Thursday, September 30, 2010

[Anthology Review] Evolve: Part 7

Soulfinger by Rio Youers [A]

The world has become a battlefield between mysticism and skepticism. With scientific progress, fact trumps belief, logic has become status quo and whatever phenomena don’t have explanations are scratched off as non-existent.

Youers plays with this battle between what seems real as governed by modern common sense and what may possibly be outside its reach. In Soulfinger, music critic Peter has been commissioned to write a piece on Blues performer Soulfinger, who is hailed by bar patrons as the greatest Blues performer in the world. A ballsy claim, considering Soulfinger’s never performed anywhere else other than The Stackhouse bar. Peter represents the modern man. Two feet firm on the ground, a university degree and career, he’s content with. He questions, analyzes and rationalizes, which is why he feels out-of-place in this bar, whose bartender claims to have lived close to two centuries. The Stackhouse is anachronistic, a small debris of a past long gone, sailing through the cracks of the technological present. For instance, there is no show program, no schedule. The segmentation of time, its swift consummation is absent. It has been replaced by a sense of timelessness as Peter prepares to meet Soulfinger. The uncertainty in when the star will come adds an otherworldly feel to the bar.

While waiting along with Peter, I was fed with partial answers to how people inside this bar have remained young and then gradual flashbacks into Soulfinger's past and his second birth. In these moments the story gains a Southern Gothic flavor. The text dripped with descriptions, which did not smother the story or the pace. The piece became alive, vibrant and atmospheric. The vampire morphs into this new creature. The gloss and sexuality as attributes thankfully have been weeded out, so that the vampire can breathe as a dark figure from the lore, suited for campfires scares.

He shines, the Hoodoo Man, and Abram always thinks he should leave incandescent puddles behind him when he walks… Thin as birch, slender shoulders, long fingers. Red flames dance in the window of his face.

Soulfinger presented an alternative vampire. Youers answered the theme of the anthology with in a cheeky manner, showing that vampires can still haunt, still make people mourn. Vampires don’t need to evolve; people need to be reminded that vampires are dark and tragic. Youers has written a visual masterpiece, in which the present dilates in the past as myths and lore come out to play in the dark.

Bend to Beautiful by Bradley Somer [C]

I’ll be short since Bend to Beautiful is more flash rather than short fiction. It’s a vignette to me, but I have never been good at categorizing fiction. Point is that this piece does not say much. Nor does it make me think. I, as the reader, was a voyeur, who happened to witness a human court a vampire and the subsequent one night stand. A short episode, one of the countless the night brims with.

The issue I had was that neither character stood out to me. Both were strangers to me as they are to each other. Both were sad. Both were broken and unsatisfied with their lives. I wish I could understand the point to it all. Perhaps both discovered in peace in the displeasure they cause to one another? Who knows? I, for one, did not care enough to find out. The narrative was bland in the sense that it did nothing to keep me reading further. No sense of individuality to the words to grab my attention. Altogether, this is a lackluster effort with a vampire that I’ve seen in countless shows and parodies.

Evolving by Natasha Beaulieu [F]

So far EVOLVE consisted of some strong and some weak examples of fiction. I’m saying this, guided by my own tastes and judgment. But even the worst of the unappealing did not make me drop mid-sentence and abandon it unfinished.

Evolving made me skip it. It starts slowly, with clichés [club opening; the narrator's comments on how fake people are and how he seeks real vampires], but without a hook or a promise to keep me as a reader. The prose is flat and focused on informing rather than showing me:

He also has a problem with his eyes. When they are exposed to bright light, he tends to lose the ability to focus. To avoid this, he wears dark sunglasses during the day. At night, his vision is very sharp.

Three pages of this and I couldn’t will myself read.

[Video] Birds of Prey take to the Stage

This is probably old by now, but still deserves to be mentioned here, because I have been listening to this over and over again. In Batman: The Brave and the Bold latest episode Batman turns into a mobster after he's been stricken with amnesia. The Birds of Prey are on getting things back to how they were supposed to be and along the way perform this sizzling, jazzy number [or at least I think it's jazz]:

Writer Gail Simone [famous for Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman] has had major fun slipping in some heavy sexual references, which I am sure even pre-teens will catch on to, but somehow this has gone under the radar. Justice League members become ranked by hotness and skill, but some of the guys don't do so well. It's hinted that Aquaman is far from well endowed and that the Flash suffers from premature ejaculation... It's all very fun to listen to, the music is fantastic and the singing surprisingly up to bar.

[Review] Shade Fright by Sean Cummings

I have a new review up at the Book Smugglers for my monthly feature there: A Dude Reads PNR. I have to say that I cheated this time by reading Urban Fantasy [Shade Fright by Sean Cummings], but I could not resist it. Here is my explanation on why that is:

‘I fell into this job quite by accident, when I discovered that I possessed the ability to see the preternatural world. There are a handful of people with similar abilities, and part of my job is to locate them, since Government Central and Infrastructure Canada like to keep track of these things. Don’t ask me why’.

There’s a malevolent force in town, and it’s quite literally Valerie Steven’s job to determine who’s behind it and why they want to destroy the world, starting with Calgary. She’ll have help, in the form of her best friend (now more or less a zombie, unfortunately), a powerful dwarf troll, and the ghost of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (but he goes by ‘Bill’ these days). But that’s not all – Valerie has some tricks up her sleeve and, she hopes, luck on her side. Oh, and her boyfriend, Dave. He drives a dump truck.


Shade Fright caught my attention with its cover. You know, Urban Fantasy has trademarked the leather-clad, semi-men’s-magazine chick with a weapon. It’s enough to see a different art decision to realize I’m dealing with a different book. I was right! Boy, ain’t I always. I dealt with a Canadian book. Say goodbye to the dark and gritty American cities and say hello to the great Canadian outdoors, though technically Valerie lives in one of the bigger Canadian cities. Out with the cynicism. In with good-natured humor and sarcasm that works. It’s one of the few Urban Fantasy novels to stray away from the UF formula: Violence, Forbidden Love [or at least frowned-upon love], Leather, Sex, Dark Everything, Dramatics [due to the Dark Everything].

