The Momentum Blog
Posted March 7, 2014 by Mark
The latest episode of Podmentum is our Oscars special! We discuss our predictions, the major winners, what we thought deserved to win and lots more. We’re also joined by special guest Sam Sainsbury, senior editor from Pan Macmillan.
Tagged: awards, Books, films, movies, oscars, podcast, podmentum, publishing
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Posted March 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
A recent article posited the theory that the economic mood of society could be reflected in the stories society tells itself. By analysing millions of digitised books, the researchers constructed a ‘literary misery index’, which miraculously correlated with the ‘economic misery index’ to show that societal economic downturn can be mirrored in the mood and tone of books.
The study presented the idea that there was a rough ten-year lag between economic misfortune and when that would become manifest in books, the idea being that it takes time for so-called ‘misery’ to be processed, digested and translated into narrative.
This, in itself, is hardly surprising, if taken as a face-value overview. What else are stories but reflections, refractions and interpretations of the stories we face in life? Even in escapism, one can trace back a root cause to the need to escape.
This is not wholly isolated to books, though. The parallel between popular mediums and societal climax is well-documented. But does that mean we can anticipate genre trends from political, economic and cultural climates? Can we predict that the current political mood in Australia is going to prompt a raft of anti-establishment narratives? Or that the GFC will similarly produce economically-depressed stories in the next few years?
The glut of dystopian narratives – particularly in YA books, but also then crossing to films – does seem to suggest this. That this trend is in its final throes appears, however, more symptomatic of an audience moving on from favoured styles and tropes, rather than a creative collective feeling hope where once it was only cynicism.
In film, it’s much easier to diagnose and dissect trends in genre, given that it’s a medium that wears audience popularity on its sleeve, a touch more than literature does. The constant insistence on darker, grittier and ‘more real’ qualities to films in recent years is testament to the overt displays of trend and trope. This wonderful analysis looks at the genre trends over a hundred years of cinema and throws up some interesting suggestions.
Documentary, horror and pornography all appear to have benefited from the loosening of censorship guidelines in the 1960s, allowing for not only more overt depictions of sex and violence on screen, but also perhaps a truer portrait of society. Inversely, the western is all but dead and buried after 1970, and crime, adventure and romance appear to be on downward trends in recent years. The release of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark at the beginning of the 1980s was seen not only as a revival of the action-adventure genre popular in the early-20th century, but also as a salve to the political and economic ills of the 1970s, bringing hope and naivety to a cynical world, documented and translated so thoroughly in American cinema at the time.
So, genre appears then not only as a reaction to the outside world, but also as a response to the outside world’s influence over genre. Societal thesis breeds narrative antithesis, which in turn begets narrative synthesis. The extension of this is at what point the narrative synthesis – stories challenging how we see the world we live in – starts to effect the world itself and then it all becomes quite interesting.
Our ability to predict or anticipate genre trends based on world events is not really surprising. But sometimes the cause of a trend is less overt. The popularity of The Hunger Games potentially has less to do with the strengths of the writing, rather than the strengths of the story’s ability to channel its teenage audience’s frustrations with the adult world. That this sentiment was coupled with a dystopian narrative then appears as a combination of right-time-right-place, more easily understood in hindsight than as prediction.
So maybe the deluge of dystopian stories has done its dash in illustrating our less-than hopeful view of the world and the future. Maybe the trend has rightly identified that we see difficulty in imagining the future as anything but corrupted. But perhaps that trend will now trigger a response, a vision of the world that can once again give us reason to believe that optimism and understanding are not lost to stories, nor to the world.
A ‘genre optimism index’ might be a better option than a ‘literary misery index’.
Tagged: Books, films, genre, society, writing
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Posted February 11, 2014 by Mark
An isolated farmhouse. One knock on the door will shatter their peace. No phones. No neighbours. No help. And the clock is ticking…
Ex-cop turned criminal lawyer Tim Fontaine and his wife Amy are heading for their weekender – a restored farmhouse in remote bushland known as Black Pig Bend.
But even before they’ve eaten dinner, three outlaw bikers arrive on the scene. Suddenly Tim’s house becomes a fortress. Who are these people? Why have they come? Who sent them?
As the lights go out and darkness descends, their idyllic world is transformed into a nightmare from which there is no waking up. Tim must grapple not just with formidable adversaries, but with unsettling questions relating to his own past, both as cop and lawyer, and even to his marriage.
But even if they survive this night against appalling odds, the ordeal is far from over. For when the past comes knocking, it will not be denied …
“Not for the faint hearted” – Shane Maloney, author of the Murray Whelan series
“8 Hours to Die scorches along relentlessly, displaying all of JR Carroll’s trademark thriller-writing skills: hard-edged prose, vivid characterisation, a strong sense of place and tense plotting.” – Garry Disher, author of the Wyatt series and the Challis & Destry series
He thought he’d return from Hell a hero. But things are never easy when your business is Death.
Steven de Selby gave up his love, his life, and his lucrative position as Head of Mortmax, the corporation in charge of Death. Then he found himself banished to the briny depths of hell. But hell has never held him before …
Now Steven’s back from hell, after escaping from the cruel Death of the Water, but he’s not sure how or why, or even if. No one at Mortmax trusts him, and he’s running out of time to prove he is who he says he is.
Steven is about to discover that hell really is other people, and the worst of them may well be himself.
What goes on tour, stays on tour … or does it?
Few people know that socially awkward Adrian Hart is actually rock god Kent Downer, and that’s the way Adrian likes it. His privacy is essential, especially now that he has guardianship of his orphaned, ten-year-old niece, Kate. But when the nanny quits in the middle of his tour Adrian finds himself in a bind.
Until Libby Myles walks into his life.
Libby has only ever wanted to become a full-time author and prove to her parents that she can make it on her own. On the surface, the temporary job as the nanny for Kent Downer’s niece looks perfect—the pay is fabulous, the hours are short and Kate is a big fan—it’s the rock star that’s the issue.
Arrogant and way too attractive for anyone’s good, Kent Downer has enough swagger to power a small city. But when he’s out of costume he’s different—shy and uncertain. For Libby it’s a far harder combination to resist. She needs to find a balance between work, writing and ignoring her attraction to the rock star, because if she falls for him, it could mean the end of her dream.
But when a horrible scandal is unleashed—putting young Kate in danger—there’s more heat between Libby and Adrian than just sexual attraction. Libby must figure out if Adrian ever cared for her, or if it was all just part of the show …
Meet the Bulli Boys, if you’re brave enough.
Sly Fox lives with his one-legged alcoholic father, incontinent Communist grandfather and his dog, Comrade, in a run-down beach shack in the coastal town of Little Bulli. New-boy-in-town Brett ‘Harry’ Harrison is intrigued by the outcast Sly and strikes up an unlikely and forbidden friendship with him.
Together the boys discover the delights of sex, drugs and cheap booze, but their great passion is the story of Sly’s pioneering ancestors, as revealed by the dusty and fragile Fox family chronicles.
Sly and Harry’s friendship is indestructible, or so they think, until a shocking act of betrayal alters the course of their lives forever.
Tagged: Books, ebooks, new releases, reading
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Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It is often said that a hero is only ever as good as the villain. And while it’s not wholly successful to reduce all stories down to a good-guy-bad-guy dichotomy (or even good-girl-bad-girl), for those stories that do require the presence and actions of a villain, it’s prudent to consider how they can affect the story, and influence the actions of the protagonist.
Furthermore, it’s interesting to note how an under-developed antagonist, or one that perhaps lessens the final impact of what might otherwise be a resoundingly great story.
So, make the villains good, in the bad way. Whatever type of villain they may be.
The all-conquering villain
This is the one who basically wants entire eradication of the good side. They’ll wage wars (The Lord of the Rings), consume everything in their path (The Matrix), and traverse the galaxy in order to hunt and destroy everything that opposes them and doesn’t dress in dark clothing (Star Wars et al). Basically, they have one, shark-like psychology: to head forwards and destroy. Kill at all costs. Be bad, look bad while doing so, and oppose the ‘good’ forces at every turn.
The problem here is that these villains don’t seem to have thought things through. In a sense, they only exist for the duration of the story, which usually ends with their vanquishing. If the story considered the reality of these villains’ agendas, it would become apparent that villainous victory would be hollow and fruitless. There is no real victory, because they want to destroy everything. They champion enslavement and brutality, but after victory, who can they enslave? What do they actually want? Voldemort in Harry Potter tries to circumvent this problem, but ultimately it’s hard to imagine how this character could operate once entirely in power. (And yes I know they’re villains and therefore mentally unhinged and thus they don’t think things through properly, but that’s not the point.)
I suspect victory would result in a fairly lonely existence for these villains. They are the schoolyard bullies whose being is only validated by having someone to bully.
The psychopathic villain
A lot of fun can be had with this, because the villain here is basically a manifestation of whatever internal struggles the hero is processing. Similar to the all-conquering villain, they only exist as foil to the hero, but in a different way.
They have no agenda, they are not here with some master plan, they are the uninhibited id that haunts our hero running rampant all over the scenery. This accounts for just a hell of a lot of comic book villains (Spiderman, The Dark Knight, to begin with), made most famous in the recent Joker incarnation. Also a lot of monster stories (Alien, Jurassic Park) work with this in mind, the best example being Jaws, wonderfully sent up by The Onion here.
