The Momentum Blog
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
Posted October 14, 2013 by Mark
I was trying to eat a bowl of cereal in bed while reading a paperback on the weekend (I live life in the fastlane) and it got me thinking about eating and reading. There are certain foods that go so well with books, and certain foods that can ruin your reading experience, your book, and your life (ok maybe not but you get the idea).
If you’re uncoordinated like me, then soup is one of the worst foods you can eat. It’s easy to splash, splatter and spill, which is a huge hazard to any paper products that may be nearby.
Similar to soup. Plus when you pick your bowl up to scrape the last of the cereal you need two hands and this means losing your place (unless you’re using an ereader but good luck refunding your Kindle after dunking it in milk).
“I can eat spaghetti without making a mess! I’m a grown-up, after all.”
Nice! Easy! The joy of a delicious pasta dish without the whiplash that can send ragu splatter all over the place.
Nothing is more civilised than sitting down with a good book and a cup of coffee. NOTHING.
Harder cheeses are better than softer ones when it comes to preserving the state of your ereader or paperback, and it’s always a good idea to cut the cheese first. Wait.
Chocolate: NO (controversial)
Chocolatey fingers, while delightful, can put suspicious brown stains on your pages. Also that’s how you get ants.
Burgers: ARE YOU CRAZY?
Just no. No. You need two hands to eat one, your fingers get messy, and stuff is always falling out.
Are you using your fingers or a knife and fork? One is ok and the other is not.
Not only can little bits of tomato slide off your fork and splat your device or paperback, but dressing is a constant hazard.
So, what do you think? Any foods you would definitely avoid/consume while reading? Or am I just a messy eater?
Tagged: Books, ebooks, food, list, paperbacks, reading
Posted October 11, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
I vaguely remember learning to read. They were very short little picture books about pirates. Each pirate had a different colour – Blue Beard, Red Beard, Green Beard – done in these little splashes of watercolour paint. At least, that’s what I remember. It was probably very different.
The next memory I have of reading is probably familiar to some, in that it involves trying as hard as I could to keep reading. Not have the light turned out, find a torch, anything to illuminate the page. At one stage I remember silently opening the door to my bedroom just enough to catch the light from the TV in the next room, not so that I could watch but so I could keep looking at the pages on what was probably a dinosaur book.
The earth shattering moment came when I was given a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I must’ve been six or seven and it was my birthday. That’s the copy in the photo. It was the first of many times that I just simply dived into a book without knowing what I was doing or where I was going. And what I discovered was glorious. Not just the magical land beyond the fur coats and the mothballs, or the lamp post and the forever winter. What I discovered was story.
I ended up getting the whole Narnia series, and recently took a read through them again. It is quite amazing how short they are. But for my seven-year old brain, they contained the world. Or rather, many worlds. Many many many possible worlds.
Then there was a time when it became Tintin, though I never owned any of these so I probably read them on the floor of the school library when we were allowed to have a class in there, or during lunch times. They were a hot commodity, the Tintin books, and ones to spend a long time reading and rereading and trying to stretch it out before I had to let someone else have a go.
Roald Dahl came along, firstly I think with The BFG, and its introduction to the witching hour, and the explanation of the blank pages at the end of the atlas, and the bizarre and violent worlds of Dahl’s other books. The most lasting of these was Danny the Champion of the World, which probably made me cry though I don’t remember it or remember why at this point. I haven’t read it since I was young, but the cleverness of the story – and of Danny – seemed so strikingly marvellous to young me that it must’ve been one of those overwhelmingly happy endings. And one without anything magical or unnatural – it was the magic of the real, everyday world.
Goodnight Mister Tom made me hate stories about war, but the same year I read that I was introduced to Isobel Carmody’s books; firstly the Obernewtyn books (still unfinished at that stage), then Scatterlings and then overwhelmingly The Gathering, which terrified me, especially in just how Australian it was.
Years of Terry Pratchett came and never really went. I tried reading The Lord of the Rings several times but repeatedly ran out of steam when Frodo is taken by the enemy, and it wasn’t until I was 16 that I finally reached the Grey Havens, which was followed by me promptly putting the third book down, picking up the first one and starting all over again.
