Review: Meditations on Violence

Meditations on Violence is an intense book. It isn’t fiction, it isn’t pleasant, but it’s necessary. In Violence a Writer’s Guide, the author of both, Rory Miller, calls it a confession. He’s not wrong. It reads like a broken man’s cry for help when he knows none is coming or can come, combined with a cold, clinical look at violence and the way it works. For us civilians, it conveys many hard truths that are neither welcome nor comfortable.meditations on violence.jpg

Summary

However, it starts out innocuously enough. Miller begins by introducing himself. He paints a picture of a man experienced with violence and the horrors of a hard life lived protecting the normal world from another world it does not want to admit exists. Then he moves on and talks about types of violence and how bad guys don’t think like us or even want to be like us. Poverty, he points out, may be what starts some of them down the path, but they don’t have to follow their peers, nor do they have to continue when the means to get out are so blatantly laid out for them.

He even discusses about something I have wondered for years: are martial arts a good enough training for real world violence in and of themselves? Miller’s astute observations with his real world experience on this subject alone made the book more than worth what it cost.

Storytelling (Or, not.)

This is a decidedly non-fiction book. It is a step by step examination of violence. That said, there are three main “characters” he talks about. The first is the “professional”. This is the cop, the soldier, the EMT, or even just a citizen volunteer in a search and rescue division. This person is experienced with violence and its results. Even if this person has never fired a shot or held a weapon in anger, this person knows the horror that results from such things. The second is the “threat”. This is the criminal or terrorist. This person uses violence to achieve an end. The third is the “normal”. This is you and me.

The way these interact are fascinating and terrifying. He lays out how a threat will use the system and its intricacies against itself. He talks about how a threat looking for his next fix will do anything. How that same threat will not reason or even act rationally if he thinks he can get what he wants.

Miller shows how the professional responds to the atrocities he wades through daily. In the book, an essay he wrote during a dark time in his life is included. It tells how the rush from a fight or a dangerous activity doesn’t happen anymore. Friends he thought would stand by him left when they realized he was a violent man, even though they knew his violence protected them. He even talks about how the one thing that balanced his life, learning martial arts, was gone because he had learned all he could and couldn’t find someone to teach him more.

However, this is not the main thrust or point of the book. Rather, it’s the in-depth look at violence, how it works, why it works, who uses it, why they use it, etc. that makes up the majority of the word count.

Content

Because of this, graphic depictions of violence are frequent. Indeed, the first picture we see is a blood soaked bathroom. That horrific imagery is common, even casually displayed, and is expected in a book on this topic.

His language reflects that of a man accustomed to rough work and a rough life.

Sex – other than rape – isn’t mentioned much, if at all, in this book.

His worldview is interesting. In fact, it’s perhaps just best to quote him.

…While white water rafting at the age of seventeen, I was flipped and trapped under a waterfall. Despite wet suit and flotation vest, I was pressed hard against the riverbed. I was down long enough to not just realize that I was going to die—and there was nothing I could do about it—but for the fact to sink in. I didn’t want to die, but in a second or so I realized that didn’t matter, since once I was dead my identity, including my wish to live, would be obliterated. In a matter of a minute or so, it wouldn’t matter to me. I moved on, then, thinking of my poor friends who would miss me, but in ten years I would just be, at most, a painful memory. In twenty or thirty years, no one would remember me. I didn’t matter. In perhaps a hundred years, no one would remember these friends or my family. They, too, would be obliterated. They didn’t matter. In a thousand years or ten thousand, no one would remember my nation. It, too, would share in oblivion and prove to not matter, to never have mattered. The same for my species, and the earth the universe, and God. When the last star winks out, none of it will have mattered—and in ten billion years, I will still be nothing—and equal to God. That was the first stage in my enlightenment: to understand that nothing matters. Hence, everything is equal. Since I was going to die and it didn’t matter, I had the freedom to choose how to die for no other reason than my personal preference would I prefer to die with calm acceptance or to fight against the inevitable purely for the sake of fighting? I admired fighters, so I fought, and dragged myself across the rocks of the riverbed beyond the undertow, and lived… To sum up—nothing matters, but some stuff matters to me…

His attitude is strictly nihilistic. His moral compass, however, is strong and true, but he does not know why he does what he does.