Additionally, they can be found as byproducts of other, larger problems. They are the mutated chemical waste of societal ills and moral corruption (IT, The Stand, a lot of Stephen King to be honest), the end-result of human folly and ill-advised endeavour (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix again,Terminator).
The best example of this, knowingly so, is in No Country for Old Men, with Anton Chigurh chaotically destroying his way through a narrative on nothing but the whims of a coin toss and the echoes of a cattle gun.
Great fun, but in some sense they’re ultimately more of an embellished plot device than a fully realised character.
The secret villain
Here you find a lot of accidental villains. Villains who got caught up in the thrill of the bad thing, for a large portion of the story can appear to be sympathetic ‘good’ characters, only to be revealed at the end as working for the other side.
Many crime thrillers and spy novels operate with this dynamic (Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy for instance), as does a lot of J.K. Rowling’s early Harry Potter books, and the villain appears to be one that relies a lot on mystery and the surprise reveal. They often come encumbered with hastily included exposition at the end, so that the reader is completely aware of the reasons and machinations behind the mysterious plot. But while it can benefit rereads for a spot-the-clue type game, it also reveals how the author has a bit too overtly manipulated the reader.
The sympathetic villain
Not really sympathetic, but understandable. I think it was Gary Oldman – among others – who said that really great villains don’t think they’re villainous, they actually think they’re doing good (interesting given his career playing psychopathic villains). There’s something to be learned here, in that all characters – good or bad – should be written as characters, as real people with real motivations, and not just as foil for the main guy strutting about on his white pony.
Some of the great villains of literature and cinema reside here, questioning just how ‘good’ the good guy is, how pure their motivations are, and how normal the world is with them residing in it. We find Hannibal Lecter, and Nurse Ratched, Michael Corleone and Travis Bickle, and with them a legion of classic characters that carve out their own piece of the story, rather than remaining bit-parts.
Tagged: Books, movies, plot, reading, stories, villains, writing
Posted January 31, 2014 by Mark
In this episode we’re joined by new recruit Patrick Lenton, and discuss what we’re looking forward to the most this year in pop culture. After that, we discuss the emerging Marriage Thriller genre that’s been highlighted with the arrival of Gone Girl. Finally, things get a bit lewd as we discuss beast erotica. WARNING: Spoilers for Gone Girl and both the TV and novel series of Game of Thrones.
Tagged: audio, Books, ebooks, Game of Thrones, genre, gone girl, movies, podcast, podmentum
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Posted January 24, 2014 by Mark
Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:Books, comics, ebooks, list, movies, Posts With Momentum, publishing, reading
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Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
Last year recorded the biggest sale of vinyl albums in Australia since they started tracking their sales in 1991.
What has this got to do with books? Well. Not that we want to put anymore air to the theory that paper books are technological dinosaurs slowly asphyxiating in a digital meteor cloud, but the resurgence of vinyl music does illustrate some interesting things about the role of traditional books now and in the coming years.
Vinyl’s revival has been coupled with the digital era of music purchasing. Part of the appeal now is the bundled digital download offered with many new vinyl presses, and the ease of digitally transferring many old records. Music has shown that it can sustain two diametrically opposed formats – one that prioritises convenience, the other that emphasises the object of music itself.
Clearly there is an element of nostalgia here, but nostalgia doesn’t really drive commerce – outside of Antiques Roadshow. What I think is occurring is a transition in how we perceive music. It is now two things – music as an aural experience, and music as a physical experience. Certain music we desire aurally, others we desire the object. It is a fetishisation, after a fashion. The packaging, the art, the physical experience of listening to an album beginning to end, that becomes the desired experience that the object allows.
So, what then for books?
In 2000, Mark Z. Danielewski released his meta-fictional horror story House of Leaves. This was followed up by several different editions, including the 2006 remastered, full colour edition, full of torn notes, handwritten inserts, typewritten attachments, drawings and other paraphernalia that twists the reading of Danielewski’s narrative into something beyond just words on a page.
I wanted to set this book for my book club, but most of us use ereaders and there is no known way Danielewski could create an ebook version of House of Leaves. It is very strictly a book to be read in hard copy.
Secondly, film and TV director J.J. Abrams (yes I know) and author Doug Dorst teamed up to write another convoluted book called S. This takes the form of a 1940s overdue library book, The Ship of Theseus, which arrives in a sealed black box (it must be cut to be read). The Ship of Theseus is itself ‘written’ by a fictional author – V.M. Straka – and has been handwritten all over the margins by two other ‘characters’. These characters have also included postcards, letters, napkins and other bits and pieces in the folds of the pages, so that the whole book itself takes the shape of a found object for the reader. Dorst and Abrams wanted to create a story that exists in the margins of another story, and again this is something that could only be conveyed through a multi-layered, intertextual object like this.
Without debating the merits of the stories themselves – I’ve yet to finish reading both – it is quite clear that S. and House of Leaves are intent on reasserting the physical experience of reading a physical book. This is not to dissuade against ebooks, but rather use the traditional format for a reading that is unique to its medium.
So, are we seeing a resurgence of the hardcover book as a fetishised object? If music can be both the sound and the object, are we witnessing books becoming both the reading and the object? As Mark wrote last week, people are these days purchasing books in a divided fashion – some assigning certain reads to ebooks, with others being saved for hard copies.
Both titles mentioned here are clearly meta-fictional in their approach to story, and the medium supports that approach. This is not to say the fetishisation of traditional books is due to an inherent need of the story – the purchasing of hardcovers, of first editions, of illustrated copies and reissues show there is a long-established market for the book as an object. There has also been discussion over digital copies of books accompanying the hardcopy purchase, much in the way of vinyl.
Will book writers, book makers and book buyers begin to distinguish themselves more clearly as having and wanting two distinct types of books, even more than they already have? Will we want one type of reading digitally, and another physically?
Tagged: Books, dead tree books, ebooks, ereaders, JJ Abrams, reading, technology
Posted January 17, 2014 by Mark
Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:
Tagged: Books, ebooks, Game of Thrones, list, movies, Posts With Momentum, reading, star wars
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Posted January 16, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
In last week’s post I briefly alluded to the success of Catching Fire as a film adaptation of a popular book. In order to examine why I think it’s an enormously successful film, it’s worth looking at how we should measure the quality and success of book adaptations to the screen.
There’s a particular part of the story that occurs in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry and Hermione are on the road, travelling from location to location, on a seemingly hopeless quest. Additionally they are doing so without Ron who has left the two alone, and it’s the most extreme moment of conflict between the three friends in the entire series.
In the book, the situation itself builds up over a series of chapters, and after Ron’s departure, plays out in long passages of exposition and dialogue exploring Harry and Hermione’s disappearing hope and drive on their particular quest.
In the film adaptation, this extended section of the plot plays out in the following scene, a scene which to me is the strongest piece of cinematic storytelling in the entire series:
So why is this scene so good? Why is it emblematic of a successful approach to adapting fiction – particularly popular fiction – for the screen?
The Harry Potter films are never going to go down as exemplars of the cinematic form. Wildly successful financially, as adaptations they benefit enormously from the collective knowledge of the books by their audience.
The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets were plodding in their fidelity to the books, almost tokenistic in how they were adapted, they were examples of film adaptations made to please the audience, who just want to see visual representations of their imagination. They don’t want to experience the story on screen, they want to be reminded of the story they read. While this approach can be initially successful, over time the efforts look tepid and uninspired.
The Prisoner of Azkaban had the fortune of being directed by Alfonso Cuaron which made it cinematically enjoyable and visually entertaining, but was a case of sacrificing one over the other, and the motivations of the characters – particularly during the time-travel ending – is almost indecipherable if one hasn’t read the book.
The Goblet of Fire was possibly the worst example of adaptation in the series: entire plot lines are abandoned midway through the film, characters are forgotten about, and the audience is left not entirely sure what’s happening and why. This problem only increased as the books became longer, with The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows also suffering from having to adapt hundreds and hundreds of pages into two hours.
In short: they all relied on extensive knowledge of the books for them to actually make any sense. Cinematically, they don’t.
What the above scene does is distill pages and pages of words into two minutes of dialogue-free visual storytelling. The relationship between the characters is painfully evident, including the character who isn’t present, and the performances of the actors acknowledge the complexity of emotion that occurs at that part of the plot. It’s also a rare use in the series of existing music as first diegetic and then non-diegetic soundtrack to the scene. The thematic concerns of the music underscore the characters and the scene and the entire plot.
Everything works, very quickly, very easily, very economically.
If a picture tells a thousand words, then this is how to adapt.
But sometimes, the inverse happens, and a sentence in a book ends up telling a thousand pictures. Take, for example, a moment in an entirely different series, in The Return of the King when the fractured friendship of Frodo and Sam is put to the test by the presence of Gollum.
Remarkably similar to the Harry Potter example, particularly in that the scenes are there to make manifest the enormity of their quest, and the difficulty they have in sustaining and withstanding the journey. In the book, this dynamic to Frodo and Sam’s friendship is suggested, but nothing more comes of it. It’s there to embody the danger Gollum’s presence represents, but that is all.
When adapted to the screen, this doesn’t work so well. An audience needs more than just the suggestion something might happen. If there’s threat, there needs to be the playing out of that threat. So the film sees that moment through, and Frodo and Sam’s friendship does break down to the point where they separate, and it becomes the ultimate breaking of the fellowship created in the first book. Here, the source material is expanded to visually tell the same story in a different way.