For the rest, click on the link above.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

[Book Review] The Colony (The Colony 1) by Ray Harper

This one just sounded interesting. I enjoyed Karen Traviss’ militant ecological aliens in the Wess’har Wars series and therefore I thought this could be something for me. It is also Ray Harper's debut novel and I am always looking for new authors.

The author himself sounded interesting: Ray Harper, originally from Worcestershire, is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire in Luton, lecturing in biochemistry, biotechnology, computer applications, genetics and molecular biology. He has carried out research and consultancy work in adipose tissue metabolism, cell immobilisation and the development of World Wide Web-based assessment systems and virtual learning environments. He has published a number of lectures and articles in learned journals.

The story is mostly about establishing the colony from the perspective of a man that comes to the experience from outside. Lindstrom is an Environmental Assessor and he stays on after they approved the planet. The colonists trained for this and they are already a team. They struggle with technology and the alien environment and sometimes with themselves. That part is quite entertaining and could have been enough for a book, but there is more to the planet. There are ancient guardians left there to protect it and its environment from outside change. Their interests start to clash with the interests of the colony before this book is over.

The story is very much a YA narration but I had some problems with the flow of the story. Some of the twists and turns seemed to lack foundation and just happened. When it is at its best it reminds me a bit of Allen Stross' Coyote novels, but it is uneven and the abrupt ending in the middle of the 'conflict' with the aliens left me unfulfilled and without closure.

I found many of the characters interesting and I could start to root for them a bit but it suffers very much from being half a book.

As with way too many books there is no indication that this is the first book in a series. Come on! How hard is it to write 'first book in a series' or 'new series'? What kind of horse trading is that? (No offence to the horse traders intended, it is just a figure of speach).

The Colony is Ray Harper's debut novel and it has some flaws but there is bits and pieces that are good. The whole thing could probably do with a good editor. I hope to see more of his ideas in the future because I for one would like to know what is going to happen next.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson


Title: The Colony
Author: Ray Harper
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Hardcover: 228 pages
Publisher: Book Guild Publishing 26 Aug 2010
Copy: bought by me from Amazon

Order from: Book Guild Publishing | Amazon US | UK
It is the future. Earth is overpopulated and running out of food. Starvation is rife. Everywhere society is disintegrating, with wars and civil unrest. The need to find new worlds to colonise is paramount.

A new planet is discovered, surveyed, found to be suitable, and the first wave of colonists arrive, joined by the survey scientist, Linstrom. Initially, he is resented as an outsider, especially by the colonists’ leader, Jon Williams, who sees him as a possible rival. The colony quickly expands, felling trees and planting crops, hunting and fishing and exploring the hinterland. The colonists also begin to use newly developed human-cloning techniques to rapidly expand the population.

Also on this planet, but unknown to the settlers, are the Monitors, intelligent clones left behind by a departed civilisation to safeguard the planet’s ecology and protect it from despoliation and development. They have the new colony under observation, and they do not like what they see …

The Colony belongs in the classic tradition of science fiction grounded in real scientific and technological knowledge and expertise, but enriched with true story-telling art. It marks the debut of a new, exciting talent.
Rating 6/10

Sunday, September 26, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] The Genesis of 'Angel of Death'

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

This week’s guest is J. Robert King. He is the author of one my favorite novels Angel of Death [Review],which impressed me with its realistic depiction of a monster. If you think American Psycho was frightening, because Patrick Bateman could very well exist, than the Angel in King's novel will stop your pulse with his sound logic.

Bio: J. Robert King is the award-winning author of over twenty novels, most recently The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls and the Mad Merlin trilogy. Fifteen years ago, Rob founded the Alliterates, a cabal of writers in the Midwest and West Coast of the U.S. Rob also often takes to the stage, starring in local productions such as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Arsenic and Old Lace. He lives in Wisconsin with his lovely wife, three brilliant sons, and three less-than brilliant cats.

The angel of death in Chicago oversees all people in the megalopolis, making sure their deaths fit their lives. Though most deaths naturally do, those that result from serial murder do not, so the angel spends much time trailing a serial killer in his patch.

On the trail of one such man, he encounters a cop and falls in love with her. When he is assigned to kill her, though, he has to make a choice between divinity and humanity.

The Task: I asked Robert to write a post detailing he created his character and pieced the psyche of a sociopath-monster. What I received exceeded my expectations. King not only answered my question about Azrael, but also presented a genesis for his novel.


People wonder where Angel of Death came from. It is, after all, a dark book.

Well, the quick explanation is that the book I'd written before it had been rejected by multiple publishers, and I was pissed off and wanted to write a pissed-off book. That's the quick explanation, and it's the truth, but it's not the whole truth.

Let's look at the elements of Angel of Death. First, of course, there's an angel, a servant of God who is charged to kill us. If this angel were human, he would be a serial killer. It is his very divinity that makes his actions right and good. Were this angel to lose his divinity and become human, quiet suddenly the work he has been mandated to do becomes the most monstrous act imaginable.

So, if God tells you to do it, you are justified in doing it, right?

Think about suicide bombers, sixteen-year-old kids from slums blowing themselves up. We think this is horrific, but the bombers do not, nor the men who strap explosives to them, nor the mothers who mourn them as holy martyrs. All of these people know that God wants sixteen-year-old boys to have their bodies ripped apart and have their bones fly as shrapnel to rip apart others.

