Favorite albums of the year, part II

The year isn’t even over yet, but so far I’ve found more wonderful music that inspires me and keeps me forging ahead in life.

Seventh Wonder – Tiara

Lovers of prog metal, rejoice! Seventh Wonder are back. Science fiction story, virtuosic passages, non-standard time signatures, amazing vocals…it’s fantastic either because there aren’t any surprises or in spite of it. If you like outer space, apocalypse scenarios, or fantastic vocals, you’re in for a treat.

 

Between the Buried and Me – Automata I and II

Between the Buried and Me are a different kind of prog metal than anyone else I can think of. They use swing elements. Or anything they can think of. It feels like the kitchen sink, but it also just works. This year they released two parts of Automata and it’s way too big to fit into my head.

 

Kobra and the Lotus – Prevail II


Just plain good fun heavy metal. Sing along and rock along. Kobra and the Lotus make music that makes me happy and ready to take on tasks I don’t want to.

 

Amaranthe – Helix

Warning: video contains blood. Like a lady in a tub full of it, and then she vamps. A lot. Pun possibly intended.
Poppy metal with dubstep in it. There isn’t anything I find deep in Amaranthe‘s music, but it’s good schlocky fun. Good music for programming when I’ve already had my caffeine for the day.

 

Some humans can’t work with music on. I find it difficult to work without! Maybe someday I’ll write music again.

Favorite albums of the year, part I

I whine about there being many books and little time quite a lot. But it’s also true that there’s a ton of wonderful music (okay, mostly metal) I listen to every year. This year brought me some anticipated progressive metal releases and some pleasant surprises.

Kamelot – The Shadow Theory

Okay, to me this album sounded like a second pressing of Haven– which is my favorite Kamelot album, but I didn’t feel like I learned anything new in The Shadow Theory. The compression in the production is a bit much. But there’s amazing guitar work, synths, and the vocals are fantastic. Add in the cool science fiction story and it’s worth a listen if you’re already a Kamelot fan.

 

Chthonic – Battlefields of Asura

I discovered the band this year, and they already have a special place in my heart. The frontman is my grandmother’s congressperson. Weird and awesome, right? Chthonic show the world the tumultuous 20th century history on the island of Taiwan and that the struggle for democracy is something recent and special. This album makes me hopeful for the future. Also, the music. It doesn’t quite sound like any other band. Worth a listen for anyone interested in traditional Taiwanese music or any kind of metal. Also deserves some distinction for the lone woman in the band not being the singer.

 

Light the Torch – Revival

Howard Jones got eaten by stress and diabetes. Being a vocalist has its own perils because of all the touring, and that the instrument is so delicate. So in the past six years, Jones has apparently gotten control of his blood sugar and is back with Light the Torch. Revival is their third effort (this band was previously known as Devil You Know and changed its name when it changed some personnel). I enjoyed the elements of metalcore, prog, catchy choruses, and of course Jones’s amazing big voice.

 

Angra – Omni

Angra offer something other power metal bands generally don’t: awesome South American folk elements. Bittencourt and co.’s latest offering holds together better than most of their other albums. The band tries a little of everything while still making a cohesive listen.

 

 

 

 

Another perspective on my work

A week and a half ago I discussed my manuscript with my friend N. N is a literary agent who does nonfiction. She also does editing for her agency. However, she reads hundreds of novels every year, mostly genre ones. She was curious about my second draft because she’d heard me kvetching about my novel for two years, so I gave it to her and hoped she wouldn’t vomit.

N had a lot of encouraging feedback and advised me to submit a later version of the manuscript to agents, though we still don’t know whether this manuscript is romance or science fiction. Right now, I’m leaning towards social science fiction because a lot of the plot explores societal issues. The novel wouldn’t work without the love story, but the manuscript doesn’t always have that in focus. We were trying to figure out comps, and N said Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which surprised me a lot. I don’t have cool transit modes or branding or conceptions of cyberspace. I guess both books are about the strangeness of capitalism, though.

