2019/05/02

PulpRev Mega Review Post

Author JD Cowan unleashed a mega review post featuring a plethora of #PulpRev and adjacent books, including the final book in my award-winning Soul Cycle, The Ophian Rising.
In many ways this book is an epilogue to the first three as the third entry wrapped up a lot of character arcs. This one closes off the final few and adds a couple more to be sure. However, it does confirm a theory I had about the universe since the first book in regards to what this place really is and lets you know why it has been such a struggle to turn the hell around. By the end of the story the pieces come together and it leaves you with the feeling that Good will eventually win over the Evil this place is infected with. It will not be easy, but it will happen. Considering how much carnage and destruction these books have this says a lot that such a positive takeaway can be gathered from only a single plot turn..
And of course, being that this is an action adventure story I am happy to report the author has them both in spades here. Even though we have seen this universe four times now I never get sick of exploding buildings, demonic pits, eerie magic, exotic monsters, and trippy spacecrafts. Every event is punctuated with an action set piece that would leave Chuck Norris giving a solemn nod, and the story moves briskly from intrigue and reveal to yet another escalation in stakes without breaking a sweat. Of all four books this one has the best flow.
One thing the author should be praised with doing is going in the opposite direction of epic fantasy and science fiction writers when it comes to the length. Each book in the Soul Cycle is sharper and quicker than the last with this entry being the shortest and sharpest. Rowling would have learned well from this series.
But the key to the success of this series is the wonder. Niemeier doesn't explain everything. He doesn't tie everything up in a neat bow. The story ends when the threat has been defeated and the main character arc has ended. There are questions that haven't been answered and there are events that still must play out. Not everything is shoveled out, but the story has still ended.
This is a good thing.
Writing tip: The story is over when the themes are resolved, not necessarily when every plot thread and question is tied up.
This is what brings the Soul Cycle from being just another fantasy series that explains everything for my feeble brain so I can forget all about it five minutes after reading to being an adventure that keeps me thinking about possibilities and events that might play out after the last page has been turned. It sticks because it leaves you with questions about the world you will want to figure out for yourself.
It's a feeling a try to get across in my stories, and Niemeier has done it here and made it look so very easy. As a writer I admire what he has done here, but as a reader I am even more pleased.
This usage of wonder has successfully made the Soul Cycle one of the best series I've read in recent memory. If you haven't jumped in by now then what are you waiting for? Get going! You won't read anything else like it today.
The most rewarding part of being a professional author isn't winning awards. It certainly isn't the money. It's hearing a reader say you entertained him and, perhaps, gave him pause to contemplate a new idea.

Anyhow, I of course second JD's recommendation.

The Ophian Rising - Brian Niemeier

13 comments:

  1. I gotta say, it's the final book that, for me, concludes and illuminates the series; but I didn't really KNOW that until I'd read it. It also turns the already interesting metaphysics into an emotional gut-punch, in my opinion, as one who has despaired.

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    1. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts on the book. May God give you the grace of hope.

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  2. "But the key to the success of this series is the wonder. Niemeier doesn't explain everything. He doesn't tie everything up in a neat bow. The story ends when the threat has been defeated and the main character arc has ended. There are questions that haven't been answered and there are events that still must play out. Not everything is shoveled out, but the story has still ended...It sticks because it leaves you with questions about the world you will want to figure out for yourself...
    This usage of wonder has successfully made the Soul Cycle one of the best series I've read in recent memory."

    I wish more writers, both for fantasy/sci-fi and for video games would grasp this concept. What usually kills an interest in a universe for me is when the mystery is all gone. This is why I never finished all of Raymond Feist's books, or David Edding's, and other series I read as a teenager. Also true of video game series, like The Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim compared to Morrowind is pathetic when you compare storytelling. I maybe played 2 hours of the former but waay more of the latter and not all of that difference was because of lifestyle changes. Meanwhile Thief (before the awful reboot)is still beloved by me because again, there were elements left open even at the conclusion of the original series.

    I'd actually go so far as to say it is Satanic to kill the mystery, as Modernism/Post-Modernism tries to crush all mystery because it hates the ultimate mystery, God.

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    1. Spelling absolutely everything out in big block letters is a sign of soft contempt for the audience.

      Leading the reader around by the hand implicitly says, "You lack the imagination to do any exploring on your own."

      To phrase it as actionable advice, all authors make choices. Superior authors let readers make choices.

