Friday, September 27, 2013


Exile (Forgotten Realms: The Dark Elf Trilogy, #2; Legend of Drizzt, #2)Exile by R.A. Salvatore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

. . . In which Forrest's children con him into reading yet another book that wasn't originally on his TBR pile . . .

Yet another inadvertent social-science commentary, this time of a more psychological bent than sociological. Here we see Drizzt, the renegade drow-elf, struggle to regain his . . . well, his self. It's a lonely life out in the tunnels of the Underdark, worse, even, than the halls of your local middle- or high-school (if you can believe that). You see, the Underdark is full of bullies. Not your pudgy, freckle-faced, push-you-into-a-mud-puddle class bullies, but bullies that really want to kill you and eat you (and not necessarily in that order). As a result of this environment, the kind, gentle Drizzt has become a killing machine, a survivor, a bully's worst nightmare.

Worst of all, Drizzt has suffered abuse at the hands of his own sisters and mother. No, that's not exactly true. His mother wants to kill him. More than anything else in the world. This does nothing for his self-esteem.

I'm no psychiatrist, but it shouldn't take a PhD to figure out that this guy is pretty messed up.

Still, he has to have friends, right? Even the most awkward social reject has friends (who are also awkward social rejects). Enter Belwar, a svirfneblin that Drizzt encountered in the first book, Exile. Yes, there was the relationship-limiting issue of Drizzt having ordered Belwar's hands being cut off (if I'm remembering that right), but let's let bygones be bygones. Can't we all just get along? And who better to forgive an outcast, "good" drow who has abandoned the evil ways of his family, than a gnome with a pickaxe and magical hammer for hands? Reasonable, no? While we're at it, let's throw in a Pech that has been polymorphed into a Hook Horror (if I were the wizard who did this think, I would have changed him into a slug or a pudding or a soggy cardboard box or something, but what do I know of wizarding?). Three buddies, all trying to help Drizzt overcome his evil inner self.

If that's not enough, let's throw in some foes. Of course, there's Matron Malice, Drizzt's mother. Then there's the undead corpse of his father, Zaknafein, which is being controlled by Matron Malice (who really wears the pants in all this?). Add in a few random encounters with mindless whatnots, and a whole section of Mind Flayers, and you've got a recipe for a pretty good book.

Seriously, as much as I mock, I admire. Not the writing. Salvatore has a penchant for using words that don't make sense, though they sound like they should make sense (we call those "malapropisms," children). In the words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." But other than a bit of grammatical sloppiness, and a touch of overly sappy dialogue (both external and internal), I do like this book. It was written for teenagers, no doubt, and I'm a little older than that. Just a little. But the action was exciting, the characters were good, but not great, and the Underdark is fascinating. What really pushed this from a 3 to a 4 star book, however, was the intrigue between the drow themselves. Homeland set the stage for this, but watching the theory play out into practice was absolutely amazing. Hopefully I'll see more of that when I kowtow to my son's desires for me to read the final book in the trilogy and maybe even take a sidestep into one or two other Forgotten Realms books.

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Monday, September 16, 2013


Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a previous review of Pratchett's The Color of Magic, I speculated that I might have become jaded since high school. I noted that I enjoyed that book, but it was not as hilarious as I had remembered it, initially. There will be no such danger with Mort, meaning, I probably won't be re-reading it. Again, this one was funny, but not hilarious, and more cutesy than clever.

Still, it has its moments, the best of which, I thought, was the interchange between the Sun Emperor and his Grand Vizier, a game of wits, really, and a contest in the manipulation of societal niceties to one's lethal advantage. Death's own search for what it means to be human was very funny and almost poignant, though the lure of mortal banality was idealized with a bit too much treacle.

I will give Pratchett one thing, though: he understands teenage awkwardness. I thought the book really hit its stride when Mort's unrequited love of Keli and Ysabell's growing fondness of Mort lead to a few uncomfortable moments. Again, these themes are almost emotive enough to be compelling. But Ysabell's sudden switch from being annoyed by Mort's very presence to her fawning on Mort, with no real indication of why she changed, left me feeling just a little cheated.

