Friday, July 27, 2012

Takami Koushun's Battle Royale on The CW?

Yesterday it was reported on the L.A. Times that the famous Japanese story, Battle Royale is being sought by The CW to adapt it to a TV Show on its network. My first reaction, was "fucking awesome!," but then I did a double take; The CW?

You see, Battle Royale is one of the most disturbing stories to ever hit the mainstream. What began as a novel by Takami Koushun, has been adapted to a Japanese film and manga (with sequels) to the glee of many, and to the horror of others. The film had long been speculated to be banned in the US, while inaccurate, it's true that fears of the repercussions of the movie reaching America prevented the movie of being distributed.

It was understandable. American society has become quite sensitive to issues that involve school violence and abuse. What would be the reaction to a story that involved students killing each other, beating the shit out of each other, among other twisted and disturbing scenes? All in its graphic violence glory. Thankfully, we now have a very nice blu-ray edition that came out in 2012. Do yourself a favor, and grab a copy, but certainly not for the faint of heart and those easily offended. Only for the curious of the twisted.

So why the major interest now? Well, those who have any knowledge of the Hunger Games phenomenon have probably stumbled upon the comparisons being made to this Battle Royale, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the potential for the mighty dough. But to The CW? I have a hard time seeing a proper adaptation being made. I mean, if it was HBO or Showtime, then I'd be more than ecstatic despite the whatever would get lost in translation as the story is Americanized.

Still, I can't help to be curious of what The CW might do with it if it gets its hands on it. I can't help but assume that they'd turn it to a romantic crap it was not meant to be to attract their demographics. Yet I see some of their attempts to be a bit edgy, with their Nikita adaptation, the recent Ringer show, and the ultra popular Supernatural, and I think it just might work.

Got to ask, Battle Royale to The CW...good idea?

You can buy the Battle Royale novel from The Book Depository.

For now, here's a trailer for the movie:

Guest Post & Giveaway: The Making of a Trilogy by Tim Marquitz

Tim Marquitz is an author that doesn't need any introduction around these parts, but you can always check his interview from a few months ago to learn a bit more about him. Probably more than you'd want to. I invited him to help me get back on track here on the blog, and also to share a few words of his experience so far writing the Blood War Trilogy, whose sequel Embers of an Age was released last month.

For those interested, Dawn of War which is the first in the trilogy, can be grabbed for free for a limited time. Perfect opportunity to jump on this series if it has ever piqued your interest. It's a series that has me curious mainly because I haven't read any of it yet, and it's different from other books he's written so far. So here is Tim sharing a bit of what he's learned since he began writing this Dark Epic Fantasy series. Also, don't forget the giveaway at the end of this post!

The Making of a Trilogy

Unlike a lot of authors, I’m not married to a single genre. I’m not so concerned with the concept of brand (probably to my detriment) but more so about getting the ideas out of my head, regardless of their style. I want to write, plain and simple. The Blood War Trilogy came about after I was three books into George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I loved the scope of George’s writing, the feelings he evoked so casually. He inspired me to try my hand at a more epic style of storytelling. As much fun as the Demon Squad books are to write, they’ll never see any critical praise for being great works of literature. While that’s entirely on purpose, I wanted to stretch my writing, to tell a story from a different perspective. Dawn of War was that story. Little did I know how difficult it would be to tell it right.

Caught up in the idea of epic storytelling, I made a number of mistakes with Dawn of War. While I feel the writing is strong, as is the story, there’s an almost forced aspect to it. I was writing an epic not just telling a story. I wanted to explore the world and to show the characters, and the inciting events unfolding, as it all came together. While those aspects mesh later in the book and come together as I envisioned, the early part of Dawn of War might come across as a little tedious as characters and the world is introduced. My viewpoint control was lacking. Used to a much faster paced story, I sacrificed that pacing early on for what I felt was worldbuilding.