Ultimately, there needs to be a balance between the book and the film, in an adaptation. The story needs to work, it needs to be a representation of the story that already exists in written form. But it needs to be told according to the rules and abilities of an entirely different medium. Sometimes that means expanding and creating, other times it means condensing and suggesting.
The reason why this is problematic these days, is the success of franchises like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings have shown to studios that there’s enormous financial reward in adapting an popular fiction series. Transplant the audience into a cinema, and you get the revenue.
But if the recent failures of Ender’s Game and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and conceivably the Narnia and Twilight films, are representative of anything, it’s that audiences will get sick of the endless repetition of by-the-numbers adaptations. Films that are either just visual replications of the books, there to remind the audience of what it was they once read, or films that don’t adapt, they just remove until the book is a filmable length, but all the coherence and nature of the plot lost by omission.
Where Catching Fire succeeded, was in understanding how the story as it was in the book worked, and finding a different way to depict that onscreen. It wasn’t too afraid to alter or invent, but knew enough of how to tell the same story visually.Tagged: adaptation, Books, film, Harry Potter, lord of the rings, movies
Posted January 10, 2014 by Mark
Don’t go out, stay in! You’ll save effort, money, the planet, and have a MUCH better time.
1. There’s more wine and cheese in your mouth, less beer spilled down your shirt by a random stranger in some awful bar you only went to because your friends made you.
2. Books have riveting dialogue, real life just has awkward conversations.
Book person: ”What are you reading at the moment?”
Regular person: “I LIKE SPORTS”
3. Your home has a comfy chair. You don’t want to gamble with the comfort of your buttocks. Social butterflies are referred to as ‘butterflies’ because their sore butts prevent them for sitting for long periods, giving the illusion of flight. #fact
4. Books can provide you a night of riveting entertainment and enjoyment for not much money. The price of one drink in the city on a Friday night is $37.50. #fact
5. You can wear whatever you want. WHATEVER YOU WANT. Try getting into a bar wearing underpants, an old shirt and ugg boots. Wait, scratch that because I just described modern fashion.
6. When you’ve finished reading your book, home is all around you. When you finish at the bar, you still have a journey home to worry about. And what happens if you fall asleep on the train? WHAT HAPPENS?
7. Speaking of finishing, you can stop reading whenever you want, whereas people will force you to stay out longer than you planned for “one more drink”.
8. You spend your entire time doing the thing you love, instead of 75% of your time trying to get the attention of bartenders and waiters.
9. Social butterflies create a lot of pollution with all the transport and power they use. So book loving shut-ins are essentially saving the world.
Tagged: Books, ereader, list, novels, reading
Posted January 8, 2014 by Mark
Did you make any new year’s resolutions related to reading? I always plan to read twice as many books as I did the previous year (not that I’m an obsessive weirdo who keeps count of how many books he reads). I know lots of people who make this, or similar resolutions and it’s always a set-up for failure. Between the explosion of good television and addictive social media, reading time is becoming more and more squeezed. Oh, and I guess if you have friends and do stuff like going out then that uses up time, too.
BUT THERE ARE WAYS TO CHEAT THE SYSTEM.
Here is my guide to how to read more books this year, without giving up TV. The following are tips you can use to supplement your normal reading habits.
1. Graphic Novels
Fast reads that you can fit around the novels you’re reading. And they count, they totally count. They cost as much as a novel, just as much work went into their construction, the stories and characters can be just as compelling, and they can make you think and feel in just the same way a novel can.
2. Toilet reads
We all use the toilet (some more than others), and you’d be surprised at how much reading you can get through if you keep something to read in the bathroom.
3. Find your brand of pure, unadulterated trash
Everyone needs to relax, and sometimes there’s nothing better than reading some comforting trash. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that ‘trash’ is bad, I mean to imply that it’s easy. It’s something you can read quickly without having to think about it too much. For some people it will be spin-off novels from existing media, for others a particular sub-genre. But we all have something we like to turn to when we need to switch off.
4. Listen to a book
Get an audiobook into your ears, yo. You can listen to it on the bus, train, in the car, while you’re doing household chores, basically in any situation where it would be unacceptable to have the physical object in front of your eyes.
5. Follow up a long book with much shorter books
Sometimes it takes a few weeks to get through a book, and that’s ok. But chase those longer reads with a few shorter ones. It’s a great way to re-energise your reading juices.
Don’t think about re-reading that book you love, actually do it. It’s always faster the second time, and you can focus your re-reading on shorter works.
7. Dip in and out of longer works or collections
That 1,500 page biography you’ve been putting off? You don’t have to do it all in one go. Read a little bit here, a few chapters there. Short story collections are also good for this.
8. Don’t set a specific goal
“I’m going to read 120 books this year” means that at the end of December you’ll be a failing failure about to fail. “I want to read a lot of books this year, more than I read last year” is a recipe for success.
9. Don’t be afraid to fail
You have a limited amount of books you’ll get to read in your lifetime. It’s only ever going to be a tiny slice of the many published works that are available to you. But it should be a pleasure trying to get through as many as you can. So have fun, read what you can, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get through everything on your wish list.
Suggestions? Comments? Leave them below.
Tagged: Books, graphic novels, list, novels, reading
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Posted December 23, 2013 by Laurie Ormond
Sometimes it takes a work of comedy to remind us of the darkness at the heart of things.
Terry Pratchett’s superb work of comic fantasy, Hogfather (first published 1996), is a story about how myths become folktales, folktales become Victorian fairytales and the figures out of fairytale end up as commercial logos.
This book gets to the heart of stories, and it reminds us that hearts pump blood.
In a way, the plot of Hogfather mirrors that of many of those zany holiday-themed comedy movies: Father Christmas/Santa Claus has disappeared, and it’s up to an unlikely schmuck and his team of sidekicks to take his place, deliver the presents, and Save Christmas.
But the consequences are more dire: instead of a grouchy Santa being comically incapacitated, a god is being slowly erased from the minds of humanity. This is the Discworld, where the winter holiday is Hogswatch, and the jolly red man at the centre of it is known as the Hogfather. The Hogfather is a big jolly fat man in a red robe trimmed with white ermine; he carries a bulging sack full of presents and drives a sleigh through the night sky that is drawn by four boars known as Gouger and Tusker and Rooter and Snouter. By tradition, the Hogfather lives in a Castle of Bones, and used to deliver a sack full of old bones (not coal) to children deemed naughty rather than nice. Pratchett’s Hogfather, with his association with boars and bones, is a little closer to myth than our “Roundworld” representations of Saint Nick.
The enemies of the Hogfather are otherworldy beings known as the Auditors, who are seeking to clean up some of the messier details of the Discworld’s universe – specifically, the stories and myths that humans have brought into being. (On the Discworld, gods and stories take anthropomorphic form more often than not.) The Auditors commission an assassin to inhume the Hogfather because he is a lodestone of mythic belief. The heroes trying desperately to keep belief in the Hogfather alive – Susan and her grandfather, Death – are fighting beings who want to quash the human imagination, for once and for all.
Hogfather is a faboulous story about Story, but it’s also a wonderful reminder of the threat held inside the promise of Christmas celebrations.
The mid-winter feast uses up the last of the fresh food. There is meat in midwinter due to the necessary slaughter of animals once their feed has also starting to run out. As much as it is a celebration of life in the midst of cold and darkness, the winter feast always had some fear behind it, arising from the very basic worry that the food will run out before the spring. This is the last time the community will all eat well before the hungry times.
Hogfather charts the evolution of the winter holiday in the imagined world of the Disc, tracking it back to its origins in winter feasts, in solar rituals, in animal sacrifice, in the hunting of the boar, in the killing of the Sacred King who finds a bean in his dinner (all stories drawn from European folklore and mythology, some of which still haunt our Christmas carols).
As Susan attempts to save the Hogfather, she sees him transform into all the other versions of himself he has been in the past, when the winter festival had different meanings and traditions. She sees him as a hunted boar, and a wounded king, and then as a boar-hunter, and a priest of the sun, before he resumes his form as a jolly fat gift-bringer.
The Hogfather’s various transformations remind me, actually, of the appearance of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The animals of Narnia explain several times that the White Witch has made sure that in Narnia it is “always winter, and never Christmas”. The withholding of Father Christmas linked to the stasis of the seasons. His appearance is a powerful sign that the thaw is on its way, and when he does appear, Father Christmas gives gifts of both vital and mortal significance; gifts of life (Lucy’s cordial), and death (swords, a dagger, and Susan’s bow and arrows).
Terry Pratchett pares back the myths to expose the fear that besets human communities in the darkness and depths of winter: the fear that winter will not break, that spring will not come, that the food will run out – that the sun will not rise.
The man in the red robe is the one who provides the feast, but on the Discworld, he once used to be the feast, the sacrifice to make sure the winter would eventually turn into spring. Death/Hogfather’s grotesque elf helper, his ancient butler Albert, explains to him the real meaning of Hogswatch. ‘It’s about the sun, master. White snow and red blood and the sun. Always has been.’
Prachett wants us to remember, “the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood.”
“Later on” (Pratchett says) “they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it’s being shed by the deserving), and then wondered where the stories went.”
It seems the stories about blood wandered off and went to find some science fiction writers.
Hogfather ultimately shows us that society has moved on from solar festivals and ancient fears to a more santisied, even commodified, celebration of plenty. The winter feasting and the putting-away of winter foods has been transformed into a celebration of gift-giving and excess. Hogfather concludes with a series of characters receiving their Hogswatch gifts.
Science fiction moves us in the other direction, bringing back the fear.