Conclusion

This nihilism permeates the book. It takes a depressing topic and puts on the pressure until the reader can’t take any more. I read this book in about three weeks. I read it twice a week during Sunday and Wednesday church services for about forty minutes. Even after those short sittings, I was still despondent afterwards. It is a heavy subject that Miller handles well. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an understanding of the world around them. I am happy to give it a solid 9 out of 10 stars.

9 out of 10(For those interested, here is Miller’s site. The book can be bought on Amazon.)

Schedule

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am excited to announce that we have a new contributor to the site! Emily will be joining the creative team here at World Pen in a few days! Along with her lovely presence, we have a new schedule! Starting January 1st, we will be releasing a reviews, editorials, and possibly even interviews in three month cycles.

Also, don’t forget about the Short Story Struggle. Remember, cash and valuable writing advice books can be yours for the cost of a few hours telling an engaging story. Pick an image (or two) from the image page and have fun telling us what they are about.

See you on New Years!

-Joshua

Short Story Struggle #1

Due to the results of the poll, I am happy to announce the first official Short Story Struggle! The rules for each one will vary, but they will always be judged on:

  1. Word choice
  2. Style
  3. Grammar
  4. Characters
  5. Plot
  6. Ending
  7. And, yes, even Brevin’s made up word, interestingability. (For all us mortals, that means how engaging and interesting the story was to read.)

Each one of the seven categories has a minimum of 1 point and a maximum of 10 points assigned to it. The story with the highest score will win. Every entry will be read and judged, and the results will be sent back to their authors with notes. However, only the top three placing stories (more if there are ties) will be shown on the site.

 

Knowing that. Here are the rules for this Short Story Struggle.

  • Pick an image (or two) from the image page.
  • Write a 2000-10000 word story about it.
  • First place prize will be a copy of 27 Fiction Writing Blunders – And How Not To Make Them by James Scott Bell or a ten dollar amazon gift card (winner’s choice). Second place will be a five dollar Amazon gift card. And, finally, third place prize is getting to chose the next book reviewed.

A contestant can enter up to two stories. Submit them in the contact and submit section. All stories are due midnight, New Year’s Eve.

Have fun!

-Joshua

Contest Poll

This is to decide what the likelihood of a good turn out for a contest is. The potential rules are below (note, they may be subject to change):

1. Pick an image from the image page. (Not yet in existence.)

2. Write a 2000-10000 word story about it.

3. As usual with a World Pen contest, you will be judged on word choice, style, and interestingability. (Yes, that’s not a real word. Blame Brevin!)

4. First place prize would be a copy of Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine. Second place would be a five dollar Amazon gift card. And, finally, third place prize is getting to chose the next book reviewed.

Let me know in the poll below what the interest in this is and if you would participate.

Also, if doing the contest in November or December will not work, let me know in the comments when a good time is.

-Joshua

Review: Steel World – Undying Mercenaries Series

Editor’s Note: I made an error when I said Larson has had no military experience. I have received permission to quote an email he sent me.

As to the military angle, I do come from a military family. I have a nephew attending West Point right now, and my wife and father were career. I’ve worked for years on weapons systems myself, primarily nuclear warhead development and plutonium refining with the nerds in the national labs. In fact, I presented at my last DARPA conference as a paid speaker on cyber security policy at West Point this April.

In these books, the military doesn’t feel like the 2015 US military because I didn’t want it to. In order to deflect people who only see military life thru the lenses of the few years time they spent there, I wrote these books with a Roman rank system so they would get the idea that, “no, this isn’t the same army I was in.” I think I failed with you on that point, but I’d suggest you consider what you know concerning the military life of centuries past–or the military traditions of say, the Barbary Coast pirates. If I’d written a book back then with gays serving openly, and with women in the ranks, I’d have been laughed at or worse. The point of SF is to project a view of the future that isn’t identical to the current day.

I just wanted to post that so as to not continue with any falsehoods. However, I do standby what I said about the chain of command. The officers do stand far more backtalk than any real Roman would have. His chain of command would, in reality, fall apart at the first shot. And, even if it didn’t, the fighting ability of Legion Varus would be greatly hampered by it.


