Review — The Ideal Team Player

I haven’t done a book review in some time, or a review at all really, so I thought I’d take a break from my voice acting samples to change the pace a bit. (Though I’m just realizing I haven’t reviewed Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward—a crime I will amend soon.)

The Ideal Team Player is a nonfiction book—a book about work environments, in fact. I would never pick up something like this on my own, but it is required reading for my job, so I picked up the audiobook to listen to on my down time.

I have to admit, it was actually a pretty neat read.

I’ll give you a rundown of how it’s structured. It’s 226 pages or 5 hours long, and as a writer I hate that I can’t give you a more useful, calculable number like word count, but there you go. There are two portions to the book: the story, and the explanation of the concept that uses examples from the story. The story is slightly longer than the nonfiction portion, but the nonfiction portion is, in my opinion, more useful.

The plot of the book is very rudimentary. An amiable guy is promoted to CEO well before he’s ready, because the guy before him is retiring and trusts him a lot. They have to hire a bunch of new people to complete two large jobs coming up, and it’s up to the new guy and his team of two executive to establish and execute a new hiring process in order to make the company have a sense of cohesion and teamwork.

The writing of the story is, well, not amazing. It was obviously written by somebody who doesn’t read or write fiction; it gets the point across, but holds little intrigue and focuses on the information without caring about the finesse of the craft of writing. I started to grind my teeth a bit every time I heard the phrase [“Why would yadda-yadda?”, Tabatha wanted to know]. Please don’t ever use ‘wanted to know’ as a dialogue tag. It just looks and sounds awful. The plot isn’t bad per se, but it isn’t a page turner, either.

What’s more interesting is the nonfiction instruction manual at the end, outlining the concept of what makes “The Ideal Team Player”. As established in the story, the ideal team player requires three attributes. They must be humble, hungry, and smart. The book will do a much better job at describing each of these concepts, as it has a much larger span of time to work with, but the jist of it is that somebody will hold the most value in a company if they are [nice and willing to accept fault and blame], [an overachiever who is passionate about their work and is always pushing themselves], and [knows how to communicate their ideas and work with people (not necessarily “intelligent”)].

The book goes on to explain the problems that arise in employees that exhibit only one or two of these traits, and how to get them to emulate all of them. It goes beyond employers, too. This book is also meant to be read by employees, so it helps you understand where your own faults are as far as forwarding the momentum of your workplace, and for that I find it very useful. For example, I’m not hungry at my current job simply because I have no passion for the work I’m doing. That mostly tells me that I should find a better job where I enjoy the work more, but you get the idea.

This book isn’t useful for every job. Pretty much any minimum wage employee wouldn’t be in a workplace that cares about progress simply because they don’t need you to be your best, they just need you to exist. You might get a slight wage increase if you are an ideal team player in that environment, but this book is more tailored towards companies that are striving for quality of both atmosphere in service rather than sheer output of product and income of cash flow, like any huge corporation.

Overall solid book. It’s a quick read and didn’t feel like a waste of my time. And I’ll be honest, I rarely enjoy nonfiction books, so the fact that I approve this one is saying something.

Review — Welcome to Night Vale (Podcast)

The last few weeks I’ve been listening to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, knowing very little about it other than what I could conceivably guess based on the title. As it turns out, even there I was mostly wrong. I assumed it was a story about a dark fantasy place, which I was correct about, but I also expected a continuous story along the lines of a typical web comic such as Homestuck. (I have not read Homestuck, but am more or less familiar with the premis.) Instead, Welcome to Night Vale is written in episodes with the intent that one can simply jump in and listen with no context required. So, what is it? Well, it’s a Lovecraftian comedy—a radio news broadcast from the fictional town of Night Vale.

Before I jump in, though, I have one thing I need to say: It should be Nightvale, damnit. One word! I have no logical argument to back that up, it just looks more aesthetically pleasing like that! (Also, it’s annoying to have to write Night Vale, because it’s more work, and I am as a matter of course opinionated against the reason it is more work to write.)