Stephan Moffat’s Christmas episodes of Dr Who attack Christmas with joyous savagery, turning the pantomime aspects of Christmas costumes and icons into cartoonish horrors. There is a great sense of fun in this, as the show takes commonplace and overcommercialised figures such as Santa Claus or a snowman and imbues them once again with supernatural power. The show’s usual excuse for its use of myth – the “oh, it was just the aliens using images out of human imaginations to camoflage themselves” is a free pass to the fantasist writers of Dr Who to make Christmas as scary as they can.
Lots of jokes turn on the idea of Santa as a policing figure, meting out punishment and reward for naughty or niceness. The writers of Futurama take this and extrapolate a homicidal robot with an array of Christmas-themed weapons of destruction.
In the distant future Earth of Futurama, Robot Santa comes to Earth once a year on Christmas Eve, and people hide away in fear. Due to a mistake in programming, the SantaBot judges everyone on the planet to be “naughty” instead of “nice” and therefore a candidate for extermination.
In the show’s second Christmas episode, A Tale of Two Santas, Fry decides that it’s their shared terror of Santa that brings the group together. “Fear has brought us together.” Fry says, as as they huddle inside. “That’s the magic of Christmas.”
Invader Zim (2001) is a Nikelodeon cartoon created by Jhonen Vasquez. It’s titiular hero, Zim, is an alien who infiltrates human society by posing as a weird kid at an elementary school. Here Zim learns of Santa, a kind of emperor or god whom the humans seem to worship and obey.
Zim’s alien perspective allows him to realise that controlling Santa means controlling the human population. Accordingly, he seizes the power of the Jolly Boots of Doom.
This Christmas anthem should be played over and over again by anyone experiencing Christmas-related stress.
Maybe Santa is an easy target, given the abundance of many kitsch or commercial or saccharine images of Santa Claus that start assaulting our TVs and and supermarkets browsers and children’s schools from October onwards.
But I think that there is also an element of fear woven into this festive season, and into the nature of festivity itself. The winter feast has an element of the-turning-away-of-death – and comedy does too.
The ancient Greeks called it apotropaios, the turning-away (of evil). In ancient Greek comedies, apotropaios often involves the turning away of death (and politicians) with laughter.
In celebrating the death of the year, we are making a challenge to the new year to begin, taking a kind of “come at me bro” attitude to the final days of the year before everything is renewed.
There is an element of death in every feast. Of course it takes Pratchett to put the skeleton in the jolly fat man’s robe.
Happy Hogswatch, everyone.Tagged: Books, Christmas, dr who, fantasy, futurama, Hogfather, Invader Zim, Narnia, robots, Sci-Fi, Terry Pratchett, The lion the witch and the wardrobe
Posted December 20, 2013 by Mark
Here are our most popular posts from this year:
This post, one of the first delivered from our new blogger Craig Hildebrand-Burke, is about the assumption that boys don’t like to read, why that idea is wrong, and what we can do about it.
This was just me showing off that I finally finished reading the books.
An unforgettable poem from Koraly Dimitriadis, author of Love and Fuck Poems.
Guest blogger Glen Fuller compiled a list of handy texts you should see before watching Pacific Rim.
Craig celebrated 20 years since the airing of the first X-Files episode with this list.
Because 2001 is the best and my favourite movie of all time (in case you didn’t already know that).
“Nobody will want to read that” – my boss, to me when I first told him I was putting this post together.
Chris Allen, author of Hunter and Defender, put together a list of the thriller writers he most admires.
The first in a series of posts we did about opening lines.
This was our biggest post of the year by far. People love space.Tagged: 2013, Books, film, list, movies, popular, posts, reading, science fiction, space, television, tv
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Posted December 18, 2013 by Amanda Bridgeman
When my characters first appear to me, it will be in a climactic scene from their story. I don’t know why or how, but they just appear in my mind. I’ll see how they look physically, what they’re feeling and how they react. Picturing the character in their pivotal scene will form the core of their being, capture the essence of their personality, and the rest just seems to radiate out from there: where they came from, how they got to that pivotal place, and where they will go from there.
With Carrie Welles in Aurora: Darwin (book 1 of the Aurora Series), I first pictured her being made aware of the awful truth behind Station Darwin. I felt the tension, saw her fear, and tasted the devastation of the predicament she was in. And I wanted to know more. In particular, I wanted to know how she was going to get out of this situation. And the truth is, I knew she wasn’t going to do it alone. Not because she was weak or incapable, but because the situation before her was grave.
So, if Carrie wasn’t going to make it out of this situation on her own, then she needed someone to help. Captain Saul Harris was an obvious choice. He first came to me as a man under immense pressure, trying hard to keep his team together and alive. For whatever reason, I subconsciously pictured these two characters different in every way possible: male/female, black/white, 40’s/20’s, American/Australian, Captain/Corporal. And knowing how opposite they were, I wondered how I could bring these two together? As I began to explore the characters, however, I discovered that they had two things in common: a good heart, and the determination to survive. So this odd pair suddenly didn’t seem so odd. And it was out of this exploration of character that I found the crux of my story: Two very different people, with one common goal: survival.
There are strong themes of sexism and gender issues throughout the Aurora Series, but it’s not in the way that most people think. I didn’t want my heroine to single-handedly save the day and prove herself better than the boys. Why? Because I thought that was unrealistic. Nor, did I want Saul Harris my hero to single-handedly save the day either. The true theme behind the Aurora Series is teamwork. No-one is better than the other. If they were going to make it out of this situation they were going to have to work together on an even playing field. And not just my two leads – I have a whole cast of characters to contend with. The theme behind the series doesn’t just relate to equality between the sexes. The Aurora team is made up of a mix of nationalities, skin colour, ages, talents, career rankings, etc. This is a story about everyone banding together to survive, despite their differences.
And this is where characterisation plays a huge part, not just with the leads, but also with the minor characters. In order for a reader to feel the tension and to care about what happens to the crew of the Aurora, I needed to have well-rounded believable characters – that weren’t just there to stand in the background. To make them believable I had to build them with real life personalities that readers could potentially see part of themselves in, I had to give these characters each a part to play in the story, and I had to let the reader spend some time with the characters before the shit hits the fan.
I think all characters in some way inherit certain characteristics from their creators. I’m the first to admit that there are small elements of myself infused into all my characters. I mean, they say write what you know, right? So, in order to make these characters real you need to insert a piece of yourself, or someone else you know, into them to lift them from the page. And not just the good characteristics, you need to give them flaws, because that is what makes them truly life-like. That said, you shouldn’t just focus on their personalities, because sometimes it’s the little physical characteristics that can help ‘flesh’ them out too. Take Harris and the way he often arches his eyebrow. He’s a captain who thinks, studies, analyses, and questions, and this little physicality underpins this personality trait.
Each one of my characters makes mistakes, but they also do some things right. It’s the ebb and flow of the character’s personal journey, and also the ebb and flow of the overall story’s journey – how the characters, in their ebbs and flows, relate and interact with the other characters. But don’t just stop at the personalities, physicalities, or relationships, and how these relate to the external turmoil of the story. To really flesh out a character there needs to be inner turmoil too.
To quote author Kurt Vonnegut: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
This ultimately means they should have something driving them, be it as simple as the desire for a glass of water, or a need to prove themselves to someone, or a more critical goal of something like survival.
Harris is clearly a man facing great external turmoil, trying to keep his team safe and fighting a foe he didn’t imagine possible. But as the story grew, it became clear to me that he is also a man facing great inner turmoil. The Aurora Series follows Harris as he travels through a journey of self-discovery. Slowly but surely with each episode in the series, he begins to find out who he really is and what his life really means.
Carrie’s story began as a simple ‘horror for chicks’ tale, about a woman facing the great external turmoil she discovers on the Darwin. But as the series progressed, she too became faced with a lot of inner turmoil. She, like Harris, is on a journey of self-discovery. She’s a woman who has her whole life planned out, but is suddenly side-swiped and forced onto another path she hadn’t planned. Battling the chaos around her, she is faced with the inner turmoil of questioning her career choice, dealing with the prospect of a love she hadn’t expected, and trying to resolve the widening gap with her estranged father. Slowly but surely with each episode in the series, she begins to discover what she’s really made of and what she wants her life to be.
All characters, be it major or minor, should have a back story -just like everyone in real life does. Each story in the Aurora Series peels away more layers and reveals more about each of the characters. Some of the character’s inner turmoil comes to the forefront and mingles with the overarching storyline, and some of the other character’s inner turmoil takes more of a backseat – there simply to add depth to that character.
Creating characters is not a simple thing. Strong characters are built from the ground up in a detailed 3D modelling kind of way. You need to consider every facet that a normal human has: particular physical looks, personality type, habits/quirks, background, relationships, family life, flaws, everything right down to their favourite drink.
I’ve spent about five years with the characters of the Aurora Series now, so they are like family. I laugh when they laugh, fear when they fear, and love when they love. They are as real to me as any of my friends, and I hope I have managed to translate them into words well enough, so that my readers can feel like they are part of their family too.
amanda bridgeman, aurora series, Aurora: Darwin, aurora: pegasus, authors, Books, character, Sci-Fi, science fiction, writing
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Posted December 17, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
This is the latest in a series of posts where I read my way through the winners of the Bram Stoker Award for a horror novel, in an attempt to not just read more horror fiction, but also gain a better understanding of what a horror novel is in the 21st century.
