By NICK ALIMONOS
A little about the hosts of Story Matters: Nick Alimonos is the author of the Aenya Series and blogger over at writersdisease.net. Heather is a voracious reader, Migraine Health Advocate and researcher, and "Mother of Cats."
Story MattersOct 02, 2023
Neil Gaiman's "Coraline"
After finishing Coraline, my 13-year-old daughter begged me to read it. I told her I would if she would agree to discuss it on my podcast, Story Matters. And, I am happy to say, Coraline was a real treat. Despite skewing toward younger readers, there's a lot here for older fantasy fans to enjoy. As always, Gaiman is a whiz when it comes to language, character-building, and economic storytelling. Most importantly, he is a true storyteller, never resorting to formula---the many tired and tropey trends infecting so many fantasy books these days. Brilliantly inventive and never boring, Gaiman is always worth the read, whether it's The Sandman, American Gods, Stardust, or Coraline.
Mistborn: Pride, Prejudice, and X-Men
I finally got around to reading one of this generation's most beloved and successful fantasy authors: Brandon Sanderson. Is the guy all he's cracked up to be, at least judging by his debut novel, Mistborn?
While I found much of the book a bit too formulaic for my tastes---we are treated, yet again, to yet another evil sorcerer-king ruling over a dystopian setting, while a young vagabond girl (is there any other kind?) discovers she has magic powers (take a number, please, and go wait in the hall)---Sanderson proves he's got storytelling mettle (pun intended!). Though often burdened by exposition-heavy dialogue, Mistborn remains engaging throughout, with likable characters and a romantic subplot ripped from the pages of Pride and Prejudice.
My Father's Story, Part III: Love in Greece
This series is a tribute to my late father, Arthur Alimonos, who passed away in March of this year. In this episode, we learn how he went from cook to restaurant owner, about his dalliances in America, and how he returned to Greece to meet and marry my mother.
Racism in The Poppy War?
R.F. Kuang's The Poppy War starts as a typical coming-of-age fantasy about a girl from humble beginnings who discovers she has special powers. Despite a cliched beginning, the first chapter had me hooked, as it's probably the best bit of writing in the novel --- not surprising given the knock-them-dead-from-page-one nature of publishing today. The story of Rin, a poor orphan girl working for an underground opium mill, grounded the story in real-world pathos . . . a pathos that gets lost as the story progresses into increasingly implausible and absurd situations. The Poppy War reminded me of Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief, Eragon, and sometimes Graceling. You've got your obligatory upper-class bully, your plucky, Ron Weasley-type best friend, unreasonably strict professors—er, masters—and an enigmatic mentor (my favorite part of the book) who turns out to be not what he seems. Unlike Hogwarts, Kuang's story draws heavily from Chinese and Japanese history and myth to build a convincing, fleshed-out setting.
But the story goes downhill from there. Part II abandons the school premise to veer into X-Men territory, complete with a gorilla-type strongman reminiscent of Beast, and a water elemental character who sleeps in puddle form inside a bucket. After developing attachments to Rin's classmates, we are introduced to a quirky gang of superheroes, a secretive league of assassins, none of whom are as well-developed or relatable. What's worse, the tone clashes with the seriousness of the subject matter. Kuang, who is of Chinese descent, takes inspiration from the rape of Nanjing, possibly the most horrific event in history, if Poppy War is any indication. It reminded me of Magneto’s Holocaust origin, except the comic deals with the Jewish genocide in a more tactful way. I am not saying a writer couldn't or shouldn't conflate high fantasy with real-world tragedy, but it takes a deft and sensitive pen and a great deal of subtlety. Otherwise, the story can come across as exploitative and trivializing, and in this regard, Kuang’s writing falls short to the point of insult.
Things get worse as the war progresses. The story borders on what feels like pro-racist propaganda, something I found particularly bothersome considering the obvious parallels between the Japanese people and the book’s Muganese villains. Tolkien’s orcs are nowhere near this cruel—and Mordor isn’t based on anything resembling a real country. I kept waiting for the author to offer a counter-perspective, a sympathetic Muganese character, but every Muganese we meet is an amoral monster committing acts of atrocity so heinous I couldn't help but skip ahead to the next chapter. I am not the type of reader to cry racism. Many of the reasons for cancel culture, I feel, are sensationalist and unwarranted. But The Poppy War gets away with some gross stereotypes because this isn't America's racism --- this isn't about blacks or Jews --- but people of Asian descent.
