Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Cleaning

Expect a few short posts in the nearby future. Around here we're dealing with "Fall Cleaning" to prepare for the upcoming winter and making sure we aren't tripping over clutter when we're snowed in.

In other news, I've been watching CW's new Flash series. Great stuff. I'm really hoping this makes it to Arrow's level soon enough.

Well, until next time!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Odd Thomas & The Long Walk

When we last left Odd Thomas, his life wasn't going very well. Sure, he saved Pico Mundo from a horrible disaster and prevented many deaths, but it cost him dearly in the end. Forever Odd is in many ways an epilogue to the original novel and an expansion on the original concept, making it an overall better book.

Not only dealing with his "success" from the original book, Odd's life is falling apart. After not succeeding in saving everyone from the last story, he is haunted with his failures further when his best friend is kidnapped after the step-father is murdered, and it might be his fault. See, Odd is something of a celebrity now, which means he attracts all kinds of unwanted attention.

This builds the concept of this very welcome sequel that is also quite different from the original.

You see, each Odd Thomas book is not quite the same as the one before it. They frequently involve different elements of different genres with the only real constant being Odd Thomas himself. In Forever Odd, we find Odd acting more like a sleuth (think MacGuyver) in order to foil a kidnapper's plot and save a friend's life. It's not as big a threat as the one from the original, it's far more personal, but one that is very effective, nonetheless.

One aspect about this story that was done very well were the villain characters. Koontz never explicitly tells you what their deal is, but as the story goes along it is quite clear they aren't human, and by the end it is confirmed.

That's probably my favorite aspect of this book. Most everything not mentioned in the main plot is implied through dialogue or character action and the story flows from there. It is a neat touch that really sets it apart from the original novel.

What deserves mention is the ending. Odd finds himself at his personal worst in this book, continuing on from the first book, and ending in a rebirth of sorts by the end. This rebirth coincides as the plot draws to a close and Odd makes one last decision which will end up changing his life and, if futurue books are to be believed, the world.

If you've read the original, give Forever Odd a read. It's even better, and points the way to better things ahead.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Odd Thomas & His Delightful Band of Bodach Bashers

I'm sure if anyone reads mainstream fiction these days (a growing rarity), they are familiar with author Dean Koontz's most popular series based on the lovable fry-cook and battler of creatures both seen and unseen, one Odd Thomas.

There's little I can add to the appeal of this work except that I'm surprised a series that does the opposite of what most mainstream fiction revels in, manages such a level of popularity. With book shelves swimming in depressing gore-fests and hateful main characters, Odd Thomas is something else entirely. It really is remarkable that a series centered around a gentle young man who strives to do the right thing despite overwhelming odds, and never backs down on his principles, remains so popular in a genre swimming with anti-heroes, glorified bad guys, and anti-traditionalists that hate the very society they claim to be predicting.

But more than just the character himself is the variety of stories Mr. Koontz has managed to tell with his young fry cook.

I don't read a lot of conventional thrillers not for any reason other than I like downtime in my stories and thrillers typically offer the opposite of the pacing I like. That said, there are exceptions. I can enjoy a good comedic thriller, one with a large cast of characters to keep track of, or one that manages to shake up a genre that can easily be the most predictable out there. Odd Thomas varies between all three of these, but never fails to be engaging the whole read not just through the original, but the rest of the books.

There are to be seven (technically eight) books in the series, though the last has yet to be released. I'm probably going to spend a post on each of these and why I enjoyed each of these books as much as I have and how they have turned my on to Mr. Koontz's more recent work. For now, though, let's look to the very first book.

The first of these is the one named after the title character, Odd Thomas. Dean Koontz apparently got the idea for this story as a flash of inspiration while writing The Face and wrote the first chapter entirely out by hand without editing it once. I'm sorry to say, it shows.

Most people tend to like this jarring first chapter, though I have a friend who does not. He finds it ricochets around a bit too much and forbids the story from truly firing out of the gate, but then the first book is his least favorite. I do agree that the beginning is a bit too long-winded, but think it gets going rather quickly after this early hump.