Because my job allows me to listen to podcasts all day, I get through audio content very quickly, so even upon learning I could start wherever, I of course began with Episode 1, and have just finished (with episode 130) today). To summarize, the podcast most frequently takes the form of a (bi)weekly news broadcast in the town of Night Vale. The news is often related to creepy things, such as SCP objects or Lovecraftian horrors. I would liken Night Vale to a “modern day Innsmouth”. The radio host, Cecil Palmer, never really acknowledges the dangerous horrors this town seems to have a very long and deep history with, and thus the combination of the eldritch combined with a lack of logical concern creates a humorous show.

Overall, it’s pretty solid. I’ll admit the punchlines are rarely amazing. I probably laughed out loud about once every 10 hours of content. Not bad, I suppose, given that I’m alone and at work during that time. Nonetheless, the humor is consistently amusing. I’ll say that one thing the podcast does very well is remain consistent with the information it gives you, even if it’s all over the place. A small factoid about a minor character will suddenly become important three years (real time) later, and you’ll find out that it was actually because of X all along! It seems clever, but really I would bet that it’s importance was decided later. It’s done flawlessly, though, and it surprises me how much of a “knowable” ecosystem Night Vale eventually becomes after a time. It transitions from random factoids about a place you’ve never heard of to characters and people with rich histories interacting based on events that did or did not happen long ago in the podcast. And even if you didn’t see that episode, it doesn’t matter because it’ll explain that history when it becomes relevant.

Of course, the podcast isn’t without fault. In my opinion, it has three. The first is that there are characters and events I actively dislike, so whenever they’re given stage time I get frustrated. (I’m also not a fan of it whe  it leans more towards radio play, where other actors are involved. I prefer the episodes of just radio broadcast and host. No guests, no phone calls, no live investigations. In fact, the character I liked the least becomes mayor of the city at some point! That was pretty disheartening.

The second major downfall is that by nature of what this podcast is, the punchlines can get pretty predictable. Even if you don’t know what the exact joke will be, you start to be able to sniff the setup a mile away, which does sort of kill the fun of the experience.

Lastly, for every 25 minute episode, there is probably 6 minutes I skip. The first 2 or so are self-promotion/sponsors, the middle chunk is a 3 minute song that is, almost always, terrible. and the last minute is more self-promotion. It’s annoying because the easiest way for me to skip on Castbox is by 30 second chunks, and I listen on 1.4x speed, so when I was listening to the podcast, I would literally have to pull out my phone every 10ish minutes to press “Skip ahead 30s” a bunch of times. I can’t imagine other people would have major issue with this in particular, but in my specific circumstance, it was quite annoying. Nothing like the hour long podcasts I’m used to that have a single 30 second ad in the middle or at the end.

What I will say, though, is that as time goes on the episodes become two or three-parters, so you eventually get stories that take an hour of content to see the completion of. I do like that, because it gives me something to attach to and it gives the sense that bigger things are afoot.

Review — War Crimes

Of the many novels written in the Warcraft universe, I’ve actually read a scarce few of them. To be honest, this is only my second. However, having played WoW off an on for the majority of my life, and having many brothers and friends that are well versed in Blizzard and Warcraft lore, I’m quite familiar with the characters and events, generally speaking. I won’t give spoilers here, though, for as familiar as you may be with the story before and after this book, the novel itself does contain some pretty neat, self-contained things.

War Crimes is a somewhat recent addition to what surprised me to be a collection of over twenty canon books, and chronologically it was the latest addition to the universe until Before the Storm published last month. It takes place between the Mists of Pandaria expansion and the Warlords of Draenor expansion, serving as a segway from one to the other. It explores the trial of Garrosh Hellscream, the former Warchief of the Horde after he basically killed thousands of people and was, to put it mildly, a jerk to everyone, even the people who should have been his friends.

I’ll be honest—I didn’t expect much of this book. The main plot is a trial, and I hated Garrosh’s character simply because he’s boring. In fact, if I were to buy a Warcraft book, it probably would have been one of my last choices for those reasons. When I’m reading a story like this, it’s generally because I want to dig deeper into a universe I’m already familiar with, and not only does this book basically not have that, but it doesn’t have very much action in it, either. It is, as you might expect, almost entirely placed in the Temple of Xu’en, where the trial takes place.