I was introduced to Shakespeare around this time – I’d like to say through school but it was probably through Claire Danes – and I strangely enough found James Joyce through one of Terry Pratchett’s billion intertextual references. Ulysses was a far cry from Narnia, but it took me closer to Hamlet, and The Odyssey, and much closer to a future beyond school that involved lots of reading and never enough writing.
Studying literature was wonderful and terrible. The enormity of constantly studying it, constantly reading it, pulling things apart and putting them back in ways they should never go really removed a lot of the enjoyment out of books for me. I loved the artifice in these years, but never the art. Reading became smug, an in-joke for myself and the page, and it was never very funny. But I found Umberto Eco, and The Name of the Rose, and despite its assuredly postmodern approach, it’s still a bunch of monks killing each other in gruesome ways in a medieval monastery and there’s mist and storms and hidden libraries and it’s damn good fun.
I found The Stand, and wondered what I’d been doing with my reading life. I re-embraced reading for the fun of it all, for the thrill of finding out what was on the next page, in the next book. I was challenged to read Harry Potter and do it properly without complaining, and what a wonderful two weeks it was going through the entire series. It was a short step to His Dark Materials, and once again I was young and reading late at night trying to find a bit of light to shine on the pages, just to keep these imaginary worlds alive.
It’s interesting to see now, with a fair level of hindsight, just how similar my reading patterns are to when I first started reading. And I wonder whether it was set that way from the time that I was given a particular book for a sixth or seventh birthday, or whether I’d end up here anyway because, in the end, the books you like and the books that capture you, they find you wherever you are and make you read them.
It’s a nice life, reading books.Tagged: Books, Narnia, reading, stories
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Posted October 8, 2013 by Mark
“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” – It by Stephen King
“And on the second day things did not get better.” – The Ritual by Adam Nevill
“Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.” – Horns by Joe Hill
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” – The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
“The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except for the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met where such a visitation had fallen on a child.” - The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
“This is not for you.” – House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
“Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.” – The Shining by Stephen King
“On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.” – I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Tagged: Books, horror, opening lines, writing
Posted October 1, 2013 by M.J. Hearle
I was very pleased with the covers for Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light. Many readers and reviewers commented on how beautiful they were. My publisher did a bang up job at creating something that would appeal to the books targeted demographic. If I have a criticism, it would only be that they were a little too generic. Certainly, they weren’t the first paranormal covers to depict a girl against a moody backdrop .
I went out of my way to make sure the stories weren’t just generic paranormals – no vampires or werewolves (shirtless or otherwise) – so felt that maybe the covers should have reflected this. Perhaps sport a design that was a little more idiosyncratic. A little strange. Like the stories themselves. I raised my concerns, but in the end, deferred to my publishers judgement. This was the right decision.
Before I set out to write Claudette in the Shadows I decided I would take a more active role in the eventual marketing. I may have even mocked up some cover concepts before typing the first word. Blame my advertising background for this. In our industry we routinely put chickens before the eggs.
When Momentum agreed to publish the novella, I wrote an email outlining my thoughts on Claudette’s cover – specifically the fact I wanted to design it myself. My publisher, to their credit, told me to have a crack at it.
I started with this sketch.
As you can see, I’m no great artist. I’m definitely more comfortable with words than creating pictures. For one thing, I screwed up the clothing on the figure. A long slinky dress is far too contemporary considering the time period of the story (late 1800′s). However, I think I got the posture right. The attitude in her face and body feels like my Claudette.
After scanning the sketch into the computer I brought it into photoshop to see if I could add some texture. It was important that the cover have a very rough, imperfect aspect to it – partly to cover my lack of artistic ability, and partly because perfect art doesn’t interest me. I like my art to be messy. A technically perfect drawing leaves little room for the imagination to flex its muscles and I like to indulge my imagination whenever I can.
This is what I managed to create in photoshop:
All that was left was to add a type treatment. Normally, I would have liked to spend some time developing the typography, maybe offer a few examples, unfortunately I was facing a deadline so in the end had to just pick a font and run with it. The name of the font is ‘Nosferatu’ which may have had something to do with my selection.