Sin is disobedience to God, so if God wants you to kill yourself, then living is sin. If God wants you to kill the other passengers on the commuter train, then sparing them is sin. If God wants an old man to take his only son up to a mountain and ram a knife into the boy's heart, the old man is not a murderer but a saint.

That is, in part, what Angel of Death is. It's an exploration of the terrifying and grotesque nature of faith that justifies such atrocities.

Of course, to pull off a novel like this, I had to do a lot of reading about actual serial killers-- peering into their psyches, studying their crimes, watching them do what they did to their victims. I was appalled. I could not have imagined such depravity. What human beings are capable of doing to each other beggars the mind. I had launched this book to rail against God but found human crimes to be equally horrendous. Just when I was about to nail God to the wall, I discovered I had to nail myself there, too, and every other human being.

Like I said, this book came from a pretty dark place.

So, I started to write. At first, it was just me and the angel, wrestling. But I knew I wouldn't win a match like that. I brought in Donna Leland to distract the angel so that maybe I could escape. She was the good human there trapped between me and my monster. And the novel just unfolded that way. I didn't so much write it but chronicle it, observing with a kind of sick terror as Donna struggled to understand and then to love and then to escape Azrael.

I hid behind Donna, hoping she could save us both.

All right, so you know two thirds of the story, the railing against God and the railing against humanity. But the third part of Angel of Death—the part that makes it especially unsettling to my family and friends—is that I put all of them in it. I set the scenes in the town where I live and the town where I grew up and even the flood-prone Methodist campground where I spent many summers as a youth. The angel kills a young couple driving through Chicago on their way to Disney World on their honeymoon—a precise description of my wife and I when first we were married. The angel kills Mr. Strange, a garbage man in my hometown who was reprimanded for stalking my little sister. The angel kills all sorts of people I know, but mostly kills me in different phases of life.

Over and over, that angel is killing me. It was the one way I could escape him. Let him kill me again.

Yes, Angel of Death came from a really dark place.

It's a furious book, a murderous book, and I'm glad it is on paper now instead of in my mind. Of course, if the Angel of Death has his way, this book will somehow still be the death of me.

We'll see.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

[Cover] Hellebore & Rue, an Anthology

"Magic that detects crime, magic that heals, magic that destroys: all this and more and in hands of queer women who use their powers to shape their worlds and their destinies. A greenmage reunites with her former partner on one last mission in Connie Wilkin's "The Windskimmer." A shaman calls on the power of the Medicine Buddha to fight demons in Jean Marie Ward's "Personal Demons." An aging school nurse learns a dark secret about her magical heritage in Steve Berman's "D is for Delicious." Hellebore and Rue includes 12 stories by Juliet Kemp, Lisa Morton, Ruth Sorrell, Corina Calsing and other talented authors."

“Counterbalance” by Ruth Sorrell
“Trouble Arrived” by C.B. Calsing
“Personal Demons” by Jean Marie Ward
“The Windskimmer” by Connie Wilkins
“Sky Lit Bargains” by Kelly A. Harmon
“Gloam” by Quinn Smythwood
“Witches Have Cats” by Juliet Kemp
“D is for Delicious” by Steve Berman
“And Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness” by Lisa Nohealani Morton
“Bridges and Lullabies” by Rrain Prior
“Thin Spun” by Sunny Moraine
“A State of Panic” by Rachel Green

I am in love with the premise and the cover art, so I will patiently be waiting for this anthology to be released. The guys at Drollerie Press certainly have outdone themselves with this.  

[Anthology] 'When the World does not want me to Schedule and Other Stories' edited by Harry Markov

Covert Art by A.M. Slater 

This is the bran new anthology that will hit the shelves... well, someday. My publisher is So-Not-Existing Press, who has been ecstatic to get my short stories assembled and illustrated. Here is the official blurb:  

"When things do not go the way I want I usually blame the World, because cursing myself in the mirror is not exactly comfortable [as I strive to comb my hair rather than cursing]. Most of the time I have to blame myself and this time it's semi-the-same, but to be honest there is a grand conspiracy against. I swear in my tin-foil hat."

Here is the line-up: 

"When the World does not want me Schedule"
"I'm so slow, because I am learning to type with Ten Fingers"
"Changing People for Features"
"Overcommitment Issues [Tis that Simple]"
"TV has me Distracted"
"Is that Alcohol?"
"Is that Free Buffet?"
"Why is my Family like that?"
"Icecream Blues"
"Procrastinatio... *snore*"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Should we read while being exceptionally emotional?

It's rather random, I know, so I'll keep it short and simple. Should we [reviewers] read when we are emotional? What I mean here is when we are emotionally engaged outside the norm. Not the general moods that come and go through the day, but the strong emotions. This question came in a short conversation I had with @thedilletante and @belovedsnail on Twitter about reading while emotional [due to something that has happened outside the book's covers]. And it's an interesting aspect of the reviewer ethics the blogosphere has a perchance for discussing.

@thedilletante feels as if it's not fair [to the author] to read, while groggy and let that affect her judgment, while @belovedsnail says [and I quote]: I like reading when I feel emotional -- but I suspect it wouldn't help me with a review. Why I'd never be a reviewer. :) Up until that point I've never payed attention to how my general emotional state can or has already molded my opinion on the books I've read and reviewed.

I know that people who wish to see things will see them eventually. What I'm asking is: Is it not possible that being happy, angry, sad above the normal shade what you get out from the current book you are reading? In an episode of Drop Dead Diva [yes, mock me for my TV series taste], a reviewer posts a negative review of an Inn on the TOP travelguide site and the situation progresses to a trial. During litigation, it comes to light that the reviewer in question has gone through a bad break-up, which accounts for all the scathingly negative comments. With life constantly imitating art, is it not possible the same to happen with us, the book reviewers?

