Monday, May 30, 2016

Title: Amy Lynn. Author: Jack July

(No, I don't usually name my posts like that but when the title of a book is a name, I find it a bit confusing. Also, yes, this is a SF/F blog, but this is not a SF/F book. All the same, it's Memorial Day, this is a positive book about the US Armed Forces and, well, it's my blog and I make the rules. So there.)

Any good story, and by that I mean book, movie, television show, oral history, etc., centers around a character or group of characters. That's how it works. It doesn't matter if the setting is down the street or across the universe. It can be a war story or a love story, a two thousand word short or a forty volume series but the characters have to work. If the reader doesn't want to see the main character succeed and the antagonist fail the story is not worth their time. Every once in awhile though an author gets it just right. I've read more books about Raistlin Majere than is probably healthy for one individual. My best friends as a small child were named Kirk, Spock and McCoy. I've cheered a million of Honor Harrington's.  We all remember Hawkeye from Mash and House from, well, House. My friends, it's time to learn a new name. The  name I'm speaking of is not Jack July, although that's a good one to remember too since he wrote the story, it Amy Lynn. That's the name of the book and the main character and this chick is one for the ages.

I'll get to the story, but allow me a second to talk about the main character. Amy Lynn Braxton is an amazing individual. I don't spoil stories but let it be known that this girl goes through more in life than any human being should ever have to and she does better than anyone could ever expect. Amy is raised with no mother, loses her brother at a young age and then.. I'll leave it to the story to tell the rest. Let's just say that Amy's worst trial is both visceral and raw and hits the reader and the character both hard. It's not a scene for the timid. She gets through it like a champion though, even if it does take a long time. She survives heartbreak after heartbreak and in the process becomes a great student and a world class athlete. There is a dark side to her too.

Amy Lynn actually does some things that are straight up horrifying. They're necessary. They make sense but they aren't pretty. Then again, given the circumstances it makes sense. Amy has seen some of the worst things that humanity is capable of and always bounced back. On the other hand, those things have left marks on her soul. When she does what she does it's shocking but it feels right. It's in character and it fits her background and situation. It leaves the reader sickened and wanting to celebrate at the same time.

In short, this is a complicated character. She's a Navy Corpsman with the Marine training to have earned the spot. She's a stone cold killer when she needs to be but she works with children in a military hospital in Afghanistan saving lives. She refuses to join any of the sports teams at her high school and then finally gives in... and goes to states in her sport. She loves her family and friends... and she does what is necessary to protect them. It's a good thing for her that she has friends too, because she finds herself in trouble from time to time and she needs them to get her out of trouble.

This is, however, not one of those books where only the main character is fully realized. Amy's uncle Jack is a great guy and a retired Navy Seal. Her Aunt Carla Joe is a woman with a story that is just as gut wrenching as Amy's, yet she is every inch a southern belle. Amy's father is a hard working guy of the kind that is commonly found in any American community who has just been through a lot. The Braxton family in general is not a family to be messed with but at the end of the day they're not doing anything that many of us wouldn't want to do in the same circumstances. These characters all work together to make this book both enjoyable and rewarding.

Amy Lynn joins the Navy late in the book. I'm wondering if perhaps July hasn't done some time in the military himself because his military characters just work. July has envisioned both the best and the worst that the military has to offer, from the lecherous CO to the NCO that saves Amy when she puts him in his place. Amy's life is saved by someone and she saves a few others. Her bond with HER Marines, who bestow upon her the hallowed title of "Doc" feels as real as it gets.

July's knowledge of politics is also well displayed as we go from the grandstanding assholes in Washington who want to make a name for themselves by shitting on war heroes to the ass-kicking president who puts them all in their places. July's president is a woman I'd vote for. I can't wait to see what she does in the next book.

