of Deep Space Nine, much of the other series, and all of the original cast films plus the reboots.

Amid the deluge of shares, retweets, and original social media posts, one featuring a quote by Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek, in case you’ve been living in space for the last 50 years). It reads:

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”

Now, I found this very interesting, seeing as so many Star Trek anniversary posts, articles, etc., very heavily focused on praising “Star Trek’s legacy of diversity,” while also hoping (threatening?) that the new show coming next year should continue that. Now, my Master’s degree, writer’s brain immediately had a question: What about the diversity of ideas? Delighting in different ideas is the first “diversity” mentioned in the very quote people keep using as a way to discuss racial and gender diversity in Star Trek–why, then, are all those on the left (colloquially known as SJWs online) ignoring that?

I think I know why, because embracing the concept of diversity of ideas, or diversity of thought, means that they would have to tolerate those who disagree with them rather than raising the internet mobs to try and ruin the lives of people deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobica, or whatever other “ists” or “phobias” that’re out there that I haven’t had the displeasure of encountering yet.

Now, this post will be divided into two sections; the first will be my demonstrating that you cannot champion Star Trek’s diversity of race, sex, etc., while ignoring a form of diversity that, frankly, is far more important to a healthy society, world, and eventually, perhaps even a galaxy. Second, I will touch briefly on some events where this intolerance of different opinions particularly rankled me.

Immediately, I thought of several Star Trek instances where the diversity of ideas is championed, its importance made clear. The first is the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, which, as the name implies, celebrates all forms of diversity. To quote Roddenberry once again, in describing the philosophy:

“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, progress — all result from the union of the unlike. Concord, as much as discord, requires the presence of at least two different notes. The brotherhood of man is an ideal based on learning to delight in our essential differences, as well as learning to recognize our similarities. The circle and triangle combine to produce the gemstone in the center as the union of words and music creates song, or the union of marriage creates children.

The key to this is a union of the unlike, as the quote says. and there is no argument to be made that this doesn’t include different ideas. Going deeper, the Vulcan emphasis on logic grows from this, as, logically, you must consider all ideas, even contradictory, distasteful ones. Then you analyze them, and come to a decision regarding what makes sense. You cannot do this when you do not consider dissenting opinions, and label them as awful, hateful people, then try and ruin them.

Star Trek features multiple examples of the importance of tolerating those with different opinions or viewpoints, as well as at least one example of the danger of not tolerating dissent. One that comes to mind is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of the main themes of the movie was Kirk overcoming his (justified) hatred of Klingons and save an attempt at peace. We are well aware that Klingon culture was not about to change, and Kirk would never come to agree with them on many issues. But he is, by the end, able to champion peace despite it. Had Kirk been an SJW (I know, it’s impossible to imagine, but let’s go with it), he’d have gone on calling Klingons “child-killers,” “warmongers,” and openly harassed anyone supporting the peace agreement.

Another example comes in the classic episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.” At the end of the episode, when Kirk and crew meet the real Balok, Balok tells them that he misses, company, conversation, and expresses a desire even to spend time with someone of another species, so that information and cultures can be exchanged. (I don’t think Balok would’ve given even a moment’s though to the ridiculous notion of cultural appropriation. Growth and development comes from taking in new ideas, merging them with previously held ones, or weighing them against those. That is how practically every society on Earth developed, it’s how we grow. You forbid people from getting inspiration from other cultures, you cause stagnation, and eventually decay.

Something else that is often brought up when discussing Star Trek’s “diversity” the United Federation of Planets being a perfect, socialist society where everyone agrees. Perfect diverse society? No, not really. Even setting aside many individual instances in which issues with the Federation are addressed (and it can even be argued that the drives by many toward such homogeneity led to a level of stagnation that left it unprepared for the Dominion War) we have the amazing episode “Journey to Babel,” where we, for the first time, I believe, get to see some of the the disparate Federation races interacting with each other. There, we quickly see the tensions between the Vulcans and the Tellarites, and this idea of the Federation is diverse racially but engages in a singular groupthink is debunked. In fact, it is made of different species who think differently. This also fits with Roddenberry’s quote about differences in ideas–you can’t get much more different than alien species.

Going to Deep Space Nine, we have the character of Garak, who, we learn, has a very shady history and even during the series itself has a moral code that is often at odds with those of the Federation crew of the station. They know this. They at times fight over these differing values. See the episode In The Pale Moonlight. Putting a long story short, the Federation was losing the Dominion War, and Captain Sisko worked with Garak to try and trick the Romulans into joining the war. The plan fails. Then, Garak, who values pragmatism over Federation ethics, has the Romulan official’s shuttle blown up, which will lead to them entering the war, and help the Federation. When Sisko discovers what happens, he confronts Garak, assaults him even. But he listens to Garak’s explanation and justification of his actions. Garak states upfront that the reason Sisko came to him for help was because he knew that Garak could do things he was not willing to do, and that the two people he killed (and Sisko’s personal ethics) were the price to be paid for likely saving their entire quadrant of the galaxy. What does Sisko do afterward in his personal log entry (which he later deleted) he states, “I lied, I cheated, I bribed a man to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all, is that I think I can live with it, and if I had to do it all over again, I would.” He had sacrificed his morals for his goal, and it was worth it.

This is the statement of a man who has his own strong beliefs and ethics, one who disagrees strongly with his erstwhile friend’s views and actions–to the point where he attacked him physically–but admits that there is a point to those other views, and that there is value to them. He doesn’t double down and completely ruin Garak for this, and continues to work with him throughout the war, which demonstrates that while he disagreed, he can tolerate diverging viewpoints. This is diversity of ideas. Diversity of ideas is this. You don’t try and shut down opposing views, or ruin the lives of people who say things (which they may or may not believe–you often can’t tell from a tweet) that you disagree with, or even find reprehensible. What is the end result of a society that doesn’t tolerate different ideas, you may ask? Well, Star Trek has a prime example.