Here’s the the finished cover layout with the type treatment that I sent to my publisher.
I added the smoke thingy in the background at the last moment. If I spent a bit more time I might a figured out a way to incorporate it more creatively. Regardless, my publisher was very positive about my design and I left it in their hands to tweak or ignore as they saw fit. Secretly, I figured they’d scrap it and go with something like the other Winter covers. I wouldn’t have blamed them. It definitely would have been a safe marketing decision. You can imagine my delight when I received this in my inbox:
Does that silhouette look familiar? The publisher’s designer took my initial sketch and created something that I think is fantastic. I love the bold use of red and the art deco influenced typography. It’s certainly going to pop on the iTunes/Amazon/Kobo page and by ‘pop’ I mean jump out and grab you by the throat. No matter what the commercial fate of Claudette in the Shadows I feel a great amount of pride when I look at this cover. It feels right. It feels like me. I hope you like it.
Tagged: Books, claudette in the shadows, cover, cover design, M.J. Hearle, novella, writing
Posted by Mark
The prison was quiet and Tom Bishop couldn’t sleep. He did one thousand push-ups and stopped when he heard footsteps echo down the hall. It was 12:37 AM.
‘Open, two, four, nine,’ a voice called out.
The metal locks disengaged and the door pulled open to reveal the round silhouette of a guard. Bishop recognised his shape – it was Gale. Not too bright but he didn’t pretend to be otherwise. ‘Get dressed. You’re being transferred.’
Bishop glanced around at his small four-by-eight cell. ‘I was just beginning to like it here.’
Gale didn’t smile. Apparently he was not in a laughing mood. He watched closely as Bishop pulled a T-shirt over his battered body. It was a mess of gunshot wounds, tattoos and scars; a mix of regrets and mistakes.
Gale hooked the cuffs around Bishop’s wrists, and squeezed them tight. They pinched into his skin but he didn’t complain. Sounds filtered from behind cell doors as he and Gale moved through the prison. Guys up late watching television, others listening to talkback radio, and the occasional poor bastard sobbing into their state-issued pillow.
Gale didn’t seem to question a prisoner being transferred in the middle of the night; either too lazy or dumb to give it a second thought. Bishop questioned it. There were ways of doing things and this wasn’t one of them.
They reached the transport bay entrance. Gale shifted around Bishop, unlocked the door and pulled it open. Hot summer air hit Bishop in the face. He took a few steps forward and, out of the darkness, emerged an unmarked prison van, black, with no windows, idling as white exhaust fumes disappeared into the night. He slowed his pace, to buy some time, to work out what the fuck was going on. It wasn’t long enough and a couple of shuffling steps later Bishop was at the rear of the van. The doors were open and on the benches were a couple of prisoners. Bishop recognised their faces but didn’t know their names. Shaved heads, overweight, tattooed and each sharing the same vacant eyes. It was the look of career inmates: one devoid of hope or any future. Bishop climbed inside and, before he could sit, Gale slammed the door and locked it.
The van idled for a couple more minutes. Muffled voices leaked through the reinforced walls. The gears changed and the vehicle moved forward. There was a slight pause while the prison gates opened, then, not long after, they were on the open road. Occasionally, the driver would tap the brakes and the hard faces of Bishop’s travelling companions would be lit in a dark shade of red from the tail-lights. None of them said a word. Bishop glanced at his watch; they had been on the road for twenty-five minutes.
Then it happened.
Another vehicle gunned up behind the van.
It overtook on the right and pulled in front.
The van’s driver hit the brakes.
The wheels locked up and dragged along the asphalt.
The van’s arse end swung out sideways.
Everybody slammed against the wall.
The van was on the verge of tipping over. It hung there for a moment before the tyres burst, sending it over on its side and scraping along the quiet road with a trail of sparks in its wake. After a quarter of a kilometre, the wreck slid to a stop and, when it did, part of its internal mechanics leaked pressurised air and everything fell silent.
