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 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 19, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
This is the first in a series of posts where I read my way through the winners of the Bram Stoker Award for a horror novel, in an attempt to not just read more horror fiction, but also gain a better understanding of what a horror novel is in the 21st century.
First up, in 1987 it was a tie between Stephen King’s Misery and Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song.
Having (obviously) read a fair bit of Stephen King, including Misery, I made the executive decision to forgo reading both the winners and just focus on Swan Song for this first post. I figured more could be learned from reading a book and an author unfamiliar to me.
McCammon’s Swan Song won in 1987, and it very much charts a lot of the anxieties and fears of that decade: nuclear warfare, bodily disease, amoral behaviour through capitalist ideals. Its story – all 900-odd pages of it – begins on the very edge of a nuclear war between the USA and Soviet Russia. McCammon then introduces his ensemble of characters as the nuclear strikes begin to ravage America, and works towards their eventual progression together. Some are clearly good characters, others clearly very bad.
The plot covers many years, building up to a final act that answers the question of whether humanity can move on from the fallout and build a more hopeful civilisation, or whether the nuclear strikes were just the death rattle of our slow yet dramatic decline into obsolescence.
A final battle, in the wreckage of American society, between the good forces of humanity and the bad. Sound familiar?
Many people have made much of the obvious parallels between Swan Song and The Stand. Published only nine years after King’s monumental post-apocalyptic epic novel (apocaleptic?), the connections continue to some of the details of the plot as well. Characters are notably similar in their arcs, and McCammon even has a Flagg-type antagonist drifting among the debris: a character who is generally unnamed though he goes by the Man of Many Faces among others. Constantly claiming the apocalypse is his party, his presence in Swan Song is very similar to Flagg’s in The Stand and other novels of King’s.
Additionally, and I couldn’t help but mention this, but McCammon has a character named Roland, who early on labels himself a knight, a King’s Knight even, and this becomes the defining ideology for the character. McCammon is clearly conscious of his participation in the tradition of King’s earlier work, and as a forerunner for modern horror.
Where is the horror?
As I mentioned, McCammon is a new writer to me. However, he has no less than three entries in the Bram Stoker awards, and all within the first five years. Clearly, he had a peak of favour in the genre.
McCammon actually stopped writing altogether after 1992, though he has since returned and is now publishing historical fiction, having found too many limitations in the horror genre for his own writing. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in the next two of his: Mine and Boy’s Life.
As for Swan Song, the horror to me here is in how McCammon documents the very easy decay of humanity. Things become very bleak very quickly. The reader is witness to many horrible acts of violence and depravity, but that really seems to come with the territory in post-apocalyptic fiction. The tumours of hideous growths on McCammon’s characters is possibly the strongest aspect to the horror, especially in the final reveal of what these growths represent – named ‘Job’s Masks’ in the novel, to give you a idea of the symbolism.
There is very little to connect McCammon’s horror with the gothic literary origins of the genre – though I suppose one could trace horror back further than Shelley – though if anything the genre has largely explored the darknesses contemporary to the society of the time. And by his own admission he grew very tired of horror’s reliance on celebrating evil, death and destruction, I’m just not sure how he thought this novel might buck that trend.
It is an excruciatingly long book, and at times needlessly so, considering it’s quite clear early on what progression the characters lie on and that despite it’s bleakness it was always going to end the way it does. But I guess McCammon has a point in that horror should be more than the tropes, more than the reliance on demons, ghosts and vampires that litter the genre too readily.
Perhaps his move into another genre is indication he wasn’t sure what horror should evolve into.
Next, I’m visiting The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. Rather looking forward to it after Jennifer Byrne, of all people, raved about the novel on the ABC last year.Tagged: book review, horror, reading, the horror read
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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 13, 2013 by Mark
The following is an excerpt from A Single Girl’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse by JT Clay, a novel about hippies, zombies, friendship and love.
“What are you making?” Q asked.
“It’s an altar to the spirit of the river,” Rabbit said. They had reached the stream and were dangling their feet into the snow-melt water. Q was throwing in sticks. Rabbit was piling up a cairn of smooth stones.
“Really?” she said, embarrassed on his behalf.
“I’m messing with you. It’s a pile of rocks. But it’s funny that people stack rocks when confronted by natural beauty. It might be a ritualistic act that honors nature, buried deep within the collective subconscious.”
“We vegans frighten you, don’t we?”
“No! Not at all!” said Q. “Okay, yeah, but you and Angela are cool.”
“Thanks. That’s the least awkward thing you’ve said all morning.”
Rabbit sniffed. “What’s that smell?”
“It’s my new fragrant spray,” Q said, glad she had made the effort this morning. “It’s called Ocean Flowers.”
“Oh,” said Q. “I guess.”
“Cool. I like algae.”