Enter the Borg, arguably the most powerful and evil adversary in the Star Trek universe. Anyone familiar with Star Trek can repeat their mantra:

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

To me, that seems eerily similar to people who respond to differing views by trying to silence the people holding those views, or those who join a group like a fandom or a profession and then try and change it to suit their own agenda, thus assimilating it.  Perhaps the greatest thing to come of Western civilization, is the concept of freedom of thought. That is the truly terrifying aspect of the Borg. That being so, why do people celebrate the quashing of it, the enforcing of one particular way of thought? We have seen the effects of the monopolization of ideological views in colleges, and this was part of what fueled the #Gamergate controversy. We have seen this in the Hugo Awards, with the reaction to the Sad and Rabid Puppy movements (mostly the Sads, to be honest, as the Rapid Puppies had a different goal). Larry Correia, with the Sad Puppies, set out to prove that the Hugo Awards were, truly, an award given to the works liked by a small group of WorldCon fans, honoring works and creators that were part of their political clique, rather than the popular fan award it was presented as, when his mere involvement in the Hugo Awards process led to despicable and fallacious attacks on not just him, but on the people nominated by the Sad Puppies. They were not a part of the collective, and thus had to be assimilated or destroyed. More recently, we have the case of Wizards of the Coast, the company that created Magic: The Gathering, a game which I loved and have played for 16 years, essentially censuring one of the largest MTG YouTube channels, MTGHeadquarters, due to several apparently objectionable things he tweeted. In it, one of Wizards’ main PR people wrote that they had no desire for any interaction with him, and didn’t see his channel, and thus 125,000 followers, as part of Wizards’ “core audience.” Meanwhile, a person Wizards is using as a publicity figure for the game is Chris Kluwe, who, according to a number of sources more concrete than tweets, has done actual reprehensible things. The difference to Wizards is apparently the two individuals’ politics. This is a business attacking a prominent source of publicity for one of their flagship products, because they don’t like somethings he said. This is the Borg mindset, when a species they encounter resists. Had MTGHeadquarters not “gotten out of line,” or, rather, “asserted his distinctiveness,” then the Borg mindset would have assimilated him into itself. He did not, and thus they attack, along with others sharing that mindset. These are not the only examples of such things, but if I were to try and list them all then this would become an academic essay, but now that I’ve completed my Masters Degree I’m done with that, and much prefer informal “rambles” like this.

This controversy, all of these controversies, should not be happening–they should not be political issues. They are simple matters of free expression, the right of people say what they want, to hold ideas that some other find distasteful, even abhorrent. That doesn’t matter. You do not try and ruin their lives because of a few stupid, ultimately meaningless tweets, you don’t attack entire (diverse) groups of people because they are associated with people you deem bad, whether “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “islamophobic,” etc. This happened to me personally, after I happened to tweet something completely mundane, not political in the slightest, at a popular SF/F author who I had been following for quite some time. Apparently, he looked at my timeline, or my follows, saw that I had a tangential association with someone he deemed “bad,” and thus immediately blocked me, after attacking me, and then from behind the block referred to be as, I quote, a “shitbird” (at least he had the slight courtesy not to use my twitter handle in that last tweet, so I didn’t get waves of drones attacking me because an order had come through the collective.) I was then tweeted at once and then blocked by someone who agreed with this popular author. I am also apparently blocked by multiple people with whom I have never interacted at all.  I should add that at that time, I had maybe made a handful of tweets of a political nature, because I was worried about the reaction. I have since decided that I don’t want to self censor, didn’t want, to follow the metaphor, pretend to be a background drone any more.

So what about my politics, you may wonder? They don’t matter here; this issue supersedes arbitrary labels of republican/democrat, liberal/conservative, etc, as focusing on individual politics will distract from the real issue at hand. Anyone who values freedom of expression should be outraged at how so many people act, from authors to private companies to presidential candidates, who seek to ruin people that deviate from the chosen path of their collective ideology. I would say the same thing should liberals be the ones attacked in this manner. But they’re not, not in the way those on the political right are. What attacks come from the right now are a reaction to years of this from the left, as many who align with the new “alt-right” will not hesitate to use what they consider as the enemy’s tactics in what they perceive as a culture war.

The Borg was Star Trek’s warning about the dangers of an intolerance of divergent ideas, more evil and terrifying then even villains like the Cardassians and the Dominion, who persecuted other species. Because the Borg cannot be reasoned with, and will not stop their pursuit of those that are not part of the collective, their desire to make all part of itself, by force. This is the message we should take from this momentous Star Trek anniversary. Yes, Roddenberry championed diversity, diversity of race, gender–and of course different people should be treated fairly, not discriminated against–but also he believed in the diversity of ideas. You cannot claim to champion one type of diversity and conveniently ignore the one that doesn’t advance your political agenda, despite its importance. Again, diversity of ideas, more than anything else, is what leads to growth and advancement in society.

I realize that some may not like what I have said here, but if that’s the case, then you’ll have a great opportunity to prove that you don’t mind other people having different opinions. Frankly, I’m tired of completely staying out of it, and I intend to voice my opinions here when key issues arise that either involve the SF/F world, or me personally.

Now, how about we set politics aside and celebrate one of the most important sci-fi franchises ever created? I know I’d much rather do that, and, in fact, at this very moment, I am watching the Deep Space Nine episode “Duet,” one of the best Star Trek episodes I have ever seen, one which does not hesitate to tackle very tough issues (though not issues directly related to this post–it’s just damn good Star Trek). I highly encourage you to do the same. And keep on writing, of course. (I promise my next post will not be as heavy and charged as this one–but this was something that needed to be said.)

Writer’s Ramble: Some Thoughts on the Dragon Awards, and SF/F Publishing Awards in General

(Trying out putting super-titles before article titles so I can better categorize my posts here in the future once I reorganize this site. This post, and posts that’ll have the Writer’s Ramble super-title will be largely written in one sitting, with me just saying my opinions, as opposed to future articles that’ll feature more research and hard analysis. Hope this makes sense!)

So, a couple days ago the first ever Dragon Awards were given out, as one might expect, at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia. Interestingly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Dragon Awards have not received a great deal of press attention, especially when compared to the Hugo Awards, which were given out a few weeks ago. But again, this in unsurprising, as the lead-up to the Hugo Awards was full of controversy, while no one seemed to take issue with the new Dragon Award, at least not until the winners were announced, but even so, things have been fairly calm an level headed.

Now why is that? Well, in my opinion, it really has to do with the nature of the two awards, and chiefly, the primary difference between the two: voter eligibility and demographics. In the case of the Hugos (as well as the less well known World Fantasy Award), one may only nominate vote if they purchase a supporting or attending membership, (which costs about $40 or $50), while Dragon Award nominations and final voting was open to everyone. Yet another major “mainstream” SF/F publishing award, the Nebula award, is selected member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

I do not intend to discuss here the who controversy surrounding the Hugos, with the Sad and Rabid puppies vs the CHORFs, as they term the core Worldcon fanbase. Both sides have covered that plenty well, plus I was completely a neutral observer until this year, when I finally ponied up the money to vote. And no, I’m not going to discuss my own voting choices here.

What I wish to do is talk about why the Dragon Awards so excited many fans and even authors, and to do that we must delve into the purpose of awards like the Hugos and the Dragons, or rather, what their purpose should be. These thoughts on awards for creative pursuits can be extrapolated to other awards and mediums, but for the purposes of this I will focus exclusively on those related to science fiction and fantasy publishing. Everything I say is strictly my own opinion, based on what I have seen and read; this is not meant to be some complex, in-depth analysis, just one writer’s thoughts.