Another major problem involves agency. Things happen to Rin, and she makes decisions, but her story is a railroad, and every choice she makes is illusory. Again and again, she is warned against fully embracing her powers, but what choice can she expect to make when her entire country is being massacred? The climax hinges on a false dilemma, but Rin wouldn’t be human if she were to act any other way.
Overall, The Poppy War is a decent book with a sympathetic heroine, but the story gets bogged down by an overreliance on tropes and a late-to-the-game war story involving racist caricatures.
But what the Hell do I know? Wired magazine called it "The best fantasy debut of the year," while Time Magazine placed it in their top 100 fantasy novels ever. Seriously, if this is what passes for great
My Father's Story, Part II: Coming to America
Arthur Alimonos, my father, passed away in March of this year at the age of ninety after having lived an amazing life. Twelve years ago, he asked me to share his story with the world. This is Part II of that story, where he journeys from his homeland in war-ravaged Greece to the shores of New York in search of a more promising future.
Please help celebrate his legacy by sharing Arthur's story with the people you know and love.
Wars, Rings, Trek, and the Death of the Artist
Everything old is new again! Nostalgia sells, and like any good business, Hollywood is banking on your childhood like never before. Instead of the innovative storytelling we grew up with in the '80s, we are inundated with sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots. Disney gave us new Star Wars, and Amazon's Rings of Power brought us back to Middle Earth, and She-Ra and He-Man are back too! And look, the entire cast of Enterprise-D returns in Paramount's Picard! Hell, even Indiana Jones is making his fifth comeback. And Harrison Ford is 80!
But far more often than not, these retreads are met with skepticism, disappointment, and anger. MAGA-heads blame our changing cultural landscape and what they call "wokism." Something is clearly missing here, but it definitely isn't a lack of white male leads.
The problem is simply this: it's impossible to recreate someone else's art. Only George Lucas can be George Lucas. Only Gene Roddenberry can be Gene Roddenberry. Everything we love about Disney, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, DC Comics, etc., came from a brilliant creative mind, and a vision sorely lacking from many of today's retreads, when every storytelling decision is made by suits looking to maximize their profits. Big media companies commodify art for mass production---products devoid of nuance, or anything remotely challenging or controversial.
This is nothing new, of course. Business and art have made for strange bedfellows since the dawn of time. It's a sad state of affairs that has been simmering in my brain for decades now. But for me, at least, it's no more egregious than the final season of Picard, when Paramount at last achieved their goal of turning the less profitable and cerebral Star Trek into another check-your-brain-at-the-door Star Wars ripoff.
Station Eleven Review
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (what a name!) centers around an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenario involving a super-flu that wipes out most of humanity. It's a more concise and grounded version of Stephen King's The Stand, and was of particular interest to me given our post-COVID world.
Mandel weaves a complex narrative with multiple POV characters---there's a paramedic, a comic book artist, and a troupe of Shakespearean actors---that jumps between multiple time periods and locations, and I couldn't help but make comparisons between it and Cloud Cuckoo Land. Much like Doerr's masterpiece, the threads of Mandel's story are loosely tied together by Station Eleven, an independent, Sci-Fi comic book dealing with the end of the world. Unlike the former novel, however, which centered around a lost, Ancient Greek play, the comic's relevance to the overall story was lost on me, and it was hard to care about any one character with so many flashbacks to events that do not push the plot forward or affect the primary heroine's journey in any meaningful way.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Station Eleven. It was a lot better than the miniseries based on it. There are a lot of good ideas here, the story is well told, and Mandel's writing, at times, excels to the level of poetry. I also have a fondness for reading about people in dire situations. But a lack of cohesion and tension weakens the storytelling, and it probably didn't help that I'd just finished Cloud Cuckoo Land, a rare work-of-art that explores many of the same themes in a much more compelling way.
My Father's Story, Part 1: Hunger and War
My father passed away in March of this year after ninety years on this Earth. Here, I share the amazing life of Arthur Alimonos as he tells it, beginning in 1933, in the little-known village of Magoula, Greece. Having lost his father to tuberculosis at age five, Arthur struggled to survive in a family of four brothers, a sister, and a destitute mother. In the following years, he experienced poverty, hunger, the Nazi capture of his family, and the violence of Communist radicals.
