Steelheart: In Which Superheroes are Not Super

Steelheart

“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again.” Thus opens Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, a YA novel set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Ten years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky. No one knows what it is or why it showed up, but they know what it did: gave ordinary people incredible powers. These people are called Epics, and their powers range from illusion to invincibility to control of the elements.

But Epics are not superheroes, as protagonist David discovers in the book’s prologue. He and his father are at a bank when Steelheart shows up. David’s father shoots him, the only one to ever draw blood from the invincible man, and is brutally murdered for it. Steelheart then decimates the bank and everyone in it, except David, who manages to escape. No one will ever know of Steelheart’s weakness if he has anything to say about it.

That was the day Steelheart took control of Chicago, now known as Newcago. Across the world, Epics battle for domination of cities, destroying anyone who gets in their way. Supervillains abound, but not a single Epic uses his or her powers to be a superhero.

David makes it his life’s quest to learn Steelheart’s weakness and get revenge for his father’s death, and he finally has his chance. He joins the Reckoners, a guerilla group of ordinary humans who fight back against the Epics as best they can. They are reluctant to accept him at first, but when he shows them his notes on Epics and their individual weaknesses, his life’s work, they take him on.

The Reckners have been striking at Epics for years, but they have never dared touch the most dangerous, like Steelheart and his various underlings. David and his information gives them the push they need to take the next step, and in the end, they face Steelheart.

Sanderson turns the idea of superheroes upside down in this novel. Epics are all villains, and ordinary people have to step forward and be the heroes, the ones who fight back. Comic book fans will recognize that genre translated into a novel with Steelheart, the descriptions and plot itself leaping straight from the pages of a comic as inspiration.

The main characters are well-rounded, with layered motivations and complex emotions about the work the Reckoners do. Prof, leader of the Reckoners, struggles with a lust for revenge even stronger than David’s, and fights his own dark side every day. Megan, the token beautiful young woman, turns out not to be a token, but instead a strong character in her own right. David develops a crush on her, but rather than descending into teenage angst and mush, his feelings and her response form an subplot of the book that ultimately has an important effect on the resolution. Steelheart, his command Epics, and his minions are fascinating villains, with unique identities and powers.

Steelheart is tightly plotted, with the intricate worldbuilding he is known for. The Epics’ powers are less defined than his usual logical, orderly magic systems, but their powers have individual rules and limitations, and David even comes up with a classification system for them.

Although the book moves rapidly, there is a section in the middle where the pace sags somewhat, when the Reckoners are preparing for their final showdown with Steelheart. A lot of planning happens with little forward movement, but it does not last long before the pace picks up again, and then it is a race to the finish. Several of the side characters are fairly one-dimensional, with only verbal quirks or one to two defining characteristics, when as members of the Reckoners, the reader would expect to see them more fully realized. David himself is almost too perfect for reader credulity. Despite having little to no training in the skills the Reckoners use in their attacks, David keeps up with the experienced Reckoners and is often a crucial part of the plan, which is odd, given his lack of experience and skills.

The plot twists were nicely foreshadowed, but not so obvious that most readers would see them coming. I guessed two twists before they happened, but I wasn’t sure of the details and was still surprised by the end of the book.

Steelheart is a book worth reading for anyone interested in superheroes or an adventure packed YA novel. Although it does not end on a cliffhanger, the book leaves several plot threads unresolved. First in a trilogy, Steelheart opens the door on a fascinating world and asks the question: What if superheroes were evil?

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Insert Title Here

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Titles are hard. As a writer, I have to go title hunting fairly often. I  have to come up with titles for my academic papers, which can be very amusing. I have to find titles for my stories and scribbles and poetic attempts.

Recently, I needed a title for my senior project. I had no ideas. Zilch. Some people are talented title-ers, but I am not. Sometimes I have a title as soon as I start writing a piece, but usually I just let it sit unnamed for a long time.

My senior project needed a title by a certain date, however. I searched for title generators online, hoping that I would find inspiration, if not an actual title. I realize that this may be some form of cheating, but I think that inspiration can be found anywhere, and inspiration is an essential part of creativity.

So I did finally find the right title for my project. Then I started thinking about titles in general.

