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Monthly Archives: August 2013

I recently finished Chuck Wendig’s first novel for young adults, Under the Empyrean Sky. As a fan of Chuck’s blog over at Terrible Minds, I felt I owed it to myself to give one of his full-length books a read, and I’m damn glad that I did.

Under the Empyrean Sky introduces us to our intrepid young hero, Cael McAvoy, captain of a teenage scavenger crew in the Heartland. Cael and his friends sail a land boat across the seemingly endless fields of corn to salvage anything they might be able to sell in their home town of Boxelder, because any extra money they can bring in helps provide for their families.

See, only one thing grows in the Heartland. The Empyrean makes sure of it. Hiram’s Golden Prolific is a modified strain of corn that spreads anywhere it pleases, choking out any other potentially competitive life (and it’s not fond of people walking near it, either). It’s the only seed that the Empyrean distributes to the farmers in the Heartland, and the returns for working for the Empyrean machine are enough to barely survive.

So Cael McAvoy scavenges, but he and his friends are not the only crew at work. The mayor’s son has a crew, number one in salvage recovery in Boxelder, and Boyland Barnes Jr. brings daddy’s money to the fight to ensure that Cael’s crew remains in second place. With tensions running high as the Harvest Home festival approaches, Cael takes his ship out for a prime target, only to be shipwrecked in the corn by Boyland Jr. It’s then that he finds something out in the middle of the field, something no one in the Heartland could have predicted. Vegetables. Fruits. Things that have no right growing in the midst of Hiram’s Golden Prolific. The discovery could make them all rich enough to buy passage to one of the flotillas, massive hovering cities of the Empyrean, where the wealthy live in splendor floating over the Heartland like Cael’s boat over the corn. Or it could get them and everyone they’ve ever loved killed.

Wendig packs one hell of a punch into the pages of this book. Deep characters and rich world building blend seamlessly with gritty violence and some of the most honest dialogue to hit the pages of a young adult novel. While some things might come across as a bit heavy-handed (like Empyrean agent Simone Agrasanto‘s name), most of the novel is quick and sharp, like the leaves of the plant that lends its name to Wendig’s self-dubbed “cornpunk” genre. Under the Empyrean Sky weaves teenage love, sex, violence, and intrigue into a wild land boat ride that will leave you counting the days until the release of volume two.

And weighing in at exactly 333 words, here’s my entry for Trifecta Week 91. This is what I was working on when I was interrupted, and found my writing time better served elsewhere.

“The Brand”

The brand still stung. The prisoner couldn’t remember how much time had passed, because he hadn’t been allowed to see the sun or a clock since he’d been brought inside. He couldn’t remember his name. Where he was from. What he had done for a living. What he could remember was the stink as the metal burned through hair and flesh, the shock of the realization that it was his own that seared. Countless hours or days or weeks later, it still stung, though the stench had faded.

In the cell’s dim light, he could make out a faint white and pink outline on the inside of his left wrist, the shape somehow familiar. Where had he seen it before? His memory of the time before his capture was gone, and details of the event still eluded him. It didn’t seem to matter how much of his immeasurable time he spent attempting to recall things. The brand stung, and…

Wait? Was that it? The brand… Could they have done something to his memory with it somehow? Burning out his past as they burned his arm? He jumped to his feet, calling for the guards. It was all coming back to him, his wife, his sons, his life, as his mind slowly beat down the barrier between past and present.

“I remember!”

The guards stood at the door.

“Think he means it?”

“Better to be certain.”

“Right. Out then, you.”

Matthew stepped out of his cell, the sting gone from his wrist. He saw brighter light down the hall and felt a surge of hope as a guard’s gauntlet connected with the back of his head, sending him cascading into darkness again.

The brand still stung. The prisoner couldn’t remember how much time had passed, because he hadn’t been allowed to see the sun or a clock since he’d been brought inside. In the cell’s dim light, he could make out a faint white and pink outline on the inside of his left wrist…

I had something else that I was writing today, but I just learned that it’s going to have to wait. As Somerset Maugham said, “We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.” I really wish that this were not something I had to say.

Where to start?

On Tuesday night, I lost one of my oldest friends. Kurtis and I had known each other since preschool. We grew up together, or at least got older together. We were good friends all the way through high school. I can’t say that we were best friends, because it’s simply not true, but we always got along, even when we would agree to disagree. In high school, we were part of the local FCCLA chapter, doing community service work, and traveling across the country. We went to Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego, and Nashville, and came in as one of the top teams in the nation for the Parliamentary Procedure competition as freshmen and as seniors. Nashville was our last big adventure together, and we didn’t talk a lot after we went off to college. An occasional “Hey, how are you?” or “Happy birthday!” was the closest we really got.