I'll admit it - I like Pratchett best when he's off-subject. His little asides are what make this book enjoyable. The plot line is fairly flat, with big ideas that go unrealized. But it's the little ideas that I love and that make this a book worth reading, like valuable gems in a rather ordinary diadem. I'll search out another Discworld book, maybe two, looking for those same gems. But I can't say that I'm dazzled by Discworld . . . yet.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writer's Gear and My Writing Hideaway

I believe strongly that while things themselves don't bring happiness, surrounding oneself with material objects that one loves does bring a certain pleasure to the soul. Maybe I've read A Rebours one too many times, but I'm a fan of creating an environment in which I can flourish, creatively speaking. Now, I'm not wealthy, so I can't carve out the creative space I'd really like. Then again, having to scratch together my creative space is a creative act in and of itself.

I also believe in dressing for occasions. If you're going to go to an Opeth concert, for example, you probably want to wear black. Going out canoeing? Put on your PFD! If you don't know what a PFD is, you shouldn't be canoeing. Hunting? Best to wear Filson gear. Sitting down (or in my case, standing up) to write? Put on your writing shoes!

Yes, writing shoes!

And your writing fez!


Pardon me if I get a little crazy about my writing . . . accoutrements. It's not that I can't stand up (more on this later) and churn out a chapter without them. With my busy life, much of my writing is done on the fly, in-between other tasks, waiting while one of the kids gets a haircut, while cooking dinner, in line at the bank (that one got a few stares), etc. But when I can block out a chunk of time and I want to get serious about writing, I put on my writing gear and crawl into my writing cave.

It really is kind of like a cave, being in my basement and all. I have four kids and a small house, so space is at a premium. As they grow up and move on, I might be able to have a room to myself, though I sometimes wonder if I really want a larger room all to myself. There's something about my dark little corner of the basement that actually helps me focus. Sure, there are all kinds of distractions down there, I've surrounded myself with them. But they're the kind of distractions that fuel my creativity, rather than divert it.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things, the gear and space and knick-knacks out of which I create my little auctorial universe. Now, if you'll excuse me, after I'm done with this, I'm going to disappear into my lair . . .

Writing Shoes:

Here they are, my writing shoes: Dr. Martens Mens Brogue, size 9 (I'm a small guy). Comfort, quality, inspiration. And the high soles give me a little more lift for writing. No, seriously. You'll see why later. It's not just my Napoleon Complex.

Writing Fez:

Selfie! OK, I hate them, too. Don't focus on me, focus on the out-of-focus fez. Look into its voided eyes. Deeply. Deeply. That's it. No, wait! Stay awake! Keep reading! It's a blog, for crying out loud, you're here to read! Seriously, now, this fez holds great meaning for me. I bought it for myself after I finished writing my novel Heraclix & Pomp, which I'm very proud of. A skull-embroidered fez plays a key symbolic role in the book, as a matter of fact. Agent Kris is still pimpin' it to editors, so if you want to read more of my completed fiction, you can go here, here or here. If you're interested in reading the beginnings of the sequel to Heraclix & Pomp, chapter 1 can be found, rather conveniently, on my blog, here.

Behind me:

This is actually the view behind me, as I write.  The left side is a mirror, the right a corkboard. You can see the reflection of my writing desk in the mirror. The interesting blob at the lower left of the mirror is a melting-face theater mask that my youngest son made in his art metals class. The mirror and corkboard are surrounded by white Christmas lights. In fact, Christmas lights are ubiquitous in my little cave. The mirror isn't there for vanity - it's to double the light provided by the Christmas lights. On the corkboard, from top to bottom are: 1) a string of pictures of my children, oldest to youngest, 2) a particularly cool digital art piece of skeleton keys that I bought myself after selling my story "Keys I Don't Remember" (which you can read in my collection, Fossiloctopus), 3) a venetian mask (Do you sense a theme here? Me too. Hmm. Curious.), and 4) a framed collection of some of my favorite dark chocolate wrappers. I'm a little obsessive about dark chocolate. But not as obsessive as these guys!