Embers of an Age, book two in the Blood War Trilogy, benefits from the lessons I learned with Dawn of War. While the chapters in Dawn were adjusted in order to provide the bigger picture of concept, Embers was streamlined to focus on story. I stopped worrying about the trees and the dirt and moved on to hone the story I was trying to tell. Instead of a book arranged to provide well-timed action scenes, I let my instincts guide the process. I stopped writing an epic and simply started writing. The pacing came naturally after that, action driven by plot.

The biggest change between Dawn and Embers is characterization. One of my strongest suits when it comes to writing, Dawn suffered to a degree from my desire to create the world first, characters second. The writing didn’t highlight the characters like I thought it should have. Embers returns the focus to characterization. Arrin’s stubborn determination now stands out; his desire to overcome his failures can be felt, not simply read. Uthul’s guilt and uncertainty bleed through the words when in Dawn they were just a concept of the storyline. I now feel these characters whereas before they were simply constructs of my imagination.

Embers also benefits from better overall clarity. Some of the plotlines I left vague in Dawn of War are clear now. The unintentional mystery aspect of Dawn (a holdover from the Demon Squad books) has been replaced with what I hope is stronger storytelling. While I didn’t lay everything out for the reader, I tried to sharpen the point of the tale, to clarify the why of it. I realized I was obscuring a part of the story for no reason other than habit.

An Amazon review of Dawn of War hit it dead on by saying the book was wide, but not deep. I didn’t get that sense when I was writing it, but I do now. My focus on worldbuilding took away from the story in a way I hadn’t intended. That said, I feel I had to write Dawn as it was in order to progress to Embers. Dawn of War is the foundation of the world the trilogy exists in. Embers builds upon that core but it feels as though it takes a more natural course.

I understand now what I missed when I was first inspired to write the trilogy: layers. There isn’t just one aspect that makes a story epic, but several, all wrapped together and seamlessly joined together. Dawn of War had a few superficial moments of detail as I attempted to build the world without completely understanding the process I was undertaking. My vision is much clearer now.

Dawn of War was a learning experience, its lessons making Embers of an Age a much better book for my having to take a critical look at what I did wrong in creating Dawn. I’m looking forward to writing the final book in the trilogy because Embers was just as much an eye-opener for me as a writer. I can’t wait to see where the story takes me from here.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bastard Reaction: The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams

"Ambitious" is often the word I've seen used to describe Mazarkis Williams' debut novel, The Emperor's Knife. I find myself agreeing with that assessment. It's the first of The Tower and Knife Trilogy, which I recognize to be a fitting describer alluding to multiple aspects of what's found within the pages, and perhaps hints at what's to come.

The Cerani Empire faces its greatest threat, an epidemic spreading through the population that allows an unknown enemy, the Pattern Master, to take control of them; the pattern has now reached the body of the Emperor. Few know of this latest predicament, and with the fear of losing the empire, a chain reaction has placed protagonists in the middle of schemes and conspiracies of treachery and power play. Eyul, an aging assassin is tasked with a quest in an attempt to unearth the nature of this epidemic, while he struggles with his conscience as he ruminates on heinous deeds he's done in the name of the empire. Mesema, daughter of a clan chief in the northern plains, is the subject of an arranged marriage and handed to a Cerani general who'll escort her to her intended prince, while conflicted with her self-interest and the sacrifice she's to make as the fate of her clan and that of the empire rests upon her. Prince Sarmin, sole surviving sibling of the Emperor, waits for his intended bride in the tower he's been imprisoned in since his childhood where few even know he exists, and he engages in a private war with the Pattern Master, or maybe he's simply battling his sanity.

The story, much like the characters that experience it, is multifaceted and complex. It's natural to compare it to a Chess game, particularly given the Settu game explored in the novel which has similar qualities. The board is mainly controlled by side characters whose machinations propel the story forward without realizing that they may be "pawns" in someone else's game. As such, other than a few exceptions, it's hard to pin point characters as antagonists in the story, particularly when Mazarkis did such a great job in giving sympathetic aspects to some of them. While motivations were not always clear, it was with little effort with which I managed to put myself in their shoes.