N and John detected a lot of the same weaknesses in my manuscript. The ones they agree on make sense to me and are going to need some work. There were some things they didn’t agree on (some content on one scene, the length of another), which I found more interesting and less likely that I’d revise. I have a to-do list of things to fix, but I’m not entirely sure what the best way is to fix two of them. I also have a lot of prose to fix. Time to roll up my…I don’t have sleeves, it’s summer!

I’m also in the middle of a cross-country move, so my environment is chaos. I’m hoping to get settled in without too much more incident.

Book Review: Nobody’s Hero by Bec McMaster

Nobody's Hero cover

The time and place

The American southwest (inferring by the mention of Gila monsters), 2147 CE.

The suspension of disbelief

An asteroid hit Earth and darkened the sky back in 2083. This bore several alien viruses humans fell prey to, becoming revenants. The wargs (werebeasts) came from the US government mucking around with human test subjects, so it seems the world had already gone to pot. Sixty years later, reivers (raiders) and shadow-cats have joined the dangers prowling the Burned Lands. Humans live in fortified settlements, trying to weather whatever the world throws at them.

The quick summary

Lucius Wade, motivated by vengeance, kidnaps a damsel in the Wasteland. He believes taking someone from a settlement near Adam McClain’s will draw his old rival out. Not-really-a-damsel Riley Kincaid wants to keep her village safe from reivers and wargs, and is out a little too late getting rocs for food. Wade takes Riley to an abandoned testing facility for temporary holding. While he’s out, reivers attack. Seems Wade’s made some dangerous enemies, so Riley strikes a deal with him: if he helps her recover the boy the reivers have taken hostage, she’ll get McClain to come to him. McClain has long wanted Riley to shack up with him. Plans go awry, though, and Riley and Lucius become involved. Do they have a future together, and can they save one of the most important people in his life from his biggest nightmare?

My squees

I love the Mad Max-like setting. McMaster sets the story in America when her native Australia would have also provided plenty of excellent beasties, but the Southwest desert can be pretty breathtaking in a barren sort of way. It’s got some sufficiently-advanced technology that reminds me of paranormal elements, but the jeeps and bikes appeal to my SFR tastes. Gene testing creates fantastic creatures, and the reivers add an outlaw element to show us that it’s not just obvious monsters out for innocent blood.

Riley has both a soft heart and a strong will. She’s resourceful and caring. She’s very lonely, though, and that intertwines with her attraction to Wade. Wade was a bit harder to like, but he has complex and believable experiences, motivations, and feelings. When he finds that some the beliefs that kept him going aren’t true, he understandably loses his cool and complicates an already delicate situation at McClain’s settlement. Once he opens himself up, it’s easy to see why Riley thinks he’s worth spending her future with.

The action scenes flow well and are believable given the characters’ skills and wits. McMaster’s writing is crisp and evocative. I felt uncertainty, sorrow, and longing along with the protagonists.

My grumbles

The original kidnapping plot didn’t feel the strongest to me. Wade kidnaps Riley to use as bait for Adam McClain. What exactly was Riley’s value? Wade had hoped for a person from McClain’s settlement and thought to appeal to his honor? The deal they strike later makes more sense.

Several of the side characters seemed important, but didn’t get much attention, and are probably introduced for later books. Sometimes the pacing felt a bit uneven, but I can’t put my finger on why.

I’ve a little quibble with the timeline and technology offered: I’d put the darkening further in the future to make McClain’s old-fashioned ideas about society (and the technology available) be easier to believe.

Read if you

  • are an action romance fan
  • like your characters a little bit bad
  • enjoy zombies and other post-apocalyptic stories

Skip if you

  • are burnt out on post-apocalyptic stories
  • don’t like paranormal elements
  • are in the mood for something sweet and light

Final thoughts

I’m a long time fan of McMaster’s London Steampunk stories, and am so happy she has started two new series this year. The Burned Lands is a very original setting, and her further books will be auto-buys for me. I hope this somehow gets picked up by libraries.

Author site: Bec McMaster

Resources: GoodreadsAmazon / Kobo / iBooks