Saturday Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin by Charles Soule — Graphic Novel Review

Welcome back, dear Reader, to the most glorious feature of all – Saturday Star Wars! If you somehow missed the last entry in my series of love letters to Star Wars, worry not – here’s your link!

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Obi-Wan and Anakin by Charles Soule, Marco Checchetto and Andres Mossa

The ten years before the Clone Wars are a period only outlined by a throwaway line of dialogue or two in the movies — and as such, I expect they’ll make for plenty of one-shot stories such as this one, told in comics and novels – something I’m all for, as long as the stories themselves are entertaining.

Charles Soule is one of my three favourite authors working on Star Wars stories right now, along with Timothy Zahn and Claudia Grey. He has a love for the lore of the galaxy that runs deep, as deep as the knowledge he taps into in small pieces of dialogue that might fly by you without a second thought:

The Plo Koon line here, for example

The premise: Obi-Wan and Anakin have been sent to respond to a distress call on a planet ruined by internal strife, uninhabitable safe for the tallest mountain peaks. The twist? There’s a bit of a steampunk vibe to the two sides of this planet-endangering conflict.

I love how often our characters end up derelict on some backwards planet – didn’t the same thing happen to Maul in my last Sunday Star Wars column?

A pair of locals are introduced early on, signifying one side of the conflict — that I don’t remember their names might tell you something of the kind of impression they make, or it might tell you that I’m a forgetful old wamp rat.

Either way, I do remember the personalities of both, as well as that of their foe, a man by the name of…what’s his name, again?–a most lovely bald man with lovely face tattoos…

Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship is deconstructed in a way that will at once reveal the resentment of the Jedi Knight for having to take care of this boy:

The volume shows the depth of Obi-Wan’s commitment to his padawan, as well, in a short conversation with master Yoda in the very last few pages, which leaves no doubt as to the sacrifices Obi is willing to make to honour his oath to Qui-Gon, and to perform his duty to Anakin.

On the flipside of the coin is Anakin’s awe and downright idealization of Kenobi. Whatever resentment he might feel towards his master later on at the beginning and during the Clone Wars has not yet manifested itself; the young padawan recognizes that Obi-Wan is the very best exemplar of the Jedi Order, and for good reason — as the ending of this comic book will remind us.

As for the plot on Carnelion IV, I’ll not say too much other than…it was okay. The story is at its best when Anakin and Obi-Wan interact, and the adventure-of-the-week type story is more a backdrop than a breathtaking story that shifts my way of thinking. One action sequence in particular made me giggle:

Lightsabers are great with bullets, everyone!

Let’s spend a few moments to discuss the other key relationship in this graphic novel.

Surprising none but the newest readers of my scribbles, I enjoyed Chancellor Palpatine’s skillful manipulation of Anakin in a section that shows ol’ Palpy working to earn Anakin’s trust and admiration in ways fine tuned to take full advantage of the young Jedi padawn’s naive and limited experiences of the galaxy.

Here Palpatine is impressed.
Here Palpatine and Mace discuss the virtue of friendship, harmony and throwing people off windows.

Stepping away from geeky humour, my favourite sequences are on Coruscant, whether they’re between Yoda and Obi-Wan, a few short panels between Anakin and other padawans, or

Soule so well captures Palpatine’s sly, cunning nature. The Chancellor manipulates a young Anakin in just the right way, playing to his idealism, making of himself a champion of justice, while eroding his trust in a flawed, broken democratic apparatus. What’s best about it is, Palpatine doesn’t even have to lie; he shows Anakin the rot within the Republic, and his inability to do anything to remedy it on this occasion. By the end of this volume, Anakin is eating out of Palpatine’s hand, and the bond between the two has the strong foundation on which Palpatine’s plan hinges on.

The score for this one is 4 stars out of 5. I enjoyed this story, though the conflict between the factions of Carnelion IV was nothing new, the relationships between Obi-Wan and Anakin, and Anakin and Palpatine, were well-explored and offered a layered view of some of my favourite lightsaber-wielding characters.

And lest I forget, the art was quite excellent — though Obi-Wan looks somewhat older than I’d have liked.

I also loved this alternate cover by Skottie Young, which is as glorious as any Skottie Young alternate cover for Marvel I have seen.