They dangled and they sat. Q, not used to being in the wilderness without a map icon to click on, tried to orient herself. They were a long way west of Sydney, high up in mountain country. The air was cool and rich and full of earthy scent. The ground poured into gullies and choked on shrubs. There were no power lines, no roads, no straight lines from anything man made. They were in someone else’s land.
The quiet of the morning was interrupted by Q’s regular slap! whack! at mosquitoes and ants. After a while, Rabbit intercepted her hand.
Her face burned and her belly flipped. He was holding her hand!
“They’re part of the bush,” he said. He let go of her hand and turned back to the stream. “Let them be.”
Q sighed. It was nothing after all. “Things are biting me,” she said. “Anything less than extreme self-defense would be weird.”
Rabbit grinned and steered away an inch ant with a stick. “She’s all right,” he said. “You have to be— ow!” He sucked his finger and breathed through his nose. Q giggled.
A movement on the bank downstream caught Q’s eye. She couldn’t make sense of the image at first. Something large and brown lurked in the trees, hunched over the edge of the water. Was it drinking?
No. Not drinking. Another color poured from the creature into the stream. Red. The brown shape was the heart of an expanding pool of red.
Q tapped Rabbit on the shoulder, put a finger to her lips and pointed at the shape. He didn’t see it at first.
“What’s there?” he said. Q waited for the image to make sense, then decided she preferred the abstract version.
“It’s creepy old caretaker guy,” she said. “He’s washing something in the river. Something bloody.”
The man stood up and disappeared into the bush. Q waited until he had gone, then walked downstream to the spot where he had been. There were footprints and blood on the river stones, but the creek itself had washed clean. She didn’t like that man. He reminded her of Chapter Seventeen, The Survivor Type and how to avoid being eaten by one. She returned to Rabbit and scribbled in her little black book.
“Are you writing about our walk in your diary?” Rabbit asked.
“No— yes— sort of.” She put the notebook away.
“What do you write about? Your fears and doubts?” Rabbit asked.
“Sometimes. Like, have you ever noticed that the things that scare us the most aren’t just monsters, but monsters that can turn us into one of them?”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Rabbit said.
Q grinned. He understood! “Vampires and werewolves and zombies,” she said.
“Lawyers,” Rabbit said, shaking his head. “I’m surrounded by them every day. All I want to do is sing folk and make the world a better place and I’m terrified that one day, I’ll forget all that and start overbilling on my time sheet.” He looked so sad.
“Cheer up,” Q said. “I reckon that fear is more common than you think.”
“Kate does not agree,” Rabbit said. “She says I’m wasting my life. She thinks I’m a failure.”
“You? Nah. Anyway, how do you measure success? Your first job? Your first house? Your first stalker?”
“I don’t need to be the best at anything,” Rabbit said. “I just want to be a better person.”
“Me too,” Q said. “I just want to be a person.”
Rabbit’s fingers drifted to a piece of cord at his throat and he pulled out another wooden snake pendant, almost identical to Pious Kate’s, except that this one had glinting green eyes instead of red.
He’d made them matching necklaces.
“That’s pretty,” she said, kicking water and thinking corrosive thoughts.
Rabbit dropped the snake as if it had bitten him. Maybe he was thinking corrosive thoughts, too.
“Kate came up with the design,” he said, glum. “She gets upset if I don’t wear it.”
“What’s the deal with you two?” Q asked in a careful tone, in case she got an answer she didn’t like.
Rabbit watched the moss-covered rocks beneath the surface of the water. “We’ve been best friends since kindergarten,” he said.
“My best friend’s in kindergarten, too,” Q said.
“We were thrown together. The only two vegans at school.”
“Oh!” said Q, with sudden understanding and relief. “You were the little Cantonese kids!”
“What?” Rabbit’s face crinkled into that expression so familiar to Q because it was what people wore when they were trying to interpret her.
“The two kids who didn’t fit in. You smelled weird. You had weird food. Your parents were weird. Everyone picked on you.”
“Thanks for bringing it all back,” Rabbit said.
“But it’s okay now,” Q said. “No one cares any more. We’ve grown up.” Q thought of her online crew. They would never have found each other as children, but as adults they stood together against the darkness, with Jeremiah BownZ off to one side and downwind – acceptance had its limits.
Should she venture a hand onto his shoulder? Or just throw herself on top of him and pin him to the ground for a kiss? It was a flawless plan, unless he knew Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She was about to make her move when he spoke up.
“We should head back,” he said. He put on his sneakers. “You need to soak the lentils.”
“You’re rostered on to cook tonight.”
Q guffawed. Rabbit did not join her. “No, seriously?” Q said.
“Sure,” said Rabbit. “We take turns.”
What would these hippies expect? Would she have to do it alone? Would Angela help? “Me and my dad don’t do much fancy cooking at home.”