From the back cover:

In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.Steelworldstats

This promising hook draws the reader in and promises a very interesting world. B.V. Larson does not disappoint.

Before breaking the book down, first let me set the story up. The book opens over one hundred years in the future with James McGill, main character and loser college student, losing his spot in school due to family issues. Suddenly thrust into adulthood without support, he decides to join earth’s mercenary legions. The story follows him as he enlists and ships out with Legion Varus to subdue a miners’ strike on Steel World, a heavy metals planet.

With this in mind, let’s look at how Larson pulls it off.

            Plot, Characters, and World-building

Steel World’s plot is nothing special. It is a simple coming of age story… done poorly. Unfortunately, McGill has no real arc. Steel World is similar to The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Both of the main characters are not special amongst their peers, but are a part of a class set apart by the rest of the world. However, unlike William Mandell, the main character of Forever War, James McGill doesn’t grow or become a better person. He gains many friends and enemies, but doesn’t learn anything from them. By the end of the book, he hasn’t changed except in regards to his views on death and survival.

But, Larson doesn’t completely bomb either. His world building is decent and he knows how and when to give exposition. As a result, info dumps are few and far between, and his exposition tidbits leave you wanting more. Out of a plethora of interesting mechanics and ideas that make his world what it is, the most interesting and critical to the plot is the revival machine. It allows dead soldiers to be revived, or, rather, restored from a backup. There are certain conditions that have to be met, such as confirmed death of the original and the brain being properly backed up. This simple idea is well thought out and explored in this book. Overall it takes death and instead of cheapening it, sharpens the pang of the permanent ones. When the main tactic your unit uses is save scumming and respawns, really losing a friend or unit buddy is incredibly jarring. It also makes the times when revival isn’t an option or won’t be unless extraordinary circumstances are overcome, incredibly tense.

            Style: Diction and Vocabulary/sentence structure

Now, while his world building brings the story up, his style brings it back down. He writes like an advanced beginner or middling intermediate depending on the topic at hand. During action scenes, his laconic and slightly childlike way of phrasing makes the action feel visceral and intense by contrast. This really works in the first few fights when McGill is still inexperienced and naive. Later on, it does get to be annoying.

This style of writing would be fine if restricted to those first few fights, but it isn’t. This is how he writes everything. Because of this, the reader is ripped out of the book by an inappropriate turn of phrase or poorly written sentence once or twice every chapter.

            Dialog

His dialog is a little better but not by much. While it does do its job, it is rather lack luster and at times annoying. The characters do sound different, but barely. The higher up the chain of command you get, the closer together the characters sound. Now I will say that in addition to decent first person narration, Carlos, Sargon, Veteran Harris, and Centurion Graves all have unique voices that never get old. Okay, other than Carlos, but he supposed to make you both hate and love him.

            Characters

I like Carlos. He is perhaps one of the best written characters in the book. He is the best example of how Larson shows promise with his characters. All their actions fit their personalities, for the most part, and they all interact like real people, for the most part. The real problem comes from his use of sex and the chain of command. The sex is very similar to The Forever War. Not graphic, just frequent and a little annoying. Unlike William Mandell, McGill and the others behave as if they are in high school. McGill refers to the spats he has with the women he has slept with as breakups with girlfriends. This is one of the few problems with the first person narration. McGill is unbelievably annoying anytime it comes to women. It’s like he has never really talked to a girl before enlisting and is getting through the petty high school stages of dating while in an adult setting.

Now, I do like how Larson shows how women in combat and living in close proximity with men in a martial setting is a bad idea. (Granted this may not have been intentional, but it was interesting to see the consequences played out.) But, seeing it not change or be reacted to by the characters is a) poor writing, and b) annoys the reader. Please Larson, if the officers can’t see that having men and women live and sleep together isn’t a bad idea, please perma-death them and get some new ones in. At least in The Forever War it was glossed over and the relationships were dealt with like adults. Here it’s a constant, nagging thorn in the reader’s side.

Similarly, his use of the chain of command is appalling. For all his talk about the Roman Legionary model being revived, these officers tolerate a ridiculous amount of back talk from McGill without any punishment. McGill is given sensitive information instead of being beaten within an inch of his life and put on six months of KP and latrine duty. Larson has clearly never even any kind of military setting. However, this is a small plot hole and matches the relationship drama for annoyance factor.