A blue Ford crept up, its left side crumpled, and grazed black with paint from the van. Its headlights shone on the wreck. The passenger-side door opened, with the sound of twisted metal. Three men with shotguns and balaclavas descended on the upturned van. They moved fast. The driver poked his head out – dazed and confused, he was the first to go. A shotgun blast took off half his shoulder and sent him jerking back into the cabin. Then the three of them focused on the rear doors. The tallest of the shooters placed small charges on the hinges and they all stood back. The explosion was localised, controlled and quiet, the sound of the heavy steel doors falling to the ground louder. One of them crawled inside and dragged the occupants out. The two lifers first and then Bishop. The three of them were groggy from the crash and struggling to be steady on their feet.
The smallest of the shooters unholstered his sidearm and put two rounds in the chest of the first lifer, followed by two in the chest of the second. Then, almost as an afterthought, he stepped back and put one in each of their heads. The sound echoed into the darkness and then all three shooters focused their attention on Bishop.
‘Open the boot,’ one of them said.
The tallest of the shooters made the trek back to their busted-up Ford, popped the boot and dragged a man out of it and to his feet. The glare of the headlights made it difficult for Bishop to see anything but, as the poor bastard was pulled closer, his features become clear.
Bishop tilted his head. They could have passed for brothers and they could definitely have been confused in a line-up, if for some reason things went that way. The shortest of the shooters, the one who had done the lifers with two in the chest and one in the head, drew his shotgun and pushed it in the man’s face.
Panic washed over him. ‘Please don’t,’ he said. He was about to say more, but the shooter pulled the trigger and the back of the man’s head sprayed out into the night sky.
The shooter turned to Bishop. ‘Congratulations,’ he said, ‘You’re dead.’
Twelve hours earlier …
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Posted September 27, 2013 by Mark
Here are the five most popular posts from our blog this week:Books, dinosaurs, list, reading, science, stephen king, writing
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Posted by Alex Christie
The perils of reading outside your comfort zone is a topic I’ve come across on a few book blogs and I thought I would add my two cents.
We all have a comfort zone that we like to stick to in our lives whether we are aware of it or not. Some of us like to break out of it from time to time on holidays, bungy jumping or in relationships, but we rarely think about our reading habits in relation to our comfort zone.
Often I have found myself in a reading rut, starved for a good book and I have come to realise that I’ve generally always stuck to a certain type of book. This phenomenon is similar to your friend who is always dating the wrong kind of girl/guy for them – they are constantly seduced by the initial connection and often let down by their own choices. Breaking out of your reading comfort zone is analogous to finding a really cute, lovely guy for a summer fling: it’s refreshing, it’s invigorating and when you get back to your usual dating circles, you’re ready to give it all another go. Reading something really different can have the same effect, leaving you with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Even better, if you’re a writer of any kind, widening your reading habits will make you a better wordsmith. Making sure you’re not limited to one genre or author will help you get a better understanding of how writers construct their stories and the techniques they use to better express them. If you’re a sci-fi nut, why not pick up a romance? Moreover, don’t limit yourself to just one form of literature, break out of your fiction routine by picking up a memoir, a short story, a book of poetry or a history book. It’s important to remind yourself that an author’s skills aren’t necessarily specific to their subject; you may be inspired!
Lastly, whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both, reading things outside of your comfort zone stimulates your brain. Whether consciously or unconsciously, you’re exposing yourself to new ideas, new words and new ways of thinking, and there’s no doubt that acquiring knowledge and learning about the world keeps those little grey cells active! I guarantee you’ll feel more creative and ultimately be more productive.
P.S. You may suddenly be able to fill in those crossword clues your missing or win a game of Trivial Pursuit- you never know!Tagged: Books, genre, reading
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Posted September 25, 2013 by Mark
…told entirely in gifs from The Shining.
First I couldn’t believe it was really there
Then I picked it up to make sure it wasn’t some elaborate display
Then I did a little happy dance
Then I did this to the book I’m currently reading
And now I’m going to read it come rain, hail or snowTagged: Books, doctor sleep, horror, reading, stephen king, the shining
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Posted September 20, 2013 by Mark
The five most popular posts from our blog this week:Books, food, list, movies, Posts With Momentum, science fiction, television, writing, x-files
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Posted September 19, 2013 by Alex Christie
One usually associates writing one’s memoirs with old age or at least an age over the half-century-hump, but over the years we’ve seen the proliferation of celebrity memoirs, which have been far from restricted to geriatrics.