Who are awards for? Are they for the fans, who enjoy seeing their favorite works get officially recognized? Are they for the authors, to convey to them a sense of appreciate for their hard work as well as a way to (theoretically) boost sales? Are they for some greater “fandom”?

In my opinion, the awards are for both the fans and the authors. While the authors may get some increased sales or some more doors opened by nominations for awards or awards won, nothing seems to point to any significant measurable benefit for the authors. Conversely, it is more likely that an author being nominated for or winning an award indicates a certain level of success.

Which brings me to my next point, the fact that awards are also for the fans. Fans love seeing their favorite works or authors recognized in an official fashion, and more so when they can participate. Just see the fan excitement over the Dragon Awards.

Of course, the argument can be made that an award like the Dragons, which is open to all, free of charge, is essentially a popularity contest, not a referendum on the quality and significance of a work. But then who is to say that Hugo Award voters, who do pay a fee, are at all qualified to make objective judgments on quality? All we can say for certain about Hugo voters is that they are willing and able to pay at least the supporting membership fee, if not the full fee to attend WorldCon.

An easy point of comparison can be made between these SF/F awards and what is arguably the most famous award, the Academy Award. However, as the Hugos, which are often compared directly to the Oscars, are technically open to anyone willing to pay, it is hard to make a direct comparison. A better one would be to compare the Nebula Awards, which are voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as the Oscars, conversely, are voted on by members of the Academy. Every year around Oscar season there is talk about “snubbed” movies, actors or directors, and it is understood that a fairly small group of industry people vote based on their tastes which, as we have seen, often do not align with what the most popular movies are, often with good reason. But at the same time, we see films that hardly anyone saw get major awards while other films that were hugely popular and also well reviewed at most secure a nomination, because the small group of Academy members likes what they like. Similarly with the Nebluas, and with the Hugos to an extent (even after the advent of the Sad Puppies, which led to a significant increase in Hugo voters, the number is still pretty small.) While there are no hard stats on the Dragon Awards just yet, it stands to reason that the number of participants in the voting process was significantly higher, between the enthusiastic promotion of many authors as well as the simple fact that DragonCon is a massive convention, and doubtless notified attendees about the awards. It is far more likely that this award was for the fans, as opposed to the WorldCon “fandom”. I know that I, personally, felt like the Dragons better represented quality sf/f works.

In essence, this debate is what the Sad Puppies wished to bring to light, that the prestigious Hugo Award was given based on the tastes of a small number of people who do not represent SF/F fans as a whole. do not take this to mean that I don’t think there is a place for genre “elites” to have an award of their own to give out, but such as award, as the Hugos still seem to be, should not be passed off as a true “fan award.” That role would seem to be filled by the Dragons, at least for now.

So in closing, while I think there is most certainly space for awards where the winners are decided by a select few, ultimately those awards only reflect that small group’s tastes, not fan appeal, and do far less to actually help the author increase their recognition and earnings. An award open to all, while in some respects a popularity contest, at least represents a much more broad range of people, and shows authors just how much their fans love their work. And while only time will tell whether the Dragon Awards have any significant on sales, but I am willing to state that I believe that in the future the Dragons will supplant the Hugos as the premier sci-fi and fantasy publishing awards, and I think the community will be better off that way.

Congratulations again to all of the nominees and winners of the inaugural Dragon Awards, and I look forward to voting in them again next years!

And until next time, continue reading, writing, and supporting your favorite books and authors!

Stepping Off Into a Dream: Rebranding, and a New Direction

I am writing this—at least part of this—while flying 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean (and possibly part while over Europe.) As today is the start of a new chapter of my life, with me moving to Israel, and I recently chose to pursue a different route to a career as a writer, I felt that this would be the time for a new beginning for this website/blog as well.

While all three of these major changes deserve separate attention and their own posts—multiple posts—for now I am going to focus on the most noticeable and singularly significant change, my big cross-world move.

But first, a brief word (words, really) about my new direction regarding publishing and this website. In brief, I have come to the decision, after doing research, gauging the state of the sci-fi/fantasy publishing world, and talking with some other authors, that self publishing is a more viable direction for me to take in my pursuit of being able to support myself now and a family in the future solely through my writing. I will go more into depth about precisely what led me to this decision in future posts, but for now I just did not want to say “I’m changing direction” and not give any details.

Second brief thing, regarding this website. I know I’ve been very bad at posting regularly, though my average site traffic seems to be up regardless (go figure), which is why I am hoping (the key word) to start being much more regular. No guarantees yet, though within the next few weeks I’ll know how my time will break down and I’ll be able to make a commitment to a reasonable course. As far as what I will be posting, some will be the same: A still have one more Mythica film to review for now, and I still plan to do the occasional book review, though only on occasion, and only those books that I particularly want to discuss or I have a compelling reason to review. Beyond that, however, I hope to make this a more personal space, where I’ll talk about my publishing journey, writing (both technical aspects and the more philosophical ones), and I may also expand that to discussing publishing world events as well as other geeky things that I enjoy that are not directly publishing related. And who knows, maybe I’ll add something else to that—though I plan to try and avoid politics, at least whenever possible, as I believe that one’s politics should not matter when discussing writing or other media, unless the politics are an integral part of the work. Also expect this site’s design to change somewhat, become…more interesting to look at and navigate. Basically, instead of this just being a place where I post things, it’ll become a place to get insight into what makes me tick, mostly from a writing perspective.

But for now, to the main topic.

Stepping into a dream, the title of this post, is spiritually what I did (now a week ago, though I did truly begin writing this while on the plane) by moving from the comfortable, familiar Queens, New York, to the State of Israel. This is by no means simply my dream (and to be honest, I feel a bit silly referring to it as such sometimes, as I’m not the type of person to stare wistfully off into the distance, dreaming about something like this, nor am I the type of person who gets extremely excited easily). I arrived on a flight with 233 other people making a similar move as me, transplanting themselves from North America to the one and only Jewish state in the world. And going even further, this has been the dream of millions of Jews over the last 2,000 or so years, ever since nearly all of us were exiled from our homeland—yes, our homeland, and no one else’s. (I also embarked on this trip on my Hebrew birthday, so even a “rebirth” metaphor is not out of the question) In a sense this is almost an obligation for me in addition to being something I have desired, for both religious and psychological reasons. And while it’s far easier to make the move now that it ever has been in history, it is still something that is not without challenges. Let’s list some.