            Content

Like most secular literature, his content is by no means family friendly and should really only be read after turning fifteen or so. His worldview is like most other secular authors in the sci-fi genre. Evolution, no God or gods, etc. As mentioned before, McGill is a ladies man who has zero self-control. Nothing graphic, but the constant reminders are annoying as all get out. Now violence on the other hand…

Let’s be real, it’s a book about mercenaries whose main tactic is to get blown up and then respawn enough times to wear down the enemy. Violence is a given, and so much fun! At times it is played for drama or to build tension. Other times it is played for laughs. At one point a character needs to be on the ship that is currently in orbit. Because his immediate superior doesn’t feel like taking a lift down to pick him up, he drops a bomb on him and revives him in the ship.

Drugs and alcohol are not a huge part of the story. Like The Forever War, cigarettes, pot, and medical drugs are all mentioned and used by the characters.

            Final thoughts

This book was definitely interesting. It took an interesting idea and explored it. It shows promise, but Larson falls prey to the eternal bane of indie writers. While the story and characters show much promise, he doesn’t have the advice of an editor or an objective proof reader. This isn’t a down on him, I have the same problems, but he needs to get someone to read his stuff before he publishes it.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it was annoying at times, but in the end, it was a fun read.

Because of the book’s many problems, I am going to have to give it 5 out of 10. This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. I got through it in about six hours and would be the perfect way to pass a plane or car trip. The rating would have been lower if his world building hadn’t been as good as it was. All in all, I will continue to read this series as I expect him to improve as time goes on.

five out of ten

(For those interested, here is the link to Larson’s site. You can buy his books on Amazon. )

We are back!

Well. As it turns out, the road ain’t that short! Or at least the branches we traveled down separately weren’t.

Anyway, good to be back. Here is what’s up:

I have had an idea over the past few weeks. For a long time I have been annoyed with the state of Christian literature, particularly fantasy and science fiction. What irritates me even more is that I can’t find a good site that reviews mainstream secular speculative fiction books from a Christian worldview. Then I realized something: I read the books, I pick them apart with my friends, and I have the worldview I want mainstream books reviewed from. Like so many other things in my life, I suddenly knew I would have to do it myself.

 

So, without further ado, I introduce to you the new and improved World Pen. I can’t do this on my own. At least not regularly. I will be posting a review about every three months. However, if you are interested in joining me, or have ideas of your own for how this new edition of the site could work, please use the contact and submit to get in touch.

-Joshua

Closing Remarks (Joshua)

Yes, dear readers, even I – unfaithful updater that I am – am leaving this blog. Like Brevin and Josiah, I have enjoyed my time here. However, due to family troubles and a heavy school load, I am going to bow out as well.

I will occasionally post something that comes to mind, or hold a contest if enough people are interested, but primarily this blog will become an archive.

Though the road be long, I imagine we will meet again.

‘Till then,

Joshua

Multiple POV’s – Vibrant, Character Driven POV’s

Over the next few weeks I am going to talk about multiple POV’s. We will examine the different ways to make a POV engaging and memorable. We will see how contrasting POV’s can create a more evocative story. We will see how multiple POV’s can enhance a plot and supply suspense and drama. Then, I will end the series with a question and answer session on how to write multiple POV’s. For that, you will be able to write in with specific questions relating to your writing.

Samuel_Vimes
Yeah, he’s lighting his cigar with a baby dragon. Cmdr. Sam Vimes is not someone to be messed with.

Today we are looking at ways to make a POV engaging and memorable. This is important because even if you do the other things correct and you have a great plot with excellent placement of POV changes or you use those POV changes to provide deeper exploration of character, but you didn’t bother to make the POV’s interesting and vibrant, then you have just wasted your time. The reader will not remember a POV that isn’t interesting, and, if they do, it will not be favorably.