“Make a dish you’ve made before,” Rabbit said. “What do you usually eat?”
“Takeaways. Microwave dinners. Sometimes Dad makes dyslexia stew, where he accidentally replaces every ingredient in the recipe with the wrong one, then adds bacon. It was good once.”
She could tell by his tone that she had lost face. What had she said? She dropped her head and concentrated on tying her shoelaces, which were much more difficult to fasten than they had been for the past eighteen years. “It’s not like I don’t know how to cook. Sometimes I grill up a couple of ginormous steaks, two huge piles of beef, and we smother them in barbecue sauce on the grill and cook them rare so they’re all gooey and bleeding inside…” She stopped talking. Rabbit was pale. He looked like he was about retch. She took a step back. “I mean—”
There was a brain-shattering scream from the direction of the camp, followed by four clear gunshots. After a pause there were several more shots in quick succession.
“Thank God,” said Q. She ran toward the sounds.
Tagged: a single girl's guide to the zombie apocalypse, ebooks, excerpt, jt clay. zombies, reading, romance
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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 by Mark
Former Momentum-ite Anne Treasure recently wrote this excellent article about audiobooks. It makes a lot of sense, we are more and more tied to our devices, and audiobooks are an easy way to get through that list of titles that you may have always intended to read but never had the time to face.
My problem is that I am also addicted to podcasts. Every week I have to find 20+ hours to listen to all of them. Ok, maybe I don’t *have* to do it, but I like to. It’s important that I hear what the Slate Culture Gabfest and the Pop Culture Happy Hour thought of the Breaking Bad finale. How can I face the week unless I hear the /Filmcast people spoiling Thor 2? I can’t stay relevant without finding out what I’m meant to think about Melissa Joan Hart via Bring a Plate. Not to mention the hours of entertainment I get from Welcome to Nightvale, The Bugle, The Moth, Selected Shorts and Risk, among many, many others (including the greatest of all podcasts, Podmentum).
Add an audiobook on top of all this, and I’d wind up spending the entire week with my headphones on. I like to consume my books in silence. If my phone is on my person or near me, I’m tempted to use it. I need to update social media, take a photo, read a message. Any one of these distractions can rip me away from the world I’m trying to immerse myself in. This is not such a big deal with a podcast, but with a book, where the author is trying to use each word to build a world or convey a character or idea, it can be terrible.
However, performance can be hugely important in an audiobook. David Sedaris reading his own stories, for example, brings a quality to them that you miss by reading them in silence. Similar with the recent Alan Partridge autobiography, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography (apparently he only reads the first and last chapters, but still).
So I do have audiobooks on my phone, and they are always in conflict with my podcasts. I listen to a chunk of an audiobook and then open Downcast, only to wind up downcast myself when I see the podcasts that have stacked up (see what I did there), many of which I will ‘mark as played’ even though I haven’t listened to them.
AUDIOBOOKS ARE MAKING ME A LIAR
I try to consume my audio content in bite-sized chunks. A few minutes on my walk to the coffee shop, ten minutes while I do the dishes, a good chunk at the supermarket (I can’t make decisions easily – why are there so many types of apples these days). And then people want to talk to me. I’m cooking dinner and turn around to see my girlfriend standing behind me, one eyebrow raised, hand on hip, waiting for an answer to a question she’s asked. What to do? Take out the headphones and miss a moment, or take out the phone, pause, and then remove headphones? I should ask Dan Savage or Judge John Hodgman what the answer to that one is.
AUDIO CONTENT IS MAKING ME A BAD PARTNER
The point is that I’ve restricted my audiobook reading to titles where the performance aspect makes it truly unmissable. The rest of the time I still like to engage with the printed text (either on the page or on my Kindle), and spend my audio hours with podcasts.
Tagged: audiobooks, content, podcasts, reading, technology
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 October 31, 2013 by Mark
In this episode we talk about the death of Momentum author Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read and what it means for publishers when authors pass away. Then, we all went and saw the new movie Gravity, and we chat about what we thought of the film and whinge about minor details. Finally, Mark sat down with regular contributor to the Momentum blog, Craig Hildebrand-Burke, to discuss Stephen King and Doctor Sleep.
What We’re Reading
Tagged: chopper, doctor sleep, ebooks, gravity, horror, mark brandon chopper read, movies, podcast, podmentum, publishing, reading, Sci-Fi, science fiction, stephen king
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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 15, 2013 by Mark
We’re very excited to announce that Holding Out for a Hero by Amy Andrews is out now! The pre-release buzz has been awesome and we’re looking forward to many readers discovering and loving Amy’s new book, which is the first official release from Momentum Moonlight.