The most obvious is that I have left the close-knit community in which I have lived for my entire life so far, leaving behind my lifelong shul (synagogue), my few close friends, and, of course, all of my family. I am not a person who likes change, as evidenced by my having lived in the same house my whole life, and never being too inclined to do any major traveling or anything like that. And even though communication is relatively easy, between international phone calling, whatsapp, email, and all of the online communication tools, it will be very different not being in the same place as them (and our 3 cats). It was quite fitting, actually, that one of the films I watched on the flight was Zootopia (also known as Zootropolis), which features scenes of the main character leaving her place or origin and family as she pursued a dream. It’s a Jewish concept that there are no true coincidences, only things that appear as such, and this may be another example of that.

Next, I am also giving up on a number of comforts and freedoms. In New York City, pretty much anything I wanted to do was a stone’s throw away, be that seeing a movie, taking Krav Maga lessons, Ninja Warrior classes, friends with whom to play Magic: The Gathering regularly, as well as any type of kosher food I desired. True, in Israel I can also watch movies, find food I like, and find a Krav Maga school, the accessibility of all of that will vary depending on where I end up living, and some of those things may well prove even harder to find an accessible replacement for (to the point where I’m actually toying with the idea of opening a parkour/ninja warrior gym as a day job just so I’d have a place to train at.) But even small things you don’t always think about, like specific brands of food that we grow very accustomed to are hard or impossible to find here.

The freedoms I give up are possibly even more stark. While Israel is a proudly democratic country, from a purely organization and legal standpoint it lags far behind the United States in many areas, in part because of Israel’s security situation, and in part because of its governmental style. For one, there is no Second Amendment equivalent like there is in the US. Almost everyone you see carrying a gun around is an active duty soldier on leave. The gun laws are as strict, possibly more so, then even in NYC, and beyond that, recreational shooting ranges are practically nonexistent here, at least in the form that I’m used to. This may not be a big deal for some, but as someone who both enjoys recreational shooting and believes that people should have the right to own them, this is a sacrifice for me. This is in a way symptomatic of the larger problem with Israel’s system, which is the state being so much the center and holding too much authority and imposing many regulations which, frankly, go well overboard—a holdover from the state’s much more socialist beginnings.

So why did I move here, then? Well, if I were to boil it down to one central reason, it comes back to that dream. This is the homeland of my people, and we belong here, not in New York, Los Angeles, London, or anywhere else. In addition to the religious reason, there is of course ideology. I have always been a very strong supporter of Israel, vocal at times about events taking place there, and generally very up to date on what’s happening. So it was about time I put my body where my mind was, as it were. And there is also the fact that I want to volunteer in the army here, and I have nearly reached the age where I’d be too old to do so. And, of course, there is much to love about this country, too many things to list here. But all that really matters is that this is where I belong, where, in my opinion, all Jews belong.

There is another old saying, Meshane Makom Meshane Mazal (Change Your Place, Change Your Luck [with luck being interchangeable in this case with destiny or fortune]), one which I haven’t though much about in my life, as I’ve always been in the same place. Now, however, as I conspicuously change my place as well as change the direction I will take toward realizing my career aspirations, it seems quite fitting. As I stepped off that airplane in Ben-Gurion Airport I realized one dream. Is it unreasonable to hope that in stepping in a new direction regarding publishing, I will realize my career dreams as well?  Only time will tell, of course, and there will be plenty of work involved, both in regard to getting my career to where I want it and building a place for myself in Israel, but that’s the beauty of a new beginning: There’s the whole rest of the story ahead of you.

So, as I finally complete this post, written at this point over the span on nine days, I will get back to both working on my next book, which is coming along quite nicely, and to preparing to travel in two days to where I’ll be staying for the next five months. It will certainly be fascinating, hopefully enjoyable journey, and I hope you will accompany me along it as I endeavor to ensure that I arrive at the goals I have plotted out for myself.

Until next time, which I really hope will not be long from now, keep reading, keep writing, and keep your eye on this website as it too changes–and as (hopefully) regular new content arrives.

Movie Review: Mythica: The Necromancer

Yes, I am (finally) back! It’s been far, far too long since I’ve posted anything up here, but I at least have some good reasons, namely completing my 45,000 word Master’s Thesis, as well as working to get things in order for an intercontinental move coming up in August–more on that at a later date. I’ve also completed my third book, and have gotten it all through my small writing group, so it is now in the revision process while my second completed book is done enough that I’ve felt comfortable querying it, though I’m also looking into other publishing avenues at this stage. But I’ll post about that stuff another time; I need to stop procrastinating and get to reason you’re probably reading this post, my thoughts on Mythica: The Necromancer, the third film in Arrowstorm Entertainment‘s independent Mythica film series. Full disclosure before beginning, I did back this film’s Kickstarter campaign, as well as the campaigns for every film in the series, of which the fifth and final campaign is nearly over with as I write this.

As with my review of the second movie in the series, Mythica: The Darkspore, I will not waste time here with background information. For more information on the Mythica series and on Arrowstorm Entertainment itself, check out my reviews of the previous two films in the series: Mythica 1, Mythica 2.

Now, to Mythica: The Necromancer itself. This is easily the best film in the series thus far, and might even be the best including Mythica 4, which I have watched by this point. (Yes, I realize this is a delayed review.) This film takes place sometime after the second one, and we start off seeing that our group of heroes, the mage Marek (Melanie Stone), warrior Thane (Adam Johnson), rogue Dagen (Jake Stormoen), and priestess Teela (Nicola Posener) have been seeing some success in their adventuring, as we see them early on celebrating in the local tavern and buying drinks for everyone. Marek, also has progressed in her magical ability, training regularly with her mentor Gojun Pye (Kevin Sorbo). But all is not sunshine and gold. The evil necromancer Szorlok (Matthew Mercer) is still after the remaining pieces of the Darkspore, and early on nearly succeeds in killing Gojun Pye. Additionally, an old enemy of Marek and friends, Peregus Mallister (Robert Jayne) has not gotten over his humiliation back in the first film, and kidnaps Thane, using his now powerful position to compel Marek and the others to perform a mission for him, which forces Marek to not remain safe nearby, as Gojun had recommended–with her friend’s life on the line, Marek has no choice. Accompanying them is one of Mallister’s enforcers, Betylla (Philip Brodie),  who, to me, was the standout character of the film. He is intimidating, cool, and clearly not a “good” character, but he cannot truly be called a villain either, as we find out later. His presence as a tough, experience, but still flawed, adventurer was welcome among the younger (excepting Dagen’s likely older age as a half elf) and more idealistic heroes. Things, of course, do not play out as simply as everyone would like, and before long our heroes find themselves confronting Szorlok again.

