Category Archives: Fantasy Genre

TV Review: Vampire Diaries Season 8

vampire diaries title card

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched any of the Season 8 (final season) episodes of The Vampire Diaries and don’t want spoilers, skip this post and come back once you’ve seen the whole season.

The CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries has wrapped up its eighth and final season, the second one not to prominently feature series mainstay Elena Gilbert (well, until the end anyway). This season’s “Big Bads” were essentially two Sirens and a “Devil” (even though the character of Cade/Arcadius is called the Devil several times and is said to be in charge of Hell, he was more like a glorified demon rather than having the full-on gravitas of The Devil).

Also, just when you thought that a certain villain had been dead and buried for good after multiple instances of mysteriously always finding a way to scurry back to life, it turned out they weren’t in what would turn out to be one of the most over-the-top and pointless character returns in recent memory. I’m not going to rant about this character, but let’s just say they should be on a list of “Top 100 villains who started out as compelling characters but quickly became repetitive and annoying with each subsequent return.”

This time in the “let’s spin the wheel and see which brother will be evil for the season” it was Damon Salvatore‘s turn–well, for the first half of the season, then it was Stefan‘s turn. I will say that even though this was one of the more annoying parts of the entire season, Stefan had some good dialogue and quips here and there.

The mystery from the final episode of Season 7 revolves around what happened to Damon and Enzo when they stepped into the creepy tunnel room in the Armory, AKA Alaric’s Indiana Jones-inspired playground. We find out that a woman called Sybil is controlling Damon and Enzo and getting them to be her errand boys by virtue of her psychic abilities and mind control. Because both of their humanity switches are off, they don’t really care about the implications of all the terrible things Sybil is forcing them to do.

Eventually, we find out that Sybil is a (wait for it) siren. A siren. Seriously. I mean, I’ll give the show some credit for introducing the ability of mind control through song and adding a sort of almost shade of a dimension we haven’t seen to sirens before, but where it gets murky for me is when Sybil just becomes increasingly annoying and irritating. This is a problem that villains on The Vampire Diaries have had since Seasons 3 and 4 pretty much. After the Original vampires headed for their own show, the writers have had a tougher time making other villains stick. I’m not even going to get started on Kai/Malakai. The show has given us some truly awful villains, but in my mind he’s one of the absolute worst (and not in a good way).

So once we find out that Sybil is a siren, we find out that the innocent-looking nanny to Alaric’s children, Selene, is anything but. She’s the siren sister to Sybil, but it is also soon revealed that the two have something of a sibling rivalry and do not see eye to eye. The reason she has been keeping such a close eye on Alaric’s twin girls is because it turns out that she and Sybil work for an even douchier villain, a guy named Cade, who was accused of being a witch and then burned at the stake. But as he burned, he cursed the townspeople, blah blah seen-it-a-thousand-times-before blah. Just as a refresher, Alaric’s twin girls are part of the Gemini Coven and are siphoners of magic though they have no idea they’re doing it most of the time. The sirens were kicked out of their villages years ago for, basically, cannibalistic behaviour. This is how Cade found them. He got them to be his soul collectors. But Selene has wanted out of the gig for some time. Her scheme is to try to offer up Alaric’s twin girls to Cade as a switch.

But, oh, I haven’t mentioned the ever-sanctimonious and permanently in competition to see who can be the whinier martyr brothers, Damon and Stefan yet. While Damon’s Evil switch is still on, Stefan offers Cade a counter-bargain: he’ll take the place of Selene and Sybil if Cade will leave Alaric’s twin girls alone. Cade accepts. Stefan turns off his humanity switch. *sigh*

This season, witchy character Bonnie Bennett spends much of her time trying to get the love of her life, Enzo, to turn off his Evil switch. He does, but the consequences are that Sybil hounds him constantly. While Season 7 gave me a harder sell in terms of getting interested in the episodes, Season 8 was a bit of an improvement in that respect: the stakes were clear, and the adrenaline was always coursing.

Eventually (and you knew this was coming), Damon’s Evil switch starts flickering on and off and the goal for much of the second half of the season is to get Stefan to turn off his Evil switch and to stop being such a Ripper. It’s sort of cute that The Vampire Diaries has consistently tried so, so hard to make their version of a “Ripper” seem scary or distressing.