July knows how to get an emotional reaction from his audience as few others do. Throughout the beginning of the book we're witness to the trials and triumphs of young Ms. Braxton as she grows but we're never quite given a year that it's set in. The book was published in 2013 and I had assumed that the date was relatively recent and never get it another thought... until he mentioned that it was a very specific historical date, one that hit hard because I lived through it. It brought back memories and they weren't pleasant. It was the only way to make the story work and it fit perfect but it hit hard. In other words, it was perfect execution.

I usually only critique story but there is one thing about this book that made me bonkers. The first letter of each chapter is a different font than the rest of the story. That in and of itself is something I've seen a lot but this time it was different because they displayed incorrectly about half the time and were a line or two below the rest of the text. I don't read many books on my phone so maybe that's why this happened, but it was a distraction. I wanted to walk up to the author with my hat in my hand and a hangdog look on my face like an orphan in Oliver and ask "Please, Mr July, I just want to read your story sir. Why are you hiding letters from me?" It really did effect my enjoyment of the story at times.

This should be clear at this point, but I'll say it anyway: If you are squeamish, do not read this book. The violence in Amy Lynn is both graphic and disturbing. I have to believe that it was meant to be that way. Sometimes that's what works best for a story and that is the case here. Blood and death are as much a part of this story as the heroism that goes with it. You have been warned.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Dr Peppers (and it would have been 5/5 if it wasn't for that freaking font problem)

Amy Lynn
Jack July
Self Published, 2012

And now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go wear my Folds of Honor hat and watch We Were Soldiers.

Speaking of Folds of Honor, they are an organization that provides scholarships to spouses of military members who have fallen or become disabled in battle. If you've got a couple of extra bucks on Memorial Day, they can use your help.

This post is dedicated to those American service members lost in battle. Enjoy your holiday in heaven.

Amy Lynn is available at the link below:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Seriously, Stop It

In the deep dark distant past, say like five years ago, it used to be that you had to have some creativity to write a movie script and have a prayer to have it accepted. Once upon a time you had to have an idea that centered around a group of characters and made us all care about them. Think about it. A lot has been said about George Lucas's inspirations in writing the original Star Wars trilogy. The fact remains that he conceived the character of Luke Skywalker, the existence of the Galactic Republic and even the Force as a concept. Once upon a time, a man named Gene Roddenberry conceived a group of characters named Kirk, Spock and McCoy and built an empire that is still producing new TV shows five decades later. I don't even know who wrote Avatar, but at least even that was a new concept be it one with a political message that I wasn't really a big fan of.

In the modern (or should I say "post-modern") world though, you don't need an idea. You don't need a new set of characters that people will care about. No, all you need is an all female cast, an idea that worked for someone else and the word "sexist." Yup, as in "You are sexist if you don't like this movie." That, after all, is the slogan of the new Ghostbusters flick. We're all supposed to love this movie even though the trailers for it so far have sucked. Given the fact that the best parts of the movie are usually what's shown in trailers that's scary. But hey, it stars women so I have to watch it and love it or I'm a sexist, patriarchal oppressor. Note that there is no mention in this theory that a movie should be GOOD to be loved. No, it is supposed to be enough that women have taken over roles that were once played by men.

Granted, this started a few years ago with specific roles but it's never been necessary. Seriously. Marlon Wayans was selected to play  Ripcord in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Why? Is GI Joe a franchise that is lacking in black characters? Doc, Heavy Duty, Stalker, Roadblock, Hardball, Alpine, Colonel Courage, Iceberg, Double Blast, Dr Link Talbott, hell even The Fridge are all GI Joe figures that have black skin. It was done as a political move. There is no other possible reason for it. Listen, if you want to make movies about your particular point of view you have the right to do so, even if I disagree with your point. Dammit though, make your own movie with your own characters and leave us geeks alone.