A Girl Called Wolf and Other Tales
In today's exciting podcast, I sit down with Stephen Swartz to discuss his semi-biographical novel, A Girl Called Wolf. It's the harrowing true survival tale of an Inuit girl named Anuka (a fan and friend I've known for many years through Facebook) and the rare indie book deserving more attention. Then in true Story Matters fashion, we go off into several crazy tangents: from Amazon's dreadful algorithm to Vladimir Nobokov's Lolita, Stephen King's infamous scene from IT, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, HBO's latest breakout show, The Last of Us, our shared love for the Classics and the Trojan War, my continued loathing for Circe, and Swartz's current pandemic trilogy, Flu Season.
Artificial Intelligence: Better Than Us
Terminator and The Matrix had it all wrong. AI isn't going to kill us and it won't turn us into slaves. But we should be afraid ... very afraid. Because what we are essentially creating with programs like ChatGPT is a superior form of human. Our lives are significantly diminished when machines can be programmed to do everything better and faster than we can: paint faster pictures, write better stories, and create better music. Why study medicine when AI doctors can be everywhere instantly, diagnosing patients without making mistakes? Why pay screenwriters when AI screenwriters can better understand what excites moviegoers and what makes them pay for tickets? When AI can be more creative and clever than we can be, when AI inevitably becomes superior in all the ways that matter to society and culture, what will be left for us to contribute, and how will that affect our sense of self-worth?
Cloud Cuckoo Land is a Masterpiece
It's been a long time since I've read a book this good, and I couldn't be more thrilled. This book restores my faith in fiction and reminds me why I wanted to become a writer in the first place. It's a story that, quite frankly, I wish I could have written.
Silly as the title may sound, Anthon Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land is a richly layered and beautifully written tale that, like Cloud Atlas, spans multiple generations, from the fall of Constantinople to a generation ship set in a far distant future. Through the eyes of his protagonists, all of whom are engaging, Doerr explores the power of storytelling, revealing how ancient myths survive the ravages of natural and manmade catastrophes to shape our culture, identity, and ultimate future. Hauntingly beautiful, tragic, and hopeful, Doerr weaves an intricate knot of plot threads into an epic tapestry.
I give Cloud Cuckoo Land my highest recommendation. It's one of the best books I've read in thirty years. **** out of **** stars.
The Sorry State of Indie Publishing
The indie publishing industry is an embattled landscape of scams, schemers, dashed dreams, and desperation. Thanks to Amazon and the advent of POD printing, we are inundated with dreck novels by would-be authors, while the truly rare, standout storyteller often goes unnoticed. All the while, online predators take advantage of this gross surplus of books nobody wants to read, preying on the desperate with paid reviews, vanity presses, and marketing schemes that go nowhere.
But it's not all gloom and doom. If you're willing to master the art of storytelling, readers will notice, and publishers will too. Like everything else in life, it takes passion, patience, and most of all, hard work! Really, it's 99% hard work.
In today's lighthearted episode, I read some of the ridiculous, absurd, frustrating, enlightening, and inspiring mail I've received over the past month. A guy who can't spell the word "you" wants to be a published author. Another person wants to write fan-fiction based on Aenya, and still another fan is planning a line of nude, Thelana action figures. You'll laugh, cry, punch your fist through the computer screen, or maybe just find this entertaining.
The Three-Body Problem
In today's podcast, Heather and I discuss Chinese novelist Cixin Liu's Hugo award-winning, The Three-Body Problem, a book President Barack Obama called "wildly imaginative."
The Three-Body Problem is a welcome foray into the hard science fiction genre. When it comes to astronomy, mathematics, and the forefront of scientific theory, Liu knows his stuff. His ideas are both fascinating and largely plausible. But the author admits to being far more interested in exploring science, and the thought experiments in his book, than weaving a compelling narrative with engaging characters, and it shows. That's not to say I don't recommend The Three-Body Problem. The ideas Liu tackles make it a worthy read, and if you love science as much as I do, it's a journey you'll want to take.
The Rings of Power Was Fine
Like most things on social media, hatred for Amazon's 'The Rings of Power' has reached a fever pitch and is entirely overblown. Is it a great show? Maybe not. Is it worthy of Tolkien's masterpiece? Not really. Is it on par with the Peter Jackson's films? Certainly not. Is it worth watching? If you're a fan of fantasy on TV, I think so.
