Book Reviews

Izanami’s Choice: A Book Review

Izanami's ChoiceToday I’m speaking with Adam Heine, author of Izanami’s Choice. Thank you for taking the time, Adam, and for letting me read “Izanami.”

I enjoyed this book so much. It’s a steampunk murder-mystery set during the Meiji Restoration period in 1901 Japan. What’s not to love? There are Ronin, robots, political upheavals and murder most foul. But who is behind it and why? This novelette clocks in at 96 pages of pure enjoyment because at least in one sense, there is no easy answer.

Yes, I knew who the “Big Bad” was as soon as the individual (no spoilers!) entered on stage. But that was the only easy answer. The far more difficult questions remain unanswered and are something humanity has yet to decide: If technological life becomes sentient, are humans safe? If technology is sentient, can humans react in an even handed, nondiscriminatory way? Do actions cause violence, or does fear of potential action?

Mr. Heine did an admirable job of making his robots (Jinzou) both sympathetic and terrifying. We are taken through the above questions through the eyes of Shimada Itaru, former Ronin and retired police officer. He doesn’t trust the ubiquitous Jinzou and carries illicit weapons because of their involvement in his son’s death. His pain as a father is palpable and his conclusions are just as heart-rending.


I wholeheartedly recommend the book and now, without further delay, here’s my interview with Adam!

Thanks, Victoria! I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about the book.

Adam, how did you come up with this story?

Most of my stories are a melting pot of elements I love. I love detective stories. AI fascinates me, as does the idea of a technological singularity. But I didn’t want to write this story in a stock cyberpunk future (that would’ve basically been Bladerunner). I needed something unique about it.

The Penny Arcade web comic writes an occasional mini-series called Automata, involving sentient androids in a 1920’s Prohibition Era-type world. That was probably my biggest inspiration in combining a robotic singularity with one of my favorite periods in history: Meiji Era Japan. Once I started slotting androids into key events in Japanese history, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. And the world of Izanami’s Choice was born.


Making a satisfying and believable ending can be difficult, but the conclusion to Izanami’s Choice has an appropriate, satisfying and very Asian feel. Without spoilers, did you consider other endings? (I realize this may be impossible to answer without spoilers. If so, go on to the next question! :D)

There are kind of two endings, so it depends on which one you mean! The very end of the book — the epilogue, let’s say — was not something I planned, but it felt like the right way to leave things (or at least the right direction to point things in).

As for the other ending just before that: that was always the plan. I can’t say much without spoilers, but I think the Asian feel (the Japanese feel, really) for this particular story would have been lost with any other outcome.

You’ve rewritten Japanese and world history with the robots in this story. Since you live in Thailand, are you planning on taking your Jinzou to Thailand or other locales?

I would really like to! I don’t know that I’ll ever write a jinzou story in a Western country (only because I feel like that’s been done), but I do have ideas for what society might look like in, say, India, China, or — yes — Thailand. Whether or not I get the opportunity to flesh out those ideas remains to be seen!

You are also a game programmer/player. Where do you see cross pollination between that and writing novels and short stories? What are the main differences from your perspective?

For those who don’t know, I’m the Design Lead on the upcoming role-playing game Torment: Tides of Numenera. That particular game is a LOT of writing (we’re at over 1 million words!), which is unusual for a video game. As a result, there’s more crossover between novel writing and Torment than there might be with other games.

I’d say the biggest difference between the two is player choice. Game stories, especially RPGs, are often in the player’s hands. Imagine if a reader could choose whether or not Frodo puts on the ring at Weathertop. How might the story change after that? Would they have had an easy ride to Rivendell, or would something else have happened? Would they have met Arwen on the road? Earlier? Later? What would that meeting look like?

Game writers (at least RPG writers) have to write every option they want to offer the player. It’s fun, because you basically get to write ALL of your ideas and let the player choose which ones they want to follow. But it’s hard because the story has to make sense no matter how the player goes through it.

Fiction, on the other hand, is the story *I* want to tell, giving the reader the information I want her to have and when. It’s easier, but there’s a lot more pressure on the words, since words are all fiction has to carry it.

I know there have been Role Playing Games (RPGs) where you can choose the ending – in a sense, creating your own stories with a set of given characters. Do you see this sort of game technology advancing and becoming more seamless? That is, more like a live-action book?

I think interactive storytelling comes in different forms and mediums: RPGs, Choose Your Own Adventure books, interactive fiction games, pen-and-paper role-playing, live-action role-playing, and so on. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and its own niche of readers/players.

Personally, I enjoy most of these — I just love a good story. And we’re finding new ways to tell stories with (relatively) recent mediums like VR and MMO gaming. The more game developers and storytellers cross disciplines, the more and better stories we’ll get out of it.

I’m always fascinated by other writers’ creative processes and you work for Torment, among other things. Do you use RPG modules to help you in world-creation?  If so, how does it help you, or do you do it for fun?

For me, world-creation is the fun part that’s always drawn me to both fiction writing AND game development. Creating a world that you want to explore — whether it’s explored through a novel or a gamepad — is my favorite part of writing. So I don’t really use RPGs to help me create worlds so much as I create a world that I can use in a novel or a short story or a game.

Or more realistically, I will have a story or game I want to make, and I will create a world for it. Every writer’s different, but for me the world almost always comes before the story I want to tell within it.

You seem to have a lot of plates spinning in your life. What helps you keep them spinning?

Boy, do I. I’m the Design Lead for a mid-sized RPG, a writer, and a foster father of 10!

Some things that help:
— Making a schedule (and keeping it).
— Being realistic about what I can get done in a given day.
— An understanding family (that is at school most of the time).
— Knowing when to stop!

