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

Closing Remarks (Brevin)

Well, folks, it’s been a great run, but here marks the end of the Worldpen blog. I can’t believe it’s been three whole years. Wow. I regret nothing.

Just to say this at the top because I know that now-a-days people have no attention span and stop reading after the first few lines, if you have any questions or things you want to mention, just put them in the comments and I’ll respond to this. This is my solemn pledge upon the blood of a horned eagle-demon (they’re very rare and the bonds they create hold strong). But to more interesting things.

To sum up my reason for having to end this–it was time. I’m in college (which is awesome, ya’ll should definitely try it) and time is a precious commodity. I just don’t have to time to commit to making Worldpen as fabulous as it should be. So here it lies in glorious state, a monument unmarked by decline. My time will be going to worthwhile things, I assure you.

I believe I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from blogging, unlike Josiah. I haven’t quite found my place or what I want to do, but when I do, I’ll let you know. I’m not gone from blogging forever–I just want to have my purpose straight. Like Josiah said, the blog will stay up, just revert back to a regular .wordpress blog.

Josiah did a great job of answering potential questions, so I’ll leave that mostly to him. But I will look back at a few moments of Worldpen I especially treasure. The Top Ten Fantasy Cliches that was our single most viewed page. The Magic Building Series that was probably my favorite series of all time. The short story contests so awesome I’m going to let you search them out because hyperlinks are exhausting. And Josiah’s well thought-out, carefully constructed series’. But the last word must got to my old guilty pleasure: mannerpunk. (That was a joke. I do not read mannerpunk).

To wrap up: Josiah, you’ve been awesome. We made something great here. I’ve learned a lot, both from you and from this whole experience. Joshua, you’re a beast. Jacob, you’re fabulous. Keep making amazing pictures.

Thank you all so much for reading, commenting, entering our little story contests, and making Worldpen something special. You, readers, one and all, rock.

Like King Arthur sleeps soundly in his den

until merry England needs him again,

I submit this blog to powers that be,

to sleep, to rest, for all eternity.

Farewell!

Closing Remarks (Josiah)

Well, it is with very mixed feelings today that I write my last post for the Worldpen blog.  It has certainly been a great just-over-three years that the blog has been going, and I will miss the end of my Saturday routine of putting up a new post for you guys every week and getting your feedback on it.  Nevertheless, unfortunately, everything must eventually come to an end, and so the authors of Worldpen (myself and Brevin) believe that at this point that end has come for the Worldpen blog.

In order to answer all the remaining questions or thoughts you guys might have, I’m putting the rest of this post in Q+A format.  Of course, if you have any other questions that I neglect to answer, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer all of them.  I believe that Brevin will be doing his own closing remarks post, so be sure to look for his as well in case you have any specific questions for him.

Why Is This Blog Ending?

All three of us (Brevin, Joshua, and myself) have fairly busy schedules and have gradually been unable to regularly post like we once were able to.  I’ve been able to continue posting fairly-regularly for the past two years along with college, but there are always time-concerns that have made it difficult for me to do so.  And from talking with Brevin and Joshua, I know that there are similar struggles there as well.  For the past two years, I’ve been serving as an Editor for Kingdom Pen and balancing my responsibilities there along with my blogging here has been difficult to do, particularly since the beginning of this year when we began to post weekly content on the Kingdom Pen website again.  Long story short, I’ve realized that I need to set priorities with my focuses in life and have decided to devote more time to Kingdom Pen, which by necessity means that my regular blogging at Worldpen will have to end.

So Are You Done Writing Posts on Writing?

For the past couple years, I’ve written articles on an infrequent basis for Kingdom Pen.  With the end of my time here at Worldpen, I plan on writing articles there on a much more frequent basis.  My articles on Kingdom Pen tend to run significantly longer than my posts here (my posts here tend to be 500-750 words; my articles there tend to be 1,000-1,500 words).  As a result, I won’t be writing articles there on a weekly basis, but plan on putting out three articles every two months, or about one every three weeks.  To follow my articles, you can find the feed of my posts on Kingdom Pen here, and can, of course, subscribe to Kingdom Pen to get notifications when my articles come out as well as other articles by the other editors of Kingdom Pen as well as our subscribers, the majority of which I’ve approved and edited before publication.

What Will Happen to This Blog?

For the foreseeable future, this blog will be left up so that you can peruse the archives at your initiative.  Eventually, since we’ll no longer be paying for the site name, the web address will change back to worldpen.wordpress.net, but none of us have any plans to take the website down.

What Will Happen to the Videos?

I’ll be continuing to create videos, but the videos will now be hosted by the Kingdom Pen Youtube channel, instead of the Worldpen channel.  I’m planning on upgrading my equipment  and video-editing software to be able to produce higher-quality videos, so it will take a bit before I begin producing videos again, but starting in July or August, I’ll be uploading videos there on the first of every month, so subscribe to the channel now if you want to see them when they come out.

Concluding Remarks

It may be kind of cliche to say it at the closing post of a blog, but I’m going to say it anyways because of how true it is.  Thank you so much to all of you who have been reading the blog, whether it be for the full three years, or some intermediate point of time between then and now.  Also, shout-out to Brevin and Joshua for being great co-bloggers, and also to Jacob for contributing the great logos and Worldpen images for the blog.

Looking back at some of my original posts, I knew so much less back then–both about how to blog and about writing itself!  And so it’s really been awesome to have an audience reading my posts over the past several years.  I’ve learned a lot myself just in the process of writing these posts; and I’ve been very thankful for everyone who has read, liked, or commented on any one of these posts.  All of us here have enjoyed our time blogging at Worldpen.  And while it’s time for us to re-focus and move onto other things, I’ve been grateful for the time I’ve been able to blog here for you guys and will look back at this time with fondness.

If you have any remaining thoughts or questions, please feel free to share them in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to answer any remaining questions that you might have.

And with that, adios!