Look, I get it. Anybody who is familiar with Soviet art and architecture knows that leftists and creativity go together like oil and water. I get that. The leftists in the US haven't been raised in a truly communist society though. They should be better equipped to create something decent. This is pathetic. No, screaming the same old crap about patriarchy is not creative, nor is yelling the word racist at anyone you don't like. Political threats are old hat. Ruining someone's career because they said something that doesn't follow the party line is a trick that was used by both Stalin (he's the leftist here) and Hitler (who people claim was a rightist even though he led the National _Socialist_ German Workers Party). There is nothing new here.

Speaking of Hitler, he pulled exactly this type of stunt. Anything written or conceived by a Jew or disagreeing with the Nazi ideal was seen as "degenerate" and therefore banned. Sound familiar? It sounds an awful lot like re-writing Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. It sounds a lot like taking white male characters and changing them to something else. Seriously, let's just brand people who look like me as "untermenschen" and get it over with.

Again, I'm not calling for women or minorities to be left out of the arts. They have a very valuable place in our culture. Hip hop music has had an influence on our culture that is undeniable and the only people who try to stop that are the same people who call me racist. Apparently, liking something that was made by someone who doesn't look like me is "appropriation" and "racist". Newsflash people: The majority of voters in this country are white. The majority of the voters that elected a black president are white. The real breakthrough between cultures that made Barack Obama possible was made by guys with names like Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and Jam-master Jay. Oh, and let's not forget MC Lyte, Yo-yo or The Lady of Rage.  By pushing this crap you are doing far more to hurt yourselves than a white girl with dreads could ever hope to.

This applies to gender as well. This is an SF/F blog, so let's talk female authors: Some of my favorites are Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, Mercedes Lackey and Catherine Asaro. Actually, my favorite of Catherine Asaro's books is Radiant Hawk which posits a matriarchal society. It's an awesome read. I haven't reviewed it here because it's been a long time since my last re-read but it rocks. There are several books reviewed here (probably actually a majority, but I honestly haven't counted) by female authors.

It's time to stop the madness. I'm completely open to female characters and authors. I'm completely open to characters and authors of any race. Granted, to the best of my knowledge and belief I have reviewed precisely one non-white author (James Young) but that's because he's the only person I have received a book for review from. If you're not white and you're an author of SF/F, or if you have a SF/F movie that you would like review, send it to me. I'll give it a fair review. Keep in mind that FAIR means that if you want a good review it better be a good story. I'm not going to give you a good review based on race, skin color, sexual orientation or any other reason than the story. There are many of you out there who can do it. I've seen it.

Ruining old material won't do anything to advance your cause with the general public. Neither will a bunch of preachy bullshit stories. Well written stories will. One of the reasons Twelve Years a Slave is so powerful a story is because it's so well written and acted. Yes, it's based on a true story. Yes, slavery was wrong. The fact remains that the movie makes its point not by being preachy (although it has a powerful message) but by showing a person that the audience cares about going through emotionally wrenching trials. Not by harping at its audience and not by replacing a white man with a black one or man with a woman. Watch that movie. Learn not just the lesson you're meant to learn but the lesson about story telling. Stop the madness. Create something yourself. Make it good. The influence you exert on an audience will be much more intense if they enjoy what you're saying. Even those who disagree with you will respect you. Right now I don't and neither do a lot of other people who enjoy good stories.

Some Good Stories by Minority and Female authors are available below:

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Color Chart

Listen. Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger. I mean yes, I wrote it and yeah, I'm responsible for it.Still, at the end of the day, I wasn't given a choice. This is a rant that's been building for years and it has nothing to do with Science Fiction or Fantasy but I needed a space to vent. It's my bloggie and I'll post if I want to. (You would post too if it happened to you. Bu duh duh dunt dunt. Or sumfin') I mean really. So let's work this out, shall we?