The second winner was a sequel, of sorts: Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.
The second official Bram Stoker winner for best horror novel, The Silence of the Lambs has clearly gone on to forge an ever-evolving legacy as a classic of the horror genre. Throw a pillow and you’re bound to hit somebody mentioning fava beans and chianti, discussing lotion-rubbing in the third person, or just idly wondering when the lambs will stop screaming.
Hannibal Lecter has become so iconic that the character has entered into that white noise of cultural references, whereby we are never really sure if the constant humour invoked at imitating or channelling Lecter – by way of Anthony Hopkins – is merely an attempt at staving off the nightmares of Lecter the cannibal.
In fact, so dominant was Jonathan Demme’s 1991 adaptation of Harris’s novel, that it’s easy to forget the character’s establishment in the earlier novel Red Dragon, which in turn was adapted by Michael Mann in his 1986 film Manhunter, where Lecter was played by Brian Cox, in an underrated yet highly chilling performance.
And there is more of Cox’s Lecter in the most recent incarnation of Harris’s character in the TV series Hannibal, with Mads Mikkelsen’s performance of the lead character far closer to Cox’s than Hopkins’s portrayal, both in wit and humour and engagement with the other characters.
So, has Hannibal Lecter become the Hamlet of horror? What is it about the character that seems to encapsulate so much about the genre that storytellers and actors are repeatedly drawn back to it? And, as always, where is the horror?
The fascinating thing about Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is that he is not, at least initially, the most horrific feature of the story. This is consistent with Red Dragon, where Lecter is an advisor to the horror that the nominal protagonist – here, Clarice Starling – witnesses and attempts to overcome.
Starling’s investigation into Buffalo Bill’s serial murders is the stuff of Law & Order and CSI, with a little dose of X-Files and Millennium thrown in for good measure. In short, it’s a police procedural into a horrific crime. This is not the mystery with the horrific reveal, like so many gothic horrors from the 19th century. Starling is our guide into the horror, our Virgil guiding us by the hand through Purgatory and into the pits of Hell, but we see everything as we’re going. There’s no surprise here. The dread, the dreaded horror, is that we must walk with her. And she keeps going.
Everything about the reader wants her to stop, but at the same point we are compelled to go. Just as she keeps returning to Lecter for more advice, for more of his company, so we want to see the horror more closely for ourselves.
Horror is a car crash. We can’t help but look. This insatiable desire to look at something that we know is going to terrify us.
Harris has, in effect, envisaged and established much of the late 20th century’s and early 21st century’s obsession with police procedurals, crime scene minutiae, tabloid horrors and the cultural currency of shocking images. It is hard to imagine the glut of tepid crime shows on TV without The Silence of the Lambs. It is shocking to realise that we have turned the horrific fascination with real-life serial killers in the 20th century into ever-present fictional serial killers on TV in the 21st century.
Has Harris made us love serial killers so much that we need them as entertainment?
This is decidedly new horror, in contrast with Swan Song which just seemed to capitalise on already established tropes. Harris is suggesting a hell of a lot about modern culpability, when it comes to our readiness to accept and include the disturbing in the everyday, which goes some way to explaining the traction of his characters. It is interesting, in the latest incarnation on TV, that Harris’s characters are returning to our screens to remind us that if we just watch murders and murderers constantly on TV, then we are no better than they. But if we watch them to understand, to empathise, then perhaps we might learn how human behaviour can get us to such horrific horizons.
There is an interesting aspect to Harris’s writing in The Silence of the Lambs, where it is for the most part written in the past tense. However, At the beginning of certain chapters, Harris allows the reader to experience scenes in the present tense – such as when we first see Lecter’s cell – as if suggesting to the reader that whilst this is a story, the story is still here, still happening. It allows the horror to extend beyond the pages.
Next, it’s Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons, which won the Bram Stoker in 1989.Tagged: Books, Bram Stoker Award, horror, reading, review, the horror read
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Posted December 5, 2013 by Mark
The Plan in Space
Harris entered the flight deck and made his way straight to the central tier and the captain’s seat, and watched as his team spilled in around him. Doc took his usual seat to Harris’s left, McKinley beside him, while Brown sat to his right. As he looked around at the other crew, it felt strange to see Murphy, Steinberg, and Cavelera sitting where Carter, Louis and Smith once had, on the upper tier. He glanced over his other shoulder and saw Welles and Yughiarto taking up the other two seats, to the right of the aisle. He wondered whether Welles was going to be stubborn and throw up again. He smiled to himself at the memory of her first takeoff with the Aurora.
He looked down to the first tier, to the flight deck console where his pilots were seated. Hunter was talking into his headpiece and Packham was responding. Their hands were darting here and there to the various controls, running through their pre-prep for launch. So far so good, he thought, they’re working like a team.
Right on cue, the voice of the UNF Ground Control came over the loudspeaker, and Hunter engaged with them, confirming the Aurora’s clearance for launch. The loudspeaker went quiet. Hunter slowly pushed up the throttle on the control panel and the ship’s low humming sound increased dramatically. The loud starter beep came over the PA and the UNF computer-generated countdown began. Hunter confirmed that he was ready to rock, and Harris pulled the pre-selected disc from his pocket and threw it to him. Packham took the disc and inserted it into the appropriate slot on the desk.
“T minus 20 seconds to takeoff,” the countdown called over the loudspeaker again.
Hunter looked over at Packham and nodded an Are you ready? at her. She nodded back, then Hunter grabbed hold of the control stick in front of him, took a deep breath and exhaled measuredly.
Carrie sighed, disappointed, despite the Aurora’s successful launch. This was her third takeoff now, but alas, that bubble of air was caught in her throat again, and her stomach swirled. She saw Harris studying her as he left the flight deck. She was just waiting for the others to do the same, prepared to take it on the chin this time. Besides, needing an anti-nausea shot wasn’t such a bad thing. It meant she’d have some legitimate time with Doc.
Of course, McKinley grinned at her as he walked past. Brown did too, but Doc shot her a sympathetic smile. She took some deep breaths and tried to control the bubble. As she exited the flight deck, she saw Doc talking to a green-looking Yughiarto and patting him on the shoulder. He looked up at her. “You need a shot too, corporal?”
She nodded. He motioned for her to follow and they made their way to his examination room, where he attended to Yughiarto first. In fact, seeing how ill the soldier looked actually made Carrie feel a bit better. Doc asked him if he was going to be sick. Yughiarto shook his head, but didn’t speak, his eyes remaining on the floor.
Doc nodded then turned to Carrie. “Corporal?”
She turned her shoulder toward him. “When is this going to get easier?” she asked, as she felt the sting of the needle in her arm.
“Well, you didn’t throw up this time, so it must be easier, corporal,” he replied with a smile.
She locked eyes with him for a second, before he turned and threw the needle away, then swabbed her arm.
He looked back at Yughiarto. “How you doing, sergeant?”
Yughiarto nodded, the color returning to his face. Carrie herself felt that warm glow sweep over her too, taking the bubble of sickness with it.
Doc came back with two cups of water and handed one to each of them. “Sip it, don’t skol it.” He watched them for a moment, his hands on his hips, then nodded. “Well, no-one threw up. We’ve had our first success for the mission!” He locked eyes with her again, then made his way to the door. “C’mon, soldiers. Dinner’s a-waiting!”
Carrie exchanged a relieved look with Yughiarto and they followed.
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Posted November 29, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It’s that time of year again, all the big holiday releases are descending on us, and we all have to make the incredibly difficult choice of deciding on a film to go see on Boxing Day, as we let the remnants of Christmas lunch and Christmas dinner work their way through our digestive system.
Or, decide on a film to go see on Boxing Day because the cinema is air conditioned and it’s as hot as hot can be outside.
Or, decide on a film to go see on Boxing Day because, well, why not?
So, for your consideration, this is why you should choose to go see the next installment in The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug.
1. It’s the sequel to a film that made over a billion dollars
If you thought the reception to the first film was somewhat middling, you were right. Critics liked it, but certainly didn’t love it. There was the usual spread of misinformation designed to derail its launch (trouble on set, change of directors, bla bla bla), but in the end it still took an insane amount of money from cinema-goers, for a fantasy film based on a children’s book with a cast headed by an actor who is more famous for his TV roles rather than leading a cinema franchise, it did spectacularly.
And it’s doing what prequels should do: work on their own and enrich the viewing of the original films.
If we cast our minds back to when The Fellowship of the Ring was released, it was rather similar. Fans flocked to it, critics held back. It wasn’t really until the awards bandwagon rolled on for The Return of the King that the critics decided to acknowledge there might be some merit in these films.
2. Martin Freeman
Nailed it, as far as Bilbo goes. Affable, reluctant, short – he certainly got the performance of the main character perfect, in portraying someone who backs their way into adventure and danger. And god the riddles in the dark scene was brilliant.
And, in The Desolation of Smaug, he actually gets to show us why he’s there. Why the character was brought along by the company of dwarves.
Dwarves! No longer just relying on John Rhys-Davies to be the sole representative of Tolkien’s dwarves, we actually get thirteen of them, with a variety of accents, wardrobes, weapons and facial hair. It’s all about the facial hair.
And while we only got to properly meet a few of them in the first film, rest assured we’ll get more of the rest.