Some time later, I heard that Kurtis had been diagnosed with cancer, but he fought it. With help from his wife, Liz, and his friends and family, he fought. And for a while, he won. On Tuesday night, though, after another long bout, Kurtis knew that it was time for him to say goodbye. I wish that I could be that brave, and that strong. I wish that I’d taken the time to talk to him a little more. Others knew him better, I know, but I am proud to have known him.

I recently took the time out of my schedule to play through Injustice: Gods Among Us. I’m not normally one for fighting games, but this one boasted a full roster of DC Comics characters and a seriously compelling story, so I figured I’d at least give the story mode a go.

WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD (But please note that the game is three months old at this point)

Our story begins in an alternate universe (surprise!) in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion that has obliterated Metropolis. The Joker managed to get his hands on a nuke, and link the trigger to Lois Lane’s heartbeat. When he managed to drug Superman and convince him that Lois was actually Doomsday, Superman kills the love of his life and their unborn son, and triggers the nuke. In a fit of rage, Superman murders the Joker in revenge and establishes himself as High Councilor of Earth.

In our universe, the Joker is about to unleash a nuke as well. The Justice League is en route to stop him when he and several of the heroes are pulled into the aforementioned alternate universe. Parallel Batman has brought heroes from our world into his to help end Superman’s reign, and the fighting begins.

Each of the twelve chapters of the story allows you to play through several fights as a range of characters. Batman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Deathstroke, Lex Luthor, The Flash, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, The Joker, Aquaman, and Superman are all featured in the main story mode. Each has a standard set of light, medium, and heavy attacks, and various special moves. It’s hardly the most complex fighting game to come down the line (I’m looking at you, BlazBlue and Dead or Alive), but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Voice acting is top-notch, character designs are spot-on, and the story is pretty damn compelling. I’d rate it almost perfectly, except for one glaring issue.

I have one major complaint about Injustice, and it applies to the story mode. While you have a wide range of characters to play as, especially in standard fighting modes, story mode only includes one female character. Wonder Woman is the only female character you play while in the story mode, and her character is placed in a less-than-ideal scenario. Story mode places her playable portion near the very end of the game. She has three story mode battles instead of the typical four (or more) given to the other characters. And finally, two of her three battles take place against other female characters, including a mirror universe version of herself. Injustice takes great strides to establish itself as a strong fighting game with a great roster of characters, but the story falls flat at including this level of equality. It’s worth a playthrough, but keep in mind that Netherrealm Studios could have done a better job of implementing more of DC’s female characters. Raven, Killer Frost, Catwoman, Hawkgirl, and Harley Quinn are all fought against, and Zatanna and Batgirl are available as downloadable content, so the overall roster isn’t lacking. You’ll still find plenty of DC’s ladies kicking ass and taking names in tournaments, but the plot really needed to showcase more of them as active heroes.


These are my last steps through these halls.
This is the last night that I will spend not
Roaming, but monitoring, patrolling them.

New voices now echo forth from the doors,
And new faces, mysterious and unknown,
Peer around the corners. My time is ending.

It’s time for a new generation to take my place.
I can’t believe that my turn is over, but it’s
Time to pass the torch. Turn in my keys, clock out.

I’ve done my time, as it were. Served my sentence
And then some. I’ve been here for far too long,
Unchanging. It’s time to be like water, fluid.

These are my last days in the world that I forged.
This was a place that, once upon a time, provided
Me with the protection and stability that I sought.

I was desperate then, but I am stronger now.
Now I will seek love, freedom, and change rather
Than certainty. There are some things that are better.

Empty hallways will fill again, just as they do each
Year, an annual event that never ceases to amaze.
My part in the growth is done, my exit is stage left.

I’ve finally gotten around to updating the Microfiction page again. Over a dozen short stories have been added to the list under Writing Challenges, and five new poems are now linked under the Poetry heading as well. These pieces are all here on the blog, but it’s very nice to get them organized. Feel free to check it out. Revisit old favorites, and find new stories you might have missed!

On Friday night I got to see my first ever live RUSH concert. My mind is blown. From the opening notes of Subdivisions to the ominous closing words of 2112 Part VII: The Grand Finale, the concert rocked. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart may be aging, but they certainly don’t act any older. Alex can still play guitar like no one else, with beautifully melodic solos and an intense energy that is only matched and amplified by Neil’s focused drumming (I swear he doesn’t actually look at the drum kit and just KNOWS where each piece is) and Geddy’s bass, vocals, and skipping around the stage. There really is nothing else like it.