The Giver for the Holidays!
Christmastime is here again, and what better story to celebrate the holidays than Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol? No, wait. Actually, we're doing Lois Lowry's The Giver, a classic tale of the original giver of gifts, Santa himself . . . Actually, no, this dystopian novel has little to do with Old Saint Nick. But, in my defense, Christmas is mentioned somewhere in it, as is "giving" things. We also, my wife and I, get into spoilers for Ender's Game and Never Let Me Go.
This podcast is a gift to all. I enjoyed making it, and I hope you will enjoy listening to it!!!
The Wind Through King's Mouth Hole
My pal Heather returns from her long hiatus in the Phantom Zone to talk to me about Stephen King's final (let's hope) book in his The Dark Tower series, The Wind Through the Keyhole. We then veer into a bunch of crazy tangents (as is par for the course) with subjects ranging from AI art to zombie TV shows that simply will not die.
Are you really bored? Then give it a listen, will ya? You (probably) won't regret it.
HADESTOWN: Storytelling at its Best
Sometimes, the best forms of storytelling come from the most unexpected places. After months of reading books and watching shows that have left me feeling cold and empty, it's great to be reminded of what powerful writing can do. But in this case, the story was delivered through the medium of a broadway musical. I am talking about Hadestown, which I was fortunate to see when visiting New York City to watch my kids perform in the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade. And really, I can't seem to stop thinking about the show or listening to the music on repeat in my car or while working at my computer. For me, it's that uber-rare gem that makes me fall in love with story all over again, reminding me why I do this in the first place.
So, in today's episode of Story Matters, I sit down with special guest, Jasmine (my daughter), to discuss this town-award winning musical. Oh, and would you believe the trombonist on the tour played for the Tarpon Springs Conservatory for the Arts, my daughter's marching band? How cool is that?
What is 'Ages of Aenya'?
OK, I've dissected enough of other people's books. Now it's my turn. That's right, folks, it's time I get to toot my own horn. So here is your introduction to Aenya, a world blending the best of fantasy and science fiction.
The books in the Aenya Series have possessed me for over twenty years. And here, at last, I divulge all the gritty secrets about how the series got its start from a fledgling piece of fan fiction. I get into my childhood inspiration, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, my Greek heritage and love of mythology, and how my personal experiences as a nudist shaped this unique fantasy setting. It's a darker, more mature take on He-Man and Teela, with more nudity than even HBO could handle, parts Lovecraft, parts Homer, but more than anything else, a fresh take on the fantasy genre nobody has ever seen.
Wrapping it all up, I read the prologue to Ages of Aenya in a sound-effects-laden show reminiscent of those old, 1940s radio broadcasts, leaving the door open for you, dear listener, to further explore the world of Aenya.
Stephen King Tells a Fairy Tale
Fairy Tale is, by far, Stephen King’s okayest novel. It might be that he got tired after 75 years on this planet and after writing sixty-five books (wow, sixty-five!!!), but his most recent release just feels bland and uninspired. While Charlie Reade, his one and only protagonist (a bit sparse for a 600-page novel), there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about him. He’s your average high school jock stumbling into your average, not-quite-Oz fantasy setting, a land called Empis.
The main problem stems from the fact that, like in the Dark Tower series before it, fantasy just isn’t King’s forte. Not to sound like a broken record, but King’s approach to storytelling, the "pantser approach" (writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants), doesn’t quite work in a genre where world-building is often a necessary ingredient. If we’ve learned anything from the granddaddy of imaginary escapism, J.R.R. Tolkien, planning something like Middle Earth takes tremendous forethought. With fantasy, you can’t start typing, hoping to see where the story takes you, a technique King uses to significant effect in modern-day horror suspense. Without forethought, the setting can feel contrived and unconvincing, and the situations in them end up lacking emotional weight. In Fairy Tale, for example, King introduces the reader to a sundial that reverses the effects of aging. But without rhyme or reason as to why such a wondrous, magical artifact exists or how it impacts the people around it, anything can happen, and if anything can happen, nothing matters. Characters can die and be brought to life because … magic.
This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Fairy Tale. When you’re as talented a storyteller as King, you can’t help but get drawn in. But if you’re looking to lose yourself in another world, there are far better options on the shelf, more inspiring locales to visit than Empis.