But the book is fair. To call it a bad read or a waste of my time would be out of line. It does the characters justice while also showing different sides of them. It explores the morality and virtues of many of the main characters in Warcraft lore, and you see different sides of them you might not otherwise notice. Flashbacks are used as evidence in the trial (via magic, of course), so we also get to see some interactions between characters outside this moment in time, and that can be really interesting when you didn’t realize those characters knew each other at X point.

I’d say one of the best things about this book is that it’s a balancing act of two parts, and it does a great job. Writing a book (or any piece of media) based on a game where the player has a direct impact on the environment or story of that game is hard. You have to either pretend the player doesn’t exist, which makes any player made choices seem inconsequential, or you make the player a main character, which only works if they don’t get to make their character. The second part is writing a part of the story that isn’t important enough to be essential to the gameplay, but is interesting enough to not waste the reader’s time.

War Crimes does a great job on both of these fronts. The players are the ones that managed to defeat Garrosh and put him in “prison”, but they aren’t necessary for the trial. Players want combat, and this part of the story has very little of it. You wouldn’t want a trial scene to be in your video game anyway, unless you’re playing Ace Attorney, in which case what is a bloodthirsty orc doing there? As far as being interesting but not essential, the story does a good job of that, too, exploring nuances of characters, as I’ve already explained. The ending of the story is a bit obvious if you’ve played the beginning of Warlords of Draenor, or have seen even the trailer of it, but nonetheless it’s a good read.

Overall, this book is a good read if and only if you are interested in understanding the personalities, flaws, or beliefs of the major characters in the Warcraft universe. You really get to know the characters as people in this book, not as the walking stereotypes they can sometimes fall under. If you want to read action scenes, understand the lore of Azeroth (or Draenor etc.), or read about the major events of the world, you’re better of picking up pretty much any other book in the universe.

As a side note, it dawned on me reading this book how little opinion Warcraft players probably have based on the characters in the lore. Basically any player will tell you that Cairne Bloodhoof, or Vol’jin, or Jaina Proudmoore are basically cool people. (Or at least they were, given various points of the story.) For as divisive as Warcraft tries to be—splitting the players into Alliance or Horde—I’ll bet 90% of the playerbase will be able to tell you which are the honorable, good characters from both factions, because while the lore tries to paint in broad strokes of “good and evil”, it does a great job at putting both of those extremes in either side.

Me — Back to Audiobooks!

I’ve recently started going through audiobooks again—before that I had been listening to Jukebox the Ghost almost exclusively, and about 7 weeks later their charm is only just starting to wear off on me. So, I thought I would tune that down while I catch up on books.

Well, back at my old job at Target this worked pretty well. I worked night shifts, generally, and being cart attendant meant I was outside in the quiet dark a lot. So, two or three nights a week I’d listen to 4 or 5 hours of an audiobook and I made good time.

But now, I’m working full time and listening to audiobooks for pretty much all of it. At 1.4x speed, so, well, that’s about 50 hours of content a week, or 4 typical novels. Problem is, I only had about 6 books to catch up on, so here we are. I’ve still have 2 to go, and by the time I’m through with Friday I expect I’ll only have half a book left.

Now, in this circumstance my preference is certainly audiobooks, but if I kept at it at this rate, that would be over $200 a month of new books. Now, don’t get me wrong, if I was overflowing with money, I would love to do that. At 4 books a week, that’s over 200 per year, which, if I keep up this rate for all of my working career (which I certainly hope I don’t), would be about 8,000 books, and on the clock to boot. Nevermind the $80,000 that audio library would cost me.

No, no. Podcasts are what it will have to be for the foreseeable future. Which is fine, I have no shortage of these, either. I have Hello InternetWelcome to Nightvale, and if I find them as interesting as a brother does, My Brother, My Brother, and I as well as the half a dozen other D&D campaigns he follows. I’m sure all of those podcasts combined is well over 1,000 hours, or, 18 weeks if I can make good time.

This is part of the reason why I love my job. It’s sort of complex—there’s a lot of nuance that goes into it, but for the most part lately it’s just been a lot of things that take a lot of time, I’m not bouncing around everywhere. I’m not talking to customers and I don’t need to talk to coworkers all that much, and so it’s a prime environment to listen to stuff.