Without repeating too much I’ve written in the previous reviews, the acting, particularly that of the main cast was excellent, and they played off each other well, as in the past. In particular, Marek and Teela get some good scenes together, and their differing struggles as well as their conflicts are very well portrayed. Dagen has what to work with as well, particularly near the end of the film, and is helpful in lightening the mood of an otherwise quite dark film. Thane has not too much to do this time around, and I actually wonder if his limited screen time was a result of actor Adam Johnson not having time to shoot more scenes. If that was the case, then the film did well to work around that obstacle. Szorlok is a very menacing figure, and is portrayed with proper gravitas, though his dialogue does feel a bit melodramatic at times. The stand out character, however, was Philip Brodie’s Betylla. He owned all the scenes he was in (and not just because of his great theme music.) I touched a bit on the character already, but I’ll commend Brodie for the character’s demeanor and expressions, which really made him feel alive, and interesting, the only truly morally gray character thus far in a series full of clear heroes and clear villains. Of course, I’d be remiss if I forgot about Kevin Sorbo; he gets more time in this film than in its predecessors (his screen-time seems to increase slightly with every movie in the series). I don’t have too much to say; I really liked his extended scene training with Marek, as we finally got to really see him as a teacher in addition to a mentor and guide.

As before, the visual effects are fine, bearing in mind the budgetary limitations, and it’s nice seeing practical effects and real extras as bad guy henchmen. Also the direction, particularly of the scene on the battlefield, was excellent, with that scene in particular having a lot of moving parts without a huge amount of cuts.

While the main plot of the film, until near the end, is technically what a game would likely label a side-quest, I really enjoyed the darker tone both that plot and the conflict with Szorlok and his forces at the end. While there have been deaths in this series before, it still felt fairly lighthearted, and you were reasonably certain that the main cast was going to emerge unscathed. Without spoiling anything, this film went to a much darker place, as befits the middle of the series, which served to impart on viewers that there is indeed a serious threat to the world that our heroes must face, and that victory is not assured.

That’s it for now, and I hope to get a review of the next film in the series out in the near future. These films are definitely worth checking out, bearing in mind that they are fairly low budget, and restricted by that. But the creators clearly love the fantasy genre, and put good effort into this series. And, of course, the only way to ensure even higher quality independent fantasy films in the future is to support films like this enough that such advancements can be afforded. As of this writing, the Kickstarter for the final film in the series is still underway, but ending very soon, so if you want to get in on it, don’t delay!

My review of the next film should follow soon, and then I hope to finally get back to posting here regularly again. For real this time, and with posts beyond book and movie reviews. Until then, keep on reading and writing, and feel free to follow me on Twitter @YakovMerkin , where I more regularly post about various things, including writing and other genre stuff.


My Comic-Con Experience–New York Comic-Con 2015

So, it’s been a while again. I had hoped to be more regular with posts here, but between the Jewish holiday season, finishing my third book (and revising another), as well as finally starting work on my graduate thesis, time has been tight.  I do have several planned posts lined up (a couple of book reviews, movie reviews, and another writing process related post or two), but seeing as this place is a bit starved for content, I should get something shorter (and simpler) up when the chance arose.

As such, I’m here today to talk about my experience attending New York Comic Con for the first time this year, on the Thursday of the con. In classic me fashion, I had hoped to get this up much sooner than I am in the end, but life is busy, and I am not the best at organizing my time.

First, a little background. As I said above, this was my first time attending the Comic-Con (yes, San Diego is bigger, but NYCC is among this biggest, so it deserves recognition), and it is by far the largest convention I’ve ever gone to. Up to this point, I’ve only ever been to one of the smaller Wizard World comic cons, World Fantasy Convention, and, of course, JordanCon. so it was like going straight into the deep end of the pool after having never gone out past where I could still stand.

It was definitely a little overwhelming, at least at first. None of the other conventions I’ve been to had anywhere this many people, nor filled such a huge space. I’ve lived in New York City my entire life (yes, I know, I fail for not having gone to NYCC before, but during high school I had zero free time, and it always fell smack in the middle of midterm season in college) and I had never been to the Javits Center. Holy crap is that place huge. I could walk for over twenty minutes non-stop and still be in the same room and have not seen everything. And that’s not even considering walking between areas for things like panels. I must’ve walked a good few miles today; at least it feels that way. The crowds also took some getting used to; navigating around, especially through the show floor, was kind of like driving in Manhattan. So much traffic, and so much to potentially get distracted by, it was so busy. To describe the show floor, all I need to say is that every stream of nerd was very well represented. From sci-fi/fantasy book publishers, to comic book companies, to gaming companies, to general nerdy merchandise retailers, to costuming supply shops, it’s a veritable marketplace, and it’s oh so easy to stay there all day and spend all your money. So unless you have a lot of spare cash, don’t linger too long–it’s less painful. On the other hand, many of the exhibitors do have some freebies to give away, as well as larger giveaways that take place through the day. I myself took part in one, but that’s a story I’ll tell as I go through my day.

The other main area worth describing in some detail is the Artist Alley, though it should more accurately be called Artist Market, as it’s also freaking huge. There had to have been well over a hundred artists displaying work there, and to check out each stand took about a half an hour of walking. Have I emphasized enough just how big this thing is?

That said and done, on to my day there. I arrived about when I’d hoped to, and got a chance to see the new 7 train station that lets out right near the Javits center–it looked almost out of place, as a clean subway station.

Finding the convention was extremely easy; even if there hadn’t been Comic Con employees with arrow signs pointing the way, all I had to do was follow the other people obviously going to the same place. As I already described, Comic Con was almost overwhelmingly big and crowded, and just so spread out that to get anywhere requires at least a few minutes of walking.

As I had time till the first panel I wanted to attend, I spent some time walking around the enormous show floor. Despite spending a decent amount of time there during the day, I doubt I saw everything, but I saw enough to know that if I had a lot of disposable cash, I could’ve spent it all. Fortunately, it soon neared time for my first planned panel of the day, which featured YouTuber Comicbookgirl19, who produces great content on topics ranging from X-Men to Game of Thrones to The Hunger Games. It was an excellent panel, mostly focused on how she and her director/show co-creator Tyson Wheeler, came up with the idea for what has become her successful YouTube channel, and the challenges along the way. Near the end of the panel, however, we all got a bonus surprise, as the panel was crashed by two of the stars of the HBO show Silicon Valley (along with a huge retinue of security, giant TV cameras, and I suspect some people just following the madness), as part of a Smirnoff ad campaign of some sort. Shenanigans ensued, and as we left the panel room there were Smirnoff people waiting for us, as they needed us to sign forms letting them know whether or not we were okay with our face possibly showing up in the footage filmed in the panel room (I didn’t care, so I said it was fine. Now to wait and see whenever the footage comes out, if I show up.)

