Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist

War Demons by Russell Newquist

If you like action, well then, have I got a novel for you.

War Demons is the debut full-length offering from Russell Newquist, book one in his Prodigal Son series. Russell is a writer, a blogger, the owner of Silver Empire publishing, the mastermind of the electronic short-fiction anthology Lyonesse, a podcaster, husband to the writer Morgon Newquist, owner of a martial arts dojo, father of four . . . oh, and he has a day job. I think he sleeps sometimes too.

To say that Russell is an impressive guy is an understatement.

Russell Nequist doing a karate form.
Russell Newquist

I’ve written about Russell before on the topic of nihilism. Not that Russell is a nihilist–far from it! Russell, in fact, is a huge proponent of what is called superversive fiction. Think of superversive as being the opposite of subversive: instead of seeking to tear cherished traditions, ideals, and institutions down and piss all over them, being superversive is to strive to hold up these traditions, ideals, and institutions as worthy of preservation, and indeed the keys to virtue and fulfillment.

Whew.

Russell is also a devout Catholic, which must have something to do with his general attitude, right?

Keep all of this in mind as you read his work. War Demons is what happens when you mix martial arts, Christian tradition, magic, demons, the military, and terrorism. You end up with lots of fights, lots of explosions, and lots of crazy mystical stuff happening in the present day (present being 2006).

Seriously, War Demons has a bit of everything. As someone fortunate enough to be given an advance copy, I tore through it in a matter of days.

There are dragons fighting helicopters, for crying out loud. Continue reading “Book Review: War Demons by Russell Newquist”

Must We Politics?

Must politics ruin everything?

Must politics infect even our art?

Must blog posts have bad grammar?

These thoughts came to me recently (well, maybe not the grammar one) as I witnessed author Jon Del Arroz on Twitter going back-and-forth with other authors about the seeming impossibility of keeping politics out of fiction. Jon, clearly, thinks that it is possible to write politics-free fiction, and that it is, in fact, easy to do. This is part of the impetus behind the Pulp Revolution, after all:

Just don’t write politics into it.

 

Author Jon Del Arroz
Jon Del Arroz

On the other side is the view that it’s impossible because political viewpoints form who the author is, and that such a fundamental part of the writer–or artist in general–is always going to seep through:

Politics are a part of the author, and every work is a piece of the author’s soul.

I have a problem with this second position, for four main reasons:

  1. Hypocrisy on the part of those who make this argument. These are the same people who try to tell us that, in our politicians, character doesn’t matter and that personal beliefs, whether philosophy or faith, need to be kept out of politics. Yet it’s “impossible” to separate personal values and beliefs from something with arguably far fewer consequences like art? Do we pick and choose based on some arbitrary metric? How does this even make sense?
  2. The conflation of contemporary politics with universal themes about humanity. Much of what passes as contemporary political philosophy is meaningless gibberish. Deconstruction, critical theory, tax policy, post-modernism, and the reduction of every single facet of human interaction into the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy has as much to do with the human experience and the intellectual life as your bowel movement has to do with high art (unless you’re a Dadaist, I guess, then have at it).
  3. It demonstrates a lack of skill. This one is short but sweet: a good writer can write from the perspective of anyone, and make the reader believe it…without the character sounding like a mouthpiece for the author.
  4. The conflation of politics with values. This is the big one. Values might determine what political affiliation–if any–you gravitate towards. But when we talk “values,” we usually aren’t talking “I’m a Republican!” or “I’m a Democrat!” Or at least we shouldn’t be.

I am a firm believer that one can enjoy art despite its creator’s politics. Don’t like Nazis? No one does! But just because Richard Wagner was Hitler’s favorite doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy The Nibelungenlied.

What’s that, you say? You’re not a Che-worshipping, Lenin-loving murderous Marxist? Well guess what: You can still listen to–and enjoy!–Rage Against the Machine (though those dudes will still hate you).

You get the idea.

But far more interesting is the “power lifts as values” issue. Let’s explore this a bit further. Continue reading “Must We Politics?”

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”