I love that fact because it means I can multitask in the most efficient of ways: gaining money while also working on what I consider to be self-improvement. Maybe I’m a little crazy in thinking that podcasts are about improving the self, not a mere replacement for music, but that’s what I think of it as. Maybe less so the D&D related podcasts, but you get the idea.

In other news, the fact that I’m going to be listening to so many new things in the near future means more meaningful Review posts! I’ve just finished the first book of the Belgariad as well as the first book of Dan Wells’ Mirador series. By the time Tuesday rolls around, I expect to have at least another review candidate! Maybe the next few Thursdays will be more Reviews rather than Me posts.

 

Me — Spending Time

This post is sort of a ramble. It’s neither a rant nor a lecture: just talking about me and my lifestyle.

I’m one of those people that isn’t ever satisfied if I’m only doing one thing. If something doesn’t require 100% of my focus, then I’ll almost certainly be doing something else in addition to it. Usually this means podcasts while playing video games, driving, drawing, etc. The last several weeks I’ve had nothing better to do, so I blasted through Oathbringer while I played a ton of Heroes of the Storm.

It’s sort of odd, because I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m only doing one thing at a time (with the exception of writing, of course). I get virtually nothing out of playing Heroes, so even that sometimes feels unproductive. Couldn’t I be doing something better with my time while I listen to audiobooks? Like laundry, or general house tidying?

I know this probably sounds a bit crazy. I’m totally aware of how obsessed I am with this much constant productiveness, but it’s also who I’ve grown comfortable with being. If playing a video games with an audiobook in the background feels unproductive, I bet you can imagine how it feels when I’m not even listening to that audiobook. But this means I’m always getting things done.

Recently I’ve also taken on meditation, which interacts very strangely with that philosophy. Meditation is all about stopping and just enjoy the moment—doing absolutely nothing. I’ve heard lots of great things about meditation in the past, and while I do feel its helped me be more present in the moment, I don’t think it’s been groundbreaking as far as changing my lifestyle. Admittedly, it can still feel like a chore sometimes, but it works pretty well with reducing spikes in anxiety.

I’ve found that this whole mindset of “everything must have a productive purpose” is hard for other people to understand. I don’t really watch TV shows. If you want to get anything out of it you can’t do anything on the sidelines, and they’re often dozens, if not hundreds of hours long. Movies can be okay—you get through the entire beginning and end of the story in less than three hours—but even then I don’t make a habit of watching them. If I could, I’d watch classic movies a lot, though. I feel there’s a lot I could get out of them, it’s just hard for me in particular to get access to them.

And yet, where has all this gotten me? I personally don’t think this has given me any sort of upper hand among my peers as far as experience goes. If somebody asks me what I’ve been doing with my time not watching the shows and movies everyone has seen, I really wouldn’t know what to tell them. I wouldn’t say I’ve read a large amount of audiobooks, or played lots of different kinds of games. I don’t feel as though I’m much further ahead than anyone my age, really.

I suppose that’s probably pretty good. Maybe it means that no matter what you do or what you’ve done, somebody my age still has all the time in the world to be or do something completely new and worthwhile.

Me — My 2016 (300)

2016 was probably one of the biggest years of my life. This time last year I had just said goodbye to one of my only friends from high school, a girl I fell in love with who never felt anything for me. Working up the courage to tell her I couldn’t handle a simple friendship was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and it made me miserable for the entirety of January, when my first spring semester of college started.

During that spring semester, a friend told me (quite harshly, in her own way) that I need to get over the depression because it doesn’t change things. After that day, I told myself I would stop being a cynic, and a few days later I started this blog: five hundred words a day. I had challenged five hundred words a day of myself before, but at the time I was concerned with fiction.

The blog allowed me to actually write, even if it wasn’t fiction, and with it I’ve grown more as a writer in this past year than the rest of my career combined. I’ve written close to two hundred thousand words on this blog, and its given me the strength to publish some fiction every week, to boot. If you count my blog, my current writing tally is about four hundred thousand words. I’m still pretty dang far from that million word wall, but I’m getting there. Because of this blog, I wrote The Dreamscape and started the anthology of novelettes. I’ve since learned that I can’t write novels yet because I get bored with them, but novelettes are short enough not to let that happen. So if I write an anthology it can be novel length without having to worry about its completion!