Some things I liked about this season:

  • This time around, the rumours started to float early on about the fact that Season 8 would be the show’s last. Vampire Diaries fans received confirmation of this at some point and so the rampant discussion became whether Nina Dobrev would return to reprise her role as the central character, Elena Gilbert. Well, spoiler alert, we knew with some certainty that she would. Still, it grated on my nerves in a big way that Elena Gilbert is one of those characters who can be the central focus of an entire season with barely being in it.
  • Stefan’s dialogue when he had his Evil switch on was entertaining in some parts.
  • The mystical Bell that was made by the Maxwell family (which filtered down to become the Donovans, i.e. Matt) in a sirenly attempt to destroy Mystic Falls. I thought the historical connection to this relic and its abilities were interesting, and the tie-in to the dimension of Hell was also intriguing. I also thought it was cool to bring in more of the Bennett witches into play again–they were always one of the most interesting aspects of each season, and I would have liked to see even more of them during the show’s run.
  • Even though the constant back and forth between Stefan and Damon about who would be the biggest martyr of them all annoyed me to no end, the lengths both of them were willing to go to in the name of destroying Hell and saving Mystic Falls was noble, and after shedding that much blood and causing centuries of pain and misery to countless people around the world, they both atoned in the end.
  • That this was the final season. My interest in the show began to wane sometime around Season 4 or 5, and the show hasn’t had a compelling villain since the Original vampires took a hike (see above). I know I’m supposed to be focusing on things I liked, so I’ll say it was good to get a sense of resolution with this story.

Some things I wasn’t so crazy about this season:

  • Bonnie’s constant insistence that she has lost her magic only for her to *gasp* magically have it after all. Can you sense the sarcasm? Just checking 😉 Also, just the fact that the show continued to screw with Bonnie in general and the whole thing where she tried to die a bunch of times but it wasn’t her time yet. Sure, it’s okay for Elena to have her happy ending with sunshine and rainbows, but Bonnie has to settle for some creepy Ghost scenario with Enzo. *sigh*
  • The string of one annoying villain after another. The writers have relied far too much on flashbacks and backstory to try to convince viewers why their villains are supposedly so epic, but instead of building sympathy in the minds of viewers for the whole “wronged baddie” schtick, it ends up turning viewers off (this is the thing where the villain in this series always seems to be the same variation of “I used to be good but people were cruel to me so I turned bad”).
  • “I’m so eeeeeeevvviiiilll” Damon (and Stefan): Because the show has overused this plot point so many times over the course of the entire series, it lost its impact a long time (and a few seasons) ago. When his Evil switch eventually stopped flickering and stopped at “off,” his next battle became to see who could be bigger martyr for their crimes: him or Stefan. They both lost, incidentally 😉 Although I hoped the return of Evil Damon would lead to a more interesting character arc this season, it disappointed in that regard. Of course I knew he would eventually go into full-blown good guy mode, but again, this is something that lost the impact because it happened so often on the show prior to this season.
  • That villain at the very, very end: No. Just no. My first reaction when I figured out where they were going with it was…you’ve got to be kidding me. Again? I understand the reason, but it felt like the actor was just going through the motions and as a result, it had no impact. The introduction of this villain was brilliant but after the events at the end of Season 6, that’s where things should have wrapped up. Nuff said.
  • In my review of Season 7, I had mentioned that I got a distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe from the entity in the Vault of the Armory. I had originally thought viewers would be treated to something similar to The First Evil. That, uh, well, that didn’t quite happen. And the funny thing is that also in that review, I’d lamented the recycling of the “Oh no, what are we doing to do? Stefan is evil!” plotline except for Damon and Enzo, but it turned out that they applied it to Stefan yet again. Suffice it to say, I did not find it interesting at all to see where they went with this because they had gone there so many times before.
  • There’s not really any way they could have ended the series except with a Happily Ever After, but most of it made me feel like I was watching the Hallmark channel and not the CW.

Throughout its history, The Vampire Diaries had a big habit of repeating itself and recycling its own plot devices and tropes. No show is perfect, but I think that at the end of the day, this is a show that was made by the same people who produced Dawson’s Creek (well, at least one of them anyway). The emphasis on the love triangle between the three characters, which then became the “will the two of them get their happy ending? and what about that other one?” continued into a narrative focused on wrapping everything up as neatly and as tidily as possible in the 16 episode span of the last season.

As their characters made the transition from high school to university, the show did its best to present efforts to more maturity and more serious plotlines. And in some ways, they did well, but by the end, the show became one increasingly ridiculous plot twist after another. The writers very much adopted the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. Part of that stems from the fact that this was the last season, so the creators wanted to end on a high note and try to tie up as many loose ends as they could.