Can stress at work leave me so drained so that I can't focus and call the novel bland? Can I get so angry with someone that I channel the negativity into my reading and lash out on an innocent novel? The reverse is also possible. Can I for instance be so happy that something I've been waiting for has finally happened that I find myself with rose-colored glasses and love every word of the novel I'm reading? It's possible. I may have done it already, but it's really hard to spot it. After all, reviewing subjective as it can get and I'm not suggesting we have to go meditate and achieve perfect, balanced Zen and impartiality to sit, read and then review.

I'm more interested in hearing whether there is something to my theory or not. What do you think about all this?

Monday, September 20, 2010

[Reviwer Time] Sharon Ring from Dark Fiction Review

Blog: Dark Fiction Review
Founder: Sharon Ring
First Post: January, 2009

Genres: Horror, Dark Fiction

From the Chick Herself: Welcome to Dark Fiction Review. This blog was originally started to review horror novels and short stories. It’s expanding a little. You can now find reviews on and interviews with sci-fi and fantasy authors: coverage of book-related events: news of books deals in the genre field.


Harry Markov: Sharon, it’s wonderful to see you here on Temple Library Reviews. Please get comfortable and let’s start at the beginning. Who is Sharon Ring and what does she do, when she is not riding the currents of the Internet?

Sharon Ring: Hey, Harry. Who am I and what do I do away from the internet? Well, at the moment, much of what I do away from the internet is what you end up seeing somewhere online. I’m a book blogger, so I spend a lot of time reading: I’m an editor, so I spend a lot of time reading… there’s a trend here. Other than that, I suppose I could say I love photography; I’m that annoying person at parties who always has the best morning-after blackmail photos. I love cooking as well – I know, a bit boring – I find it very therapeutic. Oh, and gardening, I love to grow my own food.

HM: And in your spare time you drive flying cars, fight orcs in metal bikinis and risk your hair in alien scissor invasions… Yeah, I understand the whole energetic multi-tasking, but unless you have a time manipulating device, I’m baffled as to how you sandwich all.

What sparked your interest towards reading? Though to be honest what I want to know is why you are so, so dark. The word ‘dark’ is liberally used on your blog, so let’s discuss your fondness towards Chthonic darkness in literature. Ok, let me answer this question in two parts. The initial love for books is all down to my mother. Thanks to her I was reading from a VERY young age, anything I could get my hands on, I would read it. I read books which very much shaped my later reading habits. I would devour stories about ghosts, monsters in the closet and under the bed, devils and demons.

I had a fairly messed up childhood so I think the stories I was beginning to grow interested in probably reflected that. I liked reading about kids taken out of their everyday existence, suddenly faced with the possibility of other worlds, the fight between good and evil. I wanted to be the kid who discovered the door to another world beyond the wardrobe or the girl who fought off shape-shifters in an idyllic English countryside.

Perhaps it’s the same for all kids? What’s around us in our childhood; our family, our built environment, our early experiences with school probably gives definition to the books we relish throughout our lives.

The love for horror fiction itself began as I hit puberty. I would hit the local library every weekend and come home armed with stacks of books. Stephen King and Clive Barker were the two authors who shaped my early teens. King personified American horror fiction and Barker’s Books of Blood was, to my young and impressionable mind, the very epitome of British horror. Times change, of course, and tastes develop as the years roll on.

Now, horror is still my first literary love. I don’t see that ever changing. I love other genre fiction and enjoy reading widely. Still, there is something about horror that is never quite fulfilled by other genres. I think this is true of both the downright mean and nasty, visceral horror of say, Carrie (going back to King for a moment) and of more subtle and well-developed horror fiction, such as Meat by Joseph D’Lacey. There is an endless supply of fear out in the world, most of it generated by our own media and most of it unfounded, but deep down we are all scared of something. For you, Harry, that fear might be of spiders: for me it might be getting trapped on the London Underground (real fear, that one). No matter what though, we all have fears, that thing which gives us nightmares and phobias. And that really fascinates me: the nature of fear, how we face those fears and, ultimately, why so many of us are drawn to the things which most terrify.

HM: To me, horror is about genuine emotion, suspense and suspension of disbelief. Check all these boxes and I will have issues with going to bed. It’s fairly easy for me to adopt new fears, because anything, under the right circumstances, can cause fear. So, I definitely agree with the statement that horror is infinite and it’s infinite, because people want to be scared. Apparently, people do need to crap their pants. It’s is a bizarre psychological need. Why do you gather horror has such a hold, when the emotion itself is so negative?

SR: I think there are two reasons for this. The first is the adrenalin rush – it’s a similar rush to that felt by people who insist on bungee jumping, parachuting and mountain climbing. Horror readers love that thrill – it’s exciting and we’re always left wanting more. The second reason is our ability to control that fear – a horror novel, or movie, is one compartmentalized chunk of mean and nasty fiction. We are able to put the book down, leave the cinema or press the stop button on the DVD player – we control the fear and that is quite a powerful feeling for a human to have. We want the thrills but we also want the safe option of being able to control that fear.

HM: You are fairly new to the reviewing scene [class 2009, yay for fresh blood], so do tell: What inspired you to grab a piece of the action?

Boredom! Seriously, Harry, I was spending a great deal of time working from home (I was a researcher and web content editor for a children’s wildlife website at the time) and I needed something to break from the constant flow of the job. I would read constantly and had just begun reading other people’s blogs (the two that first spring to mind are Next Read and My Favourite Books). I looked at these sites and thought that these dudes look like they’re having so much fun, I’d like to try this out. So I did.

I took a break for a while to move house, extricate myself from a seriously messed up relationship and deal with other real world stuff I had going on. I regret that; I feel I missed out on a chance to build the blog’s reputation properly. Still, life has a habit of getting in the way in most unexpected fashion, and now I think I’m getting into the rhythm of it all. I love blogging immensely and couldn’t imagine a time when I’m not blogging in one capacity or another.