Celebrity ‘singer-actress’ Demi Levato is the latest in a stream of celebrities to publish their ‘life story’ at a young age. At just 21-years-old Levato clearly thinks she has had enough worldly experiences to fill a book (which rather uniquely features tweets she has written about her life) and she isn’t alone. Huffington Post kindly informs us of nine other celebs who have published their memoirs somewhat prematurely. Some of the more well-known authors include, Confessions Of An Heiress, written by Paris Hilton at age 23, Kelly Osborne’s, Fierce penned at age 24, and other including the Kardashian sisters’ book Kardashian Konfidential and Snooki’s memoir Confessions of a Guidette (clearly inspired by the success of Hilton’s book). I suppose it is possible that one has had significant enough experiences to fill a memoir in their early twenties but it couldn’t get younger than that – could it?
Yes it could.
Some of my personal favourites, especially considering recent viral Internet trends (wrecking ball anyone??), is Miley Cyrus’s Miles To Go, published at age 16… she’s certainly come along way since! Also worthy of note are Justin Bieber’s First Step 2 Forever: My Story, also written at age 16, and Drew Barrymore’s memoir published at just 15.
But who am I to censor 15-year-old’s life stories if they want to write them? After all, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl was an incredible memoir and she was only 13.
On that note: Here’s a link to a wikihow page writing your own memoir at a young age: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Memoir-Book-at-a-Young-Age
Tagged: biography, Books, memoir, writing
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Posted September 18, 2013 by Laurie Ormond
In strange new worlds dominated by intergalactic politics, complicated by faster-than-light travel and spiced up by the cultural practice of eating live worms, it can be important to have an ever-loyal, ever-constant companion to love and be loved by. This post is a homage to some of the greatest pets of sci-fi.
1. Seymor from Futurama
Not many pizza delivery boys catapulted into the 31st century would be offered the chance to be reunited with the pooch they left behind. Fry’s beloved dog Seymor wins paws down for most faithful doggie companion in science fiction, and at the end of his episode shows us how, with the right pet, even this whip-crack fast and cynical animated series can give us a poignant moment of tragedy.
2. Jonesy from Alien
It might seem like the most foolish thing in the universe to postpone a desperate escape from Mr Saliva-Jaws just to rescue a frightened, nonedescript tabby . . . but Ripley’s need to rescue Jonsey seems to keep her focussed, just long enough to make it out alive. Given the brutal, opportunistic tactics she uses to survive, the difference between alien and human in this movie probably comes down to Ripley’s empathy for the tiny animal survivor.
3. Gir from Invader Zim
Because we’ve all seen this hugely popular and widely-circulated kids’ cartoon, right? Hey, if you are the shortest being in your height-hierarchical alien society, and you’re sent on a dummy mission to the dummy planet of Earth, and you’re a bit of an idiot, it can’t hurt to have an endearing, defective, and maniacal robot companion, cleverly disguised for integration into the human world as a pet dog.
4. Companion Cube, Portal and Portal 2
This hefty, hearty, moveable box faithfully accompanies test subjects trying to make their way through the Aperture Science Test Chambers … as well as companionship, it provides a way to hold down buttons and deflect lasers. Best not to get too attached, though, in case the supercomputer controlling and mocking everything you do decides that your Companion Cube needs to be euthanised.
5.K9 from The Sarah Jane Adventures
For travellers bumping along across all of time and space, it’s important to have the steady companionship of a beloved pet. It always helps if your pet has a laser in his head.
K9 is more famous as the long-time pet of the Doctor, K9 (Mark III) spends a lot of his time at the side of Sarah-Jane Smith, one of the Doctor’s longtime companions. In the episode School Reunion K9 is remodeled and left with Sarah-Jane; he joins her for her further adventures investigating alien appearances on Earth in the well-received Dr Who spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
6. Maruman from Obernewtyn
Technically Maruman is not really Elspeth’s pet, but he appears as a pet – if a wild and unpredictable one – in the first few pages of Isobelle Carmody’s 1987 Obernewtyn. Maruman is one of the few animals to live in the Kinraide home for the ophans of Seditioners where we first meet Elspeth, for whom it is quite natural to talk to all animals mind-to-mind. This is one of my favourite works of sci-fi and my favourite Australian novel for children, and one of my favourite aspects of the series as a whole is the way that Elspeth’s friendship with the irascible, prophetic, half-mad cat is really both her oldest and her most important relationship. For a series that manages to bring the sense of animals as characters and beings in their own right, and not “naturally” subservient to humans, you should definitely look at Carmody’s Obernewtyn series.