I think that in a sea of so many vampire shows and films that have saturated the airwaves and theatres for the past 40 years, the show tried its best to offer something different or in some way unique, and I would say that from Seasons 1 to 3, that’s when things were at their most interesting for the most part–the peak of the show’s overall story arc.

Although some of the villains this show has introduced such as Katherine, Klaus, and Silas provided much entertainment and suspense when they were first introduced, it’s difficult to sustain that kind of momentum for any character and there were only so many times the show could achieve the shock factor with them. Still, they produced some addictive storylines that kept viewers coming back for more, and it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What about you, readers? Did you tune in to Season 8? What did you think? What were your thoughts on the series as a whole? Sound off below!

 

Guest Post: Your Baby is Ugly by Bishop O’Connell

the returned book cover

Guest Post: Your Baby is Ugly by Bishop O’Connell

We’re all familiar with the term; someone tells you something you love, and probably put a lot of work into, is wretched and worthy only of contempt, and thus, you’re a complete failure. Well, at least that’s what most of us hear, and hopefully for only the first few minutes.

But what we should be hearing is that something we love, and probably put a lot of work into, is not the greatest creation of the human animal. That’s good news, stay with me here, because it means there’s room for improvement and a chance to hone our craft.

If you’re like me, you might’ve had some similar experiences. I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. In first grade I started writing short stories, which the teacher would read to the class at story time. This provided my first taste of adulation. It also provided my first taste of how far some people will go to express their dissatisfaction with the quality of your work. Was the lost lunch money worth the praise?

Well, I’m still writing, so there’s your answer. I’ve been writing, or making up stories in one form or another, since I was a kid. Learning of the long and proud history the Irish have with storytelling brought me a lot of satisfaction. I’m exceedingly proud of my heritage and storytelling is another way I bond with it. I did some stage acting for a while, which to me is another form of storytelling. In fact, being a performer was once a key part of storytelling. In time, I grew used to people telling me I was good at telling stories and should pursue it. What I didn’t know was that storytelling and writing are two completely distinct things.

When I entered the work force and began my adult life, my book in progress never seemed to get finished. Yes, I was “that guy” for a while, and I sincerely apologize. Most of my problem stemmed from constantly rewriting what I’d already written and making little or no progress forward. I still struggle with this a bit, but I digress.

When the manuscript was finished, I felt convinced I had a good story, strong characters, and something worthy of being my introduction to the literary world. No, I didn’t expect to get a letter from the president of a major publishing house asking where I’d been and saying the world was so glad I’d finally arrived. But I thought I’d written something at least as good as what I was finding on bookshelves at the time.

Many, many rejection letters later, some of which were less than gentle, I decided to try again. I wrote another book. This one practically wrote itself and I was thrilled with the outcome. I’d bought some books on dialogue, character development, and such, and thought I applied them well. Then I decided to take advantage of making a good living and hired a professional editor to look it over. I

knew it wouldn’t be cheap, but I also know that reading through a full book and making notes isn’t something that can be done overnight and, as a professional in a different field, I respect the value of a professional’s time. I chose a respected editing firm, run by one of the authors of perhaps THE book on self-editing, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

My beloved urban fantasy was eviscerated. Or that’s how it felt. While there was some genuine praise (not that I saw much of it), it was just enough to keep me from jumping off a bridge. I started to wonder why I ever thought I could be a writer. But I’ve always been someone who doesn’t like being beaten down. In fact, I sort of thrive on spite. When someone knocks me down, I’ll get back up just to tell them they can’t keep me down. I think it’s the Irish in me.

I took time, looked over the comments, and decided to apply them. I changed some of my beloved characters, which was like amputating my own leg, with a plastic spork, then I removed large pieces of the story and rewrote others. Several rounds of editing later (it took several hits with the two-by-four) the book was something different. The story was still there, but now the writing didn’t get in the way. In fact, it actually improved the story. What a concept!

I learned about repetition; telling something and then saying it again. When you show people what happens, but worry the reader didn’t quite get it so you make sure, or just hammering the same point home again over and over. See what I did there? I will say when I saw, for the tenth time or so, my editor commenting “Repetition, don’t treat the readers like idiots.” I had a good laugh. He’s skilled at his craft, but apparently didn’t recognize, or appreciate, the poetry of that. Or perhaps he did and was laughing his ass off as he wrote it.

I also learned about having good subtext (and trusting your reader to pick it up), the concept of exposition (when to reveal something and just how much of it to reveal), and about all of the other common problems most first time writers fall into, and trust me, we do.