Is Life a Meritocracy?
"Is life a meritocracy?" Does being good at something inevitably lead to success, or is success more dependent on luck: who you know and where you are born? This question keeps me up most nights, gives me anxiety, and makes me walk around my neighborhood when everyone else is asleep.
In my latest podcast, I talk about how my father went from a penniless Greek immigrant to a wealthy pizza tycoon, why Mozart, Stan Lee, and George Lucas were born into the right place and time, and why now-famous authors like Herman Melville and John Kennedy Toole never saw success in their lifetimes. I also get into angry customers raging over the types of cheese we use and all the sneaky things indie authors resort to these days to get noticed in this overstuffed, information-polluted world.
AI Art: Should We Be Afraid?
When I was first introduced to Midjourney, I nearly panicked. I panicked for the sake of my daughter, who endeavors to become a professional artist someday, and for artists the world over, many of whom I work with to promote the Aenya series.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I found both Midjourney and Dall-E quite lacking and far from the threat to creativity I first feared they would be. While they're fun programs to play around with, they are very limited if you're looking to produce a specific image from your imagination. That doesn't mean we have nothing to fear from artificial intelligence. Someday in the near future, AI may prove superior to all human endeavors, at which point I am not sure what humanity will have to contribute to life on this planet. But until then, Midjourney and DALL-E, like Photoshop, can be used as tools in the artist's toolbox. With some Photoshopping on my art, AI has already helped me produce some beautiful new images for my upcoming Kindle exclusive, The Feral Girl: Gamer Edition.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth Review
Nothing but blackened teeth? Eww . . . gross. Maybe someone should see a dentist. Oh, but wait, this isn't a story about dentistry; it's a horror novella set in modern-day Japan featuring the titular monster, a "Geisha" ghost with awful oral hygiene.
All kidding aside, newcomer Cassandra Khaw gets a big A+ for this assignment, and if I were her teacher, I wouldn't grade her any less. But therein lies the real problem: her story reads more like something she turned in for class, something to impress her stuffy English professor. Put another way: I've no doubt Khaw aced the vocabulary portion of her SATs. But the art of storytelling is an entirely different animal. Yes, your thesaurus and dictionary are valuable tools. But knowing how to engage readers so book buyers get excited about your next release requires an entirely different set of skills. Skills not taught in school and not easily mastered.
The Secret to Becoming a Great Author
What's the secret to becoming a great author? Here's a little hint: it's no secret. Yes, this title is clickbait. If you see a YouTube video or Master Class offering a quick and easy way to literary fame and fortune, they're selling you snake oil. Like it or not, it's a long, hard climb to the top, a pinnacle built over a hill of garbage---garbage you'll inevitably have to produce before achieving something worthy of a book lover's time. In this episode, I share some trash produced by my own pen, embarrassing snippets from my early life as a struggling storyteller.
Coming to The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower VII Review)
It's hard for me to wrap my head around Stephen King's Dark Tower finale and seventh book in the series, The Dark Tower, but I will try. I will admit I haven't been this eager to talk about a book in a long time.
Imagine, if you will, William Shakespeare writing the novelization of the Star Wars sequels, particularly Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I am not saying Shakespeare would have written the screenplay. No, no, the story would be the same, but the words used to convey it would be his. Who's Supreme Leader Snoke / The Crimson King? Who knows! How does Emperor Palpatine return? Doesn't matter! As long as you don't think about it, The Rise of Skywalker and The Dark Tower are great stories.
OK, I am being unfair to Stephen King because this analogy doesn't consider that The Dark Tower is the author's baby, a work of pure artistic passion. It's not as if King stole his book from another author just to tack on his own incoherent ending. Secondly, King may not have wanted to make sense from the start because The Dark Tower has never been Sci-Fi or fantasy. From the get-go, the books in the series possess a dreamlike quality, an Alice in Wonderland kind of surrealism, where logic takes a back seat to emotion, and this is where King's magnum opus excels, at getting the reader to feel things. As long as you don't think too much about it, The Dark Tower succeeds at what it sets out to do. In fact, King knocks it out of the park. But it is without question a very, very strange story --- and I have no doubt it would turn off many readers expecting a more traditional tale. See, you have to come into the Dark Tower with a very open mind (so open your brains just might fall out) and whether that's the mark of true genius or just very poor plotting is something I haven't quite figured out yet. But if there is a prime example of write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fiction, this is it. The Dark Tower is the literary equivalent of Picasso; you can hate it, love it, or just come away scratching your head in confusion --- or, as in my case, fall somewhere between all three.