I can’t say I’m great at all these things, but the times in my life when I’m not stressed out are when I did all of these right!

Thanks again, Adam for spending the time. “Izanami’s Choice” is available for pre-order through Amazon and its release date is September 1st. You can also purchase it through the publisher’s page.


Book Review: Postcards From Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong

Postcards from Nam is an unusual book. It is a poem, it is a love letter, and it is a novel within the space of a novella. It is all these things and more. It tells the story of two Vietnamese children, Ma Chua (Mimi) and Nam. It speaks of how their lives intersect, of their unspoken friendship and love and reliance on one another. The story then details how these children are ripped apart by war, immigration and tragedy. It does it with a spare beauty of words lined with tension usually only seen in poetry. I read this book in a single afternoon – unable to put it down.
If you know nothing about the plight of those immigrants fleeing Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia or Burma, read this book. If ever you have any questions about the necessity for helping immigrants to leave the land of their birth, the land of their torture, read this book. It won’t take long. It might change a life. Maybe even your own.

What Makes a Book Good

Today’s post is brought to you on behalf of book review responsibilities. I’ve signed up to read several books for review and I’ve had one of them on my nightstand, reading a chapter a night for about a month. Or at least that’s what I shot for. Imagine my shock when I realized I was not even halfway through a comparatively short book! I’m afraid I find all sorts of reasons not to read it before I go to bed. It’s too late, I’m tired, I have to get up early in the morning and write my own stories. The real reason is, the book has endless chapters where nothing happens. This was brought home to me last week when I picked up a different review book to take with me while I’m on errands. This second book, “Hidden Voices,” (if you’re interested in music or Renaissance Italy, take a look at it. I will have a full review up within a week at Historical Novel Review, but not here because of the setting) is a joy to read. The characters are so well done and the author clearly knows Venice and music. So I’m faced with the juxtaposition of these books and I know why I dislike one and have devoured the other. But I enjoy other books for different reasons, which does lead to this week’s question:

What are must-have points for you in a good book? One of my best friends and I discussed this a while back. For one of us, setting was important, but another wanted stronger characterization. I wanted some sort of plot if either one of these weren’t a strong-point, but she didn’t care. For me to love a book, I need to identify with or admire the characters and be lifted up emotionally by them. So what draws you in?

To Ride The God’s Own Stallion

Ride the Gods Own Stallion, ToDiane Lee Wilson’s “To Ride The God’s Own Stallion” is the story of two boys, a horse and the destiny the three weave together within the Assyrian Empire.
Soulai is a poor boy sold into slavery to Prince Habasle, a palace brat who fights to prove himself to his father and people. Both boys are drawn to the “parti-colored” stallion whose falcon-shaped birth mark displays his connection to the god, Ninurta.
The horse’s destiny leads to war and Habasle is eager to ride him into battle, but he must do so with Soulai trying to protect the horse and the King’s mad physician trying to sacrifice the animal.
Wilson has done a fine job of sketching the historical texture of the period while keeping the novel’s place moving. The characters developed in a believable and enjoyable fashion. It was especially nice that I never felt like they were boys written by a woman writing how she thought boys should behave. I will say, there were no surprises.
I did read a few oddities I had to gloss over to continue reading. There are three sections to the book and each section is begun in the perspective of an animal. This confused me and I did not believe them necessary to understand or believe the story’s events, so I’m surprised the author used the technique.
However, once past those passages, the novel has a smooth read broken only by my occasional recognition that there are three main characters. You care for each of them and they each have identical, linked growth patterns and carry equal weight, though not perspective.
I still wonder if that wide-spread equality is why I never felt as drawn to any of the main characters as much as I did when reading Wilson’s “I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade.” Nonetheless, there were times it was difficult to put down  “To Ride God’s Own Stallion.” It is an enjoyable read, especially for boys or those who love a great horse story in an unusual setting.

I know, I said I’d post reviews on Wednesday, but I’m still struggling to keep things going this month and Wednesday sped by way too fast this week.  I wanted to remind folks that my One Hundred Followers Giveaway will wrap up on February 13th, so be sure to comment and comment often. I’m also going to throw in a few extra giveaway goodies, so stay tuned, true believers. 😀

Book Review: Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

Many thanks to Stephanie Barrows, one of two book winners last year who agreed to review the books they won. Today’s review is on “Saving Fish From Drowning” by Amy Tan.

Saving Fish from Drowning

Saving Fish From Drowning was my first novel by Amy Tan. Admittedly, most of my literary brushes with Chinese-American culture have come through either movies (coming of age stories and martial arts fantasies) or historical novels (Snowflower and the Secret Fan). 

This novel was an unexpected pleasure because it hosted two aspects I adore about Asian culture: the supernatural in everyday life and the immigration experience. An egocentric art-dealer-turned-murder-victim-then-ghost tells the story of a group of travelers who head to China and disappear. 

Throughout the narrative, our guide shows us aspects of her personal story with characteristic eccentricity. When a newspaper reports her murder, she complains about the article and pictures used to display her body. Afterwards, our protagonist’s description of her own funeral and its attendees offered a humorous look into the art world and the personalities that inhabit it. 

Saving Fish From Drowning also fed this writer’s appetite for psychological insights through internal dialogue and flashbacks. Ms. Tan’s use of graphic detail in describing the protagonist’s murder, for example, is done with a coroner’s eye and a feminine touch.

In the future, I highly recommend Ms. Tan keep writing novels of this nature. Not only are they entertaining, but their aftertaste of the supernatural mixed with the everyday are enough to bring even a finicky reader back to the literary table.