Dragon Quest Hero.jpgA few smaller things happened, too. I quit my first paying job, and I have no regrets. I won a scholarship that has basically paid for these last two semesters of college. I got my first smart phone early in the year. I (finally) got my license, and a few months later got into my first accident (though it’s a really melodramatic way of saying I bumped a car and repairs cost about $50). Overwatch finally launched, and it’s probably been one of my biggest game time sinks of the year. And for Halloween, I finally did something I’ve always wanted to do: the hero from Dragon Quest VIII! I can cross that off my bucket list now.

I made a New Years resolution to read fifty books, and for a two months in I had read two or three. I ended off strong, though, having read a total of fifty four books! I’m not making another New Years resolution, but I’m not going to stop reading. The Kingkiller Chronicle is just way too good to put down.

In August, I started going into a high school to teach improv acting (and just helping out with teaching in general), and I’m really enjoying it. It’s always a lot of fun, so if my writing career doesn’t work out, maybe I can pursue something in teaching.

Now, every hundred posts I try to do something cool, and this time around I put in way more effort in it than I have in the past. I’m starting a YouTube series of audio readings of my short stories! I originally intended to make audio readings of all of my posts from this day forward, but with how much work video editing has turned out to be, its simply not feasible. Instead, I’ll be making little, unofficial audiobooks of older stories. Hopefully ones permanent enough to not need much editing at this point.

Because of this, in fact, I’ve named the Aluvalian novelette: Change in the Winds, and you can listen to it today, here! It has an enormous, dumb watermark on the video, but I can’t take it off because that’s a drawback of using a free program. But hey, you just listen to it, there’s literally no point in watching the thing. It’s just under an hour long, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, for as bad a narrator as I am. I plan on making one audio recording a week, and only the novelettes will be that long, but its an option if you don’t read the blog but still want some of my fiction.

Lastly, in November, I made a decision I know everybody in my life would disagree with: I started talking to that girl from high school again. I still haven’t seen her in person, and aside from a few occasions where I happened to see her around the college, we haven’t seen each other (let alone spoken) in a year.

Have you ever done something that you knew was right, despite everyone around you trying to shoot it down? It’s what I imagine following your dreams is like when your family wants a specific career path for you. The thing is, despite this year apart, I still couldn’t stop thinking about her. I can’t explain it, so I won’t try, but I know that whatever happens, some good will come of it.

Happy New Year.

Review — Books of 2016 (290)

My New Year’s resolution of 2016 was to read at least fifty books, and as of ten minutes prior to writing this, I hit that goal. So I’ll be doing a quick rating system of one to ten (compared to everything else I read) of each book based on how much I think any person could pick this book (or series as the case may be) up and enjoy them. Note: Some of these were read for classes, so while the order is a simplified chronology of when I read them, I’m separating that from the rest of the fiction I read ‘just because’. I’ll just be listing them because they weren’t read for fun.

But before I get into it, I’d just like to apologize in advance for the length of this post. I don’t expect anyone to read through this entire thing. I’d imagine several people will just scan through to see if I’ve read a certain series and to read my thoughts on it. I’ll also include links to my other posts if I’ve given detailed reviews about that specific book or series!

1-3. The Old Kingdom Series — 6/10
It has lots of cool death magic, but everything is a little predictable if you’re an avid reader. There will be a fourth book, but I don’t plan to read it.

4. Bands of Mourning (Mistborn Era 2, Book 3) — 7/10
This is the third book in a sequel epic fantasy trilogy. Don’t pick it up unless you’ve already read everything prior. This singular book didn’t blow me out of the water, but I do expect the last book in this series to!

5-7. The Reckoners Series — 10/10
Definitely the best series I read this year. Flawlessly combines superheroes (villains?) with a post-apocalypse world, and is a super fun read. Can’t wait for the spinoff trilogy!

8. Ring of Solomon (The Bartimaeus Sequence) — 5/10
The prequel to a YA trilogy about demons in (almost) modern England. Good YA read, but this one wasn’t nearly as fun to read as the first three. Could be because I read this one as an adult, or it could be because this takes place thousands of years in the past and makes everything that happens feel very distant.

