Back in the office today after the Labor Day long weekend. Another three full days of production on Pain and prep on Lost before we head off for yet another long weekend. That’s right. No sooner do I return to the friendly confines of my workplace than I am pulled away, like a child caught in a custody dispute, fraught with anxiety at the very thought of being separated from his loving co-workers and comfy office chair. I consoled myself with a lengthy morning-long conversation that touched on all the key issues: Vegas, casting for upcoming episodes, that hilarious article from FARKxcom, recent DVD viewings, and the sudden consensus realization that our buddy Marty G. has truly horrendous taste in movies. We also watched the Day 1 Mix of Light. Once all is said and done, it’s going to be a gorgeous episode. We capped off the day’s festivities with the Vosges chocolates Rob Cooper brought back from Vegas, along with the box of Peanut Butter Bon Bons he gave Carl as a belated birthday gift.
So last year I purchased a Garmin portable GPS navigator that I intended to use in Tokyo – which I never did get around to using because it turned out to be thoroughly useless. Apparently, you can purchase all sorts of maps at the Garmin website. Maps of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Singapore, Malaysia, China, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, U.K, Ireland, France, Greece, Italy, the Alps, Russia… What am I missing? Oh, yeah. Japan. And so is Garmin. I contacted them last year about the omission and they assured me they were working on it. One year later, and they still haven’t gotten around to making a Japan map available. What gives? Is the region really that complex that it defies proper cartography? Or is it altogether too much trouble? Well, as my buddy Bruce is fond of saying: “F ’em.”. I’ll rely on Google Maps instead.
I’ve penciled Garmin onto my shit list, just below Internet Explorer and shampoo that smells like oatmeal and cookies in the bottle but not in your hair after you‘ve washed it. Precariously close to making said list as well is my home theater projector that has taken to powering down at random, playing without audio, and displaying images upside-down or in garish purple and green hues. Like the last time something like this happened, I suspect mischievous gremlins or, more logically, the ghost of mischievous gremlins.
Well, people warned me that blogging would get me in trouble. I refused to believe it and now I have paid the price. After posting pics of my dinner with Ivon and Brian, I received not one but two miffed responses from co-workers who shall remain nameless (let’s call them Carl Folder and David Green), complaining about the fact that they hadn’t been invited – despite the fact that they weren’t even in town last weekend. I’ve extended fresh dinner invitations but have yet to hear back from either.
Reminder #1: Get those questions in for actor Brian J. Smith (SGU’s Lieutenant Matthew Scott). I’ll be sending the bunch his way at week’s end.
Reminder #2: Also, get those questions in for author Matthew Woodring Stover who’ll be by later in the week in support of his novel – and September’s Book of the Month Club selection – Heroes Die.
Reminder #3: My birthday is October 16th. You should start planning now.
Speaking of which, let’s turn things over to some book club discussion –
Thornyrose writes: “There’s nothing like full immersion to pull the reader into the story.”
Answer: Agreed. This one hits the ground running and never lets up. It’s the kind of opening I often identify with short fiction in which the author has a limited amount of time to hook the reader. In the case of Heroes Die, however, the author wastes no time, throwing us headlong into the action, allowing us to catch a breather (and an explanation of exactly what the heck is going on) before plunging us right back into the action. It’s done repeatedly throughout the narrative, jumping back between the two worlds, and to great effect.
Thornyrose also writes: “Even though Hari comes from one of the lowest castes, I was a bit suprised we didn’t see a bit more of that part of this world.”
Answer: True. I thought what was essential to the story came out in Hari’s relationship with his father. Also, since the prime focus was on Otherland, it didn’t bother me as much. Perhaps something that warrants further exploration in the sequels?
Thornyrose also writes: “Kollberg in particular is a villian we love to hate.”
Answer: How interesting that the book’s biggest villain wasn’t the megalomaniacal tyrant or his ruthless guard, but a studio executive. Loved it.
Thornyrose also writes: “I find it interesting that such a society would allow a dissident as Hari’s father to live, even in a maximum level security prison.”
Answer: True, but I wonder if this had something to do with the fact that he was Hari’s father. After all, they want to ensure he stays happy.
Thornyrose also writes: “I also found it a stretch that a person subjected to that level of confinement would manage to hold on to any sanity at all.”
Answer: Yes, it’s also interesting to note that this guy who has been kept locked up for so long is possibly the sanest of the lot. Perhaps another commentary on our out-of-control society?
Thornyrose also writes: “Ma’elKoth is an enigma for much of the book, though I have to admit to being slightly disappointed to his origins/identity.”
Answer: I found his rags to riches backstory quite interesting, his rise from relative obscurity to despotic rule. Sort of a dark side American Dream come true. Good for him!