“Holding Out For A Hero is a fun sexy contemporary with an Australian flavour…” - Kaetrin’s Musings
“A funny, smexy contemporary romance with absolutely unique characters that are easy to love.” - Harlequin Junkie
“A heartwarming and inspiring story of never giving up, friendship, family and letting go.” - Beauty and Lace
“Intriguing, passionate, emotional and fun…” - Contemporary Romance Reviews
“Andrews’ ability to capture the ups and downs of familial relationships has never been in doubt, but here it adds a depth to what is essentially a love story.” - Exploits of a Chick Lit Aficionado
When sensible schoolteacher Ella Lucas rides into her home town on a Harley and seduces the resident football hero, Jake Prince, she figures she can be forgiven and move on. After all, she’s just buried her mother.
Two years later, back in the city, their paths cross again but this time Jake is in the process of destroying her favourite dive bar. With her home facing a wrecker’s ball, her school being closed down and her 15-year-old brother hell bent on self-destruction, it’s the last straw. Throw in a dominatrix best friend who is dating a blue ribbon guy so straight he still lives at home with his mother, it’s no wonder the sanest person in Ella’s life is a dog.
With all this to contend with, the last thing Ella needs is Jake back in her life. But, as fate would have it, Jake is the only chance she has to save her school.
As the school football season heats up, old secrets threaten to surface and Ella takes on greedy developers, school boards and national tabloids. But can she save not just her home, her school and her brother, but also the reputation of the man she’s never been able to forget? And, more importantly, does she want to?
Holding Out for a Hero is a quirky, heartwarming tale of unlikely romance, friendship and family.amy andrews, contemporary romance, holding out for a hero, moonlight, new release, reading, romance
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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 2, 2013 by Luke Preston
A couple of months ago I’m at a 30th birthday party of a friend of a friend who I didn’t really know and besides feeling like an imposter during the intimate thank-you speeches I was having a pretty good time. Sometime after midnight the party began to thin leaving only the die hard drinkers and that’s when it happened. Every writer on the face of the planet has been, or will be in the following situation.
A skinny guy with a pony tail, who looked as if he owned every episode of Doctor Who and was of an age where that was weird, crossed the floor and made his way up to me. ‘You’re a writer,’ he said as if he were accusing me of something evil.
I confessed to the horrible truth that I was indeed a writer and a smile crossed his face as if he had been on some Hobbit-like adventure the entire night to find me and now here we were.
His name was Lawrence, and he had just finished writing his first novel. It was set in the future where for some undisclosed reason, domestic cats grew to be thirty feet tall and were now the main threat to humanity.
‘Will you read it?’
‘Oh, shit man, I’m real busy,’ I said.
‘You’re a really good writer. I can tell just by looking at you.’
In my experience good writers and bad writers look relatively similar but I was half drunk, half tired and wanting to get home to watch music videos on RAGE, so I handed him my card (yes, I have one) and told him to send me his manuscript.
‘No need,’ he said burying his hand into a dirty backpack by his feet. He pulled out a ream of paper and shoved it at me. It was nine hundred pages long and held by elastic bands and insecurity.
‘You carry it on you?’ I asked.
‘Isn’t it heavy?’
‘It’s the first in a series. I’ve got the other four at home.’
‘What if this one doesn’t sell?’
Confusion crossed his face. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Nothing, forget it,’ I said.
I carried the monster under my arm and made the trek out to the train station. Ten minutes later a carriage rolled up. I took a seat by the window with the big bastard next to me, took a sip of beer from a bottle I smuggled out of the party, lent my head against the window and drunkenly nodded off.
I woke to the not so gentle nudges of a police officer. ‘This train isn’t a hotel,’ he said.
Who was I to argue? It didn’t look like one. I climbed to my feet and looked to the empty seat next to me. ‘Shit, someone stole my manuscript.’
‘Before a novel is published it’s called a…’ I gave up. He didn’t care and after I gave it some thought, it didn’t much bother me either.
I made my way home thinking about the poor literary deprived bastard who took the nine hundred page beast, went to bed and forgot all about that Saturday night.
A few days later I was sitting in front of the typer, wrestling with a particularly troublesome sentence when the telephone rang. The number: BLOCKED.
‘Have you read my novel yet?’
It took a moment for my mind to catch up. ‘Lawrence, I’m not sure if I’m going to get to it.’
‘But you said you would read it?’
‘I said I would try to read it.’
‘I’ll call you back tomorrow after you’ve had some time.’ And he hung up.
The next day rolled around and again, there I was staring at another string of bad words and the flashing cursor taunting me with each little blink.
And again, the phone rang. The number: BLOCKED.
This time I ignored it. In hindsight I should have just shown guts, picked up the phone and told this poor prick I had lost his Cat-ageddon story but I had this blinking bloody cursor to deal with. The phone rang out, there of was breath of silence and just as I was about to hammer away again at the keyboard it started back up. And over the next twenty four hours it rang another fifty something times. Then the paranoia set in. Maybe I should have read it? Maybe I should call him back? What if he’s found me? What if he’s hiding in my wardrobe right now? What if he’s dressed as a clown? What if he has a knife? And with that paranoid thought I headed down to the Prahran police station and dramatically slammed my phone on the bench and told my tale of woe to the cop who looked younger than the leather jacket I was wearing.