So, how do you make a POV vibrant? Well, first we need to know what a POV is. POV stands for Point Of View. It is the story told from a certain character’s perspective. Because character is the defining force behind POV, it makes sense that an engaging character would be critical to a vibrant POV. Here at World Pen, we have done dozens of articles about character, so I won’t go to deep into the subject, but there are four parts of a character that are key to a good POV. They are: conflict, personality, relationships, and position. Down at the bottom I linked to a chart I made for myself as I came up with them. Using this chart and these four things, I have created some of my best POV’s. But, enough of this introduction, let’s get started.

Conflict, arguably the most important part of a character, is at the top of the chart because it shapes how a character sees the world and how he/she interacts with it. Conflict has to be one of the first things you consider because it drives the character. An example could be John not wanting to hurt his mom because she is mentally weak from decades of abuse by her husband. His second conflict could be a need to stop terrorists from killing dozens of people. If the only person with the information he needs is his mom, he has to decide between hurting his mother beyond the point of no return or allowing dozens of people to die. With those two conflicts, we have a very engaging story.

I always try to have three character conflicts for a novel. This is a good balance because it allows you as an author to explore a wide range of a character without setting yourself too large of a task. I like to have two huge conflicts and one small one. This way you can give yourself and the reader a mental break from the pain of John’s situation by allowing him to deal with a smaller or simpler issue. This not only makes the larger problems appear larger, but it also allows the reader to blow off steam without losing a sense of drama and suspense.

The second part of a vibrant POV is personality. This is on the second row on the chart because it is next in importance. Personality is what causes a character to liked or hated by both reader and other characters alike. It is what filters what they see and what they think. In Thud!, Terry Pratchett has Sam Vimes, his main POV Character, almost constantly running an internal monologue. Through this humorous commentary on the world around him, we see how Sam Vimes views his coworkers, his city, and his work. We see that his family is the most important thing to him and that duty to the law is what drives him. This isn’t told to us by the narrator, but by his thoughts and perceptions. What Pratchett chooses to let us see through Sam’s eyes colors our perception of him. He notices when something is wrong or when something is evil. He makes sure to express how annoyed he is at trivial things, creating a grumpy, loving, lovable character in the process. To the casual reader, Pratchett comes off as a genius, but to someone who knows what to look for he comes off as a skilled craftsmen using his tools to great effect.

The third thing on my chart is relationships. These are not as important as conflict and personality, but they do affect the way a character behaves. Sam Vimes, a crusty old policeman who snaps and snarls his way through the precinct, turns into a doting father and devoted husband at home. His wife, a huge matronly woman, has a soothing, calming effect on him that no other character has. She rounds his rough edges and helps him come to more rational decisions. Without her, he would have not been as effective a leader as he came to be.

Finally, we come to position, this is not too important, but it is worth noting. Often the conflicts are only possible because of the character’s position in life. Granted, we authors will usually write the position to fit the conflict we want (This isn’t always a good thing, but that is a different article altogether.), but still, it should be noted that positions will affect the character. When Sam Vimes is demoted from Captain of the Watch in Guards! Guards!, his position changes dramatically and his conflicts follow. Now, instead of being able to chase down the bad guy with the full might of the law behind him, he has to do so all alone.

These parts of a good character, conflict, personality, relationships, and position, are all key to an engaging POV. Without them, you will not be able to cause the reader to have an emotional response to a character’s view point. Without that emotional response, the reader won’t remember your story, or, worse still, remember it as a poorly written piece of fiction that didn’t hold their interest.

Next week I will show you how contrasting POV’s can make a story better and more evocative. Remember to be thinking up questions for the Q&A session. You can submit those through the contact and submit form up at the top of the page.

*This is the Character POV Chart chart.

Ode to the Pike

Next week I am going to start a series on multiple POV’s, but for now I wanted to quickly go into a private pet peeve of mine: the under use of formations and pikes in fantasy.

swisspikemen31

We fantasy writers have a tendency to go with whatever is coolest. This means that helmetless heroes with hand-a-half swords will always win over hulking twelve foot giants with stone clubs. It means that battle formations will almost never be fully utilized. This is wrong and kinda sad, but I understand it. Sometimes a cool moment is what a story needs, not a realistic beat down. But I want to plead to you, my fellow writers. I want you to seriously look at your fantasy and realize that formations and pikes are under used.

