The Momentum Blog
Posted August 21, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
We lost a teacher last week.
A teacher whose presence seemed to dominate all representations of teaching in films and books, to the point where graduate teachers around the world still grapple with the impossibility of measuring up to a classroom of students standing on their desks calling out ‘Oh captain my captain!’
And while this post was initially drafted with this teacher’s inclusion, I’m going to leave him out of this list now because, well, frankly John Keating in Dead Poets Society can sit alongside Mr Chipping in Goodbye Mr Chips as logical, foregone conclusions when it comes to handing out positions for Best Fictional Teacher.
So, in the spirit of seizing the educational day– and in memoriam – here’s my list of the 10 Best Fictional Teachers.
10. Walter White – Breaking Bad
Okay, maybe not the greatest person, but if there’s one thing to be gained from Mr White’s inexorable descent into villainy, it’s his ability to teach. Here we have a teacher who takes a student with no interest in learning, only in the results, and turns them into a perfect graduate (we’ll just ignore what happens later on to this perfect graduate, especially in the last few episodes, but hey, he still learned good).
If there’s one thing good teachers should do it’s love their subject, and when it comes to the production of methamphetamine, well Mr White certainly loves what he teaches.
9. Mr Collins – The Wonder Years
He only appeared in three epsidoes, most memorably in ‘Good-bye’, but Mr Collins seems to dominate my entire memory of The Wonder Years. In a really short space of time, the show seemed to encapsulate everything that great teaching is to me, particularly in the little dance Mr Collins has with Kevin where he can see through the student’s lies, but knows he must play along so that Kevin can learn from failure, from effort, and from life.
And ultimately, despite everything, good teachers never die.
8. Grady Tripp – Wonder Boys
Okay, he might be disinterested and under the influence most of the time, and in the position for the tenure, the time he gets to work on his novel, and the proximity to the Dean’s wife, but Grady Tripp does get quite a few things right about teaching.
Most importantly, he understands that teachers don’t have to teach everyone to an A, and that not all students have the same path: ‘You tell them what you know, you tell them to find their voice and stay with it, you tell the ones that have it to keep at it, and you tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it because that’s the only way they’ll get to where they’re going.’
7. Charles Xavier – X-Men
He has a school for mutants. Pretty much a great teacher there. But most importantly, Professor X takes them all in: regardless of shape, size, skill and colour, despite how much property damage they might inflict on the school, he’s happy to have everyone there.
6. Indiana Jones – Raides of the Lost Ark
Some of my favourite moments in the Indiana Jones films are watching the adventurous archaelogist hero grapple with returning to the classroom, and the unending demands of his students.
But also, there’s a fair bit of vicarious enthusiasm for any teacher, imagining that all they need to do is put on a hat and jump out a window, and they can take all their educational skills off to some far flung jungle to retrieve a lost artifact.
5. Edna Krabappel – The Simpsons
Ever-present (until the end) at the front of the 4th-grade classroom, Mrs Krabappel ended up becoming one of the most consitent teacher figures for anyone who grew up with The Simpsons. But the best thing of all was that despite her flaws as a sympathetic teacher, she was bold enough to show her students that all teachers are people, and have to go home at the end of the day, especially in episodes like ‘Bart the Lover’.
4. Jake Epping – 11/22/63
I had to work one Stephen King teacher in here, especially as King battled through being an underpaid teacher before his career took off. This is probably his most developed teacher character, with Epping not only travelling back in time to try and prevent the Kennedy assassination, but also attempting to fix the childhood of one of his students. On top of that, he doesn’t just go back in time, he goes back in time and becomes the most important teacher for a whole bunch of students in the 1960s, particularly when he convinces the star football player to take the lead in the school play.
3. Laura Roslin – Battlestar Galactica
Teachers in charge of humanity! How great is this premise, and installing the politically inexperienced, but morally driven Roslin as the President of the Twelve Colonies is one of the best updates the remake brought to the series. Despite the emphasis on Adama, Starbuck and the completely unhinged Baltar in Battlestar Galactica’s reception, it’s Roslin for me that makes the show, and binds all the characters and storylines together in a way that grounds the space opera in a reality.
2. Roland Pryzbylewski – The Wire
Prez’s arc of the different seasons of The Wire is possibly one of the most interesting, given that he’s one of the few characters offered up that appears capable of positive change. From terrible cop to conscientious teacher, Prez’s change is contrasted against a broken education system that is static beyond belief, even with everybody’s best intentions.
This is just about the truest depiction of teaching I’ve ever seen, particularly in Prez’s inability to change anything about the school, system or his students’ lives, even when he has success in the classroom.
1. Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter series
Okay, well this is probably pretty obvious. But for me there’s two reasons. Firstly, I grew up in a boarding school, and so the structure, style and nature of the teachers in the series was altogether very familiar, particularly the godfatherly presence Dumbeldore seems to have over the school.
But most of all, he embodies excellent aspects of good teaching – particularly in The Half-Blood Prince – in that he models at all times just and fair behaviour, and is prepared to provide an environment for the students where they can discover this without coersion. The lessons from Dumbledore have nothing to do with practical, everyday skills, but about being a good person, and living a good life.
Seriously, the chapters where Harry and Dumbledore investigate the horcruxes are some of the best in the series. Good teaching.Tagged: characters, fiction, teachers, teaching, writing
Posted March 20, 2014 by Mark
Ok, spoilers for several major films and TV series ahead. Space is dangerous, space is cold, space is cruel. So you have the opportunity to go out in a pretty spectacular blaze of glory if you’re a character in a science fiction story. Here are a few epic ways to kick the bucket in space.