HM: With the basic questions out of the way, let’s jump right into the deep. You are an editor for Morrigan Books [pleasure to work with]. What editorial functions do you perform there?

I started off at Morrigan with a couple of proofreading assignments on short stories. I met the editor-in-chief, Mark Deniz, through the magical world of Twitter and after a while he took a chance on me and asked me to give proofing a whirl. I can’t remember how many anthology titles I’ve worked on now, you’d have to ask the boss man, but I can say that I probably most enjoyed working on Dead Souls as I got to proofread the work of Ramsey Campbell (a horror hero of mine – the man is a legend) and it was also where I first came across Gary McMahon and Kaaron Warren (two extremely talented authors). I think it was during that time I realized I had found my niche: something clicked, felt right, and so I’ve been with Morrigan ever since.

I’ve recently completed my first full-length novel edit and that was such an education. When it’s your own material (be it a novel or a blog) and you’re self-editing, there is no loss of control for the writer. For a writer to finish a piece of work then hand it over to an editor, man, it must be nerve-wracking to let go of your baby. From my point of view, as the editor, I feel a little nervous as well. You are literally taking apart a story, questioning each sentence, each plotline and character and that’s a hell of a responsibility. You owe it to yourself as an editor to do the best job possible but you also have to keep the author’s vision in mind, it’s their baby after all.

HM: And you’ve not been corrupted by the ultimate powers that editorship granted you? That is so noble [btw I give you a few novel edits, before you turn to the dark side]. In all seriousness, I want to know what the thrill is. What aspects of editing do you love?

SR: I love the mechanics of words. I like the way they appear when written in longhand, when typed, when spoken and when heard. That is something which has fascinated me since childhood. I spoke with my mum recently and told her about this interview which sparked off a lengthy conversation about my early years. I would copy the words in books and newspapers, messily to begin with but gaining confidence and dexterity after a short while. By the time I started school I was able to write short, one-page stories and would often get frustrated by my inability to express myself as well as my teachers. That love of words has always been with me then and has now become part of what I do for a living – playing with words.

HM: I am betting that you have read a lot of slush since your start as an editor. What is the worst thing you have ever read? Or, well, the worst type of things you have read…

No slush at Morrigan, Harry, it’s all fresh and crispy! Ok, well, I don’t get to read Morrigan’s slush pile. It’s not something which has been needed yet though I have no doubt I’d enjoy doing something like that. Can you imagine being the person to find the next big horror, sci-fi or fantasy giant? That’d be such a buzz.

Some of the worst stuff I’ve read has been related to the books which have come my way through blogging. Bloggers are very privileged in being sent books which occasionally have months to go before they hit the bookshelves. No matter how much we play it down we all get a little excited when the postman arrives with extra mail. So, apart from the books we buy ourselves or swap between fellow bloggers, these books arrive and we don’t know just what we’re going to find inside those parcels. Mostly, we’re amazed and delighted and those books inspire glowing, well-considered reviews: sometimes, the book is not so good, we see faults and the review still goes online but with hesitation on the part of the reviewer. And then there are the really bad books: the ones which are so poorly written, they make us cringe as we drag ourselves through to the bitter end, wishing we could return to a time before the bookish badness. I think, for most bloggers, these books are rare. But it happens, it happened to me twice last year and once this year.

HM: Which begs the question why rubbish gets published? To an extent, someone’s gold is bound to be someone else’s allergy, but even with this in mind, there are published books, which are universally panned by critics. It’s even worse, when such books become bestsellers. I won’t mention names, because it’s irrelevant and for each reader it’s an individual quest to boggle at the bestseller lists. What’s your take?

I don’t bother with most of the bestsellers. Much of what gets onto those lists is down to marketing, not actual quality of writing. The exception would probably be crime writing; there are some excellent crime writers out there. As for rubbish, that really depends on what you mean when you use that word. Do you mean the stories themselves are rubbish? Or do you mean the stories are poorly edited and somewhat incoherent as a result of this? Good and bad story-telling is a very subjective thing – what I enjoy and deem to be good might be something you can’t abide. One thing I will say is that if readers continue to accept and spend money on poorly written novels, then the publishing industry will continue to release those books.

HM: To jump from one topic to another, help me differentiate horror from dark fiction. As far as I know, horror and dark fiction are two separate genre entities, but I am clueless to where one ends and another begins. Call me a noob.

SR: Dude! Your guess is as good as mine. I can only tell you what the difference is from my point of view and even that’s not an overly reliable interpretation as my ideas develop and change with time. I’ll try though.

To me, for many years, horror and dark fiction would have meant one and the same. Horror is, by definition, a dark and dangerous road. If horror were about happy families and idealized lives, it would no longer be horror, would it? Horror must explore under all the beds, the unlit basements and deserted streets to draw out the fear we experience when we read a horror story. Now, exchange the word horror for dark fiction: it fits, doesn’t it? I think, though, that the term dark fiction is beginning to be less about the element of horror and more about something else. What that something else is as yet, I do not know, but I will say I think it involves that most recent addition to the world of sub-genre definitions – dark fantasy.

In the UK, we have a chain of bookstores called Waterstones. They have recently jiggled their genre sections around, lumping sci-fi and fantasy together, giving horror a little mini-section of its own and then adding a whole new section entitled Dark Fantasy. One look at these shelves will show you a sub-genre dominated by the two big names in modern vampire fiction – Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer. Now, are these books dark in any sense of the word as I understand it? No, certainly not in the case of Meyer and, despite being bloody and visceral in abundance, neither is Harris’s work. Strangely, in the general fiction section of the same chain of bookstores these two writer’s titles can be found under a different heading – Paranormal Romance.

