Thursday, June 26, 2014

Moonsong - Prelude: Power

Because I am forced to be away from my home (and my computer, and all of my free time), I thought instead of giving another bit of Muramasa: Blood Drinker, I would give everyone a taste of what I wrote last year. This is the prologue to Moonsong, an epic fantasy story I began writing last year in pieces sent one at a time to the woman who would become my wife. Eventually the story grew so large (some 325,000 words) that breaking into volumes became necessary to pursue publication. The third I'm hoping to get to this fall, after I wrap up Muramasa.

The following bit I'm rather fond of. Since reading Eye of the World  I've always liked the idea of starting off a book with a villain. This one is effective as because, just like in Jordan's classic, we don't get to meet the big bag evil guy right away in the main narrative. I hope it stimulates your hunger for more!

Prelude: Power

“Tell me, Vindrel, what is power?”
Sarthius Catannel turned his head away from the window for a moment to regard Claire as she stepped across the threshold to the small room overlooking the courtyard. Below his shock of blonde hair, his green eyes stared at her with the same vacant stillness as when she had met the man years before. Never a word to acknowledge her, his lingering look held all the wisdom she needed to understand. She felt a chill and drew her robes around her body tightly. She saw that the window was open. Just a breeze then, she thought.
“Power, sir?” Vindrel, the captain of the guard for as long as Claire could remember, stood beside Sarthius, his uniform of blue and green and as crisp as always. He was one of the few higher-ups of the military staff that had been kept on after the old count passed away, probably because he had no family to speak of, and therefore nothing at stake in the politics of court. She envied him.
“Yes, power.” Sarthius stared out the window as Claire crept up to stand slightly beside him. “What does it mean to have power? To be powerful?” She could smell the fire in the courtyard below, and understood what was taking place. She didn’t want to look, but knew somehow she would. In the end, she could not avoid it. Then the smell would get worse.
“Power…” Vindrel looked down for a moment. “Power is the ability to exact your will. To do what you wish.”
Claire noticed the flintlock pistol that Vindrel openly carried, in defiance of divine law. There were rumors that Vindrel was a Promethean, or as they called themselves, Somniatel. Watching him stare out the window with his familiar stone-cutting gaze, she believed he could, in truth, be a member of one of the strange highland clans that as much as worshipped the technological apostasies of the Dark One, even though they lived like savages in wilds of the world. If it was true, it explained much of his retention with the young count; Prometheans were valuable sell-swords, just as much for their uncanny skills as for their lack of ethics.
“A good answer,” Sarthius said, “but not quite right, I think. A woodcutter chops down a tree because he wishes it. Is he powerful?”
“He is to the tree,” Vindrel said.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shores of Null - Quiescence (Album Review)

I haven't tried to review anything in years, but this rather unknown doom band I came across recently compelled me to write one. Looking back at my Amazon reviews from 2005, I think I've improved quite a bit! I've included some videos and links at the bottom so you can preview their material or possibly support them by buying the album.

My overall score: 9 out of 10

Shores of Null is a band from Rome that combines a diverse set of influences and styles, including doom, death, and black metal. Sounds reminiscent of November’s Doom, Woods of Ypres, ICS Vortex’s solo debut “Stormbringer,” and American band Nevermore, in addition to classic black metal influences cleverly mixed in, can be heard throughout the ten track endeavor. The result is not something eclectic, but rather a coherent, unified sound that penetrates the album from start to finish despite great variety within and between tracks.

The sound of Shores of Null consists primarily of vertically large repeated chords in the guitar and bass that are shaped into melodic phrases and punctuated by memorable riffs. Throughout, dissonance is highly controlled, giving the listener a need for release that is never quite matriculated. Beneath the churning soundscape of the strings, creative drum work serves as its own point of interest while driving the tempo of the songs, which varies from black metal fast to sludgy slow. On top of these harsher elements sits the highly melodic voice, which is at times frantic and at times soothing, creating a tonal contrast that compels the listener to further explore the darkness the band presents in varying shades of grey. Growls used on several tracks heighten this contrast between harsh and beautiful.

The production on the album is fairly maximized and typical of a modern sound, however in the case of Shores of Null the production serves the music and doesn’t detract from it. All the instruments are clearly audible, including the bass which is often buried in metal recordings, and the tone employed on the rhythm guitars, bass, and vocals was excellent. The drums sound slightly compressed, but this is typical of metal and doesn’t distract too much. The voice is clear and sits at the right level in the mix, and nothing sounds over-processed.

As a criticism, while there is a great amount of tempo, texture, and tonal variety within and between the pieces on the album, the experience was overall lacking in dynamic variation, sounding consistently “loud.” Also somewhat distracting was the sound of the lead or melodic guitars, which sounded dead and shapeless. This is partly a performance issue, as the parts were played with little vibrato and failed to sustain or “sing.” It stands out mostly because of the great phrasing and tone employed by the vocals near or concurrent to the sections of single note lead guitar. The shortcomings of the album should not be viewed as negatives by themselves, but rather represent lost opportunities to make an already great album perfect.

If you are a fan of any of the bands mentioned, or enjoy doom metal in general, Shores of Null will likely please and earn a place in the rotation among the classics.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nostalgia Chronicles, part 3: Moving?

Another year, another room
Where you hang a few things on the walls
It’s just where you call home for now,
Until it’s time to take them down and move on.