Ok, and once more just in case….SPOILER WARNING
Heroic spacewalk sacrifice
The above clip is from the French dub of the terrible film Mission to Mars, but it’s the best scene in the entire movie. You’ve become detached from your fellow astronauts and your ship, you’re floating away and the only thing you can do is stop your friends from trying to come after you. Tim Robbins has a sure fire way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Blasted out an airlock
Poor Cally from Battlestar Galactica. She’d just uncovered the truth about the cylons hidden on the ship, but got blasted out into space before she could tell anyone. Once that airlock opens, there’s no way you can survive unless your name is Sigourney.
Vaporised by the Sun
This is what happens when you don’t put on the correct sunblock.
Give birth to an alien
John Hurt, it looks like that HURTS. See what I did there?
Evil computer takes you out
There were some things HAL 9000 famously couldn’t do. Opening pod bay doors for example. But there were many things he could do. Pilot a ship to Jupiter. Sing ‘Daisy’. And, of course, KILL.
Tagged: fiction, film, list, science fiction, space, television, tv
Leave a comment
Posted March 19, 2014 by Mark
Flu season is almost here so I thought it would be a good time to look at some horrible diseases from fiction. Most of these will get you a lot more than three days off work…
Captain Trips (The Stand by Stephen King)
A highly contagious, constantly mutating flu-like virus that is fatal in 99.4% of cases. Starts as a cough and ends in brutal death. Originally developed as a weapon.
The Phage (Star Trek: Voyager)
A disease that kills off organs and other body parts, the only effective treatment is replacement of the infected organs.
Greyscale (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)
A flesh-based disease that leaves its victims disfigured but can lead to madness and/or death.
“My only regret…is that I have…bone-itis!” It’s a horrific disease that, if left untreated, kills you by snapping every bone in your body.
Solanum Virus (World War Z by Max Brooks)
A virus that attacks the human brain, killing the host and then reanimating them as a flesh-eating zombie.
The Pulse (Cell by Stephen King)
Another brain-attacking virus, this one also turns the host into a flesh-eating zombie. But this one is spread by a mobile phone signal. Most phone companies would charge extra for that.
Rage (28 Days Later)
The rage virus is highly contagious and develops in seconds, turning the victim into a mindless rage machine, driven to violence and nothing more.
Vampirus (I Am Legend by Richard Matheson)
This diseases causes light-sensitivity, tooth growth, and compels its victims to drink blood and appear in bad Will Smith movies.
Meningoencephalitis Virus One (Contagion)
A flu-like virus that starts as a severe cough and ends with brain haemorrhage. This movie’s tag line should have been, ‘Nothing spreads like fear. Except meningoencephalitis virus one.’
Dave’s Syndrome (Black Books)
If a sufferer of Dave’s Syndrome is exposed to a temperature over 88°F, they’ll go on a Hulk-like rampage, usually involving a loincloth of some sort. Heat-be-gone-booties are not good at preventing an episode.
Irumodic Syndrome (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
A neurological condition that degrades the synaptic pathways leading to memory loss and confusion.
Uromysitisis Poisoning (Seinfeld)
A potentially fatal illness that’s caused when the victim fails to relieve themselves.Tagged: diseases, fiction, horror, list, star trek, stephen king, the stand, thriller
Posted November 27, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
Recently I finished reading John Safran’s new true crime book Murder in Mississippi, and like most in the genre, it was clear that the bulk of the narrative is there to clear up what happened, who was involved, and why. Ultimately, it’s a search for truth.
What else resonates with this book and other true crime stories, is that the more you look the less you know. Safran comments that if he visits a town and interviews one person, he leaves that town with a very clear, definite idea of the place, of the incident, and of the person that he met. However, if he stayed just a day longer, or talked for a bit more, or to someone else, that definite idea suddenly becomes less clear. The more he looks, the less he knows.
While this is patently obvious in the sense that one does need to investigate further in order to understand the complexity, it does reveal the goal of a story: tell the truth.
Is this true in other styles of writing, other genres?
It’s often said that writers starting out should write what they know.
It’s also said that writing what you know is crap, that writing fiction is clearly about writing unknowns.
I like to think it comes from a bit of both. For example, you can write about what you know and then start to creep into territories that are yet to be found. Imbue and extend the known world into undiscovered countries. Or, write about something completely different and distinct from yourself, but then enrich it with details and sensibilities brought from your own parallel experiences. So, either way, whether you’re starting with what you know or what you don’t know, you seem to end up in the same place.
This is where the truth comes in. Somewhere, in the middle of what you know and what you don’t know, there’s the truth. And that’s the story.
‘To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative – the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.’
So stories are told in order to get at the truth. This is the glorious nature of fiction for me. By the concoction of a fiction, of a lie, we get to a truth. By obfuscation and masquerading, we reveal.
The writer is allowed to lie and deceive the reader, take them somewhere that doesn’t actually exist. But then, by the end, the truth is revealed. We were talking about the real world all along; we were writing and reading about fictions, and all the while a growing realisation occurs. The real world has changed, we see it differently now, a truth – no matter how small or how large – has been revealed.
For Safran, and I assume any investigation into a known event, the more you know the less you’re certain.We all know Oswald shot Kennedy. Or do we? Maybe he did, but why? Maybe he had help, but who? Life doesn’t fit itself into three acts, or developed arcs, or moments of revelation. We aren’t all on a hero’s quest. We don’t all cross thresholds from ordinary worlds into extraordinary worlds, charged with creating our own mythology. The more we look at life, the less it is a story.
Story is rather the way we can look at life and understand it. Make sense of the disorder and discontinuous moments. We rely on pattern recognition to read, to communicate, to recognise and interact in our daily lives – the use of narrative is merely another pattern we overlay in order to get to an understanding.