I think this says a lot about how we label genre fiction. There’s a distinct lack of consistency around and what I might define as dark fiction in regard to a title may well be defined as dystopian sci-fi by the next person. See what I mean? It’s occasionally confusing and can engender a whole world of heated debate, especially when it comes to genre fiction awards. The definitions have become thoroughly blurred and while this may mean defining dark fiction in ways I occasionally find quite ridiculous, it also means, I believe, that genre fiction writers are themselves redefining what it means to write in this field. The talented writers out there, and there’s some excellent genre work out there right now, are getting everyone in a spin trying to fit their work into a neat little genre box. Is it horror, dark fantasy or, perhaps, urban fantasy? Sorry, going off on a tangent here. Next question!

HM: Eager to oblige. With this next question I will touch upon genre, again. Are genres helpful [in light of your previous statement] and do you agree that perhaps genres are fossils left from past literary movements? I read that last one on Damien G Walter’s blog, so I am curious what people think about genre.

I think the idea of genre can be helpful but only in the vaguest of senses. When we are so determined to stick a label on something as being one form of genre and not another, we do this at our peril. It narrows the author’s potential to reach out to new readers: it factionalises the many different faces of genre to the point where one single book causes quite ridiculous arguments as to whether it is sci-fi, fantasy or crime (I’m thinking Miéville here) and in terms of garnering interest from mainstream readers, the very idea of reading something labeled as genre is a big no-no. Of course, there is a flipside to everything I’ve just said. It means the reader knows exactly what he’s getting when he chooses a title: it makes for lively debate within the genre arena and, for a mainstream reader moving into genre, it makes it easier for them to find the sort of books which might interest them. Not a particularly helpful answer, is it, but then the whole field of genre is rife with such contradictions.

I read Damien’s article – some excellent thoughts in there. How does a particular form of genre come into existence. You have stuff like New Weird, which was a conscious movement, but it can’t all happen like that, surely? Organic growth must play a part in it as well. I’ve been wondering lately what role publishers have in this – I keep envisioning brainstorming meetings with lots of excited geeks in suits coming up with new sub-genres!

HM: Not a long while ago, Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen called in nominations for the worst bloggers as a counter measure to celebrations such as Blogger Appreciation Week. What’s your stance on awards given to bloggers and festivities that mesh into love fests?

I saw that on Twitter, very funny. Oddly, I’ve been judging for the BBAW stuff. Not because I believe in awards as such, just because it’s something I haven’t tried before and wanted to see what was involved in the process. What makes a blog “good” or “bad” and just who is qualified to pass judgement on that? I may be judging one section of these awards, but who’s to say my opinion is worth shit? There are so many excellent blogs out there and, if I was of a mind to take these award things seriously, then the blogs I’d like to see getting real recognition are not the blogs which would ever put themselves forward for such trivialities. At best, it’s a bit of fun and silliness and everyone enjoys a little of that once in a while: at worst, it’s a closeted, incestuous setup by people with a troubling need to gain recognition for their blog at all costs. I don’t know, this is still all quite fresh for me; I’m quite interested in watching the process unfold and especially interested in seeing how much people are swayed by the eventual decisions.

HM: Also, in the same vein, what traits in a blog do you rate negatively? What repels you in a review blog?

Hmm, I’m not overly fond of flowery, girlish blogs. I have no desire to be bombarded with flounce and frills: I think it detracts from what is often a well-written review or interview.

I don’t like to see lots of ads either. I fully understand we all need money in our wallets and earning through blogging is one way of topping up on our incomes but a blog filled with ads is usually guaranteed to send me scuttling off.

I appreciate bloggers who really take the time to check their content for spelling and grammar mistakes before posting. I think, when I get to someone’s blog, my editor’s head kicks in and I notice the mistakes rather quickly. If the content is otherwise well-written and engaging then it’s not too bad, you can look past spelling mistakes and concentrate on the good stuff.

HM: Okay, okay. Enough with the hard questions. Here is an easy one for you. What makes you fall in love with a novel?

SR: There’s no simple answer to this question, Harry. Each book I read I connect with in a different way.

In one book, it may be the language itself; I love prose that lingers a while, plays with imagery and concepts, rather than constantly having to dash ahead to the next bit of action.

In another book it might be a character I strongly identify with. Well-crafted characters are such a delight to read: they’re not just plodding through the narrative, they shape it and move it. More importantly, when you find a character who reminds you a little of yourself or someone you know, you become that bit more invested in their story. You want them to survive, to beat the bad guys and overcome their problems.

HM: Novels or short stories? Why? Simple. Right? Right.

SR: Novels. No, short stories. No, no, novels. Definitely novels. Or short stories. Yes, short stories. And really, Harry, what about novellas and flash fiction?

I love it all. I go through phases of reading one form more than others but no one form is better than another.

Why is it beneficial to read both? I have read [at Damien G Walter’s again] that shorts capture the small genre fluctuations in the now. They chart momentary changes and eventual directions for the genre. True, not true.

It’s neither beneficial, nor harmful. It’s up to the reader’s individual tastes. That said, I know plenty of people who read novels yet barely ever read short stories: the same is not true in reverse. I’d agree with Damien in short stories charting momentary changes: writing them is a great way to try out new ideas without committing to a full-length novel. I guess, that being the case, that short stories do pave the way for eventual directions in genre. Seriously, that’s not something I’d given much consideration to before now. He’s a wise one, that Damien.

HM: You are doing your own Angry Robot books love-fest [thumbs up]. Congratulations on that. I have to ask though, what prompted you to start this initiative?

SR: I’ve decided I enjoy running themed blog posts. They’re good fun and it gives you a chance to focus on something/someone that really interests you.

Angry Robot are one of those somethings that really interest me. Two of the authors on their list, Gary McMahon and Kaaron Warren, are two of the best genre writers around at the moment and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to spend time blogging about their publishers. On top of that, there is Angry Robot itself. Angry Robot are cool, what more can I say?