Skottie Young being the Skottiest, Youngest, Coolest Artist Ever!

A few lingering questions:

This girl is flirting Annie up, and yet he doesn’t turn around and leave the Jedi Order to live happily ever after with her?!
How cool is this cover?!

Sentence Writing #03: Long and Short Sentences

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Few elements of style can harm your work the way an overbusy, cluttered sentence can. But reading about cluttered sentences from a theoretical standpoint is one thing — seeing one such sentence is entirely different.

Let’s construct a glorious Example:

My ratonnastick, being a perfectly good fellow at heart who always knew his lot in life and lived as only a ratonnastick could–on a stick–was simply ecstatic about being prepared with a pinch of salt, a little pepper, several squirts of ketchup and an uncanny amount of lemon juice, which added just that extra little bit of punch, so necessary for satisfying the palates of members of high society.

It’s okay to write a sentence such as this one in a first draft*; it’s negligent to have it in a finished manuscript. A sentence like this is an offense against any potential reader you might hope to court. This sentence wanders from one idea to the next, uncertain of what it’s trying to say; so it ends up saying too much. Why don’t we break down all the pieces of information in the sentence below:

  • My ratonnastick is a good fellow at heart.
  • He always knew his lot in life.
  • He lived only as a ratonnastick could live.
  • My ratonnastick was ecstatic about the method of his preparation.
  • He was prepared with an assortiment of condiments.
  • The lemon juice adds an extra punch.
  • Members of high society have a taste for lemon juice.

That’s…seven(7!) unique ideas we’ve uncovered tucked underneath the conjunctions and dependent clauses of our long sentence. Can you figure out the main clause? Scroll past the picture of our revered lord and saviour, the ratonnastick, to find out!

That’s right, the main clause in this sentence is equivalent to, “My ratonnastick was ecstatic about the method of his preparation.” I’ve cut the list of condiments, because they’re all prepositional phrases that take up too much space. Better to be frugal in your choice of words.

So much of the information in this sentence is excessive, bloated and delivered in a way that is non-conducive to holding the reader’s interest. (This would be a good moment to remind you that you’ll usually be writing with at least some implied Reader in mind. For these blog posts, my implied Reader is an older, more dashing version of me who still considers his earlier self hilarious. Ergo, the jokes.)

Let’s rewrite this sentence in a way that doesn’t make the Reader want to gorge their eyes out, shall we?

My ratonnastick, being was a perfectly good fellow at heart. who He always knew his lot in life and lived as only a ratonnastick could–on a stick. That’s why hewas simply ecstatic about being cooked. prepared The chefs used a pinch of salt, a little pepper, several squirts of ketchup and some an uncanny amount of lemon juice., which This last ingredient addsed just that extra little bit of punch, so necessary for satisfying the palates of which plays well with members of high society.

As you see, in addition to rearranging this sentence, I’ve also changed a few details. But let’s clear it up:

My ratonnastick was a perfectly good fellow at heart. He knew his lot in life and lived as only a ratonnastick could–on a stick. That’s why he was ecstatic about being cooked. The chefs used a pinch of salt, a little pepper, several squirts of ketchup and some lemon juice. This last ingredient adds extra punch, which plays well with members of high society.

Bit strange, but I think we’ve found a motif to all these blog posts, and it’s onnnastick. More importantly, this is now a legible paragraph. Shorter sentences interplay with longer ones, and create an ebb and flow that makes this easy to read. This rewrite differentiates the different pieces of information. It gives them space to breathe and allows the reader to wrap his mind around what’s going on; in a word, it makes the writing more comprehensible.

All of this is not to say that you should avoid using longer, more complex sentences. You might seek to create moods that a long sentence can imbue much better than a short one; confusion, uncertainty, paranoia come to mind as three such moods. Or you might be aiming for a particular effect, as Rachel Cusk is in her Outline trilogy**.

But what does great sentence sage June Casagrande say about the question of short versus long sentence use?

