Category Archives: Book Reviews

The day my favorite book became my favorite movie.

I first read ENDER’S GAME at age 14. It was introduced to my family by aunt Bronya, one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever meet, and has great taste in fiction. (She’s also a stellar baker and hostess; if you’re ever in rural Missouri, I recommend stopping by.)

After devouring this quick read, I was stunned by its much deeper sequel and the philosophical volumes that followed.  When CHILDREN OF THE MIND came out, dad bought four copies: One for himself, me, my brother, and my then-girlfriend; none of us had to wait. That’s one of my favorite memories of dad: spontaneously generous, thoughtful, and sharing our excitement.From high school onward, I read science fiction because of Card. Oh, I’ve since read Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke, but that came later.

I majored in Philosophy because of science fiction, which was difficult to explain to my professors.THE WORTHING SAGA — which even most Card fans have never read — remains one of the most thorough and convincing treatments of theodicy I’ve ever read. (“Theodicy” is the problem of evil and suffering in a world governed by benevolent and omnipotent being[s].)

When an old friend finds me on Facebook, they’re liable to mention Card. As in, “I still read Card because you got me into him.” So Card has not only influenced my reading and my education, but the warp and woof of my social life, and of course my career as a writer. There are a dozen autographed OSC novels in my home. ENDER’S GAME and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD sit on the top shelf in my office, facing out so you can see their covers. I will buy anyone who wants a copy of either book, no questions asked. Read More →

How to reread Wheel of Time before A MEMORY OF LIGHT.

This article is dedicated to Carey Peters, Bruce Lecus, and Ryan Jones.

So you’re a Wheel of Time fan. The final book, A MEMORY OF LIGHT, is finally finished. Praise the Light! Only it’s been years since you’ve read the Wheel of Time, which contains rich mythology, heavy foreshadowing, and loads and loads of characters. And most of the books are long. Will Continuity Lock-Out keep you from enjoying the final volume?

Don’t panic; there are a variety of ways to enjoy this epic tale before Tarmon Gai’don. And most of them don’t require rereading the entire series from pages 1 to 10,670, though that is certainly an option. Brandon Sanderson did so multiple times while writing the penultimate novels, so you’re in good company.

The idea of skipping books or chapters will strike some as odd; I assure you, it’s warranted. I’d rather you enjoy what you can than skip the whole series.


I was furious that Jordan wrote a prequel with the series unfinished, and (at the time) most releases failing to resolve much. I haven’t read NEW SPRING and don’t plan to. It is omitted from this guide.

Why your first reading was worthless:

The series is an order of magnitude better on subsequent readings. To modern readers, Jordan is dry, long-winded and fills his books with pointless chapters, especially later in the series. Only upon rereading (or reviewing supplemental material) does it become clear just how much Jordan planned in advance. Chapters which seemed at first irrelevant actually fill critical niches in the chronology.

For example, I used to hate any chapters with Whitecloak or Forsaken POV. They seemed to progress nothing. But both are rarer than I originally believed, they just seem longer when you want to read more about Mat. What you can’t tell in a single reading is how important a particular event becomes to the main characters  along arcs that take 8+ books to resolve.

Whatever you think of his prose, Jordan was a master planner; the foreshadowing and resolutions in Wheel of Time are second to none. On page 204 of the first book, Jordan tells you what Mat will do at the end of Book 13 to resolve a dangling thread from Book 5. Jordan’s work is photomosaic: Single chapters and books are downright ugly until you can see the larger picture. There’s too much to digest in one reading.

Your Prime Directive

I’m outline options to get you started, but the cardinal rule for rereading WOT is:

Don’t read what you don’t enjoy.

If you hated a book, chapter, or character, skip it. Even on your first read. I would rather you enjoyed the remainder. Remember Sturgeon’s Law:

90% of everything is crud.

…and the fan corellary:

The remaining 10% is worth dying for.

Read More →

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Best Book Ever Written

Each Saturday, Jason spotlights one product or service he finds particularly useful or enjoyable; the kind of things that make you wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone have this?”

Welcome back to Happy weekend. I hope your year is going as well as mine is. Or if you’re reading this on Facebook, I feel sorry for you, but thanks anyway; accidental support is better than no support at all.

There it is in the picture I took just moments ago: The book in my library more times than any other, so thoroughly used and abused that it is entirely falling apart.

I wish I could claim to be holier-than-thou enough for that to be the Bible, but it isn’t. Nor any other “religious” text in the traditional sense.

No, I’m not talking about a book I’ve ever read out of duty, but so eagerly and repeatedly that I have no idea when I first read the book. This story is as much a part of my psyche as any distant memory or cherished event, and has shaped my personality my whole life.