The emergence and reliance on tropes and archetypes, genre and style is evidence enough that we can – as readers or writers – take a gathering of events and orchestrate them into a fashion, a pattern, that makes them coherent. The more we sift through the confusion, the more we explore the complexities, the more we can make sense of the uncertainty.
So write what you know. Write what you don’t know. Write both. It doesn’t matter. Somewhere in the middle is the truth, and that’s worth aiming for. Never one to dress up the facts, Hemingway said that ‘all you have to do is write one true sentence, write the truest sentence you know.’ Whatever that might be, it’s worth trying to find out.Tagged: advice, fiction, genre, true crime, writers, writing
Leave a comment
Posted November 21, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
A while ago Mark did a series of posts on the best opening lines in fiction. Around the same time there was this excellent piece in The Atlantic by Joe Fassler where he interviewed *coughcough* Stephen King *coughcough* about the art of writing opening lines, who then also gave a fairly extensive sample of his own favourites.
What makes a good closing line?
If done right, I think it can influence the entire reading of a book. Similar to a title, in how it establishes so much forethought and anticipation for a reader, speculating about what might come, a closing line can redefine so much of a reader’s impression. One or two in the list below completely overhauled my feelings about what I had just read.
In the article above, it mentions how a good opening line invites the reader in, says to them ‘you want to know about this.’ In conjunction, a great closing line can work magic on the reader, can propel the story from just words on a page to an experience that lives on beyond the covers of the book.
So, some of these are science fiction, some of them aren’t. Hopefully none give away anything about the plot, or detract from the joy of reading them for the first time. I’m not going to go for any of the obvious, time-honoured choices here though because, well, where’s the fun? We’ve all had our boats back against the current, loving Big Brother, and leading on into a heart of darkness. We know how they all end. Here are some others.
“I feel…what’s the word? Happy. I feel happy.
Shots outside. I’m going to look.”
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
“If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boy and his dog and his friends. And a summer that never ends. And if you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot… no, a sneaker, laces trailing, kicking a pebble; imagine a stick, to poke at interesting things, and throw for a dog that may or may not decide to retrieve it; imagine a tuneless whistle, pounding some luckless popular song into insensibility; imagine a figure, half angel, half devil, all human… slouching hopefully towards Tadfield… forever.”
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
“Then the music takes us, the music rolls away the years, and we dance.”
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King
“‘And then what?’ said her daemon sleepily. ‘Build what?’
‘The republic of heaven,’ said Lyra.”
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
“I never saw any of them again – except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say good-bye to them.”
- The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
‘George, you won,’ said Guillam as they walked slowly towards the car.
‘Did I?’ said Smiley. ‘Yes. Yes, well I suppose I did.’”
- Smiley’s People by John LeCarre
“Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.”
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
“He sprung from the cabin window, as he said this, upon the ice-raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.”
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
“It makes no difference whether I write or not. They will look for other meanings, even in my silence. That’s how They are. Blind to revelation. Malkhut is Malkhut, and that’s that.
But try telling Them. They of little faith.
So I might as well stay here, wait, and look at the hill.
It’s so beautiful.”
- Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
“Why? and automatically answering, out of the blue, for no reason, just opening my mouth, words coming out, summarising for the idiots: ‘Well, though I know I should have done that instead of not doing it, I’m twenty-seven for Christ sakes and this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so, well, yup, uh…’ and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry’s is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes’ color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.”
- American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Tagged: american psycho, authors, closing lines, fiction, opening lines, reading, stephen king, writing
Posted November 9, 2012 by Anne
Second podcast! We’re totally on a roll. In this episode we discuss the epic Genre versus Literature battle to the death in the wake of the inaugural GenreCon Australia, then we make fun of Joel for being such a gadget nerd. Also Mark outnerds himself in the recommendations. Enjoy.
Topic 1 - What we read: Genre v Lit
Arthur Krystal’s Easy Writers: Guilty pleasures without guilt in May in The New Yorker laid down the theory that the divide between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear, and some genre fiction is now being afforded “literary” status.
Lev Grossman in Time April 2012 responded with an article entitles Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre fiction is disruptive technology, challenging the idea that literary fiction should be regarded as “superior” to genre fiction. He basically lays down the theory that literary fiction is itself a genre with certain tried and true tropes that every book identified as such follows.
Krystal then responded to Lev Grossman with It’s genre, not that there’s anything wrong with that! in October, which had Joel absolutely apoplectic with rage, and convinced us that it was worth discussing.
Interesting look at horror in The Guardian recently with Horror: a genre literally doomed to hell?
*note – The Ian McEwan novel that was released the year before he won the Booker for Amsterdam was Enduring Love, not On Chesil Beach (which was actually released a decade later). To my enduring shame, I completely forgot about Enduring Love, which is actually one of my favourite McEwan books. Golf clap.
Topic 2 - Devices: how we read
Joel got his new Paperwhite last week and now that he’s had enough time to fall completely and utterly in love with it, it is probably time to talk about reading technology.
Mark’s Recommendation Star Wars Expanded UniverseAmazon, Arthur Krystal, author, Books, devices, digital publishing, DRM, ebooks, ereading, fiction, genre, iPad Mini, john birmingham, Kindle, Lev Grossman, literary fiction, memoir, non-fiction, podcast, podmentum, publishing, reading, review, romance, star wars, The Silent History, writing
Posted November 1, 2012 by John Birmingham
So, today is the day that Stalin’s Hammer: Rome drops into the e-book shops. Or at least it does everywhere but America. I found out about two weeks ago that my US publisher wants to hold on to the title until January or February next year. Originally they were even looking at holding it back until midyear, but my sad face changed their mind.