There was a signing following the panel in the large autographing area, but I chose to instead run to the next panel I wanted to see, which was a panel of several new authors from sci-fi/fantasy publisher (an imprint of Macmillan) Tor. The panel featured authors Ilana C. Myer, Seth Dickinson, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Fran Wilde, and was moderated/run by John Scalzi. The panel it self was almost purely ‘for fun’, and each new author got some time to talk about themselves and their new book, after which Scalzi asked them all a series of sci-fi/fantasy themed ‘would you rather’ question (and we the audience got to weigh in once the authors all gave their answers. Long story short, most of us would choose to be artistically honest dictators.

There was a signing after this panel as well, and I went this time, as I decided to purchase a couple of books anyway, and the signing was in the ‘bookstore’ area, which was run by Word bookstore. One of the books I bought was one of the new ones, and I got it signed before I headed back to the show floor to wander and stare at things a bit more. In addition to the stalls selling everything, there were some other things in this area, such as an ‘Avatar’ (James Cameron’s Avatar) themed little area, spots where one could try out soon to be released video games, a Star Trek captain’s chair made entirely out of MegaBlocks bricks (basically Lego not made by Lego), along with an awesome Weta Workshop area which featured a number of their creations on display, including models and props from the upcoming Warcraft movie, and I think they had some makeup demonstrations there during the day as well. Another fun little area was Jurassic World themed, and they had an actor in a full on raptor costume, along with a raptor ‘trainer’. The best part was when the little ‘show’ was over, and the ‘raptor’ got out of the little enclosed space and walked among us bystanders (snapping at us as it did so) before it was called off.

By that point it was (finally) time for me to go to another panel, another purely ‘fun’ one, titled ‘Fantasy Draft League’, which is what it sounds like; four authors ‘drafted’ a fantasy questing party made up of pre-existing fantasy novel characters. The authors involved were Eleanor Herman, Zac Brewer, Sarah Beth Durst and Bradley Beaulieu, and was moderated/judged by Sam Sykes and Naomi Novik. I know I’ve told you in the past to follow Sam Sykes on Twitter because he’s simply hilarious, and he is just as funny live. Just go ask him which fantasy team he thinks would be able to kill more ten year olds. Nope, I’m not going to give more of an explanation of what went on at that panel.

Following that, I decided that to get the full Comic Con experience I really should go to one of the giant panels. As I’d already missed the Game of Thrones panel, I decided to go the Star Wars: Rebels season 2 sneak preview, where I and hundreds of others got to see two not-yet-aired episodes (short story, they’re great, and this season looks to be off to a good start). Not much else to say about it really, other than that we all got some free swag afterward.

That was the last panel I had planned on attending, but things were going to be going on for a while longer yet. As such, I decided to go back to the show floor one more time before it closed in about ten minutes. This is where my day took an unexpected, and interesting turn. My walk this time took me to the publishing companies’ area, which I had passed by several times earlier but had never stopped at. I soon found myself near the HarperCollins booth area (quite a large space, actually), and noticed an interesting giveaway they were running (which I think was thematically linked to a new book they were promoting, but I can’t recall the name of). They had this locked chest, and on top of it was a jar filled with dozens of identical looking keys. Basically, you got to choose a key from the jar and try it on the lock. If it worked, you would get whatever was in the box (it seemed that tried keys were taken from the pool, and that there were to be up to 2 or 3 winners per day. So I decided what the heck, no harm in trying, especially as the show floor was due to close in about 3 minutes. As I got to the front of the relatively short line, one of the HarperCollins people remarked that she didn’t recognize me from earlier in the day, and that this must be my first attempt (so people could make at least a few tries throughout the day), and made a beginner’s luck joke.

Expecting nothing, I reached into the jar, pulled out a key, and tried it in the lock. The lock opened. Needless to say, the HarperCollins people freaked out a little at the seeming predicted success, and I got to see what was in the box, a $100 American Express gift card. As I recall, it took a little while to fully process what had happened–I never win anything. But now  I can claim the distinction of having gone to NYCC and come back with more money than I got there with.

There really was no way to top that moment, but there was still stuff going on, and as I only had the one day pass, there was no good reason to leave just yet. So I decided to check out the Artist Alley, as it was an area of the con that I’d heard about, but hadn’t visited yet. Like pretty much everything else, it was crazy huge, and I spent a good half an hour plus just walking around, looking at art and stuff. A lot of very impressive art, and it was shockingly busy considering the hour, though there may have been many people who, like me, headed over there after the show floor closed.

The last panel/event I went to was a panel on the TV show Legends, which stars Sean Bean (who apparently lived through the entire first season), and he was the main attraction at this panel, which also featured a new episode (or clips of one; I got there late). I can confirm that despite all his onscreen deaths, Sean Bean is doing just fine in real life, and I may check out this show now, which I had not even heard of until I saw the panel info. As most panels seem to, it concluded with a Q&A, and I prepared to head back home.

There was just one problem; my phone was literally on 1% battery, and I really did not want to travel for over half an hour with a phone that’d certainly be dead by the time I got back to my neighborhood. The good news: I’d brought my charger. The bad: I couldn’t find a damn outlet anywhere in the Javits center. I don’t know if I was just looking in the wrong places, but I spend at least 10-15 minutes searching wherever I could think (panel rooms & the show floor were closed, so they weren’t options at this point. Eventually, I was forced to give up, and resigned myself to not having a working phone for a while. As I was walking out, however, I noticed something on the floor between the two sets of doors–outlets! So I plugged in my phone, took out a book, and hoped that I didn’t look too sketchy while I waited it to charge enough to make it home.

Funnily enough, my being there actually helped someone else who was in the same predicament, as he noticed me charging my phone as he was heading out as well. He was able to use the other outlet there while I continued to charge, so I feel I ended my Comic Con day with a good deed.

So that’s all of my ramble about my first ever time at New York Comic Con. I would definitely go again, though I’m not sure when that next time will be, as I’m planning to move far enough from New York where it’ll be a major trip and project to come in, and I wouldn’t just for Comic Con. But I will go again at some point in the future, as soon as the opportunity arises.

If you live in the New York area, or close enough that you can relatively easily get there, I highly recommend it, just prepare in advance for a slightly overwhelming and crowded experience (especially if you go on the Saturday or Sunday.)

So until next time (which hopefully won’t be too long from now, keep on doing the geeky things!

Movie Review: Mythica: The Darkspore

As promised, here is my review of Mythica: The Darkspore, the second movie in Arrowstorm Entertainment’s Mythica series. Full disclosure, I did back Mythica 2 on Kickstarter, as I did the first movie in the series. As I mentioned in my previous review, I don’t intend to make straight-up movie reviews a regular thing here, but I find it appropriate and worthwhile to review movies I contributed to (though I may also review a couple of Arrowstorm’s movies which I purchased after I was impressed by Mythica: A Quest For Heroes.