‘Who’s your telco provider?’ He asked.
‘They don’t have very good coverage.’
‘They seem to be doing okay today.’
He told me the best thing to do is change my number and I walked out glad he wasn’t solving a homicide. A couple of steps later, the devil phone rang again but this time it was a buddy, Hugh. He was down at the Bush Inn which was conveniently, or not so conveniently for some, located half a block from the Prahran police station. I crossed the road and half a pint later I had told Hugh the events of the past few days.
Hugh took a sip of his beer. ‘How did all the cats get big?’
‘I didn’t read it!’
‘Christ, have you not been listening?’ and before I could get any further my phone rang, again. ‘SHIT!’
Hugh snatched it off the bar, took two drunken steps back, smirked and answered it. ‘Detective Senior Sergeant Thomas Andrews.’
Now, I cannot lie, at this point, impersonating a police officer seemed like a worse idea than Justin Bieber playing live at Folsom Prison. Hugh even had the balls to give over a rank, badge number and the name of his commanding officer down at the Prahran Police Station. But if the Bush Inn Hotel gave out awards for best impromptu performance down at the TAB end of the bar, Hugh would have been a very strong contender. And after a few minutes, he hung up the phone and declared the case closed. And for about an hour it looked as if the world had returned to normal. We had a couple more beers, a couple of more bets, then I went to the bar and when I returned I had a missed call on the phone, only this time the caller had left a message. I pushed it into my ear to hear over the racket of the bar.
‘This is Constable Bernadette Collins from the Prahran police station calling in regard to a complaint about impersonating a police officer…’
My stomach dropped. I played Hugh the recording, told him he couldn’t act for shit, and as we headed off back down the road towards the cop shop to explain ourselves, I was rehearsing the explanation I was going to have to give to my girlfriend when I had to make the call for her to bail Hugh and I out of the clink. When I looked over to Hugh and for the first time noticed the Hawaiian shorts and filthy sneakers he was wearing. ‘This hurts us you son of a bitch.’
‘You’re drunk,’ he said. ‘Don’t fuck us in here.’
It sounded like a plan but as soon as I walked into the foyer of the station fear and panic had set in and I blurted out the words: ‘I AM NOT A COP!’
The young cop gave pause and sized me up, probably trying to gauge if I was the violent type or not. Christ, even Hugh looked at me sideways and he was one of my own kind. I drew a breath, flashed a smile and explained everything that had led up to the point where two half drunken fools were standing at the front desk of the Prahran police station explaining why they were impersonating police officers.
‘Why didn’t you read his book?’ the cop asked.
I sighed. ‘Because, it was probably bad.’
She shrugged. ‘So?’
We weren’t a threat. Nobody would ever believe either one of us were a cop. The Constable let us off with a warning and as we headed back to the Bush Inn for a celebratory drink, I thought about Lawrence and why he was so desperate for somebody to read his manuscript and then I realized something that I should have seen in his eyes the night he gave me his book… he had nobody else to read it.
I had another beer, watched Hugh win $182.50 on a dog called ‘Tank’ and then the next time my phone rang, I answered it and asked Lawrence if he could send me another copy of his manuscript.
Luke Preston is the author of Dark City Blue and Out of Exile, both available now. His work has been described as “Noir on no-doze”, “gutsy” and “hard-assed”. Dark City Blue was longlisted for the 2013 Ned Kelly Award.Tagged: crime, dark city blue, luke preston, manuscript, out of exile, reading, writing
Posted October 1, 2013 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 12, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
There’s a theory about stories that claims there are only seven plots in existence. Every story ever created either conforms to one of these archetypes, or is a combination of two or more of them.
I don’t hold much for grand sweeping statements about anything, certainly about anything as amorphous and wholly inventive as storytelling, but there’s merit in the idea behind these seven plot types. And even if it just a case of presenting a theory that is general enough for anything to fit it, it’s still applicable, especially to anyone wanting a broad introduction to plot.
More than anything, it can help writers identify perhaps what type their plot might fit into, and then lend a bit of direction or amplification of certain elements, or provide an established trend that a writer can play with and manipulate.
So, firstly, The quest.
This speaks for itself. This and the next type spring directly out of Ancient Greek mythology and the myths that underpin a lot of Western storytelling. Originally with the quest, the plot was all about the call to a particular magical item that could solve problems back at home. And, through a series of obstacles, the hero would heroically retrieve said item, return home with the goods and save the day. Easy. These days, it’s not necessarily a magical item, but the basic philosophy of this story exists in almost everything, given it’s essentially a desire-and-fulfillment structure.