It’s still not ideal. When we sat down to plan how we’d approach the e-book market, the guys at Momentum and I agreed that there were a couple of minimum conditions we needed to meet. A price so low there was no barrier to purchase. At $2.99 I think we’ve done that. No DRM so that readers could store and carry their copy of the book however they damn well pleased. Tick. And simultaneous global release, so that somebody sitting on their couch in, say, Kansas City, Missouri, would have no reason to be pissed because they can see the book is available, but not for them. This is one of the main drivers of piracy.
“Well, I wanted to give those assholes my money, but they refused, so…”
To buy Stalin’s Hammer: Rome, click through for your choice of retailers via the book page.authors, digital publishing, digital rights management, DRM, ebooks, ereading, fiction, genre, john birmingham, pricing, reading, self-publishing, Stalin's Hammer, territorial restrictions, writing
Posted October 23, 2012 by Anne
APRIL 13, 1955: CENTRAL SIBERIA
Joseph Stalin knew he was being watched. He closed his eyes and adjusted the soft, red blanket that covered his legs, like a child hiding under his bed covers, thinking that if he could not see the monster, the monster could not see him. The sun was warm on his face, and bright, through his paper-thin eyelids. Sitting there in his wheelchair, his face turned up, eyes closed, it was possible to imagine the whole world was a pink, warm womb.
He let his chin slowly fall to his chest before opening his eyes and turning his glare on Beria. “We are delayed, Lavrenty Pavlovich. To what end?”
Stalin patted his pockets, looking for his old pipe, forgetting that he had not smoked in years. The doctors had said it would kill him. Frustrated at the delay, frustrated at the doctors, angry that he could not enjoy a simple pipe, his scowl grew darker. Once upon a time the hardest men in Russia had quailed at the sight of him playing with that pipe. To turn it this way and that, to stroke the bowl with his thumb while never moving to pack even one shred of tobacco in there – that was enough to signal his displeasure. Enough to make strong men quiver with fear. Now when he patted his pockets, he just looked like an old cripple, forgetful and failing.
Still, what little colour Beria had in his face leached away at the thunderous look on Stalin’s. That was something.
“No delay. There is no delay, comrade. Everything is running to schedule.”
The chief of the Functional Projects Bureau stammered over his last words and nervously checked the iPad he carried. A rare and valuable working model, an Apple original, one of the last before the ‘flex’ models debuted, and salvaged from the emergence of the British stealth destroyer way back in 1942, it was still sleeker and more powerful than anything Functional Projects had managed to produce. Then again, it was also vastly more elegant and powerful than any of the cheaper Samsung or Google flexipads they had also salvaged.
Stalin waved him off with a backhanded gesture. “Gah. Enough excuses, Lavrenty Pavlovich. Begin the demonstration. I have many days of travel to return to Moscow. Push your buttons. Bring down the sky. Be done with it.”
“The satellite is almost in position now,” Beria assured him. “We must retire inside.”
His bodyguard leaned forward. “Vozhd?” he asked, seeking permission to move him.
“Yes, yes,” said Stalin, who did not really want to give up his place in the sun. The winters grew longer as he grew older. He was certain of it. He enjoyed the mild spring weather, but soon enough, too soon, the leaves on the small stand of trees outside his apartment back in the Kremlin would turn red again, then gold, then brown as winter stalked back into the land. What did those books say? The ones his daughter loved, from the broken future. Winter was coming? His last perhaps. He adjusted the blanket again – an old habit, it had not moved – and tried to not let his disappointment show as his guard wheeled him off the terrace out of the sun and back inside the bunker.
He felt the chill as soon as they passed into the shadows of the deep concrete passageway. Solid iron blast doors rumbled behind him as the small party of high officials, bureaucrats and technicians filed in, trudging in procession to the bunker from which they would monitor the test. Moisture leaked from the thick concrete walls, giving Stalin pause to worry about his arthritis. He regretted having insisted on traveling all the way out here to witness the test firing for himself. Then he smiled. Beria undoubtedly regretted it more, and that was cause for some mild amusement. Stalin knew his deputy premier would be fretting now, squirming inside like a greasy little weasel, anxious that nothing should go wrong.
The tension in the control room was tangible. He could feel it on his skin, taste it even at the back of his mouth. It was a familiar taste, of a fine vintage. He had been supping on men’s fear for so long now he believed he could take some nourishment from it. The scientists and military officers – no, they were NKVD Spetsnaz; Beria’s thralls, not Red Army, he reminded himself – all did their best to avoid catching his gaze. Beria scuttled about, snapping and hissing at the technical staff, his spidery white fingers stabbing so hard at the screen of the iPad that Stalin thought he might punch it to the floor. That would be amusing.
His bodyguard – it was Yagi today – wheeled him past banks of computer terminals, monitoring screens, and control boards dense with flashing lights and illuminated buttons. The supreme leader of the Soviet Union understood none of it. The technology was all plundered from the far and impossible future, the world that could not be.
He would never see that particular future. He knew that, of course. Accepted it. Life ebbed away from him now – in spite of all the new “miracle” medical treatments and organ therapies, life itself retreated from Joseph Stalin on a quickening tide of years and minutes. But nobody else would see the future from whence Kolhammer and his international fleet had Emerged either, because he would not let it come to pass. He would not let it be, this false future where Putinist thugs and bandits ruled the Rodina, where the revolution was mocked and mourned. And dead.
It would not be.