The simple pike man had been with us since warfare began. The ancient Greeks perfected it. In his classic book Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield accurately shows how much devastation a pike used right can do. In it, the Persian army charges the Greek heroes again and again, but their line stands strong for days on end. While hundreds of thousands of fresh soldiers attack them, the Greeks hold their phalanx. Shields up, pikes down, standing in a solid block, the heroes don’t expose themselves like movie warriors; they rely on each other and fight as a unit.

Unlike the sword, which seems to give a man freedom to fight how he likes, a pike forces him to fight side by side with someone which improves his life expectancy and his effectiveness. The Spartans, both in the book and in real life, prove this. The Swiss, too, have a history of total dominance with the pike. Unlike the Spartans, the Swiss fought unarmored. They defended their land fiercely, never giving ground when it could be taken. When faced with 30,000 French soldiers during Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs, 1,500 Swiss chose to charge. Armed only with the pike, the 1,500 Swiss charged the French and broke the center of the French line. King Louis XI shouted for his men to surround the Swiss. Undaunted, the Swiss formed a square with their pikes on the outside. They fought like that for ten hours. When an Austrian noble tried to talk peace, the Swiss killed him with nearby rocks. In the end, King Louis XI was forced to withdraw. He told his crossbowmen to finish the Swiss off. Only ten survived the battle. 3,000 Frenchmen died that day, King Louis XI, realizing that he would only meet with further resistance, turned around and left Switzerland. Battles like these gave the Swiss their reputation for insane bravery and dominance, but they would not have been able to do those things without the lowly pike and a basic formation.

Now then, how can this be applied to our writing? First, think about the Lord of the Rings. Remember how Aragorn charges a phalanx of pikes during the Battle of Helm’s Deep? Remember how Gandalf charges the back flank of the Uruk-hai? Remember how Théoden charges the orcs at Pelennor Fields? Ok, good, now do you remember the formations the orcs were in? Wonderful! Those formations were ripped out the history books. In fact, when the orc captain as Pelennor Fields shouted, “Pikes in front, Archers behind!” he was ordering a formation that withstood mogul hordes and French knights. So, instead of the Rohirrim breaking through the line, they should have been spitted like roast pigs! In order to write well, you need to realize that a pike line, or a similarly solid formation, will always win against a charging group of non-formationed foes. (Yes, I made that word up, but you get the point.)
Second, think about the battle scene you are writing. Does the cavalry come in to save the day? Does your hero fight alone or with a unit? Take the lone hero chopping his way through a pack of foes and put him in a unit. That way, his back will be safe and his followers can fight in safer. You don’t have to use pikes, but you should realize that a solitary fighter in a massive battle will probably die. In real life, formations were used for over thousands of years.

To summarize, formations, especially ones with pikes, have allowed men to fight better since the world began. People, even heroes, will die if they try to charge a solid formation without proper preparation. (i.e. a formation of their own.) Please don’t let your heroes act like idiots; just do a little research and find a formation that you like and use it!

And, before you go, look at the picture up top and tell me honestly, would you want to charge that?

Source(s):

– Note: This source has very bad language. I like it because it is funny and informative, but if you are in anyway sensitive to bad language, don’t follow this link.

Fictional Religion: The Philosophy

Now that we know why we should have a fictional religion, we need to know how to build it. Well, to be perfectly boring and honest at the same time, every religion has a philosophy or worldview that is subscribes to.

While this is technically a god. I would not suggest having a Marvel Thor style god in your story.
While this is technically a god. I would not suggest having a Marvel Thor style god in your story. He is just a little too goofy!

To examine this we will look at the three W’s of Religion. What is the worldview? (The way the followers of your religion look at the world.) Why do people follow it? And, How does it affect the world around it? Yes, I can spell. And, yes, I know that there are in fact two W’s and one H. But for the purpose of simplicity and ease of memory, I have just made it the three W’s!
So, onto the first W! What is the worldview of your religion? There are three main categories that all worldviews fall under. They are: Pagan (Many gods, mother earth, active spirit world, ect.), Monotheistic (Christianity, Islam, single god all powerful god, ect.), and Humanistic (Rational thinking, ardents from the Way of Kings, humans can achieve on their own, ect.). Most worldviews fall under more than just one. (Think New Age philosophy, both Pagan and Humanistic.)Read More »