Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier sure knows how to start a story off with a bang.

The third installment of his Soul Cycle trilogy (as of now) brings back one of Book I's best characters: Teg Cross! And he's as badass as ever.

What begins as a mission for survivors of the galaxy-shattering cataclysm turns into a battle against the forces of the Void intent on remaking the world in its image.

If you watched Star Wars and thought, "Not enough magic or monsters"; if you're into horror and ask yourself, "Where are the spaceships?"; and if you're into Dune and keep wondering "Where are all the good books?", then the Soul Cycle series is right in your wheelhouse.

Teg isn't the only returning character from the first book here, and allies and enemies from Book II also feature prominently. And of course, new friends and foes appear and make their impact felt. To say anymore would spoil things, but just let's say that the interaction between these disparate personalities is great.

It also helps that Brian can write, keeping the action fast-paced, keeping the danger right at the protagonists' heels, and giving few respites from the (almost exhausting) breakneck pace.

Oh, and we get to see more cool planets.

As I try to do in my book reviews, let's highlight a few key things that really made The Secret Kings work, and discuss why.

Characters and Conflict:

It's great seeing characters like Teg and Xander, Astlin and Nakvin, and Jaren and Tefler cross paths…and deal with villains like Kelgrun, Fallon, and Vaun Mordechai.

These interactions feel natural, and friendships and friction created when they all meet is completely in-character; nothing seems out of place. Brian gives the sense that, were these characters real and sitting in a room together, this is how they would act.

The newcomers, like Izlaril, Lykaon, Gein, Anris, the Anomians, and Celwen are welcome additions to the cast.

And the conflict! Not always armed hostility, but even the good guys don't always get along.

In screenwriting, there's a principle that also applies to novels, that every scene needs conflict, or at least a goal. You can broadly call this a reason for existing: Does it further the story? Does it reveal something about a character? Could you cut it out and lose nothing of the story? Continue reading “Book Review: The Secret Kings (Soul Cycle Book III) by Brian Niemeier”

Reset: Chapter Three: Now (3)

The lights blazed into life one after the other like dominos across the ceiling of the cavernous chamber, illuminating a massive, gleaming bulk. Joe blinked as details coalesced in the antiseptic glow.

Nick smiled with childlike glee. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Nick’s excitement was not contagious. Even in the light, Joe did not know what he was looking at. The thing before him seemed to grow from the floor, curves and flourishes coexisting with harsh right angles. It had a fluid, organic aspect that made Joe think of a metal flower sprouting from a computer. What looked like closed petals arose from its center, reaching halfway to the high ceiling.

“What is it?” said Joe.

“What do you mean, ‘what is it’? This is what we’ve been working on! Or the contract for, at least.”

“I know. But what is it?” Continue reading Reset: Chapter Three: Now (3)”

Nihilism and Its Discontents

Nihilism Calendar

Ah, nihilism. The belief that everything sucks and that nothing matters. Province of the cool kids as they dress in black, smoke cigarettes, and watch depressing movies and listen to depressing music. Lots of us outgrow these types of thoughts around the time we graduate high school. But for many, nihilism isn’t just the way that they live their lives. It’s something they want to push onto all of us, especially by targeting our children.

How do they do this? By changing the culture, of course.

If you want to change the world, go into entertainment.

I’ve said this countless times, and I mean it: More so than politics–which obviously has an effect on our lives through laws, rules, and regulations–entertainment, whether it be books, movies, or music, is far better at that all-important job of changing hearts and minds.

Politics is downstream from culture - Andrew Breitbart

This is not to say anything so outrageous as “Video games make you kill people!” But culture matters. Look at how television shows like Will & Grace, for example, helped change the culture to be more accepting of gay marriage, so its creators say. Or how the original Star Trek broke barriers of race and nationality by having people from all different parts of the world, and also aliens, just all treat each other as equals.

So art has an effect. And artists love to talk about how they are subversive, that is, undermining things about society they do not like.

Dissidence is well and good, and it can serve a vital purpose. But what if the things that the art is looking to subvert are actually good? Something like, say, all of Western civilization?

Drastic? Maybe. But let’s take a topic near to my heart: The way fathers, and men in general, are portrayed in movies and on TV, including many geared towards children.

Dad is always a bumbling schmuck, who can’t do anything right and gets no respect from his children or the women in his life. 

If you don’t think that has an effect on people, then maybe you’d like to come over here into my windowless van . . . I’ve got candy . . .

This goes to my broader point which is this: Nihilism, though trendy, is bad for the future.

The kinds of narrative that permeate a society matter. Let me explain. Continue reading “Nihilism and Its Discontents”