There and Back Again…Again

This adventure story treads a road that most of us have traveled before.   It is a pleasant and a comfortable road, but one that brings a bit of weariness with it.  It borrows heavily from Tolkienesque fantasy, with a company of men, elves, dwarves and a wizard going after a dragon named Slathbog, who lives in a mountain and guards a horde.  (Very much like Smaug from “The Hobbit”) It evens go so far as to have the main character get mixed up with a troll, which is turned to stone by sunlight.  
Don’t get me wrong.  The author does have some great original ideas.  For example, I liked the concept of “magic bags” which each adventurer carries.  It has different rooms and can be added on to in a sort of “The Sims” style.  They could then store their massive amount of loot in their bags without ever running out of room. 
The characters were interesting, and the places they went held my interest, though they too sometimes smacked of Tolkien, such as a woodland city ruled over by an elf queen. There was a lot of singing and feasting and going through ceremonies, and a few fights and then a bit more feasting and laughing.  It is an adventure, but one where everyone gets along, and there doesn’t ever seem like anyone was really in danger. 
In the end, it is a comfortable story, suitable for young readers just getting into the genre.   I enjoyed reading it, but I hope to see a little more tension in the next installment.  

Fantasy and Sci Fi Fans, Unite!

I’m a big fan of both Sci Fi and Fantasy literature and love when authors tastefully combine the two. Berin has down a great job on this task, in a fiction debut that had me anticipating the series that is sure to come. 
In “The Dragon War Relic”, Berin takes the role of an American Douglas Adams in crafting a humorous Sci Fi/Fantasy epic. There are so many little touches and allusions for the longtime Sci Fi/Fantasy reader (This book will probably appeal most to a reader who is two parts Trekkie and three parts Tolkienite.) I love what he did with creative and witty chapter titles, such as one of the final chapters “The Scouring of the Desert Table” which points to the final section of “The Return of the King” called “The Scouring of the Shire.” 

He also does this funny short of running joke where he pokes fun of product placement by creating off brands of popular products to put in his books. Things like “Pizza Cottage” and my personal favorite “the Zboz” with its hit game “Havoc”. Another nice touch is the author’s inclusion of an original song called the “Havoc Stomp” which he works into the plot. He includes the words in the back and even has a version you can listen to on his website.

“The Dragon War Relic” follows a pair of unassuming “Earthers” Jared and Doug, who find themselves tangled up in a galactic plot after Jared is given a pair of strange objects to look after by a strange man. Just after he is entrusted with these objects , the man who gave them perishes in a mysterious explosion. Jared finds himself as Earth’s representative on the galactic council and teamed up with elves, angels, ogres, and others in order to untangle the riddle of the objects Jared has been entrusted with. 

In short, a hilarious, enjoyable read. Set your course for the nearest bookstore. 