A complete setlist from their Denver show can be found here. Note that the string ensemble they had backing them during the Clockwork Angels tracks also played during YYZ. That’s right. YYZ. Live. WITH A STRING ENSEMBLE. I need to go lie down now.

Here’s another quick Trifextra entry for the bonus challenge this week. We were given a photo and told to write 33 words about it. Our photo is here:

Photo credit: [ changó ] / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: [ changó ] / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND



“How much longer do we have to wait, Umbra?”

“Only a little bit, Skugga. Soon, the sun will set, and when it does, we’ll be free.”

“All of us?”

“Yes, all of us.”


This week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge word was “band.” This is “Travelers.”

I wrapped my cloak tightly around me as the breeze threatened the wanderer’s attempts to maintain a fire. He laughed, shifting into position to block the wind as he added more kindling.

“You know,” he said, “you’re not doing too well at this whole adventuring thing.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked, indignant. “After all, you were the one who was walking through the desert at mid-day with nothing in your waterskin.”

“Oh, sure, you’ve got supplies. I saw them. But have you got a weapon?”

I stared blankly at the man. The fire crackled as he stoked it.

“Of course I’ve got a weapon. I’m not about to go away from the city without something to defend myself.”

“Some raggedy stick?”

I clutched my staff. “They’re the weapon of my order. We train with them from the time we’re able to walk. If I wanted to, I could kill you seven different ways with it before you could shout for help.” I found myself briefly wishing that I’d never stopped to help him.

“My blade could slice it in two before you noticed, boy. Case in point.” He glanced at my neck, and I followed his eyes down. A sword extended from his hand to my throat, the blade a hair’s breadth away. “But I think,” he went on, his eyes flicking back up to my shoulder, “that it would be for our mutual benefit to band together. At least until we cross the Sand Sea.”


“Don’t be scared of me, boy. It’s just that there are things out there in the dark, and it doesn’t seem that you can see them. Otherwise you’d have noticed…HIM!”

I felt the blood dripping down my arm as the wanderer’s sword flew from my neck and pierced something behind me.

“A…agreed…” I looked down at the bleeding creature.

“You and me, kid. We’ll do okay.”

“I hope so.”

“You’ve got supplies. I can see these things. It’ll be fine.”

The wanderer stoked the fire.

Okay. I know that it’s been a busy summer. There have been a lot of things that I’ve been meaning to get done that haven’t been happening, at least just yet. Reviews I’ve wanted to write, books I’ve wanted to read, etc. I’ve been stretching myself a bit thin, and I’m starting to feel it. Still, if college taught me anything, it’s that I function very well when that last-minute-panic-feeling hits. I’ve decided that I need to do a bit of reorganizing in my life.

Right now, it’s just turned into August (Happy Birthday, Colorado!). That means that the Renaissance Festival is coming to an end, and my girlfriend will have a little bit of time for a social life before the school year starts up again (she wants to be a teacher, and I’m a little jealous of the fact that she will continue to have summer breaks for the rest of her career, not going to lie). I’m personally hoping she gets to write a little bit, but we’ve got a joint project coming up that’s going to take a lot of time. See, we’re both making our own costumes for our cosplays for NDK this year, and I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m pretty new to the sewing machine, and I’m very serious about making my costume myself, though I’m also very willing to accept any and all help. We have some absolutely amazing friends who are already doing more than they should to help with this. Now I’m not saying what the cosplay is, not just yet. I know many of my readers already know, but those of you who don’t get to be surprised. So, shhhh. It involves a haircut. That’s the only hint you get.

Cosplay stuff aside, I still have a lot of things to get done. There’s some job opportunities that I’m likely to be applying for, as having a single full-time job would be a lot easier to manage than the two part-time things I’m doing now. A set schedule would also allow me to better handle a daily writing schedule, particularly useful since November is coming. I’m still working on a purge of my book collection. I was able to unload some of my duplicate titles onto V, which was a great help to me. Now I just need one more bookshelf, and I might be able to have space for everything that’s in my apartment at the moment. Just one more. Then I can get more books, and the cycle can begin again. Book addiction, folks. It’s a serious issue.

Also up this week is the accomplishment of a life goal. Tomorrow night, I’ll be in Denver to see my all-time favorite band live for the first time. Rush is coming to town, and I am not about to miss it. I’m going to listen to Moving Pictures again this morning, and probably work my way through as much of the discography as I can before I fall asleep tonight. In the meantime, I’ve got to go to work. The patrons at the library need me.