Tagged: Alien, Books, futurama, Invader Zim, Isobelle Carmody, Portal 2, Sarah-Jane Adventures, Sci-Fi
Posted September 17, 2013 by Mark
As usual I started my day sitting at my desk, thinking about food. But instead of going across the street to get some sort of delicious pastry, I used my hunger for good. Here are some of the best made-up foods in the universe:
Ok, starting off with a beverage. Butterbeer is from the world of Harry Potter. It’s a sweet drink that can be served warm or cold, and is meant to taste like a less-sweet version of butterscotch. There is a bit of a debate as to the alcoholic content of butterbeer, as the underage wizards all drink it, but it can get a house elf drunk.
The most famous Klingon dish, Gagh is a dish made from serpent worms that can be served fresh (alive) or cooked. Traditionalists will always eat their gagh fresh, as part of the appeal of the dish is the sensation of the live worms in your mouth.
In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda prepares a stew that he serves to Luke Skywalker. Due to the lack of shops anywhere on Dagobah, it’s safe to assume that the stew is made from local ingredients sourced from the swamp Yoda lives in.
This popular food from the universe of Babylon 5 is also made of worms. Except this time, they’re delicious worms. Several species seem to have a traditional version of spoo, with the Narn and the Centauri at odds over the best way to prepare it (fresh or aged).
The Klingon equivalent of coffee, this is an extremely potent beverage that can really kick-start your day, or keep you awake on the night shift. It can be served bitter or sweet, hot or iced, but from all accounts, Quark’s decaffeinated version was truly disgusting.
A high energy food that’s good for you and much better than soylent red or soylent yellow. One slight drawback (spoiler alert): it’s people.
From Willy Wonka comes this indestructible lolly that has long-lasting flavour and never gets smaller. Good for putting your rivals out of business, as kids will never need to buy another lolly again.
A cake/bread made by the Elves of Middle-Earth that stays fresh for ages, with one bite ‘enough to fill the stomach of a grown man’. Good for those on diets, or those on long and perilous journeys. I imagine it would be good dipped in Nutella…
Produced by the giant sandworms of the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune), Melange is a spice that can be used for lots of things. Too much can be fatal, but regular exposure at the right dosage can give the user long life, and the ability to see the future. Also, what is it with science fiction writers and worm-based foods?
Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes this as the best drink in the universe. It’s an alcoholic beverage invented by Zaphod Beeblebrox that’s like ‘having your brain smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick’. Never drink more than two in a row.
Blue alcoholic drink that was illegal in the Federation for many years (even though everyone always seemed to be able to procure a bottle when needed). It doesn’t taste nice, but it gets the job done.
And let’s finish with two of Liz Lemon’s favourite foods…
Hotdog stuffed with cheese, folded in a pizza. This would actually be great to accompany a couple of pan galactic gargle blasters.
Sabor de Soledad
Translates to “flavour of loneliness”, this is Liz Lemon’s favourite snack. A cheesy chip from Mexico, it’s actually manufactured from bull semen and excessive consumption can result in a positive pregnancy test.
Tagged: Books, fantasy, fictional food, list, science fiction, series, tv
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Posted September 16, 2013 by Mark
Here are a few book series that outlived their authors.
Frank Herbert wrote six novels and was working on detailed notes for a seventh when he died. His son Brian and sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson took those notes and wrote an additional two novels in the Dune chronology in addition to countless prequels and spin-offs. Brian and Kevin have now written more pages set in this universe than Frank ever did.
The Wheel of Time
Robert Jordan passed away before completing the final manuscript in this series, which was turned into a trilogy of novels by fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson. While at first it seemed like a blatant cash-grab, the three novels were well-received by fans and seemed to do Jordan’s legacy proud.