The book is written in text of two colors; red and green in my copy, though I have seen other color pairs. The colors correspond to worlds within the book; red for our world, green for the fantasy world. And when you finally get halfway through the book, and a character from our world who always appeared in red text suddenly appears in green pose, it’s a shocking and meaningful moment. (This same technique was adopted by The Matrix which used blue tinge for the real world and green tinge for all events that occurred in the Matrix.)

Each chapter begins with beautiful large capitals of the Alphabet. In order. The first chapter starts with “A”, the second with “B”, and the last with “Z”, and the book is one prologue and exactly 26 chapters. It must have been my 100th reading before I even realized this.

If you’ve ever read it, you already know exactly the book I’m talking about. But if you haven’t read it, I’m about to name the title. And if ANY of you mention a MOVIE which bears almost nothing in common with the book except the title, I shall disown you. That’s like if someone asks you if you’ve read the Bible, and you say no, but I saw The Passion of the Christ. Actually it’s worse, because Passion for all its flaws was a deep and meaningful movie, and The Neverending Story was a complete joke in comparison to the book.

Don’t tell me you liked the movie. I know. I liked it too, until I read the book and realized how thoroughly it had been spit on by filmmakers hoping to make a quick buck at the expense of true storytelling. It happens to contain some of the same characters and concepts, but that’s it.

In the movie, the Nothing is a kind of destructive windstorm. In the book, the Nothing is a nothingness creeping over Fantastica, like a non-gravitational black hole. Things near it lose color and fade until they are simply…nothing.

In the movie, the Southern Oracle is a pair of Sphinxes that speaks with a disembodied voice. In the book, the Sphinxes are creatures that send out riddles with their eyes and are just one of three tests Atreyu must pass to speak to the southern oracle, which IS disembodied voice made up of poetry and song, that only speaks in rhyme, and can only hear questions that are phrased in verse.

In the movie, Atreyu is a whiny child that basically yells at every creature and monster he encounters. In the book, Atreyu is an accomplished and solemn hunter.

In the movie, when Bastion names the Childlike Empress, the Nothing is banished and Bastion is the hero and the movie ends.

In the book, when Bastion names the Childlike Empress “Moon Child”, thereby expressing his belief in Fantastica and abolishing the Nothing, he is transported into Fantastica to meet with the Childlike Empress. Just like in the movie, except that the story is just beginning. The movie left out such insignificant details as the Auryn granting Bastion’s wishes until he is handsome, strong, and brave, and climbs trees hundreds of feet high and rides across the Desert of Many Colors on the back of lion as deadly as death itself.

The movie left out such minor moments as Bastion’s social and political rise to power, waited on hand and foot by every kind of creature imaginable as he begins a selfish quest to force the Childlike Empress to reappear to him.

The movie left out such minor details as Bastion’s conquering the Ivory tower, declaring himself emperor, and Atreyu’s war against him which left the Ivory tower bloodied and broken, and Bastion destitute and lonely until he finds the City of Old Emperors; the sad remains of Fantastica’s other usurpers, and Bastion learns that he can just barely go home.

The movie left out the entire point of the book, which was Bastion’s relationship with his father, healed only after he learned all the lessons that Fantastica had to offer, after having experienced everything from being an Emperor with godlike powers to being lost and alone and forgotten in a strange world and no memory of how he arrived, or at the worst moments, even who he was.

It is true that the second movie brought in some of the concepts from the second half of the book. But it did an even worse job than the first movie. Comparing The Neverending Story 2 film to the second half of the book is a little like comparing Dora The Explorer to Lord of the Rings. So please, I beg you, don’t.

I fear something, though, after having written this article. If you finally read the book, you will be disappointed by the expectations I’ve set. So let me do what I can to temper those expectations, and assure you that your experience will not be the same as mine.

1. The book is a German children’s book. It was translated into English, and though I own a German copy, I cannot read German and so I fear the book may have lost some of the original depth.

2. I read and fell in love with this book as a child. You’re an adult now, and you will be critical of things that never bothered me.

3. Like the trope Seinfeld is Unfunny, there are probably books, movies, and shows that have borrowed from this book without even realizing it. When I first read it, the concepts and elements were new to me. They will not be new to you.

4. Some of the names in the book are cheesy, since it WAS written for children. The name “Fantastica” doesn’t do much for me, for starters. You will have to find the kid in you to get past these things if they bug you.

5. Bastian is a little wimp/panzy/loser/crybaby. He will be difficult for some of you to identify with. I identified with him precisely because his experience growing up was much like mine. If you have never been chased by bullies or made fun of for your appearance, you won’t know what I’m talking about and the book won’t mean as much to you.