I won’t go into too much background detail here, as this is a review of a sequel and I covered all the basics in my previous review, but I’ll touch on some here. Mythica: The Darkspore, is the second of 5 planned movies in Arrowstorm’s Mythica series, and at least 3 of them have already been filmed. The films are all low budget projects, as Arrostorm is an independent film company, and the Kickstarters they run are to raise additional money with which to finish the projects that are already started, and it goes to things like visual effects. But that’s enough of that; for more background detail see my review of the first Mythica.

Now, on to the movie at hand. To put it very briefly, I am pleased to say that it is definitely superior to the first Mythica. Now, I do take some issue in general with calling a sequel an ‘improvement’ over the original, or ‘superior’, as that would imply that the prior film was subpar. As my review of the first Mythica makes clear, I did not find it subpar at all.  Not perfect, but a very solid movie. Its sequel, however, was an improvement in the area where I felt the first film was a little bit weaker.

So, in Mythica: The Darkspore, we continue almost immediately after the conclusion of the first film. With tragedy. At the end of the first movie, the magical object our group of heroes recovered was given to the sister of the priestess Teela (Nicola Posener) to carry to where it could be safely contained and protected. Unfortunately, the forces of darkness were faster, and she was killed, the relic taken. And while the group does soon find leads by which they can race the evil shaman Kishkumen, who was the one who killed Teela’s sister, to the titular Darkspore, they also have to work at staying united as a group. In fact, in the beginning of the movie they practically have to reform the group, or rather Marek (Melanie Stone) does, as with the shock Teela’s sister’s death, the other members of the party started to regress to past ways. Teela secluded herself to conduct an elaborate mourning ritual for her sister, the warrior Thane (Adam Johnson), depressed at Teela’s sadness, has returned to his drinking ways and almost drives Marek away in a drunken rant, and the half-elf rogue Dagen (Jake Stormoen) returns to his whoring ways, and becomes more fixated on monetary gain (though I suppose that he never really lost that particular drive.)

From there, the driving force of the movie is the group’s attempt to reach the darkspore before their enemies, and along the way the encounter a number of obstacles, gain a new ally, and work through their issues with each other. I don’t want to get into too much detail, as I don’t like spoiling movies, so I’m going to be intentionally vague in referring to anything spoilery. Suffice to say, I thought the story was a definite step up from that of the first Mythica, which was very simple (by design, as it is in essence the origin story). There’s a lot more depth here, as we get some backstory and the larger plot of the series gets rolling. We also get more character development and depth, which is welcome; if everyone had sorted through all their problems, etc. last movie then they’d all be pretty stagnant for the rest of the series.

Once again, the acting was excellent. Everyone really seems to have a good sense of their character, and they all treat the material seriously, with no one ‘phoning in’ performances, and the dramatic scenes & arguments never seem forced or melodramatic. In particular, Melanie Stone as Marek stands out, and handles the character’s development very well, and newcomer Rocky Myers as the mysterious dark elf Qole. The character could easily have felt mysterious and enigmatic for the sake of being mysterious, but he manages to take the character beyond the simple character traits and handles the dramatic turns that involve his character very well. I’ll also mention that we get a bit more of Kevin Sorbo as the wizard Gojun Pye this time around than we did in Mythica: A Quest For Heroes. He is still only in the film for a short period (I suppose his being a main character would make things a bit too easy for our heroes), but in addition to his small scene in the present we get a nice flashback to his past, and a little action. (Thanks to the first Mythica, I decided to start watching the tv show Andromeda, which starred Sorbo, and I’m enjoying it so far. It’s also striking that he doesn’t seem to have changed at all in the 10 years since then. Looking forward to seeing more of him as the Mythica series progresses.

As before, the visual effects are as good as you can reasonably expect from a low budget film. The sets and the backgrounds, the vast majority of which were not green-screened in, are great. Once again, the varied, beautiful Utah landscapes are used well, and I expect we’ll see more of the state as the series continues.

Beyond that, I actually don’t have too much more to say. My main (really only) critique of the first film in this series was that the story was edging on being overly simplistic and formulaic. That’s much less of an issue for me in this film, though the Mythica world is understandably not as complex as those in epic fantasy novels. The story, having gotten past the necessary origins and getting the team (or party, to borrow an RPG term), has moved onto the more complex, larger plot, and while only time will tell how much it stands out from other fantasy stories, so far it looks good, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. (Since watching the first film I’ve also had my first RPG experience, so I have more understanding of the Dungeons & Dragons background that the Mythica world and story grew out of.

That’s about it for now, I think. I definitely recommend checking out Mythica: The Darkspore, as well as its predecessor Mythica: A Quest For Heroes. Arrowstorm’s website, arrowstormentertainment.com has links through which you can rent or purchase their films. They don’t have any kickstarter campaigns going on right now to the best of my knowledge, but I imagine that the kickstarter for the third film in the series will go up in the coming months. I’m proud to have contributed to both Mythica films this far, and if this is the kind of thing you want to see more of, I’d recommend considering lending your support as well.

Coming up in the near future, I have one more book to review, as well as two more of Arrowstorm’s earlier films which I purchased, and I hope to get another writing-centric post up in the near future. So until next time, keep on reading and writing, and if you like the idea of quality independent fantasy films, consider supporting Arrowstorm Entertainment in the future. You can be sure that whenever the kickstarter for Mythica 3 begins, I’ll lend support and mention it on my Twitter, so if you happen to follow me there you’ll know when something’s going on.

Book Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan (spoilers)

Well it’s about time I got to reviewing this book. I’ve actually read it twice now; the first was more than half a year ago, but I never got around to writing a review. As the time passed, and I picked up my copy of the third book in the Powder Mage Trilogy, The Autumn Republic, I realized that I still wanted to write up a review, but it had been so long. So I reread it a few weeks ago (and I am now speeding through The Autumn Republic.) I don’t tend to reread books that often, mainly because there’s always something new to read, but rereading can be fun in its own way, and I thoroughly enjoyed rereading The Crimson Campaign, and I can properly write up a review now, in my usual style, though as this is the second in a series, it’ll be a little different (as I will try to avoid repeating things said in the review of the first book.)

Setting: I said a lot about the setting of this series in my review of the first book, so I won’t repeat too much here. Suffice to say, I really enjoy this setting, both for the level of technology, as most epic fantasies (my own included, so far) tend to be set in a very low-tech world, while the Powder Mage Trilogy is set at a technological level I’d place as roughly analogous to Earth’s 1700s or 1800s (maybe a little earlier), and McClellan doesn’t just stop at the technology, but also brings with it a level of social change that changes the world in a different way, also mirroring shifts that happened in our world, while still remaining purely fictional with some other cultural aspects (such as men and women having pretty much equal standing in the military, something we do not see in our world to this day, with an increasing number of exceptions.)

I also very much liked the fact that McClellan seemed to draw both inspiration and character names from more of a central & eastern European base than most similar books, which generally draw on primarily western Europe.