At a word from him, as long as Beria had done his job, the sky would fall in on the world outside this bunker, and the real future would draw that much closer. Yagi brought him to a stop a few feet from the viewing port created especially for him. The armored glass was 7 inches thick, they had told him, and the reinforced concrete wall of the bunker at least 3 feet deep. Peering through this personal viewport was a little like looking down a short tunnel. The glass distorted the view somewhat, and gave it a dark green tinge. Steel shutters stood ready to slam down if needed, but he could not see them. Nobody could. Only a wheelchair-bound Stalin and one of the technicians, who was a dwarf, were of a height to have an unimpeded view through the port. Everybody else had to make do with the viewing screens. There were dozens of them about, but the two largest ones hung from the wall directly in front of him, above the viewing slit.
The room was chilly, because of all the infernal computers, which always seemed to be in danger of overheating. The cold, stale, recycled air irritated his eyes and seeped into his bones, but it awoke his senses, and he did want to see this. It was why he had traveled so far east, beyond the natural barrier of the mountains.
Involuntarily he glanced upwards, imagining American satellites prowling overhead, peering down on him. But there was only the low ceiling of unrendered cement. And above that – tons of rock.
“You are sure Kolhammer is not watching this on some television in the White House?” he growled at Beria. “They are always watching us.”
Startled out of some reverie, the NKVD boss jumped a little, and even squeaked. He was more nervous than usual. “We have done our best, our utmost, to draw their attention away from the proving grounds,” he said, stammering as before. “Ten Red Army divisions and fraternal bloc forces are exercising as close to the Oder as we dare. There have been incidents. I made sure of that personally. What satellite cover they do not have watching us there will be trained on Admiral Koniev’s newly unmasked fleet base. Our strategic forces are ready to test fire a fusion warhead to mask the geologic signal. This is all settled, Vozhd. By your very self.”
Stalin waved him away again, a stock gesture when dealing with Beria. He knew everything the man had just said, but he wanted him to repeat it. If Beria’s plan to mask the Hammer Fall test failed, Comrade Beria would pay the price. Not Stalin.
Klaxons and sirens began to sound all around them, and somewhere in the distance he heard the deep, bass rumble of more blast doors sliding into place. The countdown clock between the two large viewing screens clicked over to ten minutes.
In spite of his weariness and his age – he should have been dead two years now – in spite of all that he had done and seen, Joseph Stalin could not help but feel a flicker of excitement in his chest. Well, hopefully it was just excitement … After his last heart attack, the doctors had told him (or rather suggested, very mildly) that he might need to think about cutting back to one serving each day of his favorite lamb stew. He wiggled his fingers now, marveling at how old his hands looked, how skeletal and heavily veined.
1953, he thought.
These hands through which his blood still flowed, with which he could still touch the world, they should have clawed at the last moments of life in 1953. On March 5 – as a massive stroke shredded his brain and twisted his body into a crippled, piss-stained mess.
He smiled at the thought. He was still here. For now. Inside, he still felt like a twenty-year-old revolutionary, but his body was failing him. Even with his blood washed clean by a fresh, transplanted liver, even with improbably tiny machines regulating his heartbeat and sweeping toxins from his body, it was failing him. He should have been used to it, he supposed. So many had failed him over the decades. Their bodies, at least, he could pile up like cordwood. His own, he was stuck with, mostly, despite the efforts of his transplant surgeons and pharmacists.
The Vozhd had simply given too much to the struggle over the years. That was why he was so excited and intrigued by the possibilities of today’s test. Since the reactionary Kolhammer forces had Emerged from the Gordian knot of history at the Battle of Midway, Joseph Stalin had lived every day with the knowledge that he had limited time to set history right, to secure the revolution, and his place in it.
Emerged from history, and destroyed it, he thought. Destroyed the settled history of the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century after that. It was still a wonder to him how nobody in the West could see the obvious truth of it. How the very impossibility of Admiral Kolhammer’s arrival from the year 2021 through this ‘wormhole’ spoke to the impossibility of the future from which he had come.
He grunted in frustration, setting off a momentary panic amongst his hangers-on, but he ignored them.
The forces of history operate like a machine, he thought, as technicians and dogsbodies fussed about him. History: driving human progress from barbarity to civilization, from the feudal to the capitalist, and then inevitably on to the final socialist stages. A history in which the USSR fell was simply not possible. Reality was not engineered in such a fashion. Thus history had righted itself with the destructive miracle of the Emergence.
Or rather, it had started to right itself. The revolutionary work of men was in the hands of men, of course. Stalin hoped that today they would come one crucial step closer to completing that work.
“Two minutes, Vozhd,” said Beria, surprising him.
Where had the time gone? Stalin shook his head, disgusted. He had been daydreaming again. He leaned forward to peer out through the armored glass. A nameless valley fell away from them hundreds of feet below, disappearing into the haze. Ten miles away, hundreds of obsolete tanks and trucks, many of them salvaged from the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War, waited on the valley floor. He was aware of increased tension behind him as the technicians hurried through their last-minute procedures. Literally – the last-minute procedures. The countdown clock had reached sixty seconds. Beria really had nothing to do, setting himself to annoy everyone with his pestering and interference as he did it.
“Leave them alone, Lavrenty Pavlovich!” Stalin ordered. “Let them do their duty.”
Chastened, the chief engineer – Pah, that was a laugh! – of the Functional Projects Bureau quit bustling around and hovering at the shoulders of his senior men. He opened and closed the cover of his flexipad a number of times, before setting it down on a steel workbench and shuffling over to stand beside Stalin.
“There is nothing left to do but wait,” he said.
“Then we shall wait,” replied the Vozhd.