Then we have the next most common, the voyage and return.
Taking its origins as well from Greek mythology – particularly the Odyssey – as the Greeks were obsessed with this idea of returning home a changed person. Some major event would occur, and with that the realisation that you can never go back. Not truly. You might return to your starting point, but it’s all different now, and nothing can ever make it how it used to be.
The best thing about this one is how it reflects the journey into adulthood, and the gradual understanding that time moving ever on is the only certainty in life.
Quite an easy one to understand. Not as easy to write. Essentially, everyone dies. Except the boring character, who has to live on and tell everyone else who doesn’t get a speaking role just how tragic everything is.
The general plot is that the good intentions to fix a huge problem don’t pan out, and it all goes wrong. Often swiftly and suddenly. Starts off happy, goes sad. And everyone dies.
The difficulty in the writing is how do you not upset the reader so much that they think it was all pointless. If the goal is just to make them cry, then tragedies are easy. Rather the reader needs to believe that even when everything is going wrong a happy ending is still possible, and they need to believe this right up to the final moment. Then make them cry. That’s tragedy.
This is closely linked to comedy, though you may not think it.
Originally they were very similar stories, only in comedy, they all live. And get married. Hooray. It wasn’t necessarily funny, that part of comedy came later. But a traditional comedy, which has since merged into romance, is generally that we all live happily ever after, once the bad stuff has been negotiated.
As an example, Romeo and Juliet was performed as a comedy for many years after its original production, as the trend was towards happier stories. It was only in the late 19th century and into the 20th century that the play was restored to its tragic origins, so that everyone could start bawling again. Still, it illustrates the close connection between the two styles of plot.
Now, rags to riches.
A touch out of vogue these days, was quite common with Dickens and the like, but then became less popular as a plot during the 20th century when storytellers tended to favour the thwarted dreams rather than the achieving of immeasurable wealth.
What makes this plot work is the protagonist, who needs to be so gosh darn lovely that we want them to have everything, they deserve everything, and even when they get it, they’re just so lovely and humble about it that we’re happy for their success.
It’s an interesting notion though, that we’re more resistant these days to stories that end with someone getting lots of money.
My favourite: defeating the monster.
Clearly borne out of Greek mythology as well, these days this plot usually is bound up in the middle of others – Harry Potter is clearly a voyage and return with a quest thrown in, but building up to a defeat of the monster – and the more interesting plots of this type these days tend towards the symbolic rather than the literal monster.
My favourite of the recent reworkings of defeating the monster is The Hunger Games, where the monster is at turns the game itself, the establishment, society, and – so good for a YA novel – adults.
This can take many forms, and like the previous plot, is often wrapped up with others. Essentially, the protagonist needs to change entirely. They need to lose who they were, either through misfortune or their own misdeeds, and then start again. From nothing, they must build themselves up to a better version of who they were. So the plot is essentially character-driven, where they chart a bad-to-good journey.
And that’s it, for the seven plots. Big, broad, applicable archetypes. At times they can overlap or intersect, one can transform into another, but to understand them is to hopefully understand your own stories.
This is not to say stories must follow the plot, but to know the plot is to understand the plot, and from there you can make it serve your own purpose, and tell your own story.Tagged: list, plot, reading, stories, storytelling, writing
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Posted September 11, 2013 by Mark
I recently took a look at some great opening lines from science fiction novels. Today I’m going to share some great opening lines from fantasy novels. As usual, leave your suggestions in the comments!
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” - The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
“The storm had broken.” - Magician by Raymond E. Feist
“‘We should start back,’ Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. ‘The wildlings are dead.’” - A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
“‘Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” - Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
“A history of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.” - Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
“It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym.” - The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
“Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.” - The Magicians by Lev Grossman
“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.” - Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Tagged: Books, fantasy, list, novels, opening lines, reading, series
Posted September 10, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
You were dreaming of a book. But then again, you’ve already opened Twitter. You’ve already clicked the link. Now you’re starting to read this blog post and wondering what’s going on. You notice that the title says it’s something about enhanced ebooks yet it occurs to you that a. This is not an ebook. b. This is not especially enhanced. c. This post appears to be rather poorly adopting the style and tone of a dodgy 80s knock-off of a Choose Your Own Adventure.
You don’t turn to page 86.
Instead, you scratch your head. It is odd. Very odd. Is this deranged? Are you deranged? You contemplate briefly the prospect of either having a good lie down or a cup of tea. Neither are available to you right now, so you decide to keep reading.
You really would like to know what’s happening with enhanced ebooks and how they’re going to enhance your life. It’s why you clicked the link in the first place. Of course, it may occur to you that the ideal thing to do would be to search for ‘Enhance Ebooks’ in Google instead. Surely that’ll get you to the point more quickly. But then, the quandary. Ebook or E-book? (E! Book!)