Thornyrose also writes: “In the parts involving demonstrations of his and Pallas’ powers, I got the feeling I had picked up the fifth or sixth book of the lensman series after glancing at the chapters of the first one. The sheer jump in magnitude of powers by Pallas smelled somewhat of a deux ex machina.”
Answer: I liked the surprising manifestation of her powers but I too felt their development felt a little too quick and convenient.
Thornyrose also writes: “The biggest letdown of the whole book is in how many loose threads were still hanging. On the other hand, those loose threads open the way to the sequels you mentioned, so the author followed the classical advice of always leave your audience wanting more. And I am definitely looking forward to reading those sequels.”
Answer: I thought Stover did a pretty good job of tying up the story specific loose ends while leaving the door open for future adventures. I curious as to what facets of the dual worlds introduced in this novel are explored in subsequent books.
Sylvia writes: “One thing that was a little off balance was what appeared to be Hari/Caine’s sudden “change” where prior to the first emergency transfer back he was much like a soldier of fortune who did not plot, plan, strategize in minute detail. He was someone who appeared to be an accomplished fighter, but very basic otherwise. In fact, one statement was that “…he’d always been a better tactician than he was a strategist.” When he was returned to the Overworld, he was a brilliant strategist – a very accomplished chess player in positioning people and situations to achieve a desired outcome.”
Answer: I saw him as more a injure/kill first, ask questions later type. However, when presented with a scenario that couldn’t be dealt with by mere brute force, he opted for an alternate approach – and succeeded, much to Kollenberg’s surprise.
RebeccaH writes: “In fact, the story was intriguing because I found myself wondering if real-life actors would view it as an allegory for their own careers in the entertainment industry. Certainly actors feel exploited sometimes, not only by the people above them in the hierarchy of entertainment (the money men, the Big Wigs and Cheeses, and their minions), but possibly by the voracious appetites of the audience (fandom). Shanks/Lamorak’s conclusion that his second-rate status is due to lack of marketing in particular, could be the lament of any struggling real-life actor. It was also intriguing to think what any Big Wigs and Cheeses, or minions would think of this book.”
Answer: I’m sure it was no accident, especially given that author Matt Stover is no newbie to the entertainment field. And as pathetic as he was, I counted Lamorak among my favorite of characters.
RebeccaH writes: “The undying, apparently unrequited, love of Hari/Caine for Shanna/Pallas seemed excessive to the point of unhealthy obsession, but maybe I’ve just become cynical in my old age.”
Answer: You coldhearted thing you. I found the romantic through line (Hari’s love for Shanna) worked quite well, going a long way toward humanizing Hari/Caine while adding significant depth to an otherwise quite violent, action-driven story.
Silver_Comet writes: “For me, the pace of the storytelling was too slow. 100 pages and we still weren’t in the main story, just at the beginning.”
Answer: Wow. Just the opposite for me. I was caught up in the action from page one.
Silver_Comet also writes: “I never cared for the main character(s) Hari/Caine. Somehow, I couldn’t believe that he is really able to have true feelings. I couldn’t picture him as someone who starts that adventure because he loves his wife. Not as the main reason anyway.”
Answer: As the novel progresses, we learn more about Hari and his relationship with Shanna so initial surface impressions inevitably give way to a deeper understanding of both his motivation and his character.
Silver_Comet also writes: “I didn’t like the detailed storytelling in certain scenes. For example, it’s enough for me to read that person A cuts off the head from person B. I don’t need further details apart from that.”
Answer: I suspected that some readers would take issue with the visceral bloodletting and, while I’m not a fan of violence for violence’s sake, I thought Stover’s detailed description of the various battle sequences made them seem all the more real. In fact, I’d dare these passages were among the best-written in the book, and this is in no way intended to disparage the quality of the rest of the narrative. He is simply that good at writing “combat prose“.
Sparrow_hawk writes: “And I never really liked any of the main characters: Hari/Caine was too much of a thug and Shanna just never seemed “real” enough for me to care about.”
Answer: Hari felt quite real to me, but it was Shanna who never quite came alive for me.
Sparrow_hawk also writes: “The second tier characters: Toa-Sytell, Kierendal, Ta-lann and even the King of Cant, were more sympathetic. But for the most part, I just felt sorry for most of the characters and that is not something that makes me want to read more about them.”
Answer: Some wonderful supporting character. Toa-Sytell, in particular, was nicely drawn – a dangerous man but honorable, unlike his rival Berne.
Guy writes: “There’s this rule somewhere, it goes show don’t tell. Well, that’s a load of crap; show it if it would be interesting to see, tell it if it isn’t. This is something Matthew Stover seems to understand very well.”
Answer: Yes, Stover maintains a nice balance throughout, showing for the most part but telling when necessary. And, yes, I agree. Showing everything and telling nothing can often be just as boring as telling everything.