The final countdown was strangely disappointing. A disembodied voice on the public address system took them through the last few seconds: “Three … two … one … launch …” But of course there were no rockets to roar or shake the earth beneath their feet.
“How long?” asked Stalin.
Beria seemed unnaturally pleased to have a question he could answer promptly. “Less than two minutes,” he said with confidence. “These are the small, tactical rods we are testing today. They will launch from low orbit and accelerate to 9000 meters per second.”
Stalin scowled at him, stealing some of that confidence away. “And we are safe here in this bunker?”
“Oh yes,” said Beria, with apparent relief. “We would not dare test the largest of the rods like this. They are designed to reduce mountains, such as this, to smoking craters.”
Beria hesitated, as though it were a trick question. Which in a way it was. The scientists and engineers – real scientists and real engineers, unlike Beria – had briefed him well at the start of this project. They had to. It was a massive investment of the state’s resources, and one that drew money and men away from one of Stalin’s pet projects: the electronic storage of human memory and consciousness. His gaze faltered for a moment, slipping away from Beria to stare at the back of his old, liver-spotted hands again.
“Pah! Do not bother,” Stalin told him, worried that his mind had wandered again. “I know about Tunguska. I know how it was different. The rock from space – a giant snowball, they told me – it exploded in the air. These rods will not.”
“No,” said Beria. “Look …” He bent his knees and leaned forward, pointing toward the viewing aperture, even though the giant screens hanging above it afforded a grand, God-like view of the entire valley.
The dictator peered out through the armored-glass slit but found himself watching the screens too. They had split into windows to display the video feeds from a dozen cameras scattered up and down the valley. None of the hundreds of tanks, trucks and APCs out there were moving; they sat warmed by the afternoon sun. Stalin opened his mouth to say something when he thought he spotted a flight of birds sweeping across the scene, but before he could form the words, bright white streaks of light speared down from the sky. He saw the flash of impact through the glass just a moment before the very planet heaved and rumbled in shock. His mouth dropped open in surprise as the roaring noise of impact and detonation reached deep inside the bunker.
There was little and less to see on the screens, which didn’t so much blank out as “white out”. He squinted involuntarily before turning his attention back to the viewing port. Beria too had bent over again to look through it, as other men and women, some in uniform and some in coveralls and lab coats, did the same. A few flinched away, as an enormous fireball raced up the valley toward them. Stalin thought he could make out the pressure wave that preceded it, flattening the sea of grass and a few small saplings that stood between the foot of the mountain bunker and the point of impact.
Then heavy steel shutters slammed down, blocking off even that view. A few people jumped. But not the supreme leader of the Soviet people. He closed his eyes and imagined the sun, warm on his face, and bright even through his eyelids.
authors, Books, chapter sample, excerpt, fiction, john birmingham, prologue, reading
Leave a comment
Posted October 18, 2012 by Anne
Today we have the pleasure of unveiling the covers for the first two books in Chris Allen‘s Intrepid series. Starring the dashing Intrepid agent Alex Morgan - policeman, soldier and spy – Defender will be released on November 1, followed closely by Hunter in December.
You can pre-order both books by clicking on the links and choosing your favoured retailer. Defender is available for the excellent price of $2.99 and Hunter has a special pre-order price of $4.99 for a limited time.
Tagged: Alex Morgan, book cover, Books, Chris Allen, Defender, design, fiction, Hunter, Intrepid, soldier, spy
Posted August 22, 2012 by Anne
“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” – John Waters
That’s all very well and good, but these days you don’t need to take someone home for them to be able to see your bookshelf. You just need to show them your device. No not that device.
So before you go all the way home with your date, ask them to hand over their e-reading device. Take a quick look at their library, and use this handy guide to what your date’s taste in books says about them as a lover.
Chuck Palahniuk/Bret Easton Ellis/Philip Roth
If you bruise easily you may want to exercise caution.
Jonathan Franzen/Haruki Murakami/David Foster Wallace
You might need to pull the “shut up and kiss me” routine with this windbag, but once you’ve got things underway you can likely expect this lover to last the distance.
Thomas L. Friedman/Tim Flannery/Michael Pollan
I hope you like body hair. [Um, I wrote that before I saw the above photo and now I'm kind of all turned around on the subject. He's holding Hot, Flat and Crowded, by the way.]
Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens/Sam Harris
If you’re one of those people who has a tendency toward “oh god” exclamations during sexual activity you may want to tone that down.
Diana Gabaldon/Nora Roberts/Jodi Picoult
There will definitely be cuddling after sex, quite possibly prior to and during the act also. Suffocation warning, and not the good type either.
George R. R. Martin/Robert Jordan/Raymond E Feist
This date has no problem with commitment or patience. Likely to be a dedicated lover, but may require a detailed map. When it comes to the cut and thrust part of the night, expect great things.
Anthony Bourdain/Marco Pierre White/Gabrielle Hamilton
Likely to have an excellent appetite, and a willingness to eat out, if you know what I mean.
Charlaine Harris/Anne Rice/Stephen King
Watch out for teeth. If you like that type of thing, by all means, take this one home. But look, you may want to lay down towels. Could get messy.
Stephanie Meyer/J.K. Rowling/Suzanne Collins
Ask to see their ID and double check their birth date.