Without a moment’s hesitation you decide to keep on with this endeavour. You sense there may be a subheading or a dot point on the horizon, or at least beyond the bottom edge of the screen.
So what are enhanced ebooks?
You were right! And what are they? You know. Those ebooks with the extra features. Like that one for Game of Thrones that looked all fancy and schmicko and did contain some excellent audio extracts, a hyperlinked character index and an interactive map, but in the end you found it was just a handful of features overlaying the book itself. Extras features, but not necessarily enhanced per se.
You did look at that Philip Pullman book. The Jesus one. That’s right, you remember now. It too had audio, but it was the full audio of the text that could be synced, and had other interviews with Pullman about his own ideas and beliefs behind the writing of the book. But, again you have to ask, is it actually enhanced? You’re wondering if you’re going to get a book that can really enrich and extend your reading of the text, rather than giving you a set of extras.
You’ve already looked at the enhanced versions of Frankenstein and Edgar Allen Poe’s stories that reinvent how the original texts were presented. The Frankenstein version, in particular, grabbed your interest because it made you an active participant in the text, and required your input at various stages, redirecting the narrative depending on where you wanted to go, what you wanted to focus on. It took the epistolary form and turned it into something immersive rather than distancing. But still. It wasn’t the book itself. It was a different version of the book.
You joined Pottermore.
That’s right. You remember the early announcement, the anticipation, and the final launching of the site. Billed as an interactive reading experience, it was essentially a click-through abbreviation of the books, and though you enjoyed the artwork and the notes by the author that gave depth to your knowledge of the books, it still wasn’t reading. Nor did you find your experience enhanced. Worse still, the best parts of the whole whizbangery was at the beginning, where the Pottermore site ensconced you in the world of the books and the characters through a series of challenges. And you found your excitement dimmed quickly, and dulled, and eventually extinguished. It was not the reading you were looking for.
So what next for you and your enhanced ebooks?
You wonder if you’ll ever find what you’ve been looking for. You understand the difficulties, you understand that it’s a new medium, and things like Pottermore don’t come around that often, so you should enjoy something clearly with a lot of thought and finance behind it. But you dream as well. You dream of the perfect enhanced book.
Actually, you dream of all books. Of the ones you find in a store, bound and covered, the fwwwwip of the pages as you fan it open and obdurately ignore the final pages, knowing therein lies the secret to your dreams. You visit the books elsewhere, the ones that arrive magically, instantaneously, a collection of images and pixels and hallucinatory screens that wipe and reappear, bringing you words and stories out of the ether.
But you also dream of something more. Some kind of book that takes all of this and places you there, in the middle, a part of the story and the process and the author’s very writing of their own dreams. You dream of a book that talks to other books, and to the author’s mind. A unison of their words and your imagination, an innovation of reading of hitherto unexplored horizons.
It will be glorious, you think, that undiscovered reading country, but you’re not there yet. You have a way to go. It’s a long journey, and there’s still so many books to read.
You turn to another page.Tagged: Books, ebooks, enhanced ebooks, ereader, ereading, reading
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Posted by Mark
I recently realised that my science fiction reading had gone up another level. It happened when I picked up a work of literary fiction, and found myself itching for the characters to leave the planet. Here are ten signs that you’re reading too much SF:
1. The thought of reading a book that’s not set in space is just weird
2. You make references and people stare at you blankly
3. You make references and people roll their eyes
4. Your biggest regret is that you don’t live in the future
5. You’ve given serious consideration to how you would survive an apocalypse
6. You want machine enhancements to your body NOW
7. You have, at some point in your life, designed a functional spaceship
8. You have opinions, strong opinions, on the best way to undertake an interstellar journey
9. You applied to go to Mars
10. Actually, all these things sound pretty normal. Keep reading SF
Tagged: Books, list, reading, Sci-Fi, science fiction
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Posted September 9, 2013 by Mark
We all know the Stephen King classics. Books like The Shining, It and The Stand will be read for years to come, and be looked back on as some of the finest novels to come out of 20th century American fiction. But King has written so much more than this, and many of his books are either regarded quite poorly, or forgotten. So here are a few King books that don’t have the ‘classic’ status of his better-known works, but are well worth a read.
A story about a wife escaping her abusive husband, who is literally turning into a monster. The scenes of domestic violence are confronting and brutal, and the book contains one of King’s nastier characters. But the protagonist is sympathetic, believable, and her journey is utterly compelling.
Bag of Bones
A ghost story about a bestselling writer trying to cope with the death of his wife, this novel contains some of the most personal storytelling King ever put to paper. It’s a more subtle horror story than usual, and the setting is creepy.