The story is set among deserts, camels and horses are used for travelling, you have caves in the periphery, and the plains with their clans. There's a clear gender divide, culminating with the Emperor's harem, where women have been placed predominately in roles of baby-makers. With fertility comes social standing, and it's interesting to see how similar the empire and the clans from the norther plains are in this regard despite being completely different culturally. I also found it curious how in some instances women could be used to show a sign of strength, yet also to illustrate perceived weaknesses. Following that, it was amusing how they were empowered throughout the novel given this setting and society, using their resources cleverly and in unexpected manners that affected the events of the story in considerate ways.

Pace was a bit of an issue for me, particularly with two parallel storylines dominated by travelling through the desert during a good portion of the novel. It included an action heavy scene that didn't do much for me, which was one of the longest sequences in the novel, albeit an important one. In part because I had trouble grasping the magic system, particular with the use of patterns, and the role of religion in this world. Might just be a failure as a reader, but I found the magic hard to comprehend, in this context, and the religious aspects a bit ungrounded or simply hard to distinguish. The latter served a bigger role towards the concluding portion of the novel than I had envision.

I also thought the blurb found inside the cover jacket was problematic, particularly as it comes to how it influenced my expectations of what I was about to read, but found it to not be representative of the story. Let's just say that portions of the blurb are of less importance than what it leads you to believe, and some of the alluded events don't occur until past the halfway point of the novel. I know I struggled to give the setup of the story above, so I won't give them much grief over it.

While we're at it, I felt there was too much happening "off screen" and left unsaid. As such, some of the progression didn't seem natural. For example, characters that are enemies suddenly becoming friendly once we return to a respective POV, and we're left with a dynamic of playing catch-up while Mazarkis gives us a brief run-down about the change in their association. If I were to speculate it was a measure to make the novel more concise, and considering the pace it might have been for the best at the end of it all.

I really enjoyed reading The Emperor's Knife, despite what my criticisms above might suggestThis world is quite brutal and violent. Not an action heavy novel, as drama dominates the book, it still has plenty going about, and at times quite ruthless. Mirroring the action, I loved how relationships were portrayed. There was an inevitability and matter-of-factness to it which I found refreshing. Some pairings might seemed a bit rushed, but I thought them fitting when considering some of the circumstances and the tone of the novel.

In the limited scope we've been exposed to you can see the potential this world has. I don't know how much of it we'll get to explore in this trilogy (assuming those plans remain unchanged), but there has been some glimpses that could make this a special place. Despite my problems understanding the magic and religion, I think there's an underlying awesomeness to it that I really can't wait to learn more about.

The story itself is nothing groundbreaking, but the sum of the parts makes it a compelling one. While some aspects were a bit too transparent and predictable, it was balanced with quite a few interesting twists. Some good characters to be found, but I found that Sarmin stole the show and I'm sure he'll be a favorite of many. One of those few amazingly unique characters one has the pleasure of discovering.

While this might not be my favorite 2011, but certainly among the favorites, in my opinion Mazarkis showed he/she might just be the most talented writer of the ones I read. I found Mazarkis' words to have a great flow and rhythm to them, and a way of mixing bluntness with the subtle. There's a particular passage that really got to me as there's a character ruminating on how there are different ways to lose your innocence, and considering some of the recent happenings, it really has stayed with me. Needless to say, that it was one of the many examples of Mazarkis' writing that impressed me and I know that I'm missing out on some of the passages that probably required a bit more work from the reader.

The Emperor's Knife is a book I envision having great support and it's fair share of detractors. I think it's a novel that requires patience, but in my opinion the payback is or will be worth it. As mentioned above, Mazarkis is a talented writer, that at the very least one should keep an eye out for regardless of the opinion of this particular installment. As for myself, I'm counting the days until Knife Sworn.

Buy The Emperor's Knife from The Book Depository: paperback or hardcover.

Please visit Mazarkis William's blog and follow him/her on Twitter for some good insights and information about his/her work and the world we live in.