4. Richard Armitage
On that note, more of Richard Armitage! While he may have come across as a bit one-note in the first half of An Unexpected Journey - gruff, naysaying, hating on Bilbo – when we were let into his backstory in the Battle of Azunulbizar, and his ongoing search for vengeance against Azog (the best sequence in the first film by far), Armitage filled out the role perfectly. Given that his character now has to lead the company of dwarves back to retrieve their lost heritage, it’s only going to get better.
5. More Azog the Pale Orc
Oh yeah. The other best thing about the first film is back for the second, as far as the trailers suggest. Taking a leaf from Lurtz in The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson personified the chasing bad guys perfectly in this hook-handed orc. Every minute the character was onscreen was glorious, not only for the terror the character causes among the dwarves, but also for how perfectly realised this hybrid actor-CGI-prosthetic character was. We all got caught up in the latest Gollum Update 4.0, everyone forgot to acknowledge just how great this character was on screen.
The dragon, in fact. Barely glimpsed in the first film, and rightly so, Smaug arrives in this film, and given Jackson’s penchant for movie monsters, I’d hazard a guess this will be one of the best cinematic dragons we’ve ever seen. More than just a monster, Smaug’s an evil mind, a hoarder, and one of the richest fictional characters according to Forbes.
7. Bendlewind Cumbersnatch.
Bumbernick Catcherbun? Benedicteggs Corianderpatch?
Anyway. Benedict Cumberbatch is portraying Smaug. So, expect lots of villainous, megalomaniacal treachery and autisim-spectrum acumen in his voice performance. And at some point Bilbo will cry out ‘SMAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGG!’
Yeah, yeah, elves are back. Orlando Bloom’s Captain Obvious is returning, and bringing along Lost’s Evangeline Lily as she portrays Tauriel, giving the series a much-needed female character. Yeah I’m looking at you, all you people who complain when Peter Jackson invents things. Tauriel is a necessary addition, so get over it.
Back along for the ride is Lee Pace, who showed up briefly in flashback in the first film as Thranduil, Captain Obvious’s dad. Lots of supercilious, couldn’t-give-a-shit in his performance. Perfect for an elven king.
Yep, not saying much, because if you haven’t read the books it’ll be great fun to see for the first time. And if you have, you know what to expect. But again with Jackson and movie monsters, Beorn should be fantastic on screen.
Especially when the dwarves go down to the woods one day.
10. Sylvester McCoy as Radagast
The most fun thing about the first film is back. Thankfully. The bunny-sled driving, hedgehog talking, bird-poop headed wizard is back, smoking it up with Gandalf as they explore the source of evil in the east. Great to see McKellen and McCoy acting together on screen, given their history of acting together on stage, and their plot line is excellent invention by Jackson, given that he’s mined Tolkien’s appendices for this, which is the strongest connection between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Expect more of this in film 3.Tagged: adaptation, Books, fantasy, films, list, movies, peter jackson, the hobbit
Posted by Mark
This post first appeared on www.davidrollins.net
I know some of you will find this hard to believe, but there is a real Vin Cooper. Okay, so there are several billion people on the planet and there’s bound to be a few of them kicking around. But this Vin Cooper is also Special Agent in the OSI.
Yeah, utterly freakish, right? In fact, my entire universe tipped on its side and a couple of galaxies rolled off the edge when I found out.
The real Vin Cooper contacted me over Facebook. He told me that a buddy had given him one of the books. He reckons he read it mostly with his jaw hanging open on account of, he says, well, that I’ve basically written about him.
So I thought it might be interesting to compare the two. See if you can guess which one’s the genuine article.
Standoff, the new Vin Cooper thriller is released on December 1. Preorder your copy here
Tagged: action, author, Books, character, David Rollins, Standoff, thriller, Vin Cooper, writing
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Posted November 15, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
‘And son, about that Shirley Jackson story.’
‘There’s nothing to get.’
‘No? That’s not what Mr Marchant says.’
‘With all due respect to Mr Marchant, you tell him that sometimes a cigar is just a smoke and a story’s just a story.’
Sometimes it just feels wrong. Instructing people – young and old – to read through a book with a fine-toothed comb, hunting for whatever interpretation seems to suit the latest fancy. We scavenge and ravage the words, shoe-horning characters and quotations to suit a purpose, retro-fitting an author’s story for our own devices.
Reading for meaning is all well and good, so long as the meaning comes from the reading.
Yesterday, a rather reactionary interpretation of The Hunger Games was published, presenting a reading of the story that seemed quite at odds with the general consensus about the text. Equal parts convenient controversy to time with the film adaptation’s release and blatant over-interpretation of incidental elements, what was actually presented was a clear example of modern readership: interpretation for the sake of interpretation, and ignorance of the book as a whole.
A book, according to modern readership, has become a Rorschach test. A blank canvas that over-interpreters imprint their own inherent bias and persuasion onto. Anything that doesn’t match is ignored, and anything trivial that does is overblown into a definitive account.
This is rubbish.
For a country that places pride in having a City of Literature and innumerable writer’s festivals and book festivals, and statistically high rates of adults who either write professionally or habitually, it is imperative that we don’t lose focus on reading.
The issues-first approach to reading books is clouding our ability to just read for the sake of it. Books are chosen to be taught to students in schools across Australia for their applicability to contemporary situations, issues and ideologies. No wonder reading is increasingly seen as an unenjoyable act for the young.
First and foremost: a book is a book is a book is a book.
The more we teach and promote and cultivate superimposed interpretations onto books, the more we diminish the act of reading.
The more we ask students ‘what does it mean?’ the more we lose sight of the enjoyment that comes from reading.
The act and art of reading is worthy of promotion. Re-establishing the value of the book and the author behind it is culturally unfashionable in a society that still heralds the death of the author as a worthy landmark. We have lost sight of what a book is. We have forgotten what a story is.
Reading should primarily be about the words on the page. If the relationship between the book and the reader is fostered, and allowed to grow organically, then the act of reading once again becomes important and valued. No longer will a student – or any person – have to scour through a book hoping to discover and unlock ‘the meaning’, lest they not make the grade. No more will we have right answers and wrong answers when it comes to how to read a book. And no more will there be interpretations of books that conveniently fit an ideology, disregarding all complexity, nuance and originality.
To read and over-interpret a book that way reimagines the writer as someone who camouflages a manifesto with the illusion of fiction. All authors are not allegorists, all stories are not subterfuge.
There is a tender and worthy relationship between an author and a reader, carried by the story between them. We should let that be whatever it wants to be, and not interfere.
A book is just a book.
A story is just a story.
Let’s remember that readers should just be readers, and not vessels for our own agendas.Tagged: Books, hunger games, interpretation, reading
Posted November 11, 2013 by Mark
We bookish types have a reputation for being lazy when it comes to sprot and exercise. In fact, people think we’d much rather be drinking and reading than playing a soprts game with balls and stuff. But here at Momentum we’re not lazy when it comes to exercise and sorpt. Let me present our totally not lazy list of
eight five exercises to keep you fit while you read.
5. Book toss
You’re reading a book and it’s really not that good. What do you do? Hurl it across the room, of course! Reps: 1. Calories burned: Like, 7 or something? I’m going to say 7.
For this one you’re going to need a big glass of wine, or a bottle. Basically you lift a full glass as often as you can while you read. For best results the glass should be brought as close to your face as possible. Reps: As many as you can handle. Calories burned: Probably about 10 per lift, so the sky is the limit with this one. Wine doesn’t have calories* so this is just a good exercise.
3. Turn and stretch
Turn a page, stretch from finger to wrist. Reps: As many as you can handle in a session, although you could go for ages as plenty of people already have strong wrists if you know what I mean/get what I’m saying/wink. Calories burned: 1 per page, so for best results read a whole book.
Balance a book on your lap or leg. This will centre you or something. Reps: I guess it’s just 1. Calories burned: Do we have any cheese? I’m hungry.
Ok, yes I know we’re a digital first publisher and I know I’ve ignored ereaders up to now. But here is the best way to get fit with an ereader: read in the bath. The amount of coordination and effort involved in not dropping your device in the water is huge. Especially for bookish people, who are naturally clumsy (especially once clothes are off). Reps: I actually don’t even know what the exercise people mean by ‘rep’. Calories burned: It’s a constant burn. You’ll feel it. Especially if you accidentally hit the hot tap! Boom!
*Completely, utterly and totally untrue (according to my colleague but what does she know).Tagged: Books, ebooks, ereader, fitness, reading
Posted November 8, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
Recently I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It was a book I had been meaning to read, having gathered a reputation as one of the pre-eminent horror novels of the twentieth century. A portion of this reputation stems from its recommendation by Stephen King in his book on the horror genre, Danse Macabre:
‘It is usually easy to divide horror novels into those that deal with inside evil and those that deal with outside evil. Occasionally a book comes along where it is impossible to discover exactly where the line of evil is. The Haunting of Hill House is such a book.’
A rather more significant reason for its reputation is that it’s exceedingly well written. Taut, tense, and very much playing into a Gothic tradition of the haunted house, Jackson wrings the reader dry with a character’s slowly decaying sensibility in the atmosphere and environment of Hill House.
It is, though, unfortunately a little underwhelming. I was more intrigued by the style and mood of the book, rather than by the horror of it. Despite a couple of moments of real frights, neither near the ending mind you, I was never really lifted into anything terrifying. To put it another way, I didn’t go and lock the book in another room of the house after I finished it. (I’ve heard of people putting horror books in the freezer. I wouldn’t go that far. I might need something from the freezer.)