Allow me to end this debate once and for all. Here’s how you should look at it: Brevity is a tool. It’s a very powerful tool. You don’t have to use it. But you have to know how. If you’re going to use long sentences, it should be by choice, not due to bumbling ineptitude. Every long sentence can be broken up into shorter ones, and if you don’t know how–if you don’t see within your long sentences groupings of simple, clear ideas–it will show.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

This post by no means advocates the exclusive use of short sentences — that’s a one-way street to monotonous writing, which will bore the Reader to tears — as a novice editor on Fiverr, I’ve encountered several lifetimes’ worth of that problem. Rather, my aim here is to ask you to avoid use of meandering, rambling sentences that keep going on and on and on and on and on well past their end point. Be cautious in your verbosity, dear Reader. Oh, and one last piece of advice from Casagrande’s chapter on the topic:

Only someone who can see ideas in their most pared-down form can begin stringing them together in ways that make an outrageously long sentence work.

So you see, size DOES matter. Just…not in the way you think.

*This one is comically cluttered…as is my mind.

**To get a taste of the kind of writing Cusk is known for, you should read my essay on Transit, which imitates the author’s style to some success.


Thank you for reading, everyone! If you enjoyed this third post in the series, but haven’t checked out the previous two – go back to the link at the top and take a few minutes to browse through them! As always, I owe a debt of gratitude to June Casagrande and her book on sentence construction.

Got any questions? Leave them in the comments down below!

I’ve also got a YouTube channel, where I produce video essays about games and all manner of nonsense. I also review fantasy and sci-fi novels over on The Fantasy Hive – and I’m far from alone. Check it out, it’s got wonderful content, we’re doing #WomenInSFF features for all of July!

Movement is the End Goal: Rachel Cusk’s Transit (Essay)

The lights blinked twice and went out. I strapped the safety belt on, conscious of the blinking lights, conscious, too, of the cry of the toddler several rows back. A long flight, with no end in sight.

Next to me on the plane sat my creative writing instructor, a woman roughly the age of my mother. She is a writer of some renown, owed in equal parts by the fame she has found for renovating notions of character, and by the infamy she had been subject to for her frank, uncensored—what some would call selfish—account of her messy divorce with the father of her children. This story she told in a well-known novel from 2012.

We kept our silence over the duration of the lift-off, for no other reason than for the fact that neither of us had much to say. Now she took a deep breath and addressed me. “These last few months have been a time of transition for me.” A time of change, she adds, makes you conscious of nothing so much as the process of transformation itself. Everywhere she looked, she saw men and women struggle through one transition or another. Old lovers, friends, odious neighbors, acquaintances – everyone is transitioning, either through periods defined visibly through outside factors; or through internalised ones, at work in everything we touch, everything that touches us.

What drives it? She considered, looking down the aisle at the air hostess awhirl with activity. Just when I thought to call her attention again, my teacher’s voice picked up once more. ”It’s motion, and it’s static, this constant of ours.” Like with so much else, she said, change is defined by how we embrace it; through acts of will or surrender. Viewing the act of change like this offers you a good stage to talk about evil and love and parenthood, she said, and loneliness, and of so much more that goes into the human condition. She stopped, gaze narrowing, as if she were fast forwarding through what she just said. “An acquaintance of mine told me recently, ‘Loneliness is when nothing will stick to you, when nothing will thrive around you, when you start to think that you kill things just by being there.’”

But how does that connect to change, I asked. It leaves a mark, she told me, the kind that doesn’t come out with a bit of soap and a long soak. It shapes your thoughts and changes your inner self, and creates distance that’s difficult to overcome.

I thought I knew what she meant, I told her. I’d been lonely, myself. Was lonely, still—now and again.

She said, “We don’t even realise it. It dawns on us only once we turn around and look back.   Something a friend told me struck a note with me. ‘It’s strange,’ he said, ‘that you always changed everything and I changed nothing and yet we’ve both ended up in the same place.’ That’s how this silent, all-encompassing process works. You might have only caught glimpses of it this far, you’re—what, twenty-five?”

“In August.”

“You have noticed then, how people enter your life seamlessly, without flaw—and exit in much the same vein. You won’t be surprised to learn that sometimes, they come back. And sometimes, you’ll pick up where you left off, as if no time has passed at all, and no matter how much either of you has changed, you’ll find…it doesn’t matter at all. Does that negate the transition in the first place? “

I nod.

She curved her lips upwards as she told me, “It’s the way of change.” It’s not a one-way street, she said, this transformation of ours. At the right time, with the right person, time flows backwards, and you again return to that twenty-something year old, or that little girl. or boy.

She spoke for a long time, and I listened to all she said, and lost myself. The words she said were rarely about herself, but rather about the world as she saw it, and the people whose words helped her see it the way she did. My teacher had an understanding of human nature like few others I’d known. To immerse myself in her words was to catch a glimpse of that understanding, take possession of it—however fleeting. I was envious and almost lustful of that knowledge; the more she spoke, the more I wished to hear.

After the plane landed but before the seatbelt lights went off, I turned to her. She’d grown silent for the duration of the landing, once more withdrawing into herself.

“Thank you, Faye,” I told her. “Your guidance is invaluable. I think…much of what you’ve told me today will leave its mark for a long time to come.”

She nodded, her face serious. “I’m glad of it. But I’m curious – what do you think?”

I attempted to mimic Cusk’s style in this mixture between a review and an essay – I hope you’ve enjoyed the results. Some of the words I inserted into her mouth are direct quotes from the novel – I’ll leave it to you to judge which ones!

Darkest Dungeon: The Butcher’s Circus – A Free Mode Nobody Wanted

The Butcher’s Circus offers one thing I never thought to see in the Darkest Dungeon – a PvP mode! I could hardly believe it when I first saw the announcement. But curiosity won out in the end, and here I am, sharing with you my impressions – short as they are.

The narrator makes his return with a few blood-curdling lines, but I think voice actor Wayne June could’ve been commissioned to do some shoutcrafting along the lines of “The Vestal breathes her last under the eldritch horrors of the Occultist.” That would’ve shown some extra commitment to the mode.

It’s not a bad piece of free content to dabble in – but it is also absolutely not the kind of content I expected to ever see from this game. At the foundation of Darkest Dungeon has always been a test of endurance – for the characters, in their repeated attempts to map out the Estate of the Ancestor while surviving its untold horrors; and for the player, as he learns to cope with mechanics which often might leave him furious with the injustice of it all.

The aspect which makes this entire mode infuriating is the Death’s Door mechanic. Logic dictates, the folks at Red Hook Studios should’ve removed or heavily modified it. Death’s Door, for those not in the know-how, is a last chance for your characters to survive at zero hp – the name says it all. Your adventurer can die immediately on the first hit after they fall to zero hp, or they could take five or more hits and still, miraculously be alive. Can you see the problem such a mechanic imposes on the game in a PvP setting? Yup, it’s all about that sweet, sweet RNG – which causes plenty of people to play with specific builds in mind, builds which rely on a sure-fire way to win. These builds are all about increasing the stress of your characters to 200, at which point they get a heart attack and die. This is the kind of meta born out of necessity and not particularly enjoyable to engage in – and I picked up on it after but a few matches.

I’ve also heard about disconnect issues – and that whole menagerie of problems so common to many multiplayer modes of otherwise stellar singleplayer games. My advice? If you’re a committed Darkest Dungeon fan, skip this mode and keep your eye on news for the release of the sequel – and if you’re brand new, just play the bloody main game already. If I hear you complaining about having no games to play one more time, I’m gonna smack you!

Maybe there’s more to the Butcher’s Circus. Maybe it’s aimed at a different kind of player, the kind that enjoyed the combat of the game more than any other element, and that kind of player will find the testing of wits against living opponents a challenge worthy of sinking a dozen hours, or more. But with a meta game that forces you to play in one certain way over others, that seems to be very unlikely. That said, Red Hook studios has always listened to their players – I am curious to see if they will show the initiative to tackle the Death’s Door issue, at the very least.

Ultimate Blog Tour: Knightmare Arcanist (Frith Chronicles #1) Book Review

Knightmare Arcanist was a joy to read, and went by as fast as any of the novels I’ve read over these last few months.

Shami Stovall has created a readable and endearing world in the setting of her Frith Chronicles, full of magic and mystical beasts, but also countless dangers. …Okay, I can only come up with two right now, but they’re pretty pirates and the plague.

At least one of those is topical to the current clime, I say.

Volke has been disliked all his life, for crimes committed by the parents he hardly knew. A gravekeeper’s apprentice, and with only his adopted sister Illia and their foster father William for company, Volke has dreamed of becoming someone important, someone with the power to help folks and show the world he is better than his parents. Despite plenty of difficulties early on, Volke shows he possesses the heart of a true hero. That, or a really kickass best friend/foster sister in the face of the aforementioned Illia, who is such a great, fun character–and she’s far from the only one. The whole cast was exemplary, and I quite enjoyed following their individual relationships with Volke shift and change.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that Volke succeeds in finding a magical beast to bond with; the book isn’t called Knightmare Gravekeeper, awesome as that title is. Volke and his sister, as well as a pair of other young arcanists from the same island as our ex-gravediggers all join in the guild of Volke’s childhood hero, Gregory Ruma.

More than anything, this book reminded me of an anime, an old favourite of mine by the name of Fairy Tail. What called that comparison to mind are the guilds full of magicians arcanists who go out adventuring into the world.

My single issue is, the climax is a little too fast, a little too neat. Considering the danger Volke and his fellow arcanist apprentices face, I would’ve hoped for a slightly longer action scene–which is not to say the one we got wasn’t entertaining.

The cover is quite the beauty, however.

A few threads are left very much left open and to be resolved in the sequel — a few budding relationships, a few hints at romance, the future of all six of our promising arcanists. I might be annoyed in another novel, but any sequel baiting Knightmare Arcanist engages in is wholly successful. I want to read on — I’m eager to, in fact!

Sentence Writing #02: Clauses and Phrases

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This series of posts owes a lot to, and borrows from, June Casagrande’s book on sentence style, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.

Today, we shall delve in the deepest recesses of the earth, and talk about the abusive step-father of all writers, Grammar Proper. And what’s more proper than talking about clauses and phrases? …Cocktail napkins, perhaps? I don’t get out nearly enough.

Grammar, Stephen King writes, “is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking.” Or so Casagrande reports in Chapter 3 of her book on the subject, the topic of which makes the heading of this blog post. I sure hope she hasn’t lied; I’d hate to misquote Mr. King.

Here’s Stevie!

What does a clause need contain to be complete? Simple enough — a noun and a verb*. That’s why statements such as “Filip snickered,” “Mishka groaned,” and “Albert abstained” are complete sentences…if not very informative. Building a relationship between separate clauses is child’s play; take the topic of my last post, subordinating conjunctions: Although Filip snickered, Mishka groaned. Why is Filip snickering and Mishka groaning? We’ll find out once we introduce some prepositional phrases!

Some wot wots, you ask? Bend me your ear, chum, and I’ll tell ya all about phrases! But first, I’ll ask a question of my own:

What’s the difference between a clause and a phrase? A clause can form a sentence on its own, while a phrase cannot. Casagrande has her pulse on those nasty, no-good phrases: “A phrase is a single word or a cluster of words that together work in your sentence as a single part of speech.” They come in five varieties: noun phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases, adjective phrases and prepositional phrases.

Now, let’s break the simple sentences above into different phrases. We’ve got the noun phrases, which above consist of Filip, Mishka and Albert, and — no, don’t freak out! I know I said phrases, then gave you proper names, what kind of a monster am I?! But y’see, Reader, proper names can function as noun phrases with no problem whatsoever. We can add modifiers to these noun phrases: The mocking Filip snickered, as well as, Mousy Mishka. Both “the mocking”(article and adjective) and “mousy” are now parts of the noun phrases of each sentence.

The verb phrases are simple enough — they consist of the verbs themselves, and any simple additions with nightmare titles such as “Modality,” “Aspects,” “Auxiliaries,” and “THE OPERATOR”. I shall not go into any of these unless necessary, because I do not wish to encourage suicide by grammar cop.

Now let’s expand our complex sentence:

Unsurprisingly, when the ever-mocking Filip snickered at her, mousy Mishka groaned in her hands.

Let’s do a proper breakdown of what’s going on in this sentence. First of all, I hate adverbials with a fiery passion. I’m only using “Unsurprisingly” to give you all an example of an adverbial phrase. You can put an adverbial phrase before or after either of the two clauses. When the ever-mocking Filip snickered at her, mousy Mishka groaned in her hands, unsurprisingly. Or: When the ever-mocking Filip snickered at her, moust Mishka unsurprisingly groaned in her hands.

Moving on. “When” is our subordinating conjunction, and it defines the first of the two clauses as belonging to a lower grammatical level than the second. “The ever-mocking Filip” is our noun phrase, and “snickered” is our verb phrase. “At her” modifies the action, is a prepositional phrase, and plays the part of object of the subordinated clause in this complex sentence.

How about the second part of the sentence? We’ve covered most of this already, except for “in her hands” which is also a prepositional phrase, which describes manner, i.e. how the action is done. And there we’ve got it, an analysis of my relationship with poor Mishka.

We are missing a single type of phrase, the adjective phrase. Let’s throw a pair of examples out, shall we?

His rat-onna-stick smelled mouth-wateringly delicious. Faster than the train to Busan, I bit into it.

The adjective phrase can appear at the start, end, or in the middle of a sentence clause. Its purpose is to describe a noun or pronoun in a sentence. In the first sentence, the adjective phrase is, “mouth-wateringly delicious“, and in the second — “Faster than the train to Busan“.**

We can break these yet further–and indeed, if we were doing a thorough gramatic analysis, we would define the role of each and every word before connecting them into phrases, only then defining each phrase’s role in the overarching sentence using two different types of diagrams. Simple enough stuff, but time-consuming.

Finally, it’s worth looking at the kind of error you might commit if you’re not responsible with your use of prepositional phrases. Casagrande tells us this is a “supposedly real classified advertisement that once offered for sale mixing bowl set designed to please cook with round bottom for efficient beating“.

…What am I supposed to do with the cook’s bottom, again? Anyway, it’s good to see the ol’ chef is breaking away from stereotype and exercising — wonder how many squats he does to keep his bottom nice and round?

Joke aside, the mistake here is that the prepositional phrases which should modify the noun phrase, “mixing bowl set,” are placed after the object, “cook,” and so end up modifying our poor working man in ways at once sexist and demeaning. We will revisit the wonderful and wonderous world of prepositional phrases at a later time.

Until then, thanks for reading!

*I tried adding a rat onna stick in there, but was censured by multiple authorities on sentence structure and style.

**Don’t ask me why I threw that reference in, I haven’t even seen the movie.

Hades: The Blood Price Update – Excalibur Build #01 (Demeter/Athena)

In stark contrast to my semi-frequent updates on Hades’ development in Early Access, I thought I’d try my hand at delving into a build guide for one of Zagreus’ blade aspects, Excalibur! This one relies on two key boons by Zag’s Olympian relatives — Demeter’s Crystal Beam upgrade for your Cast ability, and Athena’s Divine Flourish, which synergizes with Excalibur’s Holy Aura to devastating effect.

If you manage to snag a Daedalus hammer, the absolutely most useful upgrade, for me, is Breaching Slash, which increases your damage to Armor by 300%. Insanely good for all those tough baddies with plenty of armour in Elysium! As for my legendary, I got Aphrodite’s Aid, which, at a hundred percent outright murders folks: The Hydra ceased to be despite having a third of its health left as soon as I sent Aphrodite’s kissy-kissy projectile in its face! Incidentally, the Hydra, which in very Early Access once terrorized me, really needs to up its game. Blowing a kiss to a mighty monstrosity living in lava and seeing it wrecked—talk about a vulnerable emotional state! 

Sentence Writing #01: Conjunctions and Subordination

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This series of posts owes a lot to, and borrows from, June Casagrande’s book on sentence style, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.

After scribbling, “Subordinating conjunctions can make your writing a living hell,” cursing this whole blogging thing for being so time-consuming, and coming away from it with a diminished sense of self, I felt exhausted.

What’s wrong with this sentence? What is it about it that doesn’t sound quite right? Why, it’s the subordinating conjunction! If we want to get more technical about it, it’s the role that the subordinating conjunction defines between an independent clause and any number of dependent clauses. In the example above, that role is problematic. The subordinating conjunction after creates upside-down subordination — meaning that the sentence takes a boring piece of information like I felt exhausted, and treats it as if it is the most notable event stated over there. In terms of grammar, the more important information is overshadowed by what is boring and everyday – my feeling tired. The more interesting actions are “relegated to a lower grammatical status,” as Casagrande puts it.

Subordinating conjunctions are a dime a dozen, and include although, as, because, before,if, since, than, though, unless, until, when, and while. (Casagrande, Chapter 2). These all have the same inherent capability as after — they grammatically signal the reader’s mind that all that stuff in the subordinating clause — it’s secondary, it’s something to get through before the main point comes in hot.

Let’s try for a few more sentences which showcase this issue, shall we?

Until Mishka can see the spaceship, sneak into it and become the star system’s most daring stowaway, her lone purpose in life is to sit around.

In the sentence above, the subordinating conjunction is until. There’s a whole story in the three subordinate clauses in the sentence above, and yet all of them are relegated as side-points to the fascinating action of…sitting around. Is that what the French call joie de vivre? Probably not–but it showcases the problem this blog post digs into, and how carelessness in the use of subordinating conjunctions can lead to sloppy writing. Let’s try another one:

Since you killed my pet rat, I’m a bit miffed.

This one can be good or bad, depending on what the author is trying to accomplish , what he’s attempting to bring to the reader’s attention. Was the author trying to make the point that the addressee killed the speaker’s pet rat? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then the author hasn’t done a good job of it. If, however, the author was trying to underline the unusual reaction of the speaker, then, I would argue, he’s succeeded.

…Rat onna stick, anyone?

Image courtesy of the Discworld Emporium.

Place in your main clause the information you want to engage the reader with first and foremost. Don’t allow yourself the indolence of placing unimportant details on a pedestal, while stuffing the dependent clauses full of interesting information.

To wrap this up, let’s try for one sentence that makes good use of subordinating conjunctions:

Although he was bone-dry tired, Filip took great pride in taking the time to explore the exciting world of subordinating conjunctions.

Thanks for reading!

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller—Book Review

I finished Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 many months ago — I’ve kept pushing the review further and further off because this is one of the classics, it’s loved by many, disliked by some, downright hated by a chosen few. I find myself decidedly in the camp of the first, as this novel illustrated the absurdism of war through examples that will have you either grasping at your sides with laughter or blinking slowly, trying to comprehend what the hell just happened.

It is a difficult book to penetrate, at first. Heller thinks little of chronology, the structure of his chapters a mess that is at once brilliant and confounding; the opening begins in media res, with Yossarian pretending to be both sick and crazy for who-knows-which time. Unafraid to hop from one character’s circumstances to another, Heller uses an omniscient narrator to sketch out the daily life of the soldiers of the U.S. Air Army. He does so in a way that extends to far more than just these characters, encompassing the entirety of the army, of any army, even of every army. The objections to war, after all, should not be examined in a case-by-case basis.

Once you become acquainted with the military and its maddening mechanisms, Heller’s thesis statement begins to fall into place:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

Ironic, isn’t it? This circularity is the bread and butter of so much of Heller’s seminal work, and though other examples of this never failed to garner a laugh, chortle or chuckle from me, these became ever more histeric as I continued my sixteen-hour journey across a text that is increasingly pessimistic about the nature of modern society in all its paradoxic, violent and capitalistic glory.

There is something of a postmodernist precursor to this book, something that so well captures the pulse of a movement that was just beginning to arise in the sixties (Catch-22 was published in 1961) that you can’t help but applaud Heller for taking the measure of so much of the postmodernist essence:

It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.

This codifies so much of my experience with postmodernism!…And the distance from this to Angela Carter isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

I listened to Catch-22 as narrated by Trevor White whose reading brought the characters to life and made the dialogue jump off the page. I recommend you give that particular audiobook a listen — it’s well-worth the Audible credit!

And, before I close this review off, may I say that Milo Minderbinder is one of the most brilliant characters used to satirize capitalism and the notion of free market, ever? The Mess Officer of the Air Force base that most of the book is set up at, is the beating heart of a pyramid scheme that puts all others to shame; Milo is a hell of a guy, and he’s almost as funny as he is scary.

I could write about Catch-22‘s insane cast for days, but alas, I’ve got plenty of other reviews to write. This is one I’ll be coming back to, reading and rereading, and something tells me no two reads will be the same. Just writing this review is enough to fill me with excitement over the possibility of experiencing the narrative Joseph Heller constructed with such impeccable care. If you’ve heard that this is one of the finest novels of the 20th century…well, you’ve heard right.