This is my knick-knack shelf, below the mirror and corkboard. I'd be here all day explaining all the full details, if I tried to tackle this open wunderkammer. I'll just hit the high points. There is a bit of my own artwork there, a framed, signed print by collage artist Michael Shores. I also have here a collection of several lead miniatures, including a fantastic set of martians by Eureka miniatures, some Mi-Go (with a brain cylinder), and a pair of pulp-era science fiction killer robots (I can't, for the life of me, remember who I bought these from - someone whom I contacted through theminiaturespage). Behind the minis is my well-provisioned box of cone incense, which I often burn while writing (hit all the senses, I say!). To the left is a jester statue by the very talented Lisa Snellings (over which is draped a bloodstone mandala that my brother made for me), and a vinyl copy of the E.T.L., Extraterrestrial Live album by Blue Oyster Cult, which is a work of art on many levels.

The Corner:

The corner. I find myself staring at this area when I need to think. Mostly because my World Fantasy Award trophy is there - Lovecraft all decked out in a beanie with a fake Pinocchio nose (the beanie was from a reading I did once, the nose was from Halloween one year).  Staring into Howard's vacant eyes helps the brain juices to get boiling, somehow. Below that, we have a set of medieval silver coins, a cup of my writing pens, and, of course, my writing fez. Up in the air, there, you'll see my caged origami ravens. Here's a closer look.

The Book Shelf:

Many, many wonderful books. Some of them for reference, some just because I love them. One of these days I'll have to list them all. On top of the shelf there's a pic of my lovely wife and a set of Moebius trading cards, along with an angel smurf my youngest gave me. There are a couple of rayguns there (one of them the notorious Fizziwig Thresher Mark II Ioniser), a tentacle that my middle son made in ceramics class (what's a fantasy writer's den without a tentacle somewhere?), and at the bottom is a  . . . thing . . . a lightbox, I suppose, that I made out of an old ammo box. 

The "Desk":

Confession time: My writing desk isn't really a desk. It's an old phonograph cabinet that someone was putting on their curb one day, when I asked them what they wanted for it. "You want it? Go ahead and take it!" Apparently, I'm not the only one who doesn't have enough room in his house. So I scored it for free. I found, years ago, that I'm much more energetic and much happier standing at a desk, rather than sitting. This is true at the day job, as well. And this is why my writing shoes, with their extra bit of lift, add to my writing enjoyment. Sure, I could go all Gene Simmons, I suppose, but those writing shoes are comfy and stylish! Anyway, inside my writing desk, you'll find several composition notebooks, pen cartridge refills, a can of coconut water or two, and mmmmmaybe some dark chocolate.

Where the Action Happens:

Whoa! What's that? Could it be a bar of dark chocolate on top of the writing desk? Why yes, that's exactly what it is, along with yet another raygun (that's three within arm's reach - watch it, alien scumbags!), my Google Nexus (playing Krzysztof Penderecki's De Natura Sonoris No.2 - you may remember this piece from the movie The Shining - via Pandora), a beautiful wooden pen I inherited from a wonderful friend who passed away recently (sorry for the sad note), and chapter 19 (right in the thick of it, in fact) of the science fiction novel I'm currently working on, entitled Solistalgia.

So there you are, from shoes to schrift, a tour of my imagination factory - well, at least the portion outside of my head and closest to my body, as I write. Hopefully the internet doesn't up and croak as I post this, my most memory-hogging blog post to date. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to tweet me @ForrestAguirre. If you'd like to read some free fiction of mine and purchase some almost-free fiction (both long and short form), pop on over to my Smashwords page and have a look. In the meantime, I'm going to head down, stand up, and do some more writing!
Addendum: The skull fez makes a cameo appearance, well, many cameo appearances, in my novel Heraclix & Pomp, which I just sold to Resurrection House publishing!
Addendum 2: I have added the wonderful Bronze Hugonaut to my writerly cabinet of wonders. He offers a lot of inspiration when I'm stuck.