The Rings of Power
You know Heather and I just had to talk about Amazon's most expensive show of all time, The Rings of Power, didn't you? As huge lovers of Tolkien's works and Peter Jackson's film adaptation, we try and parse through the honest detractors (the Tolkien purists) from the anti-woke crowd and get into the polarizing decision to include black actors and a badass female lead in Galadriel. Is The Rings of Power simply pandering to the Left or just a sign of changing attitudes? And can we even hope to determine the intent of an author no longer with us? And what the Hell does any of it even matter if the show is great?
Of course, no Story Matters Podcast would be complete without us getting into He-Man, Greek mythology, Tarzan of the Apes (my favorite racist novel), Hellraiser, Prey, and other pop culture fare.
Please give it a listen, a like, and a share!
Wokism, The Culture War, and Storytelling
Yes, we're doing it again! Intrepidly, boldly, perhaps foolishly . . . Heather and I step into the midst of the culture war. The political atmosphere in this country is particularly toxic right now, but we feel it's important to take a stand, as any conscientious person should --- because what we feel, say, and do has lasting consequences. It's an ongoing struggle between truth and falsehood, love and hate, freedom and tyranny. And, as always, storytelling plays a big role in that struggle.
Song of Susannah, Stephen King's Dark Tower, Part 2
This is the second part of our three-part series, wherein Heather and I discuss Stephen King's epic fantasy, "The Dark Tower." In this episode, we focus on the ups and downs of the sixth book of King's magnum opus. As always, King excels at literary technique, and his talent for making us feel for his characters remains on point. Yet the pitfalls of his write-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach to storytelling are more greatly felt in this one. Song of Susannah was a roller-coaster ride for us to review. It's sometimes good, sometimes great, but too often, the plot just goes all over the place and in a bad way.
Sorry for the political rant . . .
I recently met a fan of my books (he's read both Ages of Aenya and The Princess of Aenya) who was very much at odds with my political views. Let's just say his beliefs threw me into a depressive spiral. As we continue slipping toward an Orwellian nightmare, I find myself unable to sleep, which is why I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this platform, if only to unburden my skull before getting back to the shiny new novel I am working on. Of course, I may lose readers over this rant, but that's a price I am willing to pay to fight the good fight. Freedom always comes at a cost. Please give it an open ear, mind, and heart.
Stephen King's Dark Tower Series, Part 1
What the heck is The Dark Tower anyway? I am six books deep into King's magnum opus, and I still have no idea. (OK, that's not true, I have some clue, but not enough to know why the party of heroes: Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake, are so desperately trying to get there, or why, as a reader, I should care.) In typical fashion, King shows off his penchant for wordiness, yet his superb character-driven storytelling kept me turning the pages even when the plotting wears thin.
In this podcast, Heather and I discuss the first FIVE books in The Dark Tower series.
Why MAUS Matters
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about MAUS, Art Spiegelman's moving holocaust graphic, which was banned by the Tennessee School Board. Schools in Tennessee are run by ninnies, apparently, because all seven members voted to keep the book from the hands of middle schoolers owing to the book's depiction of nudity (black and white images of nude mice) and a few uses of the word "bitch." Banning books, of course, always results in the opposite of its intended effect, and in no time at all MAUS shot to the top of everyone's reading list, selling out everywhere and jumping to Amazon's no. #2 spot in all book categories.
MAUS isn't just a great book (**** out of 4 stars, easy) but an important one, something everyone should be reading. And, given all the hullabaloo, Heather and I knew we had to throw in our pennies. So in this casting of the pod, we talk MAUS while getting down and dirty into censorship, cancel culture, politics, and religion (all the good stuff, basically). Bored? Not easily offended? Easily offended? We don't care!
Listen at your own risk!!!