Author Spotlight for June: Berin Stephens

1.      What made you decide to write Sci-Fi and Fantasy (and all combinations thereof)?
            A: Sci-fi and fantasy have been my two favorite genres for a long time. When I was a kid, I started off on books like the Hardy Boys and loved them. Then I discovered The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. It opened up my eyes to a whole new aspect of reading. Shortly after that, my brother introduced me to Lucky Star and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov which expanded my horizons into sci-fi.
            Recently, I made a list of all my favorite books, movies and TV shows. The common thread in all of them was sci-fi, fantasy, comedy and adventure. So, naturally, when I took to writing I ended up combining all four.
2.      At what point in your life did you decide to write books?
            A: It was fairly early in life. In fact, I think The Hobbit is what inspired me to want to create stories like that.
            When I was a teenager and into my early twenties, I tried to write several novels but failed. I did have several teachers along the way who kept encouraging me and letting me know that I had a gift for writing. Unfortunately, life took over and my writing got put aside for college and then trying to keep the bills paid.
            It started back up for me about five years ago when my teenage daughter started writing novels. Being a father of a teenage girl was a little awkward, so I tried to think of something that we could do together. I then blew the dust off my old writing desires and decided to do a NaNoWriMo with her one year. That way, we could bond by commiserating about the experience. In the process, I ended up with the beginnings of a half-way interesting book that later evolved into The Dragon War Relic. The habits I learned doing NaNoWriMo have taught me how to budget my time better so that I can now write on a regular basis.
3.      You tied in music with your first book with “The Havoc Stomp”.  Do you plan to incorporate songs into your upcoming works?
            A: I hope to, but I’m not sure. “The Havoc Stomp” just came to me one day without much effort. I also wrote a theme song called “Galactic Journeys” (which is a spoof of the Star Trek theme) that also just came to me one day.
            Of course, “The Havoc Stomp” is the theme song to a fictitious video game called Havoc (spoofing Halo). In book 2, The Scepter of the Ancients, the video game the characters are addicted to is called Master of Funk (spoofing Guitar Hero and Rock Band). With a title like that, there has to be some music, but the inspiration hasn’t struck yet. I want to come up with some instrumental funk tunes that are kind of a cross between “Jungle Boogie” and “Pick up the Pieces.”
4.      When I think of funny sci-fi, I often think of the works of Douglas Adams.  Are you a fan of his works?
            A: Yes. I thoroughly enjoy Adams’ tongue-in-cheek humor. I’ve also been a fan of Robert Asprin’s Mythadventures series. I like books that make me laugh.
5.      Science Fiction and Fantasy is a field that easily falls victim to cliché.  What do you do as an author to avoid falling into this pitfall?
            A: I jump in with both feet. I sometimes describe The Dragon War Relic as being so full of cliché that it’s original. I purposely bring up the clichés and then make fun of them. Also, the clichés can be used to set up expectations in the reader that can be disrupted later.
            For example, ever since Tolkien, elves have been these tall, noble warriors. Well, before that, most elves were only three feet tall and mischievous, kind of like the ones Santa has. I decided to go back to the original short type of elf, but they do have Tolkien-elf envy.
6.      Do you have a writing schedule?  Are you a morning writer or a night writer?  (Not to be confused with a Knight Rider) Do you keep yourself to a certain word count every day?
            A: I always wanted a car that could drive itself and talk.
            As far as writing goes, I do much better in the morning. Fortunately, I teach music lessons in the afternoon so most of my mornings are free to write. The only problem is that I also practice music better in the morning.
            When I’m writing from scratch, I shoot for a chapter a day. My chapters usually end up being about 1600 words. This is a habit I learned from NaNoWriMo, which dictates 1667 words a day in order to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. On days that my muse cooperates, I’ll sometimes do two or three chapters.
7.        What are your writing plans for the future?  Any thoughts about crossing over to other genres?
            A: I am currently polishing book 2, The Scepter of the Ancients. I hope to get two more books started this summer. I don’t have any overarching plans for the series since I’m thinking of this as more like a serial.
            I don’t know if I’ll jump into other genres, but I might combine other genres into what I do. I’ve had a crazy idea to have my characters, Jared and Doug, get in some kind of time accident and end up in the old west. I may also do something that is either pure fantasy or pure sci-fi. I’ve always wanted to do an epic fantasy.
            I am starting a series of short stories that are pure fantasy. The main character is kind of like a medieval Stainless Steel Rat (the Harry Harrison sci-fi character). I’m not sure how far I’ll go with those stories, but they’re fun to write.
8.      Anything else you want to say to your throngs of adoring fans?
            A: All three of them? Anyway, my main goal is to write books that are good, clean fun. I’m not trying to change the world or anything (yet, though world conquest might still be on my agenda). There are plenty of other books that have serious stories, so mine are for those times when you want a good laugh. Laughter is good therapy.
Check back next week for my review of his book “The Dragon War Relic.” 

Right on "The Mark"

“The Mark” is a fascinating light fantasy perfect for the young adult audience.  I was drawn in by its cover, with its almost hypnotizing pattern on the cover with its single golden mark. 

In this fantasy/romance, we follow the lives of four teenagers brought together by the strange microscopic mark on their hands in the same spot, and other strange similarities in their lives, such as all being adopted.  They have to find out their true natures, and it keeps you guessing until the very end of the book.
I found that I really felt for the characters and that they were given interesting traits, such as the main girl practicing her Gerswhin piece throughout the book, and showing the passage of time by showing her progress.  The premise  was original and I found myself walking down paths that didn’t feel like I had taken them before.  Sometimes the dialog made it seem that the characters were older than teenagers, but overall, I enjoyed her use of dialog, even including some IM conversations.  That was a very interesting touch that I think will appeal to teen readers especially.   

From the way things ended, it looks like there will be a sequel, which I will definitely pick up.  You can find more about Marilyn and her writing at