I quite enjoyed the home grown terrorism plot with a supernatural bent and the tour around Odd Thomas' town of Pico Mundo, but do agree that it takes a while to truly nail down the direction. For a standalone novel, this is understandable, but seeing as how it ended up being a series, some of it ends up being redundant, especially as we never see some of these characters in later books.

Odd (Yes, that's his name) is able to see the lingering dead, though they cannot speak to him, and spends most of his time either trying to help them "move on" or avoiding the ones who won't or have no plans to. Then there are these strange black creatures he calls "Bodachs" that appear when death and destruction on a large scale is nearby. These creatures are invisible to everyone except him, and they don't seem to notice that he knows of their existence. In this story, he has to deal with both these creatures and the undead. What ends up happening is a plot to destroy his very town and all those in it, and it is only with his power that bridges the living and dead that he can get the edge he needs to stop his town from becoming a mass graveyard.

What holds this story back to me is how similar in execution it is to the author's older thriller stories. For instance, in Fear Nothing, most of the exposition and plot is given out as the main character wanders through town at night and meets people who give him cryptic hints. In this story, most of the plot is dealt out the same way as Odd visits certain people throughout the day and night. Now, this is the only book in the series (though another one comes close) that does this, but it does tend to make the world-building more interesting than the story most of the time. Not always, but it happens.

One of the elements of the series that does warm the heart is Odd's devotion to his love, Stormy, which flows throughout all the books. He clearly and truly loves her and wants nothing more than to be with her, though the job keeps him away from her, his affection for her never fails to delight even in the darkest moments. But that's real love, right?

That's the best way I can describe this book and series. It is a shining light in the current darkness of our world, and Odd himself is a glimpse of the person we can hope to be when the darkness becomes too much. More than anything, I believe Mr. Koontz succeeds at this above all and it is completely invaluable advice we rarely get too often anymore in this world of villains disguised as heroes and a growing obsession with shock over substance.

As a whole, it's an enjoyable tale, not my favorite in the series, but a good start. It's easy to see why it became so popular and spawned such a reaction, though not so clear why a character that is so normal in ideals is seen as an odd character in the mainstream world (YES, PUN INTENDED!) when not very long ago he would be our ideal hero in fiction. He is the type of character we all strove to be more like. If anything, Odd Thomas is a sign that we want more normal people as protagonists who try to be better than they are, even if they are fry cooks who see the lingering dead.

Here's hoping the tide turns before Saint Odd, the final Odd Thomas book, releases in 2015.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

8 Settings I Can't Resist

I was just musing a little while ago about how there are certain settings in stories that never fail to attract my attention. It's like a good tune on the radio (remember those?) that you hear in the background which changes your mood. If I read the back of a book or movie box and see the following settings, I'm more than likely going to give the story a shot.

Exceptions, of course, include horror movies where the setting doesn't matter at all so I'm still quite unlikely to see them and war movies where the setting is usually incidental to the story.

So let's get this started!

#1 - Empty Streets

I guess this might be obvious due to While You Were Dancing, but there's something about a normally flooded area rendered empty that catches my attention. And how rare is it that you see empty streets outside of midnight in a shady area of town? More than not it ends in an interesting plot seeds to sprout.

#2 - Camping Sites

Not including horror, as I said before, there's something about getting away from it all and leaving your comfort zone that speaks to me. There have been few stories that don't involve camping scenes or begin in a camp that don't attract my attention. Unless it involves some sort of killer, I never turn away from a good camping scene. . . unless it takes up a third of the book, that is.

#3 - Small Towns

Small towns tend to focus their stories on community and personal relationships on a scale that interests me. All the more because they also tend to feature a lot of nature which never fails to attract me. About the only exception is when the story ignores the potential playground of character interactions to focus on a romance of some sort. There's a world out there to explore, so let's see it!