I’m a big fan of evocative, vivid titles. The ones that use familiar words in new and lovely combinations. The ones that use alliteration or humor. The ones that use words in unexpected ways. The ones that capture the heart of the story in just one or two words.

Robert Jordan’s Knife of Dreams. Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance. Francine Rivers’s And the Shofar Blew. Karen Kingsbury’s A Time to Embrace.

But there are a lot of books out there with really sad, pitiful titles. I don’t mean to pick on any one genre, but a lot of the bad book titles I’ve seen come from the romance genre. Of course, I’m not a fan of the romance genre in general, so I do have a biased opinion from the start.

In my opinion, titles based on anything related to the sun, moon, stars, or times of day are the most cliche titles in existence. Especially when the title is just one word like sunrise, sunset, dawn, new moon, or twilight. Stephenie Meyers is not the originator of “Twilight” or “Eclipse” as a title. They were overused long before she published her books.

Really, though. What does a title like “Dawn” even say about a book or story? Maybe the first time someone used it as a title it meant something special, but if you can’t find a more unique way of describing your story, or even just adding another word or two, maybe your story has a different problem altogether. Title it “Dawn Falling” or maybe “Dawn is the End” (okay, that one is pretty bad). Both of those use the word “dawn” in a way that makes the reader go, “Huh. I wonder why dawn is falling instead of rising?”

The purpose of a title is to capture the heart of a story and catch the reader. I’m much more likely to read a book titled “The Day War Came to My Door” than “War”. Be creative! Make the reader curious. Unless your one word title is a very special word, don’t do it. Avoid the generic.

I’ve used stupid story titles, I’ll admit. But those titles never saw the light of day. Working titles are usually working titles for a reason. I’d like to think that I’ve polished my skills as a title-er. I’ve written a story titled “Venator”, which I think is pretty clever. (According to Google translate, it’s Latin for “the hunter”.)

But sometimes I just go with the obvious. Hence the name of this blog post.

Sacrifice Your Beloved

Abraham

Sacrifice makes us uncomfortable. We accept Jesus’s sacrifice because it has a purpose we understand. But the idea of sacrifice in our own lives bothers us, because sacrifice involves pain.

Genesis 22 relates the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. God told Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain of Moriah and sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering to God. Abraham obeyed, saying “Here am I” (Genesis 22:1), and he went to the mountain, built an altar, and was moments away from sacrificing his son before God intervened.

Many people struggle with the paradox of God asking for the death of a person merely to prove a point. Why would God ask Abraham to kill his only son, the son God had promised? God had passed judgment on places like Sodom and Gomorrah, which were cities filled with evildoers, but the Bible doesn’t label Isaac as evil. Many people have a problem with God’s request because of this.

One theme in this story is the theme of trust. God had a plan and was asking Abraham to trust His word. Abraham had to set aside his own doubts and fears and give up his plans and submit to God’s will. He had to decide if he trusted God to still fulfill His promises, even without Isaac.

Another aspect to this story focuses on the idea of sacrifice. Isaac was Abraham’s beloved son and was the most important person in Abraham’s life, not just because Isaac was his son, but because he represented God’s promises and answers to Abraham’s prayers. God asked Abraham, “What are you willing to sacrifice for me? Will you give me everything?” Did Abraham put God above everything else in his life, even above his beloved son?

Sometimes we find it hard to uncover a message in certain Bible stories that relates to our modern lives, especially in stories from the Old Testament. A story about human sacrifice? What in the world does that have to do with us?

Genesis 22 translates to modern life because it asks one basic question: “If God asked me to sacrifice something or someone I love for Him, would I do it?” In Abraham’s case, the sacrifice was literal. But while that seems horrific to our modern point of view, it would not have been terribly odd to Abraham. His world was filled with violence done in the name of religion, such as babies being sacrificed to the Canaanite god Moloch. Abraham knew that his God was not afraid to ask him to make hard choices.

Because literal sacrifice is not part of modern culture, it is far less likely that God would ask us to burn something (or someone) on an altar for Him. He’ll ask us to sacrifice in other ways.