East Side Story: The Wheel of Time vs. The Lord of the Rings
We're probably going to catch a lot of flak for this, owing to the immense popularity of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, perhaps the most sprawling epic ever written, rivaling even A Song of Ice and Fire in verbosity. But from what we (Heather and I) were able to assess from the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, Jordan's opus borrows a bit too heavily from Tolkien. While Jordan is a capable storyteller and a skillful wordsmith, his work is the epitome of everything I find wrong with the fantasy genre today. Basically, it's the problem of world-building getting in the way of storytelling. Call me old-fashioned, but what matters most to me is plot and character, particularly characters you can relate to on an emotional level. In The Eye of the World, we are introduced to a very large cast of players, none of whom seem particularly engaging. What's more, the conflict driving the plot is muddled, so you really never get a sense of urgency, a sense of knowing what it is the protagonists want or how they are meant to go about achieving it. To sum it all up, a village is attacked by orcish-like creatures, called trollocs, and a boy named Rand and his friends are convinced by a wizard named Moraine to follow her to a city, where some vaguely hinted at mystery is to be solved. In The Lord of the Rings, the destruction of the One Ring acts as an immediate focal point, with all of the emotional payoff and world-building centered around it. But in Jordan's, dare I say, "version," I am at a loss as to what the point is. To be fair, I only managed to get through the first 300 pages, so I can't leave an entirely honest review, but I don't think a reader should be tasked with digging through so many words just to get to the main idea.
Agree? Disagree? Check out what Heather and I have to say in our latest podcast! We review The Wheel of Time and the new show it's based on, and sneak in a bit of nonfiction talk for a little-known title, Madhusree Mukerjee's The Land of Naked People.
Stephen King's 11/22/63
Heather and I discuss Stephen King's quasi-historical time travel story, 11/22/63! We also dip a little bit into Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: The Eye of the World. What more do you need to know? Give it a listen!
Nick Alimonos: My Literary Journey
If you've ever wondered, "who's this Nick guy, anyway?" Well, this episode is for you! Learn all my dirty secrets as I reminisce about my long, winding, and sometimes harrowing literary journey, from my childhood days writing on pink pizza order tickets to kind-of inventing Power Rangers to dragging my dad to NYC to solicit comics to DC Headquarters. Did I mention I queried my first book for publishing at fourteen? Or that 9/11 played a role in subverting my literary ambitions? It gets pretty crazy, actually. Check it out.
IT part 2, Carrie, and Taboo Subjects in Literature
No discussion of Stephen King's It would be complete without tackling that scene---a scene not surprisingly omitted from every film adaptation---and if you don't know what I'm talking about, just read the book! Hint: sex + children. Historically, taboo subjects in fiction challenge readers to examine social norms, and forces us to consider whether anything should be off-limits to authors, or if well-intentioned creators should be free to tackle any topic, particularly today, in this age of rampant pornography, political outrage, cancel culture, and the death of nuance.
We also discuss King's first novel, Carrie, how he developed as a young writer, and how he experiments with style, often bending the rules of grammar to get into the heads of his characters. And also, how King, as a middle-aged man, handles his pubescent protagonist, a girl dealing with an abusive mother, religious oppression, high school bullies, and the trauma of puberty.
Please give it a listen!!!
STEPHEN KING'S "IT"
In this episode, we discuss Stephen King's "IT". With its deep dive into the psychology of its characters, Stephen King proves that literature has a lot to offer that other media can't provide.
Politics in Storytelling and Kevin Smith's He-Man
In this episode, Heather and I delve into the conservative YouTube/social media controversy. We talk about being "woke," "SJW," and what it means to be a modern-day feminist, and we examine what role politics has to play in film, TV, and literature. And of course, we also talk about our favorite thing growing up, the 80's cartoon show, "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe," and how Kevin Smith's new incarnation became a lightning rod for right-wing talking points.
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
In this episode of the Story Matters podcast, I sit down with my 11-year-old daughter, Sophia, to discuss Christina Soontornvat's A Wish in the Dark. While this book was required reading for her middle-school English class, we definitely didn't regret it! A Wish in the Dark is set in an alternate-history, Asian-inspired world, with only subtle references to magic. While meant for young readers, the story can be enjoyed by just about anyone at any age, as it deals with universal themes of crime, poverty, and politics, as seen through the lens of its child protagonists. It's a definite must-read for any young reader who loves an engaging story and uplifting characters.
Graceling and The Man in the High Castle
What does Kristin Cashore's Graceling, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, Terry Pratchet, The Promised Neverland, the Twilight series, Fifty Shades of Grey, X-Men, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Alice in Wonderland, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Testaments ALL have in common?