Ladies, (and gentlemen who agree with them if there are any) I hate to break it to you but there are only like somewhere in the neighborhood of ten colors that exist. No, that doesn't mean that I'm colorblind. I've been tested for colorblindess. I got thirty-nine out of forty colors marked right and the other one I got marked down on because I squinted. I'm still bitter about it too. The lady even confirmed that it was the number six. I suppose I'll get over it eventually. It's only been twenty-two years but these things take time. That's not the point though. Here is the point:

Red is a color. Brick is not a color. It is a building material. Fire engine is not a color. It is a vehicle that carries comes to keep your house from burning down. Rose is not a color. It is a plant. I've always found that one weird since apparently anyone who would refer to "rose" as a color IS colorblind. There are, after all, red, pink, white, orange and yellow roses that I know of. There may very well be more, but I have hay fever and I try not to study anything that exudes pollen too closely.

For your further edification, I will list other things that are not colors:

Pumpkin is not a color. It is an orange fruit.
Tomato is not a color. It is a red fruit.
Puce is not a color. It is a bodily function best performed into a toilet or urinal.
Egg shell is not a color. It is God's way of making me work for my breakfast.
Ivory is not a color. It is a substance that people used to make jewelry before it became illegal.
Mauve is not a color. It is properly spelled "Maude" and is an old TV show.
Burnt is not a color. It is what happened to my toast last night when the toaster button jammed.
Gold is not a color. It is a metal. It is also a medal. Someone out there didn't get that. Please try to keep up.
Crimson is not a color. That is a word made up by that school in Ohio. If you like Crimson you are pathetic and probably also a criminal, especially if you like Gray with it. (More on Gray below.)
Strawberry is also not a color, but if you have any feel free to bring them by because they sound really good right now.

So, having discussed what is NOT a color, what is a color? Allow me to elucidate:

Black is a color. I like the color black. I look good in it because it is slimming. It is the color of empty space. It is an awesome color.

Blue is a color. The Detroit Lions wear blue. The Michigan Wolverines wear blue. The North Carolina Tarheels wear blue.No, none of those blues look the same but they are all equally blue. Blue is my favorite color. If you are a woman and you want to Jimbo to think you look good wear blue. Then again, there are other colors women look good in as well. If you don't care if Jimbo thinks you look good you can still look good. Or you can wear something else. Dammit, I'm off topic again. At any rate...

Orange is a color. Put orange lettering on a blue background and you get the uniforms of the Detroit Tigers. Orange is also the color that hunters wear so that it sticks out in a woodland background. Orange is a really cool color.

White is a color. Don't give me that crap about "It's not a color. It's a shade." Shade is something that happens when light gets blocked. White is the predominant color of most away uniforms. It is an important color. Which team is the home team is a very important thing to determine when you end up watching a game you weren't planning to.

Yellow is a color. The sun is yellow. Yellow therefore sucks because it causes sunburn.

Green is a color. It is the color of sickness, decay and Michigan State Spartans. It should be shat upon whenever possible.

Brown is a color. It is the color that comes to mind whenever someone says "green." See the reasoning for such under green.

Gray is a color. Many of my favorite shirts are gray. I like gray.

Pink is a color. I wore pink when I walked the Three Day. Pink is the color of survival. I'm not going to be able to do the Three Day this year, but maybe next year I'll wear some pink again.

Purple is a color. My daughter Riley likes the color purple. It is also the color of annoying dinosaurs. Put bluntly, I'm not sure if those two facts are related or not.

Ok, so I was wrong. There are eleven colors. That is really all there are. There is no need to pretend that there are more. There is no reason to tell some poor, unsuspecting man that something is ivory when he can see it is clearly white. No, you don't have an aquamarine dress. You have a dress that should be blue but has contracted some dress disease and is slowly turning green. You should probably discard said dress and get a real blue dress that you will look good in.

To all the ladies who have read this far, I would like to say congratulations on educating yourself and simplifying your life and mine. To all the gentleman who have read this far I would like to say that yes, you were always right and I am here to support you in your time of need. Now, regardless of which category you fit in, go forth and be awesome!

Some color and sports related items are available at the link below: