Tag Archives: Dakota Kemp

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Critical Book Review

I’ve read three books by Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and, now, Cryptonomicon – and after finishing this 1130 page monstrosity, I can easily say that Cryptonomicon is by far my favorite. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age were decent reads – and I’m sure there’s not a Stephenson novel in existence that won’t leave you slack-jawed – but Cryptonomicon outstripped the other two in every way.

Cryptonomicon is a glorious mash-up of spy thriller, war epic, cryptography manual, treasure hunting tale, action/adventure story, and impressive creation of historical conspiracy theory. It follows a multitude of unique and engrossing characters, from a hard-bitten World War II Marine to an eccentric cryptanalyst to modern-day code-writers/harried businessmen, to even a priest/secret society member.

As with any Stephenson novel, you should prepare to have your mind blown at least once per chapter. Stephenson dishes out incredible ideas, witty metaphors, and extensive technical knowledge like normal people hand out candy on Halloween. Perhaps it’s because Cryptonomicon deals with events that have already taken place and technology that currently exists (mostly), but I found myself able to identify with (or at least vaguely comprehend) the technological concepts, historical nods, and cultural insinuations in Cryptonomicon far better than in the previous two Stephenson novels I’ve read. (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age take place at various points in the future and deal with Stephenson’s extrapolations on where technology and societal leanings will lead us.) Cryptonomicon also has a largely satisfactory conclusion (finally!), unlike other Stephenson finales, which usually leave me frustrated and grasping for something even dimly appearing like closure. Thankfully, I can say that Cryptonomicon won’t leave you with the same incomplete feeling that seems to be a trademark of Stephenson’s endings.

Stephenson’s research into history deserves special note. He does such a good job of mixing historical fact with speculative conspiracy that I had a tough time picking out the fact from the fiction. (This is no mean feat. It is not humble of me, perhaps, to say that I am something of a historical scholar, but it is true, nonetheless.) Stephenson should unquestionably be commended for both his dedicated research and his deft handling of historical fact into a compelling fictional novel.

As a special note, I thought I’d mention the sheer hilarity of the humor in this volume, because I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so much in my life while reading a book. Stephenson’s insights into people, countries, organizations, and institutions are enviable, and the tongue-in-cheek approach he uses to gleefully nip at everyone’s respective heels is uproariously entertaining. Everyone is fair game, and the result is side-splitting amusement.

What I’m trying to say is this: If you’re going to pick up a Neal Stephenson novel – and I highly encourage you to do so, if for no other reason than to expand your mind with some incredible ideas – then make that novel Cryptonomicon. By all means, read his other works – they are certainly worth the time and effort – but Cryptonomicon is a must-read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for any adult.

Full Author Interview

As promised, I checked with the Self-Publishing Review and they gave me permission to post my author interview with Cate Baum, SPR’s co-founder, in full.

Cate:  Dakota Kemp is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize for his book, The Arrival.  Dakota hails from the Oklahoma Panhandle in the US.

Cate:  Tell us about your winning book.

Dakota:  The Arrival is an epic, medieval fantasy set in the world of Vrold.  The plot weaves the lives of several different characters into one tale, centered around an investigation into a series of deadly attacks that has plunged two powerful city-states into war.  I like to think that The Arrival has something for every reader because it’s as much a mystery, drama, action/adventure, military epic, spy thriller, and comedy tale as it is a fantasy novel.  The protagonists range from a sorceress/detective to a hard-edged mercenary to an enthusiastic history professor, and the plot, characters, and locations are all wrapped in a world of enigmatic mythology and electrifying peril.

Cate:  What inspired your interest in this genre?

Dakota:  Ever since I first fell in love with reading as a child, I’ve been captivated by fantasy stories – legends of wonder and magic and adventure.  The Tales of King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in particular had a great influence on my becoming a writer, perhaps even greater than my mother, who taught me to read.  Middle-earth wasn’t just a jumble of words, plots, characters, and settings – it was (and is) a real place for me.  Tolkien created such a rich, beautiful world as to become reality, even if it is only in the mind.  That’s my interest in fantasy, and, to this day, it’s my goal as a writer.  If I can give just one reader the slightest sliver of the sense of awe and passion and beauty that was given to me, then my purpose as a writer will have been fulfilled.

Cate:  What writing experience did you have before this?

Dakota:  Little to none, actually.  The Arrival is my first novel.  I initially started writing when I was about fourteen – my own, personal adaptations of the King Arthur tales – but, as we often do in our younger years, I gave up after a short time.  It was much later – in my junior year of college – that I started to seriously think about picking up writing again.  The Arrival was written largely during my senior year at Southwestern Oklahoma State.

As far as official training goes, I’ve never taken any writing classes or anything like that (though I probably should).  I did have some wonderful English teachers in high school and an equally brilliant literature professor in college, and everything I know about writing was either self-taught or acquired under their instruction.

Cate:  Why did you decide to self-publish?

Dakota:  I tried to get The Arrival traditionally published in the beginning, but I quickly found that publishing is a highly exclusive market.  It is nearly impossible to break into the industry without some prior connections, no matter how good your work might be.  I sent queries and applications to over seventy agents and publishing companies and never once received a request for my manuscript.  I can deal with rejection, but how was I to prove my manuscript’s worth if no one would even read it?  After over six months without a single request, I decided to self-publish and let readers decide the quality of my work.

Cate:  How did you find the self-publishing experience?

Dakota:  It was definitely educational, and I’ve learned a lot of useful things about the publishing process and the professional industry.  One thing that you discover early on as a self-publisher is that marketing accounts for a huge amount of your time and effort.  This is both good and bad, as it provides a good learning experience, but it also sucks away time that could be spent writing.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed self-publishing.  It’s allowed me to learn new things and meet loads of great people.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t leap at the chance for a good publishing contract, though.  I’ve found that it’s all about earning your stripes and showing that you can consistently put out quality work.

Cate:  What tips could you give others to produce a quality self-published book?

Dakota:  Edit, edit, edit, and re-edit.  Proofing and editing is HUGE, and it’s essential.  This is the one, non-negotiable fact of self-publishing – if your work doesn’t appear professional, both in cover and content, it won’t succeed.   Period.  Purchase professional editing if you can afford it.  If you can’t (like me), ask everyone you know to read your manuscript and mark editing or proofing mistakes.  Get your old English teachers or professors to peruse it for you.  Find someone knowledgeable about grammar, sentence structure, and formatting to give your final copy an approval.

Other than editing – don’t give up.  Never stop writing.  You’ll have bad days, of course, when you feel like no one outside of your mother and grandma wants to give your work a try.  Write anyway.  You’ll improve the more you practice, and maybe – just maybe – your work will touch someone in a far off place you never knew existed.  Perseverance – it sounds cheesy, I know, but is there anything more true in life?  If it wasn’t hard to do, everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Cate:  What obstacles did you face?

Dakota:  Finding readers has been a nearly insurmountable challenge.  There just aren’t a lot of people willing to spend money and take a chance on an unknown, self-published author.  Maybe that’s the way it should be.  It makes you work hard and appreciate every single reader.  Every time I see I’ve made a sale, I just want to reach straight through the computer screen and give that wonderful individual a big ol’ bear hug.  I don’t know that I’d have that appreciation for my amazing readers without that struggle.  So, I continue to write, and every time a reader contacts me to say they love my stories, I take it as a personal affirmation.

Cate:  What are your plans for the future as a writer?

Dakota:  Since The Arrival’s publication, I’ve released a science fiction novella titled Goddess (the review of which, incidentally, was recently posted by SPR), and I’m presently working on a steampunk/sword-and-sorcery mash-up novel.  The second installment in the Ascension series (of which The Arrival is the first), will be up next following my current project.

I appreciate your time in reading my humble tale, and I wish all of my fellow authors out there the very best!  Keep up the good work!

(End Interview)

I hope the interview was educational for my independent author friends and interesting for everyone else!

Author Interview With the Self-Publishing Review

As a part of the celebration for the Full Moon book awards, the Self-Publishing Review conducted author interviews with the winners of the three Full Moon categories – Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.

I was ecstatic when The Arrival won the Fantasy Full Moon Award, and I couldn’t have been more delighted when SPR co-founder Cate Baum asked if I would be open to an interview.

Here’s the opening portion:

Cate – “Dakota Kemp is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize for his book, The Arrival.  Dakota hails from the Oklahoma Panhandle in the US.”

Cate – “Tell us about your winning book.”

Dakota – “The Arrival is an epic, medieval fantasy set in the world of Vrold.  The plot weaves the lives of several different characters into one tale, centered around an investigation into a series of deadly attacks that has plunged two powerful city-states into war.  I like to think that The Arrival has something for every reader because it’s as much a mystery, drama, action/adventure, military epic, spy thriller, and comedy tale as it is a fantasy novel.  The protagonists range from a sorceress/detective to a hard-edged mercenary to an enthusiastic history professor, and the plot, characters, and locations are all wrapped in a world of enigmatic mythology and electrifying peril.”

To read the rest of the interview, visit SPR’s site here:  http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2014/11/an-interview-with-full-moon-awards-2014-fantasy-prize-winner-dakota-kemp/

In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get permission to post the interview in its entirety.  Further topics in the interview include insights into self-publishing and a look at my personal experience in writing, editing, and publishing.

I hope everyone finds my musings interesting and/or helpful.

GODDESS Release Announcement

I’m pleased to announce the release of my second published work – Goddess of The Shrike Chronicles.  Both kindle and paperback copies are available on amazon.com!  If you enjoyed The Arrival or are a science fiction fan, Goddess is right up your alley.  I’m looking forward to seeing how well this new release gets off the ground.  I’ll appreciate any support you can give – whether that is a purchase, a re-post, a like, or telling a friend by word of mouth.  Thanks everyone!

Please note:  Goddess is an adult novella.  It is not intended for a young audience.  Goddess contains violence, strong language, and some adult themes and settings.

Here’s the link to Goddess‘s amazon page:  http://www.amazon.com/Goddess-The-Shrike-Chronicles-Volume/dp/0990595412/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1414868247&sr=8-2&keywords=dakota+kemp

The Arrival wins the Full Moon Fantasy Award!

Hey everyone!  I find myself beyond ecstatic today, because I can officially call myself an award-winning author.  The Arrival just won The Self-Publishing Review’s Full Moon Fantasy Award for the year’s best self-published fantasy novel!  (High fives all around to everyone who’s been there to support my writing endeavors – I appreciate it, and I would have quit a long time ago without you.)  Here’s a link to the announcement page.


Copy and paste it into your browser if the link doesn’t work.  Check it out!

Also, I’ll be appearing on The Self-Publishing Review’s site soon for an author interview, a guest post, and other cool features.  I’ll try to keep everyone posted.

“The Tolkien Reader” Critical Book Review

No one – and when I say no one, I mean NO ONE, not Robert Jordan (who greatly influenced my writing style), not Brandon Sanderson (my favorite author), not J.K. Rowling (who wrote my all-time favorite books), not even my own mother (who taught me to read) – had as much influence on my becoming a writer than the father of what we know today as the Fantasy Genre.  J.R.R. Tolkien has been my hero since I first read The Hobbit at the age of eleven, and continues to be the inspiration for everything I write now.  He created something extraordinary in Middle Earth. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin – they’re not just stories.  They’re not just words and characters and compelling plots.  It’s a living, breathing world.  Middle Earth is a real place – a place of wonder and magic and beauty unrivaled by any creation of imagination since.

That is my ultimate goal.  If I ever can capture even the tiniest glimmer of what he did in his world, I will have fulfilled my dream.  If I can ever give just one reader the tiniest sliver of the same sense of wonder and passion and reality that he created in his tales of the dark realm of Mordor, or the agrarian peacefulness of The Shire, or the magic of Lothlorien, or the fading beauty of Rivendell, or the majesty of men in Gondor, or the might of Gondolin, or the love of Beren and Luthien or Aragorn and Arwen, or the titanic struggle of the Valar before time began – I will die totally, and completely, fulfilled.

That is the influence Mr. Tolkien has had on me, and The Tolkien Reader takes us deeper into who the man behind the Faerie Realm really was – and deeper into that perilous realm itself.

The Tolkien Reader is made up of four entirely separate sections: The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, Tree and Leaf (which is, itself, made up of two separate entities), Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Adventure of Tom Bombadil.  I will, of course, cover everything separately.

The first tale told is The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, which is an original interpretation of Tolkien’s concerning an archaic Scandinavian poem of the same name.  While I enjoyed this immensely for several reasons, it is highly unlikely that the ordinary reader would find it an entertaining read.  I found it interesting because it gave me further insight into my idol, J.R.R. Tolkien, and because I find his critical translations of archaic language fascinating.  But, as I said, if you are just looking for a traditional read or aren’t looking to give your brain a massive linguistic workout, you may want to skip this one.

Tree and Leaf is actually two separate sections as well:  a short story titled Leaf by Niggle, and a (now famous) essay by Tolkien called On Fairy Stories.  This is, in my humble opinion, the best portion of the book. On Fairy Stories is easily my favorite essay of all-time.  If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and educate yourself by picking up a copy.  I’ll not lie, it’s probably a bit over the heads of the average reader, and Tolkien doesn’t pander to those who aren’t there to seriously study the material.  It’s both incredibly intellectual and study intensive.  For those who find themselves able to get through the concepts and reflect on them, it’s also highly rewarding.  This is the premiere work on fantasy stories, and, in particular, the fairy tale.

The other part of Tree and Leaf is Tolkien’s allegory Leaf by Niggle.  It is, including even The Lord of the Rings, probably my favorite story by Tolkien, which seems strange considering that it is only twenty pages long.  That’s part of its appeal, though, and it is incredible that Tolkien told such a heartfelt – and poignant – tale in such few words.  This is allegory at its very best.  I highly recommend it to any person – whether they are a reader or not, whether they enjoy fantasy or not.  If you don’t do anything with the rest of your life, read this story.  Even if you’ve only got an hour left to live, it’s well worth the time.

The third section is Farmer Giles of Ham, which is a short story (maybe novella length) about a lowly farmer who becomes the hero of the land.  This is solid, traditional fairy tale work, and good reading for any Tolkien fan or lover of Grimm tales.

The fourth section is where we dive back into the realm of Tolkien’s most famous world – that of Middle Earth – in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.  Anyone who has read The Fellowship of the Ring will immediately recognize Bombadil, who is a quirky enough character to stick out in anyone’s mind.  This is a collection of poems, not all of which are about Bombadil.  For those not interested in poetry, this isn’t your cup of tea.  If you love reading whatever you can get your hands on concerning Middle Earth, however, this is definitely for you.  One area in which I’ve always felt Tolkien never received enough credit was in his poetry work.  He writes excellent, lyrical poetry.  Some of the additions here are lovely, bringing to mind the beauty of nature among other things straight from the realm of Faerie.

In summary, The Tolkien Reader will delight fans of Tolkien, while the drier and more studious portions are likely not what the average reader is willing to dig into.  If you take nothing else away from this, read Leaf by Niggle!