6. ANY time a book or movie is recommended, the recommendee NEVER likes it as much as the recommender. So you won’t like this book as much as I did, guaranteed.

7. All taste is subjective. I’m not saying this is the best book ever written in literary terms, in symbolism, in critical acclaim, in sales, in popularity. Nor do I think it ever will be. I am saying that this book spoke directly to my soul in ways that greatly surpass almost everything else I’ve ever read, and therefore in my life, in my subjective experiences, and in my little selfish corner of the universe, that makes it the best book ever written.

When I read it, I was learning about myself. When you read it, you may also learn about yourself, but it’s more likely that you’ll be learning about me.

Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it. I’d loan you my copy, but it is virtually destroyed already.

The Most Valuable Gift I Got This Christmas

Remember the non-fiction book I mentioned? Of course you don’t; imagine my ego to assume that you would! The nerve of me.

Doesn’t matter. My grandparents gave me the book pictured left, which before cracking it open and reading a page, I thought, “That’s nice” and didn’t think much else.

Then I started to read.

In just two weeks I have become the biggest fan of Dave Ramsey’s teachings about money management. I’d already heard of another book by Ramsey, Financial Peace, because I have a coworker whose a big fan of it. I had already begun to enact some of those principles in how I spend money, for no other reason than because they just made sense. The Total Money Makeover appears to be the cliffnotes version of Financial Peace in shorter, broader strokes.

He begins the book by telling you what the book is NOT, which I love:

The book is NOT politically correct.

It is NOT a way to get rich quick.

It does NOT contain secrets (or even details) of investing.

It does NOT solve your problems without hard work.

What it does do, at least what it has done for me, was convince me that with a little sacrifice and a lot of effort and attention, my wife and I can be debt free in a few short years, and through rigorous investing thereafter, might retire as millionaires.

Again, no “get rich quick” schemes or gimmicks; he’s talking about spending years and years and years investing, and that’s only after you’ve freed up tremendous amounts of your income compared to the average American.

The steps themselves are simple, but most people just don’t exercise the discipline to put them into action.

1. Save up $1,000 liquid emergency fund.

2. Pay down your smallest debt. After that debt is paid, use its monthly payment as additional money for your next smallest debt. Use both those payments in your third smallest, and so forth.

There are more steps, but I’m going to pause right there because that’s the one that has me fired up and excited. Because it’s so easy if you just actually do it.

I’ve tried to talk to friends and co-workers about this, and as Dave predicts in his book, they just don’t get it.

“Imagine having no payments except your mortgage by 2012,” I posit.

My friends answer this as if I’d said, “Imagine having a flying horse by 2012,” and they answer appropriately.

“That sure would be nice. Keep dreaming.”

What? No. I’ve already done the math.

In our case (me and my wife’s), we attended an expensive private school (we didn’t know any better. We do now.) So our debt is going to take a bit longer to pay off: ~4 years at our current salaries. That may sound like a long time, but in my case, that’s roughly half the time it took me to go to school. Had we started the first year we were out of school, we’d be done by now.

It’s not magic, it’s not mythical, and it’s not hypothetical. It’s posssible.

But most Americans truly cannot even imagine living without debt, and dogmatically insist that it’s impossible to have no credit cards and no car payments, and no payments of any kind.

In the meanwhile, I’m convinced that most people have no idea just how much money they make because they throw quite a lot of it away. I’ve looked at the numbers in our budget, and without loans, we’d have a lot of spending money, even after rigorous investing. And I can tell you, we don’t make that much money overall. Neither of us pulls a salary I would consider even remotely “comfortable”. But when you look at where all the money is going, and how much of it is wasted on interest, it becomes clear there’s a lot more to be had than we thought.

If we manage it intelligently.

Step 3 is to save 3-6 months of expenses in some liquid form.

Step 4 is to invest 15% of your gross income. Which should be a cakewalk if you have no bills except mortgage and utilities.

Step 5 is to save for your children’s college eduction.

Step 6 is to pay off your mortgage. Entirely.

During all of this, you don’t charge ANYTHING to a credit card or loan. Ever. No 90 days same as cash. No car payments – you pay cash. No student loans; if you want to go to school, you pay cash.

People will insist you need a good credit rating. Why? If you aren’t borrowing anything, whom do you have to depend on for credit?

I’m sold, and I’m determined to be a millionaire by the time I retire, even if (god forbid) I never sell a single book. Not by some magic formula or get rich quick scheme. But by making the necessary sacrifices now to eliminate debt and keep more of my own paycheck.

I’ve done the math myself. There’s no reason it won’t work, except possibly lack of follow-through.

But by now, most of you already think I’m crazy for trying. That’s okay. I expected that.