Regardless, this got me thinking. What constitutes a horror novel? Back in that forgotten era when Borders existed, it used to have its own section, largely stocked by King and Koontz and Straub. But these days it seems to have been subsumed by the Sci-Fi and Fantasy sections (I’m not a fan of dividing fiction up this way in bookshops, but anyway). It’s interesting to note that it seems to be a genre people are avoiding, even resistant to as a label.
It does have certain connotations, granted. Mention horror and people generally envisage something of the Gothic supernatural, dashes of Poe, unspeakable unmentionables of Lovecraft, and the aforementioned tomes of King. Lately, newly published books that might otherwise be called horror are being relabelled as dark fantasy, even dark mystery, as if we might need to deliver horror by subterfuge to the reader. It feels akin to the Harry Potter books being repackaged with more ‘sensible’ covers so that adults could read them and not worry on the train of looking like they were reading kids’ books.
Anyway, I wanted to get to the bottom of where horror is at the moment, as a genre. Is it its own? Does it have its own defined rules? Boundaries? Tropes? Is it more than werewolves, vampires and mummies? Or is it a subgenre of something else? Or an extension – an extra – to pre-existing genres?
We certainly know what horror used to be. From Frankenstein to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dracula, to The Raven and At the Mountains of Madness, we can clearly chart the path of horror as a tradition. But now?
Can we clearly say what horror is?
The easiest path for me to answer this is to read more horror. And the first port of call is one of the established horror fiction associations: The Horror Writers Association. A worldwide association, it was formed in the mid-eighties during the ‘new’ horror boom of popular fiction. On its launch, it then began the Bram Stoker Awards, a prize for superior achievement in horror writing, an award that has been given every year since 1987.
This seemed to be a good place to start. And it’s a good list too. For however long it takes me, I’m going to read my way through the winning books in order to get a greater understanding of where horror is now, 26 years after the first Bram Stoker Award. (I should add, they award novels, short fiction, graphic novels, screenplays and a whole host of categories, but for the purposes of this exercise I’m going to just look at the novels.)
With just a brief scan down the list, there’s some cracking reads on the horizon: American Gods, The Silence of the Lambs, Lost Boy Lost Girl, Zombie. And before you suspect it’s just a thinly veiled excuse to read more King, there’s only a few of his, and I’ve not read any of them before. Though you’re probably right.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the genre has to offer. What the different authors do, and how different they are to each other. Great horror, I feel, is a rare thing, and a difficult thing to write, and exceedingly undervalued.
Oddly, the first winner was a joint award, to King’s Misery and Swan Song, by Robert R. McCammon. And in the spirit of fairness, I’m going to forgo Misery and just focus on McCammon, given that I’ve not read anything of his before, and he has three winners on the list. Clearly worth looking at.
Twenty-six horror novels. And me.
I’ll keep you posted.
Though I don’t know how my ereader will go in the freezer.
Tagged: Books, Bram Stoker Award, ebooks, horror, lovecraft, poe, reading, stephen king, thriller
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Posted November 6, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
A while ago I wrote about enhanced ebooks, about how they had largely been somewhat underwhelming and that though the medium offered much in the way of potential, there was more enhancement in the reading experience to be had in a 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure paperback.
So, in lieu of offering a successful model for enhanced ebooks, I’m offering a potentially similar – though fundamentally different – option: special editions.
Perhaps where enhanced ebooks aren’t getting it quite right is in the idea of what they’re meant to be doing. So far they seem concerned with the medium, that reading an ebook is somehow different in its essence to reading a paper book. And because the medium is different, it can therefore change the experience, provide an alternate journey through the story, and as a result, enhance it.
So far this usually seems to be through inflationary methods: interactive maps, hyperlinked indices and character details, images, sound and video. Enhancement here seems preoccupied with turning a book into something that it isn’t.
The difference in medium is misdirection. Ebooks are still books. They are still read like books – with a certain degree of qualification. This experience shouldn’t really change, lest enhancements give the way to novelty, and then redundancy.
While DVD sales may be on the wane, the special edition model offered by them and BluRay is worth considering. Here, the original story is still intact. What is offered in addition is a supply of extras: development stories, interviews, commentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes and so on. The rise of special editions saw consumers become wise to the early release of the vanilla edition – the film without any extras – and merely wait it out for the more expensive yet more enriched viewing of the special edition.
With downloads now supplanting the vanilla releases, the special editions are quickly becoming a norm for hardcopy releases: audiences now expect the extras, the special has become standard. What remains intact, however, is the original story itself. Unless the original director chooses to recut a new version – something that is becoming rarer – there isn’t a preoccupation with enhancing the film from what was seen in the cinemas.
So can’t special editions work for books?
The text of the book would still remain the same. Previously explored enhancements only make the book itself less navigable – and this is something that cannot and should not happen in books. The joy of reading a book is in how simplistic the form is through its elegance. Its linearity serves the story, serves the reader, and makes it a model that can’t fundamentally alter, and hasn’t in centuries. So that ideally remains, eschewing any temptation to drive the reader away from the story into a cul-de-sac of an image or video or whatever else.
But ultimately the one thing implicit in a linear read is that it ends. The story stops, the characters finish, and we have to find something else to read. Unless more is offered.
Why not show behind the scenes of the creation of the book? Stories from authors about where ideas came from, about the foundation of characters, settings and scenes are always devoured by readers with eager anticipation, so why not include these extras as part of what a reader receives alongside the book? The readiness of readers to attend and meet and listen to authors at signings and festivals show that the interest is palpable.
The proliferation of books on writing, by authors who often cite examples from their own stories about how they were developed, is potentially also something that could be included. The stories about stories are fascinating in their own right, and worthy of readership. Allowing readers to discover what happens after a book is accepted, and how it is then developed to become ready for publication, would be fascinating for anybody who has just finished reading that actual book.
There isn’t anything hugely groundbreaking here. All of these things are often available for readers from a variety of places, but these are usually beyond the experience of reading the book itself. Offering readers a book that packages many aspects of what goes on around the book itself would create a special edition worth purchasing. Possibly.
To me, a workable model could be one that looks at the before, the during and the after. What happened before the writing of the book, for the author, that deliberately allowed them to create the story they did. Then what occurred during, what detours did they take, what was left out and what had to be included in service of the story. And then the afterwards, the reflection and acknowledgement of what ended up on the page.
As a reader, I’d like this. I’m unsure how much this has already been explored, or how viable it is, but I think a special edition book would be an excellent way of enhancing the reading of a book, rather than enhancing the book itself. And the experience of reading a book is still unchanged. All of this is trading on words, which is the contract a reader signs up to when the pick up a book, digital or not.
Tagged: Books, digital, ebooks, ereaders, ereading, reading
Posted November 4, 2013 by Dirk Strasser
There’s nothing more tantalising than a lost book. It whispers to us across time, beckoning us through second-hand accounts, showing us glimpses of what could have been, never revealing whether its words could have changed the world.
Top of any list of vanished works would have to be Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio, which was thought to have been based on a bizarre character driven insane by love from Cervantes’ Don Quixote. We’ll never know what Shakespeare would have conjured out of this episode from a masterpiece that’s considered the first modern European novel.
An early novel by Hemingway based on his World War I experiences was lost when a suitcase containing the manuscript was stolen from his first wife while she was on a train from Paris to Lausanne, Switzerland. Hemingway said that he would have chosen surgery if he knew it could wipe his memory of the loss. Apparently, he was reported as saying on more than one occasion that the loss was the reason he divorced his first wife. Hemingway never tried to rewrite this lost novel.
As tragic as these losses are, perhaps we should mourn lost fantasy books most of all. Novels allow us to experience multiple lives, places that we’ve never been to and emotions distilled to their essence, but every lost fantasy book also contains an entire world that we’ll never inhabit.
Epic fantasy doesn’t get much more epic than the Iliad and Odyssey. The two works by Homer, however, are only part of a much larger collection of ancient Greek poems called the Epic Cycle (the Cypria, Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliupersis, Nostoi, and Telegony). These six lost epics, only known through references by others, were said to have far greater fantastic and magical content than the Iliad and Odyssey.
The Telegony, in the best fantasy tradition, is effectively a sequel to the Odyssey, continuing the further adventures of Odysseus and of his son Telegonus. Central to the story is a magical spear tipped with the sting of a poisonous stingray and an enchanted bowl that depicts stories. Who knows what rich veins of the fantastic could be found in these epics?
One of the most famous lost books is the first draft of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. After Stevenson’s wife criticised the draft as “a quire full of utter nonsense”, saying that it should be rewritten as a moral allegory, he apparently threw the manuscript in the fire. We’ll never know how much Stevenson’s original vision for the story swung in the direction of the fantastical.
I have long been fascinated by lost books. Those in my Books of Ascension series are lost in many ways. In Zenith: The First Book of Ascension, the twin protagonists are each given a Talisman which will determine their Ascent: one a battle-axe and the other a book. The story is about which one ultimately proves to be the most powerful. Throughout the Ascent, blank pages appear and written words fail to form or seem a foreign language, until at the very end their meaning finally becomes crystal clear.
In Equinox: The Second Book of Ascension, the fate of an entire world hangs on a single word that seems to have miraculously changed in the opening sentence of the most sacred of books. What happens when a reader realises they are being read as part of a story within a story? And what is the mystery around Chapter Twenty-one? Every reader will need to work that out for themselves.
Eclipse: The Lost Book of Ascension is about that most elusive of lost books – one that ends up not being what you thought it would be. In a sense, this novel has itself been a lost book. This is the first time it’s been published in English. It concludes The Books of Ascension, which was a two book trilogy for far too long.