Definitely, definitely fuck them.Tagged: Books, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, dating, e-reader, ebooks, ereading, fiction, Jonathan Franzen, library, list, non-fiction, Philip Roth, reading, romance, sex
Posted August 9, 2012 by Emilia Bresciani
I wrote The Raw Scent of Vanilla as a memoir through the lens of magic realism. In Latin America, where the genre of magic realism originated, daily life is imbued with what many would call ‘raw magic’. It’s all a product of sacrifice and sorrows, Catholic ceremonies, Andean mysticism, Amazonian animism and, an spicy imagination that come to affect daily reality. In the end, the view of life becomes almost multidimensional. Spirits are alive, the dead become companions, curses cause diseases and shamans work their magic. In other words, magic realism is not only a genre of literature, but a way of viewing life. As a writer born in Peru, it is natural for me to also look at life under such colourful lens.
But what is magic realism, the literary genre? It has a number of definitions. For me who learned from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, magic realism is simply realism with a twist. In the genre of fantasy, the world is created with different rules; in realism the world is shaped by conventional wisdom. In magic realism however, one or two elements in the story break the rules and disrupt the fabric of realism. The rupture is the result of imbuing reality with added meaning or symbolism. It also occurs by creating a twist in the reality. How we present the twist is up to the writer as I did with this memoir
It may be that some people believe that a memoir cannot be written with the plume of magic realism because it deals with facts. True, a memoir is a collection ‘real’ moments in life experienced by an individual who has a story to tell. But this factualism can be done through a narrative that reflects feelings, dreams, conflicts and aspirations. Our dreams can add colour to our narrative. Our feelings give meaning to our life allowing us to interpret it. For example, I chose to give meaning to my pain by looking at how my ancestors’ culture dealt with tragedy, and how this view affected my reaction to it. In the process I learned how tragedy was transforming my life. Time of course helped. It was the effect of time that allowed for the transformation to occur. Time provided the distance, and distance revealed the meaning.
Maybe not all of us need to find meaning in life. And that is fine. For me, writing the way I did was beneficial because I could make meaning of my ancestors’ story. Interpreting their story the way I did allowed me to deal with the painful events that took place in my life. At the same time, writing under the lens of magic realism allowed me to unleash my creativity and reach planes I never thought I could. The process filled me with excitement and delight. This, I believe, is the magic of life.
Emilia Bresciani was a television journalist before her husband was tragically killed, and she became the prime suspect in the murder investigation. Her memoir is an account of her life around the tragedy. Read more here.Tagged: digital publishing, ebooks, fantasy, fiction, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, genre, magic realism, memoir, reading, writing
Leave a comment
Posted July 31, 2012 by Maggie Dana
One of the most frequently asked questions of authors is why they began writing. Their answers range from “I wrote my first story when I was five and I’ve been writing ever since” to “There are characters inside my head that were dying to be heard.”
At a recent writers’ conference my answer to this question invoked a couple of throat clearings, several red faces, and a lot of shuffling in chairs. I guess I’d hit a nerve.
“Boredom,” I said. “That’s why I began writing.”
The panel’s moderator gave me a sharp look.
Okay, at this point you—and the rest of the audience—can be excused for jumping to conclusions. Here I was, a reasonably well-dressed, middle-aged woman who clearly needed something to fill her time between hairdresser’s appointments, coffee klatches, and neighborhood cocktail parties.
Except you’d be wrong.
When I began writing I was a newly divorced mom with three kids at home, a massive mortgage, and two jobs that barely covered my expenses. One of those jobs was editorial assistant at a children’s publisher.
I worked in the super secret “New Products Department” and it was so secret that nobody else in the company knew what we did. Half the time, we didn’t either, but it involved lots of closed-door meetings, clandestine mutterings in the corridors, and much speculation around the water cooler. When my boss was in the office, I was busy. When he wasn’t there, I had nothing to do.
So when he was laid up in bed for three weeks with a slipped disc, I was bored witless. My workload dwindled to a ten-minute meeting at his bedside every morning. To keep from going crazy, I asked if I could help out in other departments.
“No,” he said, through gritted teeth.
The poor guy was in a lot of pain.
“Why not?” I said.
“Because they’ll find out what we’re doing.”
“I promise not to tell them,” I said. At that point, our top secret project was a series of index cards on make-up tips for teens by a celebrity model with legs like a giraffe, tangles of blond hair, and teeth that were whiter than they needed to be.
My boss groaned. “I can’t risk it.”
“So what should I do?” I said, feeling cross that he didn’t trust me enough to keep my mouth shut. “I’m sitting outside your office doing absolutely nothing while everyone else is swamped. People will talk.”
“So look busy,” he said. More gritted teeth, plus a few curses. “Pretend you’re working.”
“Write letters, a shopping list.” My boss plucked a book off his night table. “I’ve been trying to get through this miserable thing for six weeks,” he said, wincing. “Do me one better. Write a novel.”
So I did.
On their time-clock, their typewriter (it was the 80s, okay?), and their paper.
And then, sweet irony, I sold it to them for $1,500—a princely sum.
From that point, I was hooked on writing for life.
Want to read more from Maggie? Her book Painting Naked is available at a special pre-order price until the start of August.Tagged: authors, Books, boredom, fiction, publishing, publishing jobs, reading, top secret, writing
Posted July 30, 2012 by Mark
Here are the most popular blog posts for the last week. Click the headings to read the full posts:
- Why aren’t you paid more?
Because I’m not a professional athlete…
I’ve been thinking about action heroes lately, inspired by the August release of This Green Hell by Greig Beck, the third book to feature kick-ass hero Alex Hunter. Here’s my list of ten noteworthy action stars…
An author friend of mine was talking to another author friend of his about the large number of women who read his books. This surprised him. His books are for the most part military thrillers in which the main character (often a man) shoots and explodes his way through his problems, usually scooping up a lady friend along the way for extracurricular fun. This shooting of problems and gratuitous sexy times, said the author’s friend, did not make any of his novels a boy’s book…
I’m a huge fan of having things beamed directly into my brain, so obviously podcasts are just about my favourite way to pass the time. Well, that and reading books. My favourite podcasts up until now have been largely pop culture-themed - This American Life, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, all of the Slate podcasts (with the exception of the sports one because what? But if someone wants to make a good argument in favour of it I’m all ears), WNYC-created Alec Baldwin’s Here’s The Thing and RadioLab, and the always salacious Risk…
If you’re interested in getting more from Momentum, then why not sign up to our monthly newsletter? You can do so here.