A construction worker is horrifically injured on a building site, and moves to a small island in Florida to recuperate. He takes up painting, and discovers that he’s quite good at it. But then he realises that his paintings aren’t his, he has somehow tapped into a horrific force that is focussed on the island, and looking for a way to rise from the depths. The artist learning to create after an accident is obviously a way for King to describe what he went through when he suffered writer’s block after his own horrific accident.
Another story about coping with the death of a spouse, this novel is about a woman whose bestselling-novelist husband dies, and how the fantasy world he lived in comes crashing into her own life. It’s an emotional love story, with flares of beauty and horror.
The Dark Half
Yet again, a bestselling writer is the protagonist of this book. Thad Beaumont has written violent crime novels under the pseudonym George Stark. When he decides to retire Stark, he ‘kills’ him as part of a publicity stunt. But Stark rises from the grave and comes looking f0r revenge. King wrote this when he had revealed that he also wrote as Richard Bachman, and it’s a dark and violent novel, in the style of his 80s and early 90s work.
Let me know your suggestions in the comments!Tagged: Books, horror, list, novels, reading, stephen king
Posted September 6, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
I was recently fortunate enough to hear Steven Amsterdam talk about his novel Things We Didn’t See Coming. The novel itself is nominally a discontinuous narrative, a projection of short stories into the near future anticipating a world where Y2K actually did occur and began an onslaught of natural and unnatural disasters. However, Amsterdam’s focus is more on his central protagonist, and the catastrophic world is only glimpsed in the periphery; the character is the story, in effect.
Amsterdam mentioned at this talk how he read a disheartening review that described his novel as ‘mundane science fiction.’ What he then discovered was that this wasn’t a criticism, it was in fact acknowledgement of a recently established sub genre.
Mundane science fiction takes a more grounded approach to traditional sci-fi, quite literally basing many of the sub genres stories on Earth in a future where there isn’t really an abundance of technological marvels so much as a disappointment in where the future has left us. It abandons interstellar narratives and technology-inspired worlds for stories that reflect a growing disappointment that the future has not quite turned out how we expected it to be.
Canadian author Geoff Ryman helmed a Mundane Manifesto back in 2004, at a Clarion Workshop set up for new and aspiring science fiction writers. The Manifesto springboarded off the idea that nobody wrote about oil or ecology in science fiction anymore. In short, terrestrial narratives were disappearing in favour of extra-terrestrial narratives. Ryman and others established ideas like:
The dream of an abundant future has lead to a wasteful earth.
There is no evidence whatsoever of intelligences elsewhere in the universe.
It also lists a series of SF tropes that are to form a ‘bonfire of stupidities’, including aliens, flying saucers, Area 51, translation devices, radio communication between star systems and so on. These stupidities are to be ‘set alight’. It’s all a bit of fun, acknowledged in the Manifesto, but simultaneously the authors are calling for a more realistic science fiction, akin to the disappointment a teenager feels upon leaving home for the first time and discovering responsibility, and conflict, and a world full of broken ideals.
This type of mundane science fiction isn’t new, though. 1984 clearly evokes many of the ideas and sentiments of the mundane, even if it didn’t appear so when first published. What has become fascinating actually, with 1984, is how unerringly realistic it becomes with every passing year, even if it didn’t make its deadline.
Books like Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men are clearly in the mundane vein, in that similarly to Amsterdam’s book, the science of the science fiction is pushed to the edges of the story. However, this is where I think the Mundane Manifesto becomes problematic.
These books and others – Never Let Me Go also comes to mind – clearly fulfill the obligations of what constitutes mundane SF, but they are just as likely to be called dystopian fiction, speculative fiction, post-apocalyptic, or even just straight soft-SF.
Have we got too many genres? There does seem to be an incessant need to label books, to classify them so that we know what box they belong in. And generally I’ve got no issue with that, but the mundane science fiction seems one step too far. From the texts mentioned above, and others either referenced in the Manifesto or implied by its standards, all of them could quite easily fit into pre-existing genres or sub genres. It’s not needed.
What it works really well as, though, is a descriptor. As in the science fiction aspect of the novel was really mundane. It’s still SF. It’s just SF that focuses on the mundanity of life, on the everyday, situated in a different day, a future day, an interstellar day, and so on. Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris is just about as mundane as it gets, while still essentially being straight SF. And Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky is, well, look at the title! (Both of these have been adapted by into excellent science fiction films that eschew the style and substance of ‘typical’ science fiction cinema.)
So where does that leave mundane science fiction? Necessary? Useless? There has been a trend – particularly in cinema – towards a more sombre, unimpressive science fiction lately, but perhaps that’s just the current sentiment. Genres typically reflect the psychology of the society, and we are living in one continually on edge about what the forecast may tell us. It makes sense for our fiction to mimic, explore and develop our fears and concerns into wondrously effective narratives.
I’m just not sure we needed another label.Tagged: Books, film, reading, Sci-Fi, science fiction, writing