Since J.R.R. Tolkein’s death, his son, Christopher, has worked as an editor and writer to help bring his father’s unfinished notes and manuscripts to publication. Christopher is a Middle-Earth purist, who loathes the film series. Not surprising since he’s dedicated his life to broadening his father’s vision of Middle-Earth.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams left us with five Hitchhiker’s Guide novels, but a few years ago Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer wrote And Another Thing… a direct sequel to Mostly Harmless. While it’s virtually impossible to capture Adams’ unique voice, Colfer did a decent job of it, and his attempt was a fun read.
Countless authors have tried their hand at James Bond novels since the death of Ian Fleming, including some quite high-profile people like Sebastian Faulks. Much like the film series, some have failed and some have managed to capture the spirit of the original Bond.
Tagged: authors, Books, fantasy, list, Sci-Fi, writing
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Posted September 13, 2013 by Mark
Here are the five most popular blog posts this week on Momentum
Posted by Mark
It’s usually big news when a talented director and a major studio announce that they’ve purchased the rights to a novel. But more often than not these projects wind up either not happening, or in development hell for years. Here are ten such adaptations:
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Ridley Scott bought the rights to the post-apocalyptic vampire/quest story for a reported $1.75 million in 2007, before the novel was even out. But there hasn’t been much development since then. Perhaps Ridley is waiting for the trilogy to conclude next year so he can do three films at once?
Wool by Hugh Howey
Ridley Scott also bought the rights to Hugh Howey’s post-apocalyptic story about people trapped in an underground silo. There hasn’t been much movement since then, although Hugh Howey recently stated that he’d been told the film was still ‘a priority’.
The Stand by Stephen King
Originally George A. Romero was set to direct two films based on King’s epic novel about a good vs. evil showdown that takes place in an America decimated by a deadly virus. Those plans fell through and eventually there was a lacklustre TV mini-series. However, in 2011 it was announced that Warner Bros. was planning a new multi-film adaptation. But since then both David Yates (director of the last few Harry Potter films) and Ben Affleck (Batman) have signed up for and quit the project.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Argh! Ridley Scott again! Why, Ridley, why? Get fanboys all excited by purchasing the rights to their favourite books and then do nothing with them. A few years ago it was announced that Ridley Scott was preparing to direct an adaptation of this novel, about an interstellar war that takes place over several centuries. But then Scott decided to get the sci-fi bug out of his system by directing Prometheus. And we all know how that turned out (great, for about 27 minutes).
Neuromancer by William Gibson
We came so close! So! Close! After two decades of attempts to get this film off the ground, a version from the director of Cube, starring Mark Wahlberg and Liam Neeson was set to be produced. Concept art and a poster were released in 2012, but since then…nothing.
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Guillermo del Toro had long been working on an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel about the discovery of an abandoned civilisation in Antarctica. In 2011 James Cameron signed on to produce, and Tom Cruise signed on to star, but a dispute with the studio over the film’s rating (del Toro wanted an ‘R’ and the studio wanted ‘PG’) meant that it stalled. The ray of hope here is that this really is a passion project for del Toro and he may wind up getting it made one day.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
See? It’s not all sci-fi. McCarthy’s “unfilmable” western has come close a few times, most recently with James Franco expressing interest in directing. Actually, maybe we dodged a bullet with that one. Unsurprisingly, Ridley Scott was also attached to direct at one point. Seriously, what is it with that guy?
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
There was a bidding war between Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp for the rights to Gregory David Robert’s semi-autobiographical novel about an Australian prison escapee who winds up in an Indian slum, with Depp ultimately winning. But the writers’ strike of 2008 stalled the project indefinitely.
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
There have been plans to make an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s bizarre, reality-inverting novel for decades. Most recently, Michel Gondry was working on a version, which could have been amazing.
And of course…
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
I’ve written an entire post about why this adaptation will never happen, but it’s been kicked around Hollywood for years in various forms, with various people attached. The most recent development was that Ron Howard had approached Netflix with a proposal to make a series.
Tagged: adaptations, Books, films, movies, ridley scott, science fiction, stephen king, the dark tower