Sometimes a book, TV show, or series of films enters my life. Occasionally it’s expected (or half-expected). More often, it’s a pleasant surprise. In any case, it almost always derails what I had in mind for my immediate future. Such was this week.
This week, I spent much of my time reading The Astonishing, a novel by Peter Orullian (author of The Unremembered and Trial of Intentions) and based on the progressive rock album by Dream Theater, of the same name. It’s a release I’ve had an eye and ear on for some time, as a self-proclaimed DT fanboy. Hearing of this novel some years back is, indeed, why I went and read Orullian’s books in the first place (much like when I started reading Sanderson’s novels upon hearing that he was finishing Jordan’s Wheel of Time).
I think it would be interesting to write a full review for this piece, but because The Astonishing currently has only a limited release – and because, frankly, my track record for saying I want to write a review, and then actually following through, is pretty abysmal – I intend to restrict myself to a sort of “extended first impressions” today.
Published by Vault Books, this edition of The Astonishing ought to be looked at in two different ways: first, as a physical artifact for fans of Dream Theater, and second as a fiction text.
The book’s physical presentation is phenomenal. It’s a gorgeous black leatherbound edition with wonderful art of scenes from the novel on the dust jacket and interspersed with the text, as well as a full-color map of the Great Northern Empire of the Americas, A.D. 2285, in the endpapers. The novel itself covers about 250 pages, but the whole book nears 450 – close to 200 extra pages of development notes, pre-promotional artwork, commentary, and interviews with the band. As an artifact for the dedicated fan of Dream Theater who also reads a lot, this volume is a total success.
The novel itself was good. Not great, but good. I enjoyed DT’s album, The Astonishing, but more for the music and immediate themes than for the greater story. Vault Books’ promotional material said that Orullian would be expanding the story from what was told on DT’s album. And, you know what? The expansions were really good. Orullian writes magical music in his own fiction, and bringing that skill to the story of Gabriel, “The Astonishing,” fit very well. It brought the notion of “magic music” to life more even than DT’s record did, ironically.
The weaknesses of the story from the album largely remain the same in the novel. The ending feels saccharine and contrived, with the characters mostly just saying “sure, let’s get along now.” It’s the type of ending which works in a musical – which I see The Astonishing conceived as – but worked just okay on a CD, and was kind of weak in the novel.
I guess, reflecting on the book, I was surprised at how short the novel was. I think part of it is just my expectation as a heavy reader in the “epic” fantasy area, but I assumed the story would be about twice the length it was.
That being said, it didn’t feel particularly rushed until the last third or so of the story. The opening in particular was much slower than its equivalent in the album, and was easily my favorite part of the novel (which is a bit unusual, since I tend to get most gripped, like many, but gigantic climax battles). The highlight of the whole volume for me was probably a brief, tender scene towards the start of the novel where Gabriel consoles an old soldier, who has just lost his son. It was a small, beautiful addition which really made the premise “music is literally magic” come alive in a way it hadn’t on the CD.
My biggest disappointment with the novel (and to a lesser extent, the volume at large) was the lack of editorial care with the text. The prose was well-written, but there were simple, small errors throughout, at a rate I would expect from an indie eBook, not a high-quality special edition, by an established and competent author. Things like “you’re” for “your,” “solider” instead of “soldier,” and misspellings of in-world locations (where the correct name could be confirmed on the endpapers): “Window’s Peak” for “Widow’s Peak,” “Forth Truth” for “Fort Truth,” and so on.
It just felt careless. Which is a shame, because there was obviously a lot of care taken by a large number of people on this book.
Apart from The Astonishing, I’ve spent some time continuing to muddle through Burket’s Greek Religion. My original intent was to just read the first chapter (on Minoan & Mycenaean religion, circa 1200 B.C.E.), but I’ve continued because, frankly, it’s interesting.
(That should indeed read ominous. Interesting things are rabbit holes that go on and on and on.)
I’m still mostly skim-reading, with the goal of just gathering random bits of information. Hopefully, odds and ends will peek back up when I’m doing my own writing and worldbuilding. Speaking of…
Given that April has just started, I spent a little time thinking on my goals for 2018, since we’re a bit over a quarter into the year. My “big goals” are to get paid for publishing something (probably fiction), and to have a robust outline set out for The Fall of Jiharel.
So, realizing that I had made zero headway on that outline, I got to work on it sometime Sunday (after having finished my school stuff, the main goal I laid out for myself last week). I’m pleased with my progress thus far.
I’ve worked through about the first third of the story, though not in quite the rigorous detail I’m hoping to have when this outline is all said and done. However, this is also a chunk of the story that I’m pretty familiar with, one which I’ve run over in my head several times. I still have a lot of rough edges to work out, but getting it down into a Word doc was more a matter of doing it, than of creating it.
This upcoming week, I’d like to have the major moments written out onto that outline. Not necessarily all of them, but the big ones, the ones I’ve had in my head for a long time. The major choices, and a bit of an idea how to get there. I don’t know how long that will take.
Jumping back to the same goal-oriented thinking, I want to get to revising one of my short story rough drafts. Not this week, but in the next few. Probably “How the Thrun Earned His Wings,” mainly because I just really like that story. It feels kind of simple in my mind, and very different in style from my Jiharel material. The endpoint here is to have something I feel comfortable shopping around to genre fiction magazines (I have a few sites scribbled down somewheres) so that I can at least try getting something published.
Last Week: My goals were just to wrap up the fiction seminar for my MFA successfully. That went fine, and my next class begins on Monday.
This Week: Keep working on my Jiharel outline, getting the major plot moments written down, and starting to figure out how I get there. No specific reading goal, but I’d like to keep spending time with LeGuin’s Planet of Exile and Burket’s Greek Religion.