So, here’s to finding the lost books and bringing them back to life.
Can you see the story breathing?
authors, Books, books of ascension, dirk strasser, fantasy, guest post, series, writing
Posted October 25, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
With October flying by and the end of the year looming, I thought it worth taking a look – even though this southern hemisphere has got the seasons all wrong – at some Halloween books.
Not necessarily books about or featuring Halloween, in one form or another, but also books that I think would just be darn good reads for everything that the evening seems to conjure, as it is a strange celebration, one that is carried in collective consciousnesses, in rituals and habits of unclear origins, but one that is certainly about everybody bracing the dark that lives at the edges. For the northerners, it is the dark about to come. For us in the south – perhaps – the dark that we have just safely come from.
Either way, these reads all fit the bill for me.
1. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
The easiest choice for this, and the best. Has to be number one and it’s actually set around Halloween. Two young boys – the brilliantly named William Halloway and Jim Nightshade – encounter dark forces in their small town, brought by the travelling carnival, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. Ostensibly a journey into adulthood, the story embodies everything Halloween, and the showdown is some of Bradbury’s most glorious writing.
2. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
The opening half of this book is truly terrifying. I found the second a bit uneven, but it’s hard to match the terror of some of the opening stories. It’s a perfect setup: four old guys gather every year and scare each other witless telling ghost stories. The problem is, there used to be five in their group. Straub ramps the fear up to eleven, as the surviving members of the group try to discover what scared their old friend to death, and who – or what – is set on haunting them. Ghost stories at Halloween: definitely.
3. The Facts in the Case of M.Valdemar – Edgar Allen Poe
Could really have thrown a dart at any Poe story as a necessary addition, but this is the one I like the best. I don’t really want to go into the details of the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, but if we’re considering the notion of Halloween being a journey out into the dark, this story takes the reader to dark, and beyond. And there’s no pesky repetitive ravens.
First printed in a magazine in 1845, it’s now available in any Poe collection.
4. The Circular Ruins – Jorge Luis Borges
Probably the one that stands separate to the rest in the list, in that it’s not overtly Halloween, and yet Borges listed Poe and H.P. Lovecraft as two of his favourite authors, so the thematic connection is there. It’s a short story about making dreams reality, the treachery of idealism, and the final reveal is wonderful written magic.
Bonus points for Through the Looking Glass quote to preface the story. Published as part of Borges’ Fictions collection.
5. Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett
Essentially a Halloween story, or at least the Discworld version of it, which is Soul Cake Tuesday. Pratchett understands the convoluted and contradictory origins of Halloween, and all the various competing claims as to what it really is all about and he bundles as much in to his version, including a masked Samedi Nuit Mort ball (there’s a good joke in there), which conflates voodooism, pagan ritual, carnivals and gothic melodrama into a tale of witches battling evil fairy godmothers. Really.
6. IT – Stephen King
I had to pick one. For a long time it was going to be ‘Salem’s Lot, but then I might as well have just included Dracula instead. Rather, this is it. Taking almost all of the ideas and themes of Bradbury’s Something Wicked, and turning it into a decades-long horror epic of childhood friends returning to their hometown in later life to destroy the evil that haunts them all, and all of us, still.
Forget Tim Curry, forget the childhood nightmares. If you’ve never read this, you’re missing out on what is an insanely huge, flawlessly structured, absolute terror of a novel. It’s King at his best, horror at it’s best, and perfect for the final entry in this list.
Bonus story: The Lottery – Shirley Jackson.
Oh my god. Read it, if you haven’t before. But it wasn’t me who told you to.
Any other suggestions?Tagged: Books, halloween, horror, list, reading, stephen king, thriller
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Posted October 24, 2013 by Laurie Ormond
With Halloween approaching, my thoughts and reading tastes have turned to witches.
Popular fantasy offers all sorts of witches to consort with, from wicked sisters to nature-loving followers of Wicca.
Like bad luck, good things, and slapstick gags, witches come in threes. Witches bring trouble, usually to other people, which makes them both excellent antagonists and protagonists who are generally much more interesting than even the boldest heroines.
Here are some of my favourite feminine trios:
The Discworld: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat, Queen of Lancre.
Although she would sniff and mutter that she couldn’t be having with this list; I will out of due respect list Granny Weatherwax first, with Nanny Ogg and Magrat in tow. This trio are the stars of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, fighting against narrative itself as it’s used against them and against their kingdom of Lancre.*
While technically Magrat has retired from her position as Maiden-in-waiting on the two older witches, she remains one of my favourite witches-in-action ever. In Lords and Ladies, it is the solid-as-rock core of sappy Magrat’s personality that saves the king and the kingdom from faerie perils. In Carpe Jugulum, when her kingdom is under threat, she straps her newly-born daughter to her chest and runs off into the night with Nanny Ogg, changing nappies and plotting the downfall of ancient vampires in the same breath. More impressively, Magrat actually survived an apprenticeship with Granny & won her respect.
I love Terry Pratchett’s witches. While they deal with some pretty awesome magical incursions, they also operate in a realm of realism that not many other wise women can match. Yes, they are midwives and herbalists and keepers of lore, and this often involves bloody, messy work. They are arbitrators of the bargains between human and inhuman kingdoms; and also of family squabbles that have just as much power to topple the tiny societies that people actually live in.
To make a fourth to this trio, special mention has to go to Tiffany Aching, witchy heroine of Pratchett’s Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. Tiffany can count as a trio in herself, since there is Tiffany, and then her Second and Third Thoughts.
Tiffany is a different kind of witch from the witches in Lancre. She’s less hemmed in by stereotypes than by tiny, barbaric, insane and insanely loyal blue men. Tiffany refuses the archetypes of Maiden, Mother or Crone, and insists on personhood as Tiffany as well as the witch-hood that she earns.
*Lancre, the name of the kingdom that Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are from, is the name of a famous 17th Century witch-hunter, Pierre de Rosteguy de Lancre.
The Black Jewels Trilogy: Jaenelle, Surreal, and Karla.
These are my three favourite witches from Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy, although she has a host of extremely likeable characters, spiced with a good pinch of wonderfully destestable ones. Bishop’s trilogy is set in a world which is ruled over by magical races known as the Blood. The society of the Blood is matriarchal, with Queens ruling as the heart of a society that is stratified by the depth of magical power that an individual can reach. Witches in these books weave tangled dream-webs to create fantastical illusions or peer into the future, and they wield brightly-coloured Jewels as receptacles of world-altering magic.
Jaenelle Angelline is a fabled Queen of almost limitless power, a scratchy temper, and a tender heart; Surreal is a dangerous assassin, and a very successful courtesan; Karla is a prickly and razor-tongued Queen fighting against a cancer of misogyny and patriarchal control in her formerly matriarchal territory.
I love the way that this fantasy series turns a lot of symbolism of the feminine and the occult on its head, re-identifying darkness and depth and complexity as positive and celebratory.
In this series, witches have the claws and tempers of dragons, and the subtlety of spiders, but their most fundamental role is as caretakers and protectors of people and of the environment.
A recommendation for these books should probably come with something of a trigger warning, as they deal with some pretty grim sexual violence, although they do so in a very smart, powerful way.
The Witches of Eileanan: Isabeau, Iseult, and Meghan.
Both men and women train to be witches in Kate Forsyth’s world of Eileanan. The practice of witchcraft in these books mixes in ancient Celtic druidism and modern Wiccan practices, to create a very satisfying secondary-world religion that worships and draws power from nature and the elements. Eileanan is in fact an alien world that a group of witches fled to from a world very much like our own, where they were facing persecution from 17th-century style puritancial witch-hunters. Finding a world inhabited by strange, magical creatures, humans dubbed these new races faeries and spread out to live among them, sometimes peacefully and sometimes not. The Eileanan books are set during a time where the young Queen of the land has stirred up a campaign of persecution against witches. It makes for a rich background for the twin heroines Isabeau and Iseult to adventure across as they seek to reunite the kingdom.
Isabeu’s guardian, Meghan of the Beasts, is one of those wonderful fairytale characters who has the kind of affinity for animals that lets her draw all the creatures of the forest around her. She has just the right mixture of kindliness and dour abruptness that I expect in a magical mentor. Isabeu has grown up wild and solitary in the forest, learning the ways of nature, but even she is not as wild as her long-long twin Iseult who has grown up a warrior on harsh icy Steppes. There’s an enchanted prince and a sorceress under duress… in fact these books have a surfeit of charming and dangerous witches to meet and adventure with, if you’re in the mood for a nice long fantasy series.
The Shakespeare Sisters: Gwendolyn, Rowena and Calypso Shakespeare.
All witches do not have to live in lush medievalist fantasy landscapes: some of them operate out of modern-day New York. If you’re looking for some new wickedly lovely witches to read about, I recommend the Shakespeare sisters, descended from William Shakespeare’s great aunt, a midwife and herbalist. Gwendolyn is the grandmother of Rowena and Calypso, who have both inherited the family’s line of psychic gifts. Together with the girl’s mother Lilian, Rowena and Gwendolyn run an occult bookshop that’s a hub for psychic healing and metaphysical study and inquiry. Jane Tara’s Forecast and the sequel Trouble Brewing grant my reading wishes for a witchy heroine and a great romance, so I know what I will be reading as I curl up next to the cauldron this spooky season.Tagged: Books, discworld, fantasy, jane tara, list, series, witches