9. Elantris — 7.5/10
Elantris
was the first book Brandon Sanderson published, and it does show. The sequels will be coming in a few years. It’s a good read! Lots of cool history and worldbuilding and whatnot.

10. Emperor’s Soul — 9/10
Emperor’s Soul isn’t really a sequel to Elantris, but it is set on the same planet. It’s pretty short, but compared to the other Sanderson magic systems, this one is probably my favorite. It involves rewriting the past of inanimate objects to change their present, and I just love that concept. I also quite enjoyed the characters!

11. Warbreaker — 8/10
Warbreaker is a nice standalone piece. A sequel is planned, but not anytime soon. It introduces some cool concepts, and one of my favorite character is a god that doesn’t believe in himself. I realize that makes no sense. You’d just have to read it.

12. Dangerous Women — 3.5/10
Anthology of stories where the main characters are all very strong female leads. These are written by all of today’s famous sci-fi and fantasy writers, but most of the stories didn’t interest me all that much.

13-16. Lockwood & Co. Series — 9/10
Good series about a bunch of kids running a business handling ghostly dealings. Really cool world, and I can’t wait for the fifth one.

17-20. The Wheel of Time Series — 4/10
I don’t know how this is one of the most famous book series. I put down the fifth book when I realized I didn’t care about a single character. It’s obviously got some huge world and good plots, but it reads too formally for me to enjoy.

21-25. John Cleaver Series — 8.5/10
Awesome series about a sociopath kid fighting demons. He has a hard time dealing with his emotions, and he tries to solve murders because it gives him some release.

26. The Colour of Magic — 6/10
Not bad, all things considered. The Discworld universe definitely isn’t my cup of tea. Everything is too silly for my taste, but I did find it quite amusing and a nice reprieve from all the epic fantasy I’ve read this year.

27. A Night of Blacker Darkness — 9.5/10
Incredible blend of macabre and humor. This book doesn’t take itself seriously, and I loved it start to finish. But the best part is, the silliness isn’t the world, it’s the people. This is a believable world (ours, in a manner of speaking,) and its the dialogue and situations that are funny.

28-29. The Stormlight Archive — 9/10
Great first two books to a series that may as well never be finished with how long it will take Sanderson to write. Many people will probably find the world too big, since there are mostly irrelevant interlude chapters, but I love pretty much everything about it so far.

30-32. The Partials Sequence — 7/10
Dystopia series about people fighting against a war of perfect humans. Humans can no longer reproduce, and as the series goes on, the conspiracies as to what’s really going on get thicker and thicker.

33. The Fellowship of the Ring — 6.5/10
Obviously, this is a classic. It reads far too much like literature for my taste, though, which is the same problem I had with the Wheel of Time. I do plan on finishing it some day, but these books put me right to sleep whenever I try to read them.

34-36. The Gentlemen Bastard Series — 8/10
I’ve heard mixed reviews from various people. I personally really enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series when it comes out, but it does have its flaws. I’d peg this as “adult fantasy” because of all the language and sex in it. The world and overarching story is pretty neat, though.

37. The Rithmatist — 7.5/10
Probably the least exciting Sanderson book I’ve read this year, but it still scores pretty high because he’s famous for a reason. This specific story isn’t particularly outstanding, but the ending left me excited to read the sequel! One day.

38. Ghost Talkers — 7/10
I don’t really read alternate history, but this one wasn’t bad. My qualms with it mostly include the fact that the main character feels like “generic strong female lead”. If you’re into alternate history, this one is a paranormal one set in World War I and is quite well written.

39-42. Alcatraz Series — 5/10
Middle grade series about evil librarians trying to take over the world. It’s kind of a secret history if you want to get technical, but its mostly a fantasy series that breaks all the rules of conventional writing. Mostly I’m not a huge fan because everything is too silly for my tastes. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, and “because it’s silly” isn’t good enough justification for me to call it out on its contradictions. Great series for middle-grade readers, I would say, and I do plan on finishing the series when all the books are out, but I don’t enjoy it as much as pretty much anything else I read this year.

43. The Postmortal.

44. “They Say/ I say”.

45. Hope Leslie.

46. The Blithedale Romance.

47. Moby Dick.

48. Inanna: Queen of Heaven & Earth.

49. Gilgamesh.

50. The English Patient.