#4 - Cyberpunk Cities

Cyberpunk can get a bit too nihilistic or ridiculous (corporations running the world are a bit too unrealistic too imagine) but the setting of a dirty, overstuffed, and technologically advanced setting is a great place to start a plot. Where it goes is hard to tell most of the time, but it is a fascinating launching pad for a story.

#5 - Airships

I don't think I need to explain this one. It is a ship that is flying instead of sailing. What more is there to say?

#6 - "A Faraway Land"

Whether a fantasy like Prydain, Middle Earth, or a Galaxy "far, far, away," a new land filled with no rules is likely to get me excited. Of course, it's not enough for it to be a stock fantasy world that's LOTR-lite like a lot fantasy post-Tolkien. It's in how the land and people work that interest me.

#7 - The Mountains

There's something oddly disconcerting about the mountains and their relative emptiness that can lead to good atmosphere in a tale. That said, it has to actually use the terrain to be successful-- just because it takes place in the mountains doesn't mean its okay to use them as window-dressing. The characters are essentially heading toward the top of the world. There has to be something there worth going into.

#8 - Hidden Bases

This is pure '70s spy / space opera here, but I have such a strange thing for hidden or underground bases in stories. Like the characters have discovered the secret evil pocket and hiding place of evil in the world. The good guys will have no relief or back up, and the villains have the home-field advantage. As out heroes enter the endgame, will they be able to survive the villains and save the world? Keeping reading to find out.

So those are my favorite places to set a plot. How about yours? There are, after all, an infinite number of possibilities. Here's hoping we get more stories with settings like the ones listed above. I never get tired of them and I doubt I ever will.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb

This is going to be a really odd choice. I used to be a big listener of alternative rock from the 90s (before I got sick of the depressing lyrics) and still do enjoy the strange sounds such bands can play around with. For some reason, this song from the band Tripping Daisy (whose lead singer went on to form The Polyphonic Spree, who are far more well known) from their excellent album "Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb" released in 1998 when the mainstream was done with rock bands that didn't sound like third rate Nirvana rip-offs.

The album is not religious, despite its title, but the title is very apt for what the album feels like. An alternative rock explosion of positivity and whimsy stuck somewhere between child-like wonder of the world, typical '90s teenage irreverence, and the ultimate acceptance of growing up. The best way to describe it is a bomb of life. The lyrics are pretty hard to decipher if they're not being outright silly, but there are a few gems in there that point to more than the obvious.

One song in particular still comes to me so many years since mainstream music has flat-lined, and that is the opening track. Unfortunately, the album is out of print, the band no longer exists (the guitarist died after their following album-- praying he's with the Lord now), and the world forgot about any alternative rock not made by Nirvana. But these guys were way better than Nirvana and were quite overlooked. Check these lyrics out and see if you can get from them what I do so many years later.

The second half of the song, especially, when the song hits its peak, I think the excitement of the unknown really shines through bright and strong.

Field Day Jitters
(Music: Tripping Daisy, Lyrics: Tim DeLaughter)

Wondering jets inside of me.
I've got the field day jitters-- wet matches and a bottle of Mr. Clean.

I'm a nervous wreck in the shape of a test
I figure it's all about giving.
 Causing all of the brain to slip into frame
and visit the space that it gives me for sleep.

Wondering jets inside of me.
I've got the field day jitters (jitters, jitters) . . .

I'm an open nest, a paper address
I can get lost in just living.
Blowing thoughts of regret, you'll never forget,
the feeling of falling and breaking.

This is me, your glue gun's dream.
A map of every road.
A friend that drops his nose.
But this can't be.
I'm a cracking machine!
My will is to hold, and my creed is to be the unbreakable me.

Now it's time to fill up the cracks in me
(no stopping, no stopping, no stopping)
It's what I want, it's what I see,
that I'm unbreakable, capable, breakable.

Now it's time to fill up the cracks in me
(no stopping, no stopping, no stopping)
It's what I want, it's what I see,
that I'm unbreakable, capable, breakable.

Never any doubt in me
(no stopping, no stopping, no stopping)
It's what I want, it's what I see,
that I'm the unbreakable, capable, breakable me.

Bye-bye . . .