HM: As a horror fan, tell me. What is horror in movies doing wrong these days? I’m neither scared, nor am I grossed out or disturbed like I was before. I am a scaredy-cat, so I’m not as jaded. So, I assume that movies are doing something wrong.

SR: Simple answer: remakes. That’s the cause of almost all their woes. They need to stop stealing their ideas from abroad and start looking for new talent.

You seem so involved with the literary scene. Have you considered writing fiction?

I do write fiction. I’m just too scared to put it “out there”.

HM: It’s been a most pleasurable interview. Feel free to finish in your own words.

Erm, Thanks, Harry. It’s been a pleasure.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

[Anthology Review] Evolve: Part 6

A Murder of Vampires by Bev Vincent [B]

A Murder of Vampires reads like a classic crime story, perhaps even as an episode of Law and Order or Criminal Minds, but with vampires. The plot is simple enough to summarize in one sentence. Detective Vic Newman investigates a string of vampire murders. Classic elements are brought to the table such as the late night call to duty, questioning of quite uncooperative witnesses, help from a femme fatale [in this case a vampire vixen] and a gun fight as an ending scene. It's pretty straight-forward, but it never sounds cliched.

The reason for this is the vampire element. Vincent explores vampires from a social angle, the interactions between minority and majority through the different species, but having the roles switched. After a signed pact with the government vampires have become law-abiding citizens, who keep to themselves and restrain from killing humans. What's more interesting here is that the key divider, sunlight, is removed. Vampires are light sensitive, but won't combust. This doesn't leave much to distinguish both species apart from the diet [although the longevity is not discussed].

Vampires become more human, while humans become more demonic. This complete role reveral, the taming of the vampire is certainly an interesting evolution that fits the theme of the anthology. Areas with vampires are depopulated. Law enforcement does not patrol them and does not express empathy to crimes committed against vampires. It's a classic case of racial discrimination with a very unusual spin to it, subtly reminding us we still have this problem. The story also carries the message that not only the beast can be monstrous, but the victim as well.

The Greatest Trick
by Steve Vernon [A]

Politics and vampires. Two terms that seem almost related. Politicians have a reputation to lie and vampires are renown for their skill in deceit. Politicians are called blood suckers and well, vampires do drink blood. Where is the harm in a vampire pursuing a career that is more or less tailored for the species. For him there is no harm, but humanity ought to be on the fence.

Such is the case here. Our nameless protagonist's a charming fellow with ambition and taste for state politics, as well as to be the first vampire in Congress. What the reader is treated with is a humorous take on a political election campaign. The light-hearted humor certainly appealed to me. The witty repartee between the vampire and his human campaign manager never spiraled out of control, nor did stall the plot. Instead it showed a realistic glimpse of human-vampire dynamics. General distrust is backed up with holy symbols as potential life lines. Smear campaigns turn sour. Persuading candidates to drop from the race is reduced to mind control and forced self-sabotage with hilarious, yet cruel, consequences.

The humor here is vital, as we see how the human world has altered in order to accommodate the new minority. This is best shown through the shift in pop culture and media:

Bram Stoker's Dracula hit the bestseller list and Stephen King announced he was working on a twelve-book sequel to Salem's Lot.

The greatest trick apart from swiftly stealing the world from humans by playing the rules of the game, is for you to discover, but trust me it's a game changer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

[Anthology Review] Evolve: Part 5

All you can eat, all the time by Claude Lalumiere [A]

First impressions often deceive and this story threatened to be another flop. The protagonist, simply named, Jenny opens the story with an elaborate description of her party attire, which then progresses into a depiction of a party night on the town. Jenny pointlessly overindulges in the use of the words ‘like’, ‘really’ and ‘totally’. Not a promising start, considering how unlikeable the character is. However, upon completion I can say that this shallow person only confirms Lalumiere’s skill with characterization and creating something memorable from elements that made me groan at the beginning.

Halfway through I was still uninspired by the story. Jenny is a party-girl. Her heartbeat is in sync with that of the city’s club life. One night she is assaulted by three men, who in turn get killed by none other than her mysterious and anti-social neighbor. Subsequently, Jenny does the most logical thing and establishes contact with this man and discovers his vampire nature. I assumed a romance was in its early stages, because the neighbor’s described as good looking and he grants his meals earth-shattering orgasms. The vampire’s full disclosure about how all the trivia and movie myths are fiction, didn’t help the story, which didn’t add anything new to the genre.

Then it all turned 180 degrees. The build-up towards a cliché resolution and conclusion lead to an extra-ordinary twist, which impressed me. For the sake of not giving any more spoilers I will keep my mouth shut about everything. The bottom line is that Lalumiere delivers what the theme demands and then some. Because I can’t give you the ending doesn’t mean that I can’t tease you. Lalumiere explores themes such as the loss of self and of memory tied to immortality, which adds realism to the concept of ancient immortals. He also has found a way to keep the vampire an accepted element in human society without arousing suspicion.

I bet you want to read it now.

Alia’s Angel by Phea Rose [B]

Alia’s Angel introduces a softer side to vampires. In the vein of Daybreakers, vampirism is a viral infection. STD, to be exact, which is curios, because it shows how much vampirism is associated with sexuality, the libido and here promiscuity is the cause of vampirism. As such, vampires are genetically enhanced humans, thus more relatable. The protagonist is a newly diseased and has yet to accustom herself to her hunger, which is why she denies it.

Starved she can manifest the ability to fly and usually finds herself crashed in an abandoned warehouse under the care of a street urchin named Alia. However on her latest visit, Alia is joined by a young boy, who has information on vampires as a species and about how to kill them. The boy poisons the vampire with harmful blood and although the story ends with hints as to what happens off-stage, the protagonist has changed the way only the proximity to death can force a change.