Mostly though, I learned you can’t write in a vacuum. You have to have someone else look at your work, and if you can afford to hire a professional, do it. When we write, most of us make all kinds of typos, miss entire words, or have sentences that start one way and finish another. We can catch some of these on our own, but we’ll read the sentence with the missing word and our brains will fill it in, so we’ll never see that it’s missing.

You need someone who isn’t in the trenches, and isn’t emotionally vested in your story as it is, to look at from above and get the whole picture. A published author, I can’t overstate what a benefit it is to have a professional editor looking over my work.

But the hardest thing I learned was when I received comments, from friends or editors, was to read the comments, and then walk away. You need to get yourself away from the story and criticism. Get angry if you want. Swear, stomp, beat on a punching bag for a while. Whatever you need. Maybe even write a scathing reply then, and this is very important, DELETE IT.

Once you’ve calmed down, go back and read the comments again. When you feel your emotions building up, rinse and repeat. When you can really listen to what you’re being told, consider why the person thinks that. Now, they could well be wrong. Even after four books, there are times I just plain disagree with the editor and kept things the way I want, or I go in a different direction entirely.

If you have a friend doing this for you, be grateful, especially if he or she gives you more constructive feedback than “I liked it,” or “it’s good.” If you managed to find a good editor, and be sure to do your research, remember that this is someone who’s professional and knowledgeable; likely they have a degree, or plenty of experience, and likely both.

Also remember, you’re paying for his or her advice! No point in paying if you’re going to ignore it all because the editor doesn’t suggest you’re the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. There should be examples in the comments of what you’re doing right. If there aren’t, don’t assume everything you’re doing is wrong, ask. But keep in mind an editor isn’t paid to blow sunshine up your backside.

His or her job is to help you make your book/short story/novella/screenplay/poem/manifesto the best it can possibly be. An important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that different editors have different opinions, so don’t be surprised if you work with two different editors and they contradict each other. The literary world is capricious at best. It’s not just enough to have a good story that’ll sell. You have to get said story in front of someone who recognizes it as such, and do it when that person is open to seeing it.

When I first wrote this piece, I hadn’t yet landed my publishing deal from Harper. It’s now two years and four books later, and this piece still holds true. Over the course of my writing career, both and pre and post publication, I’ve learned some hard lessons. Some of those were costly; sometimes in ego, sometimes in cash, and sometimes both.

Before getting my publishing deal I received more rejection notices that I care to think about, both with and without reviewing the manuscript. But I kept writing because I had to, for me. This is still the case. The Returned marks the end of my current contract with Harper and I’m going through the familiar panic of wondering if I’ll get another. But I keep writing, and I’ll keep writing no matter what happens.

Just as before I knew that one day I’d get published and see my book on shelves—this was a great day—I know now that I’ll get another publishing deal, and one day I’ll make a living on my writing. I know this not just because I’m published now, but because of what I knew before that happened: No one has ever succeeded who gave up. The people who succeeded say you can too, the people who gave up say you can’t. As one of those who made it, let me add my voice to the chorus. You can do it too.

Who are you going to listen to? Me, I was, and still am, too spiteful and stubborn to give up.

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bishop o'connell author photoBishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (aquietpint.com), where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.

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ABOUT THE RETURNED:

Almost a year after their wedding, and two since their daughter Fiona was rescued from a kidnapping by dark faeries, life has finally settled down for Caitlin and Edward. They maintain a facade of normalcy, but a family being watched over by the fae’s Rogue Court is far from ordinary. Still, it seems the perfect time to go on their long-awaited honeymoon, so they head to New Orleans.

Little do they know, New Orleans is at the center of a territory their Rogue Court guardians hold no sway in, so the Court sends in Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, to watch over them. It’s not long before they discover an otherworldly force is overtaking the city, raising the dead, and they’re drawn into a web of dark magic. At the same time, a secret government agency tasked with protecting the mortal world against the supernatural begins their own investigation of the case. But the culprit may not be the villain everyone expects. Can Wraith, Caitlin, and Edward stop whoever is bringing the vengeful dead back to life before another massacre, and before an innocent is punished for crimes beyond her control?

Buy The Returned in eBook format (Release date: July 12, 2016):

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | iTunes | Kobo

Paperback Edition (Release date: August 23, 2016):
HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Buy signed copies from:
The Fountain Bookstore

Book Review: MOJO Conjure Stories, Edited by Nalo Hopkinson

mojo conjure stories editor nalo hopkinson book cover anthology

Mojo: Conjure Stories
Edited by Nalo Hopkinson
Warner Aspect
April 2003
352 pages
*** Review copy paperback purchased online ***

I discovered this anthology many years ago and it was difficult to come by a copy, but I found one online a while back and finally had a chance to dig into its wonderful contents. People who lament the lack of diversity in speculative fiction would do well to pick up this anthology.