-David Gold, from “To long life in the Limbo Union” Woods 4: The Green Album

The act of moving, and by that I mean changing your home from one location to another, is usually not looked back upon fondly. This is for good reason, as moving can involve hours of physical labor, tedious organizing, and frantic cleaning in an attempt to recover one’s security deposit. Having moved some five times in the last three years or so, I can say that I am thoroughly through with the experience. I’m ready to have a home and I hope this time I get to stick around it in it for a good long while.
However nostalgia, as I’ve made a point to clarify in the past, is not always a memory of something positive, it is just a powerful memory. The moving experience is always memorable for me. You take your things off the walls. You pack your knick knacks into boxes. Soon the clothes and the pots and the pans go, then your furniture and your toothbrush. You are left with empty rooms, no longer your home at all. For me it is a powerful experience. You enter limbo, where you get to contemplate all the places that were once home.
At the same time, there are numerous positive nostalgic feelings that I get when I move. I remember the past places I lived. I remember the joy I had there, and the promises that location made when I moved in. I also remember how I felt when I moved out. Here are a few of those places. I get take back there a lot.
Frank Court, Bakersfield, California
My parents rented a house in Bakersfield when I was young while my mother stayed home with myself and my sister. When I was five, they bought a house, and so the first real memory I have of a house being mine was on Frank Court. I remember the house being empty, and shouting to it, “goodbye!” as I walked out the door for the last time. I remember seeing the row of four bushy trees for the last time, as well as a thicket at the end of the street that I used to play in with my friends that lived down the street. I fell asleep at some point in the move and woke up in my new room.
North Park Apartments, Fresno California
My first apartment was across the street from Fresno State, where I was a graduate student at the time. They were really crappy, but I had a great time initially being independent. I moved in sort of one item at a time, and slowly the apartment became more like home. I’m nostalgic of lots of experiences from that little cave of a place, a few of which I address in my Berserk entry.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blood Drinker: Chapter 6-1

Here is chapter 6, where we find Yoshio and Amaya moving toward Osaka. As always, previous installments are linked before the beginning of the text proper.

Chapter 6

The sun beat down on the still-damp fields to either side of the raised road that split them. Peasants busied themselves with the harvest of the first round of rice, their bare feet collecting mud so that they looked like swallow nests below their calves as they stepped up and down. Their hats, large and conical much like the basket hat that Yoshio wore as he walked, bobbed up and down as they picked new stalks and threshed them. Amaya walked beside him, letting the horse follow by his lead a short distance behind them. A grove of trees interrupted their steady march as much by the sound of cicadas that nestled in them as the relief of shade they offered.
Amaya pulled the horse over to a shallow but clear pool in a rocky basin beside the grove, a left-over from the draining of the rice fields, and let the beast drink. He obliged contentedly, though the tense swishing of his tail at the pestering insects continued. Yoshio knelt down and dipped his hands into the water, then splashed his face.
“You’ve been quiet today, Yoshi,” Amaya said.
Yoshio turned to see Amaya sitting on a low-hanging branch of  a maple. Her head was slightly tilted. “I apologize,” he said. “I’ve had a great deal to think about.”
“Like what?”
“It’s a city, Yoshi. You’ve been in those before, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but it makes it so much harder to predict him. I missed what might be my only chance to catch Ryunosuke because of short-sightedness. More may be killed.”
Amaya nodded. “So you have given me the first answer.”
Yoshio sighed and stood up, letting the cool water drip off of his face. “Some of the things you said to me last night. They were not like you.”
“That is where you are wrong,” Amaya said. “They are precisely like me.”
“Then you have many sides, Amaya,” Yoshio said.
“And you will know them all, my dear…” she smiled sweetly and looked away for a moment. “Friend.”
“I’m not sure if I liked it,” Yoshio said. “In fact, it disturbed me.”
“Thank you for your honesty. I would not usually show that side off, but if you wish to know someone, you must offer up a piece of yourself in exchange.”
“Know who?” Yoshio said.
“You, silly.” Amaya hopped off the tree limp and walked to the horse. “People get to know each other by self-revelation. First you reveal something about yourself, then your companion feels obligated to offer up the same. You told me a great deal about yourself last night.”

Monday, June 9, 2014

"I'll Never be Good Enough" and Other Lies you Tell Yourself

I’ve done many different things in my life. I’ve played concerts, written books, recorded albums, and written sonatas and symphonies, along with plenty of other things people mind find more than a wee bit daunting. Sometimes, people disparage themselves and say that such things are impossible for them; that they lack the skill, talent, time, or intelligence to do what they really wish they could do.
I am here to tell you that such impossibilities exist only in your mind. You can write a book if you choose. You can play a concert, solo or otherwise, if you choose. You can record an album, or paint a great picture, or make a movie, or put on a play, or do any of the big creative projects you dream about.
The only difference between you and the person who does these things is time. Time spent with your craft, developing talents and skills. Time spent getting experience on stage or on the page. Time spent staring at the word processor or the finale document. The mountain seems insurmountable only because you stand at the bottom, but those who stand at the pinnacle got there the same way you will: one step at a time.
Hard work, dedication, and time is all it takes to accomplish your goals in life. If you want to write a book, write every day. Write something. Write. Sooner than you realize, you will have a manuscript. If you want to build an incredible body, lift weights. Every day. Sooner than you realize, you will be strong. It is the same process with this as with everything else.
Often people lose sight of the simple truth of progressing a step at a time to achieve goals. We live in an on-demand world with boring, repetitive jobs that train people to not only ignore the march of progress with themselves, but declare that it doesn’t even exist. It does exist. Make it real, one note, one page, one word at a time. More than that:

Don’t Give Yourself an Excuse to Not Try

Telling yourself that you “Just don’t have what it takes,” also gives you one of the most convenient excuses to avoid failure: avoiding the effort. If you predetermine that you will fail, it is easy to avoid doing the work and taking the risk that is necessary to achieve your dreams. It is a cruel psychological trick we play on ourselves to deprive ourselves of happiness, even if we don’t realize it.
Work hard. Work every day. Achieve your dreams. You can  do it. What are you willing to do to complete your work?

The video below has the same message in a more casual style, for those who care for it.