God may ask for the sacrifice of a relationship or a dream. He may ask for sacrifice on a career path or the sacrifice of a passion. We might need to sacrifice an obsession that is drawing us away from Him, like social media or a movie franchise. Or it could be a dream that God has given us, but if He asks us to give it up for Him, to know that He is the most important one in your life, would we do it? Ultimately, it comes down to a choice: God or our earthly blessings.

“For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12b)

God was already planning to sacrifice His son for us. He wanted to know if Abraham would do the same for Him. Will we answer, “Here am I?”

Frozen Melts Hearts

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:51:56

Frozen kingdom, frozen hearts, and a singing snowman: Frozen (2013) lives up to its name. Sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) live enchanted lives. Princesses of Arendelle, they build snowmen and play in the snow and ice. Snow and ice that Elsa created, that is. She has a special power that quickly spirals out of control, and she accidentally injures Anna. Only with the help of mysterious rock trolls is Anna’s life saved, but her memories are altered in the process. Out of necessity, Elsa locks herself away in her room, nearly severing the bond between the sisters in order to keep Anna safe.

Over the years, Elsa’s power increases and Anna’s loneliness grows , and everything comes to a head on Elsa’s coronation day. Elsa accidentally reveals her power to the kingdom and flees to a faraway mountain, freezing all of Arendelle in the process.

Anna, refusing to let her sister stay in exile, embarks on a quest to save both Arendelle and Elsa. Joined by snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and reindeer Sven, Anna must melt both Elsa’s heart and her own.

Disney steps away from traditional definitions of true love in Frozen, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, which replaces Tangled (2010) as the newest Disney princess film. With gorgeous animation and an unforgettable soundtrack, Frozen 3some critics are calling Frozen the best Disney movie since The Lion King. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Snow Queen”, Frozen blazes a new path.

The soundtrack features fun songs such as “For the First Time in Forever” and “In Summer”, but the most striking and poignant song, “Let It Go”, features Idina Menzel’s Broadway talent as Elsa breaks free from her self-imposed prison. The filmmakers paired “Let it Go” with some of the most beautiful animation in the movie, and the song has rightly won an Oscar. Frozen has also won the award for best animated feature.Frozen 2

In a twist ending, Frozen celebrates family and loyalty between sisters, thawing both Anna and Elsa’s hearts. Although the princesses suffer from the Disney trope of deceased parents, family is the center of this movie. A journey of self-discovery that ends with family brings a fresh, positive message to the big screen and captures the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Catching Fire: The Movie “On Fire”

catching-fire

In the words of Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), “This trip doesn’t end when you get back home.” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) may have won the 74th Hunger Games, but her life will never go back to normal. First she must go on the obligatory Victory Tour, and then she must face the Quarter Quell and watch more children die at the Capitol’s hands.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), based on the second book in Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy, proves to the film industry that a movie starring a strong female character can be an enormous success. Francis Lawrence replaces The Hunger Games (2012) director Gary Ross as director for Catching Fire, and moviegoers breathed a sigh of relief at action scenes without any shaky camera footage.

As Katniss struggles to reacclimate to life in District 12, other districts seethe with turmoil and rebellion. President Snow presents Katniss with a choice: convince him that her romance with fellow victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is real, or lose the ones she loves. Katniss’s PR situation goes from bad to worse on the Victory Tour, and when she defies a Capitol peacekeeper to protect her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), President Snow decides that she, and all the previous victors who pose a threat, must die.

Instead of mentoring in the Quarter Quell, the 75th Hunger Games sends Katniss  back into the arena. But this time, nothing is as it seems. Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has a plan, and it’s not the one that President Snow has in mind. Katniss is no longer just the Girl on Fire; now, she’s the Mockingjay, symbol of the rebellion.catching-fire 2

In this second movie, viewers learn the real depths of the corruption and decadence of the Capitol. The violence and child murder of the first movie is fully condemned in Catching Fire, which presents the Capitol, embodied in President Snow, as the true villain. Laughing and cheering for children killing children is wrong, and the movie points a finger at a society consumed by entertainment in the form of violence and built on the suffering of others.

Suzanne Collins’s satire and social commentary has reached the silver screen. The consequences of the Capitol’s immorality will hit theaters in Mockingjay Parts I & II in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Enjoy your debauchery now, Capitol, because the Mockingjay is coming for you.