As for The Crimson Campaign itself, while we don’t see a huge amount more of the world (though we do get to see a Deliv city, and delve deeper into Adopest, arguably the central location of the story, we do spend a lot of time with the Adran army, which itself is its own setting, complete with politics, personal agendas, and its own organization and culture. It’s also good to continue to see the aftereffects of Tamas’s revolution way back at the start of Promise of Blood.

Characters: In The Crimson Campaign, we have the same cast of viewpoint characters as before, but they fluctuate in importance/how much focus is placed on them this time as both their stories and the overall plot progresses.

As before, we’ll start of with Field Marshall Tamas, who was arguably the main character of the last book, but takes somewhat of a back seat as his plotline leads him away from all the other major characters. This time, after being betrayed by his own (unbeknownst to him at the time), is trapped behind enemy lines with only two brigades of his own men–a hopeless situation, it would seem, but Tamas is not a man who lets the odds get to him. Complicating matters, however, is his worry over the status of his son Taniel, who, last he heard, was in a coma after the climax of Promise of Blood, and Tamas also struggles to reconcile with Vlora, one of his best powder mages and Taniel’s ex-betrothed. While last book we saw Tamas in a position unfamiliar to him, leading a revolution and dealing with its aftermath, we now see him fully in his element, and it’s a pleasure to see him thrive in it even as other things weigh on his mind, particularly as things become more complicated near the end of the story.

Next we have Adamat, who, as with last time, has more of a mystery/thriller type plotline as opposed to the more ‘epic’ plots going on with some of the other viewpoints. But in exchange, we see how personal things have become for him, with his family having been threatened and kidnapped. Fortunately, we get a bit of a breather when most of his family is rescued early on, but Adamat’s wife and eldest son remain hostages of the mysterious and sinister Lord Vetas, who himself is merely a piece (if a major one) in a much bigger scheme. We’re kept quite on edge for much of this, and we get to see Adamat at his most desperate, and how far he is willing to go to save his family. It’s also thanks to this plotline that the very fun side character Privileged Borbador re-enters the story, which also later on connects to Taniel’s story.

Speaking of Taniel, he’s not exactly in the best place mentally at the start of this book, due to the traumatic events of the end of Promise of Blood. After he gets over his PTSD and an addiction to mala, an opium-like drug, he finds out that he is essentially the last powder mage in the country (and the army, the rest having gone with Tamas on his behind enemy lines mission and presumed dead along with him.) His return to the army along with his companion (and as time goes on his love interest) Ka-Poel, however, is not what he expected. With Tamas gone, things have begun to crumble, and Taniel’s issues with authority land both him and Ka-Poel in serious trouble with one of the officers in charge now, General Ket. His plotline, therefore, in some ways becomes the most frustrating as well as, in my opinion, the most compelling from a reader’s perspective, in large part because we are privy to more information than the characters, and thus can yell at them for being shortsighted. Eventually, Taniel finds himself essentially single-handedly keeping the army in the fight, while simultaneously fighting the top brass, who he begins ti suspect is not operating with Adro’s best interests in mind.

Our final viewpoint character, Nila, has a more significant part to play this time around. Now she finds herself in the employ/captured by the same Lord Vetas who Adamat is after, which puts her in close connection to Adamat’s wife as well as the young noble she has been keeping safe since last book. While her circumstances are far from ideal, and there is little active resistance she can mount, Nila gradually moves closer to that point, and by the end finally takes some action against Vetas. Her role here is still on the smaller side, but things point to her having a bigger role to come (and, as I’m over halfway through the third book in this series, I can safely say that she does.)

The side characters continue to shine through very strongly, and serve both to keep things fun and to deepen the world, from gods (Mihali), to the already mentioned Borbador, to people very much involved in day to day activities and the larger plots (Ricard, Olem, Vlora, and Fell), to those with major roles, such as Ka-Poel, who McClellan manages to make stand out despite the fact that she never speaks. None of these side characters feel tacked on or one-note, and it’s fun when they link multiple plotlines (such as Ricard with Taniel and Adamat).

Plot: I covered some of the plot already with the characters, and this is already running long, so I’ll try and keep this brief. Last time around I compared McClellan’s writing, and his plot unfolding/pacing to that of Brandon Sanderson, who he studied under, though McClellan definitely had his own unique voice. I would say that he differentiated himself further in Crimson Campaign, but without losing anything from the storytelling. The pacing remains superb, and McClellan consistently picks the best places to end a chapter and switch viewpoints. I think the best praise I can give, however, is to say that as much as I want to see what happens next in someone’s plotline, I’m just as happy to return to someone else’s. The middle book in trilogies notoriously lag a bit and often feel more like a bridge to the climax in book 3, but here I did not get that feeling. Even rereading it, when I remembered most of what was going to happen, I couldn’t put it down, and I very much enjoyed returning to these characters. And the way things end only serve to heighten the tension and stakes for the third installment. (As much as I warn my reviews contain spoilers, I really don’t want to give things away unless I feel it necessary.)

Magic: My traditional final category of analysis actually has a bit going on this time, where usually in series there is less to discuss in later books as we already know how things work, more or less, at least as far a the powder mages and privileged go (though they’re not as fully explained in detail as, for instance, Brandon Sanderson’s magic systems are (another difference between the two), though we understand both systems well enough for the magic to be used to get our heroes out of trouble without things being contrived.

In The Crimson Campaign, we also get to see more of the even less defined magic systems, such as that of the gods Kresimir and Adom, as well as Ka-Poel’s powerful and mysterious abilities, all of which fit nicely into the story and the world, thought I would hope to learn more about Ka-Poel’s magic in the future (and we do definitely get at least some more info in the following book.)

I suppose the last magical addition to this book are the black powder wardens. We saw wardens, the magically twisted and enhanced men in Promise of Blood, but now the antagonistic forces have started turning powder mages into warden, which makes them resistant to black powder attacks and general more difficult for powder mages to take down. It’s implied that this is tied somehow to Kresimir, but not fully explained. And of course, the Knacked, people who don’t have obvious magic but have some sort of enhanced skill, such as Olem not needing to sleep at all or Adamat having a perfect memory, are still present. All in all, a solid progression of the magic. While there aren’t really huge new revelations, there’s enough new and enough mystery left to keep it intriguing and still a viable way of solving problems.

I think that’s about it for now, and I should cut myself off before this review balloons further (and I really should start packing for my 12 hour flight back to New York). Suffice to say, I very much enjoyed this, both on first read and reread, and it’s a stellar middle book of the trilogy. I’d say I’m looking forward to the next one, but I’m already over halfway through it, so expect my thoughts on it soon (I hope.)

So until next time, keep on reading, and writing! I know I’ll be.