The story “Rosamojo” by Kiini Ibura Salaam stuck with me as it was a powerful tale of an abused little girl and the magical abilities she struggles with in the confines of her family. The ending, though a gut-punch, was satisfying.

One of my favourite stories of the anthology was “Lark Till Dawn, Princess” by Barth Anderson about a former drag queen who has relived the last of his glory days and laments the death of his “house mother”, Magnifica the Crimson. This story painted a fascinating look into the drag world that reminded me of the documentary, Paris is Burning.

There’s a very interesting appearance from Papa Legba and some great background about Magnifica’s hidden connections to the voodoo world. This story was a joy to read from start to finish and ended on a note of hope.

“Heartspace” by Steven Barnes concerns a character, Calvin, who despises his father for many good reasons. He agrees to a visit along with his half-sister and at one point describes her as a “crippled pigeon returning home to die,” which I found incredibly poignant. Then his father seems nice and caring and very unlike himself, which we later discover there’s a dark reason for.

Gregory Frost’s story “Prowl” is a tale of an ex-slave who fought during the Civil War and explores the Gullah myths and legends. “Fate” by Jenise Aminoff is about a woman who recounts giving birth to her son, Eshu, who she names after a trickster deity. They both have a bad fall when he’s young and the theme becomes an exploration of how nothing can ever be completely certain in life.

In “Trial Day” by Tananarive Due, a girl’s half-brother is on trial for possibly committing armed robber, but the family is desperate to keep him out of jail, which will almost certainly mean him getting the electric chair while “The Skinned” by Jarla Tangh tells concerns beings known as The Skinned who “prowl the night streets unseen” and who bullets, blades or fire cannot hurt. This story was more rooted in African folklore and had interesting elements.

“Asuquo” by Nnedima Okorafor is about a girl who can fly but has to keep it secret from everyone. She has a “chi”, a soulmate, who isn’t allergic to her, and is told not to find this person. The fact that her entire family is allergic to her presents its challenges, as one might imagine, and this story stayed with me as one of the stand-outs of the volume.

Barbara Hambly, one of the most prolific speculative fiction writers whose works span many different genres, tells the story of Ajax, the main “gang driver” on a Louisiana plantation called Bellebleu. I found it to be a memorable and atmospheric read.

In “White Man’s Trick” by Eliot Fintushel, we explore the role of a white actor in a troupe consisting mainly of African-American actors while Neil Gaiman’s story “Bitter Grounds” deals with a very interesting piece of Haitian folklore via an academic who is about to present a paper on the legend of the Haitian coffee girls, undead children who went door-to-door selling a chicory coffee mix.

Overall, this anthology contains a strong mix of memorable tales with a diverse table of contents and it really deserved to get much bigger fanfare than it did at the time of its release. I hope that more readers who demand increased diversity in their speculative fiction will have a chance to discover this gem.

 

Ad Astra Workshop: Destroying Your Story Gremlins with Julie Czerneda

Ad Astra Convention Toronto

Although I have been going to the Ad Astra Convention for several years now, this is the first year (to my knowledge) that they have offered writing and other workshops as part of their programming. If you wanted to attend a workshop but not the rest of the convention, they gave people that option, which was nice in terms of attending flexibility.

Julie Czerneda author
Each of the workshops made available appealed to me immensely but I could only attend one so I chose “Destroying Your Story Gremlins” with Julie Czerneda.

 

Highlights:

  • We did several exercises: create a story from nothing, create a story from a character, then one from a theme, and so on. Each taught us something new
  • The workshop size was small with just a handful of people, hence more feedback opportunities. We worked in pairs/groups, and it was a convivial atmosphere
  • Because it was 2 hours, Julie let us get up and stretch and roam for a bit before returning, then extolled the virtues of a standing desk to us all 😉
  • Sometimes starting with an ending and working one’s way back can be helpful
  • A nice change of pace not to have the luxury of “you can have a writing session for one hour to over-think this story”

 

As an aside/amusing observation, I remembered to do and bring everything…except my sample story page. D’oh! But it turns out we didn’t necessarily need it and the workshop went on fine without it, so that was a plus.

I really hope Ad Astra decides to keep workshops as an incorporated part of the overall convention, because there are always a fair number of writers of all levels, not just the professionals, who attend, so it’s nice to have more practical components in addition to the programming and panels that usually go on.