Tagged: fiction, list, podcast, Posts With Momentum
Leave a comment
Posted July 17, 2012 by Anne
“This is such an endearing and funny book. Ever been stung to death by a queen bee boss at work? You’ll love this humorous fantasy tale which culminates in glorious revenge.
The protagonist, Liz Smith, is satisfyingly true-to-life, as a middle-aged woman with no family whose life has centred around her job. She is suddenly ‘let go’ and throughout the book ponders the meaning of her middle-aged, disconnected new self.
The magical element of the story centres around a second-hand mirror, which is prone to populating its sometimes-visible internal world with captured people. Liz is seduced by its charms at first but, along with her adopted house-mates, comes to realise just how dangerous it can be.
She experiments with a bit of romance, with cooking, with interior decorating, and with nurturing younger folk who flagrantly take advantage of her. All the time she is reinventing herself, exploring who she might become, while relishing her new-found freedom.
There are lots of Lizs about, and although they may not have magic mirrors, they will recognise themselves here, laugh a lot, and rejoice. And so will all their friends and acquaintances. Read, learn and inwardly digest–and giggle.”Tagged: ebooks, feminism, fiction, horror, reading, review, speculative fiction
Leave a comment
Posted July 16, 2012 by Anne
“Literary theorists argue that the feminist novel centres on the concerns of, and the bonds between, women. The category “feminist novel” takes into account the plurality of womanhood, including differences of class, race, ethnicity, geography, sexuality, age and able-bodiedness (Felski, Fraser & Nicholson, Kaplan, Robbins). Challenging literary and social conventions with humour and irony, Christine Townend’s first novel and appropriately The Beginning of Everything and the End of Everything Else can be read as a feminist novel as it recounts the tale of a naïve young woman’s passage through marriage, childbirth, homemaking and leave-taking.
The protagonist Persia marries to escape a dominating mother. Settling into comfortable middle-class suburbia, Persia gives birth to a son, but realises that her life is still controlled by others. In a search for self-discovery she leaves home and goes to live in a different socio-economic situation in Redfern. The novel represents an example of the feminist protagonist who moves “outward into the public realm of social engagement and activity…” (Felski). With its novella-like form, its unusual language, its defiant plot and its parodying of social situations, the narrative fearlessly debunks literary and cultural conservatism. New writing like Townend’s opened a space for feminist fiction published in the later 1970s and 1980s.”
An extract from a paper presented by Adrienne Sallay. More info here.Tagged: Australian, ebooks, feminism, fiction, history, literature, writing
Leave a comment
Posted July 4, 2012 by Anne
The recent news that 50 Shades of Grey is now the fastest-selling paperback of all time off the back of a digital publishing phenomenon has got me thinking. No not about that. Well yes okay, about that. But also about the value of well written smut.
With every publisher out there jumping on the erotic bandwagon, it’s probably time to talk about sexy books. Okay, past time.
Real sexy books. Sexy, well-written books. Sexy books that have stood the test of time. Sexy books that may well have been originally conceived as fan fiction but most definitely do not contain the words “holy crap” anywhere within their pages. (Um, except perhaps the Marquis de Sade but he gets a pass, obviously.)
In no particular order;
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin – a collection of short stories based on the author’s own sexual adventures, Nin risked all for her art. And boy did it pay off.
Histoire d’O by Pauline Reage – the original story of consensual female submission at the hands of a sadistic, dominating lover.
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland. Subtitle says it all, really. Published in 1748, probably the original erotic novel.
Venus in Furs by Leopold Sacher-Masoch – the story of a man so obsessed with a woman that he begs her to treat him in more and more degrading ways – basically the opposite of 50 Shades of Grey. Behind the creation of the term “masochism”.
The counter weight to Sacher-Masoch is of course the Marquis de Sade, who catalogued depravity in his 100 Days of Sodom – but it is Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue that stands up as the prime example of literary sexual sadism.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos – possibly the worst name for an erotic novelist ever, but the book is superbly steamy. Seduction as a game. Yes please.
The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet. Parisian art critic Millet’s tell-all memoir of her erotic pursuits caused a sensation throughout Europe and the rest of the world back in 2003. I know it stayed by my bed for some time after I had finished reading it.
Of course that’s just the erotic fiction that struck a chord with me. Any and all suggestions of other must-read erotic literature very welcome. Either comment below or tweet me here.
Credit for the featured image on this post goes to this site.Tagged: 50 shades of grey, erotic, erotic literature, fiction, writing
Posted May 4, 2012 by Anne
Head on over to Dark Matter for Nathan M Farrugia‘s thoughts on reading and writing in genre fiction. While you’re there have a look at their competition page – they’re giving away a copy of The Chimera Vector.
“There’s something about crossing genres that scares people. No one knows quite what to do with them, how to sell them, how to market them, how to read them. So it’s strange in a way for me to write The Chimera Vector. It’s a thriller that’s science fiction but isn’t. I guess you could say it’s a techno-thriller that teeters on the edge of sci-fi.”
Read on here.
For more on The Chimera Vector, step this way.Tagged: competition, fiction, genre, reading, techno-thriller, thriller, writing
Leave a comment