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    2. Being able to play in the author's sandbox is one of the things that makes great stories great. The world has to be complete enough for the reader to get it, but still leave room for the reader's imagination to roam. Tolkien did it, as did early Lucas. The Soul Cycle series also manages to hit the sweet spot between too little and too much world building. It was both epic and fun.

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    3. Thanks.

      To shed a little more light on the process, it's not about moderating the amount of world building. I actually did a lot of it over fifteen years before writing Nethereal.

      The key is to flesh out the world until you, the author, know the answer to every mystery in the book. The challenge then is learning to walk the fine line between giving out too many and too few of those answers.

      9/10 of this effect is achieved by maintaining verisimilitude in dialogue. Proceed on the assumption that your secondary world is real to the characters who live there.

      Example: A story set in our primary world that purported to reveal the truth behind JFK's assassination wouldn't give the characters lines like:

      BOB: Who killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960 and was killed under mysterious circumstances in Dallas, TX?

      TIM: The CIA, which is the intelligence agency that Mr. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, threatened to disband, set up book depository employee Lee Harvey Oswald, who had once defected to Russia, as a patsy while their agents shot Kennedy on 11/22/1963.

      They'd say,

      BOB: Who killed Kennedy?

      TIM: The Agency did the hit and pinned it on Oswald.

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    4. To believably make this a time for exposition, Bob would have to be a foreigner or a child, or someone who only knows pop culture.

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    5. I've got to give props to Robert Jordan's early Wheel of Time books in this respect: the man was utterly brilliant in portraying very different cultures and societies and then having them interact in ways that would necessitate believable and natural exposition.

      Also, Jordan's creation of a matriarchy-by-default, then showing how woman rulers could be corrupt and incompetent and hypocritical in their own way was brilliantly...subversive (in the sense of subverting expectations, in this case the 'world ruled by women would be perfect' assumption). Also the frequent spankings. They were great.

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    6. Good eye, re: Jordan.

      My SWPL acquaintances were gobsmacked when I pointed out that Jordan's secondary world essentially inverts the Scriptural expulsion from paradise to set up conditions for a matriarchy, and then shows how it would have just as many, if not more and different faults.

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    7. Hmmm, link?

      Also, I imagine the makers of the rumored WOT television show will completely misrepresent this element.

      World where women are in charge and men with magic turn into insane killers who have to be magically castrated? I think they'll be playing that straight.

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    8. No link. I'm a theologian. You can quote me :)

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  3. Congrats!

    I finished Nethereal about a month ago, I figure this is as good a time as any to give a reader's feedback.

    In brief: I wanted to like it more than I did.

    SPOILERS

    There was a lot there that was downright amazing, but the problem was I didn't understand enough about the background of the universe (I'd actually tried reading Souldancer first, but was insufficiently grounded in the setting so I went the Nethereal). By the end, it wasn't so much that I didn't know what was going to happen: I still didn't know what COULD happen, and that's no fun.

    I went into it knowing the central conceit, but when the Firefly/Star Wars esque plot veered into Dante's Inferno I was still thrown: I didn't know enough about Gen mythology and what they were initially seeing didn't resonate. The experience felt like a Warcraft campaign where they go into the nether world.

    There were some great moments, particularly when meeting some of the damned, and that hidden Gen colony was just brilliant: I wish there could have been a lot more of that! But the side trip still felt too long and the transition back to abrupt.

    Also, I just didn't understand these characters on a fundamental, cultural level: they didn't react to what was happening in any way that I could relate to. They just accepted where they were. I'd expect that in a situation like this, we'd get a scene or two of them catching one of those flying damned when they first showed up and at trying to analyze or dissect it or something before coming to the realization.

    So, take Average Reader's reaction for what it's worth. I might try some of the other Soul Cycle books in the future, but I'm not in a hurry.

    On the other hand, I'm into Chapter 3 of Combat Frame XSeed and so far it's excellent.

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    1. Thank you for reading and for the helpful feedback. I know readers' time is valuable, and I appreciate you spending yours to help me grow as an author.

      Readers come in many varieties, as I've learned firsthand from years of correspondence and conversation. The review above gives me a pretty good idea of your reading style and tastes. In that regard, your enjoyment of Nethereal's space opera elements and your frustration with the close-to-the-vest narrative style aren't surprising.

      Think of it this way: Nethereal's target audience are readers who say, "I'm not sure exactly why this is happening or what all the characters' motives are, and I love it!"

      It also makes perfect sense that you like CFXS better, since I wrote it with readers just like you in mind.

      By the way, stay tuned for the imminent arrival of Combat Frame XSeed: Coalition Year 40!

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