Answer: THIS EPISODE!
But seriously, in this episode of Story Matters, Heather and Nick give their in-depth take on Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. Give it a listen!
ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby
I picked up Icefall at a book fair at the University of South Florida. I came as an alumnus to talk to my old professors and to showcase The Princess of Aenya. They accepted two autographed copies of my book and offered me one of their autographed titles in return, and since I love Norse mythology, I couldn't pass up on it, despite its lower lexile.
While Icefall is suitable reading for middle school children, a good story is a good story, and I found Mathew J. Kirby's Icefall to be a pleasant surprise, especially since I knew nothing about it going in. The story takes place during the Viking Age, with the king of the Nords sending his family into hiding in a small steading in the frozen fjords of Norway. Solveig, his youngest, is an engaging and likable heroine with an interesting character arc, growing into her own from a shy and frightened princess into a skald, or storyteller, who helps inspire her companions during the worst of hardships.
The Book of Lost Things and Circe
It's our second podcast! Today we discuss John Connelly's The Book of Lost Things, a young adult novel about a boy who finds himself in a fairy-tale-inspired world after the death of his mother; and Madeline Miller's Circe, a reimagining of Greek myth and a sympathetic look at Circe, the titular witch who turns men into pigs from Homer's The Odyssey.
INTRODUCING: STORY MATTERS with Nick and Heather
Hey, it's our FIRST EPISODE and we're excited!!! Story Matters is a podcast for book lovers. From literature, fantasy, and Sci-Fi, to every kind of fiction in-between. We review, we analyze, we critique . . . because we believe in the power of great storytelling, how it can affect our lives and the world we live in.
In this episode, we go over some of our favorites, including A Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, The Once and Future King, Dune, The Last Unicorn, Dracula, Frankenstein, and My Name is Red, to name just a few.
A little about the hosts of Story Matters: Nick Alimonos is the author of the Aenya Series and blogger over at writersdisease.net. Heather is a voracious reader and bookshop operator.
We are the dystopia
There is something wrong with the world today. I know you feel it, deep in your bones, and I feel it too. But maybe it’s just me. I mean, how can you really ever know how good life could be? Or should be? Every civilization has had to deal with its share of problems. We no longer need to worry about saber-toothed tigers, or an Ebola outbreak, or a tribe of cannibals riding over the next hill to eat our children. But while technology has managed to solve the majority of our prehistoric worries, the 2000s has given us a slew of new ones. But the dystopia of today is difficult to define. It’s like the way Neo felt in the Matrix, before meeting Morpheus. Neo also felt like there was something wrong with the world, he just couldn’t explain what it was.
This episode is also available as a blog post: http://writersdisease.net/2019/08/22/we-are-the-dystopia/
It’s time to end race.
Let me make this perfectly clear: there is no such thing as forced diversity, only diversity that happens to bother you. If you’re saying to yourself, “why’d they have to put a black guy in this?” but you’ve never asked, “why’d they have to put a white guy in this?” guess what? You probably wear a MAGA hat!
This episode is also available as a blog post: http://writersdisease.net/2018/08/29/its-time-to-end-race/
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors writing today. In this podcast, I discuss and review his modern take on the fairytale story, "Stardust."
Objectifying Women in Art and Literature: A Deeper Look
Is every heroine in a skimpy outfit inherently sexist? Is objectification directly proportional to the amount of skin on display? Or is it all about the pose? Do male heroes like He-Man exist solely as a projection fantasy? Or can women enjoy looking at scantily-clad men in the same way, and do they also harbor their own projection fantasies? Finally, can a female character like Thelana, written by a man (me), have her own agency?
In this podcast, I tackle all of these subjects and more, taking a deep dive into the sexist/objectification character debate. So please sit back, take a listen, and please excuse all the “ums” and “sos.”
How Amazon Hurts Authors
This episode is also available as a blog post: http://writersdisease.net/2021/02/22/how-amazon-hurts-authors/
I used to have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I considered them a necessary evil. Sure, they have monopolized both the music and the literary industry, making it almost impossible for local music and book stores to survive, but on the other hand, they provide an outlet for independent creators who otherwise would not have a platform to share their content. But lately, I have found the cons of Amazon greatly outweighing the pros, and here’s why.