Alia’s Angel is not remarkable as it touches on known tropes such as vampirism as a disease, the vampire as a traffic figure [alone and misunderstood] as well as the inner transition from apathy to desire for life. But what I enjoyed and believe to have added something new to the same old was a small worldbuilding touch. What caught my eye was color symbology and its role in the world. Vampires wear only white, until their first kill. Before then, all other colors [especially red] irritates their skin. I interpret this as the color code for the sacrifice of human innocence [white] and acceptance of the new nature [red is associated with blood and is therefore the unofficial vampire color]. Only when the vampire accepts this, can he/she be anything else. Another way of looking at this is like murderous deflowering, in order to keep with the sexual aspect of vampirism. White can stand for purity and virginity [metaphorically] and red is the introduction to the carnal world.

The second element is part of the story. The roles of child and adult have been switched. The vampire is the naïve one, the innocent, the one who makes promises out of good will without knowing whether they could be kept. The small boy is the one who knows better, who has to eliminate the threat. While not heart-breaking, this is touching and makes the story stand out as far as themes go.
When I’m Armoring my Belly by Gemma Files [A]

This story was my first taste of Gemma Files and I utterly fell for her writing. Right from the title I knew that this would be something else, something entirely different. My intuition did not mislead me. When I’m Armoring my Belly opens with a tantalizing tidbit about how the protagonist has forgotten his name, which is then followed by a startling orgy, in which the narrator [later revealed as Benjamin] is subjugated to violence and depravity to bring pleasure to the vampires.

To them Benjamin is a fuck-toy, their food source and designated driver. This however does not bother him at all. In true sadistic-masochistic dependency, Benjamin demands the all sins be committed to his body, which acts as a canvas and the scars as a brutal art form, while the vampires desire to lose their animalistic qualities through each blow they inflict. This doesn’t sound like much, but this is because I am giving it without the prose, without the context and without the experience.

Files presents vampires as beasts. Yes, they’re intelligent enough to remain a secret to our society and cunning in their hunting, but during the climax of their cruelty and savagery they come off as predators, as less than human, not really superior. Benjamin is also a half-breed, cradling two worlds. The dhampir as a concept is not really new, so it doesn’t raise eyebrows, but under Files’ pen this creature conceived in pain and raised in hatred intrigues. First, with the brutality from his mother’s side and then with his further addiction to pain.

The highlight is the actual evolution, which is summed up in this little theory:

And it’s only after the half-breed dines on the predator that a new species altogether emerges.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Does Nikita have a second chance?

I had no clue that the Nikita series were up for a re-boot, until I saw the poster with the one and only chair. In all honesty, I was not a big fan of the original series. TV in my country at the time I was shaping up as a child had not much to offer, so I watched La Femme Nikita for perhaps two or maybe three seasons, but without really caring about it. As you can feel, I wasn't entirely thrilled about the follow-up series. Idea regurgitation in television [and in cinema for that matter] isn't pretty [as I advocate for originality or at least more books to be ordered for serialization], but in the case with Nikita it may be a good thing.

Technically, the new Nikita is a continuation of the series. The same characters are brought in, but the game has changed substantially. While La Femme Nikita focused on the realistic portrayal and de-romanticization of the spy myth [suspenseful work environment, paranoia and Nikita's desperate plans to escape], Nikita presents what happens after Nikita manages to escape from Division. It's early to tell, but the show has oriented towards dynamic action scenes with descent choreography and a complicated cat-and-mouse-game series arc. What I saw from the pilot is satisfying [for a superb, but filled with spoilers coverage, read Ove's post], because while it does not do something entirely original from the get-go, the show is sleek and reminiscent of a Bond movie.

Also, I think CW picked the most welcoming moment to launch a spy show with a strong female lead. Alias and 24 proved that government agents and spies are solid small screen goldmine. Burn Notice, Chuck and White Collar make up the second generation of such TV shows, but their lead is male [though Chuck is more of a male-female duo]. I think there is a strong demand for a spy show with the spotlight on a strong female character, which right now as a type is represented by Covert Affairs. Even so, Covert Affairs [starring Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham] is on the light-hearted spectrum, whereas Nikita will definitely flirt with danger, suspense and aggression. Annie Walker is one kick-ass heroine during missions, but at the same I couldn’t ignore obvious elements of comedic relief through social awkwardness and dialogue.

The two shows have touching points. Nikita’s been betrayed by Division, which had promised a second chance. Annie, on the other hand, has been recruited by the CIA as bait for Ben Mercer, a former CIA agent and Annie’s lover. Both characters have a rather complicated relationship with the men in their lives, which seem to affect the series’ story arc. Annie relies on computer geek Auggie [Gorham] for support, while Nikita relies on her smartass mole inside Division. Action is featured on both shows. At this point seems that Nikita is indistinguishable from Covert Affairs, which means that a battle for ratings is not far away.

However, I think Nikita will get a second chance as a franchise, because Covert Affairs is family friendly material, suitable for a younger audience and for those who want a little joke here and there. Nikita, on the other hand, is trigger-happy and a lot darker. The high-class Bond espionage vibe, the heavy sexual undertones and the near sci-fi appearance of Division will be highly valued by teenagers and college students, which coupled with the shootings and beautifully choreographed fights [with their specific fan base] will attract a wide and varied audience. Unless the show turns out to be a flunk.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

[Art Pick] Typhoon by Derrewyn

I am resuming my Art Pick spot to bring something fancy every once in awhile. I saw this piece called Typhoon by one of my favorite artists, Derrewyn. I love the lines and the shades she works in. The composition is beyond captivating and the creepy mask is creepy. Not exactly fantasy, but more in the weird direction, where I am headed. I am not really sure whether the little boy gets rescued or is in big trouble.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

REVIEW: Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

Title: Darwinia
Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Orb Books (first published 1998)
ISBN 10: 0765319055
ISBN 13: 9780765319050)
Genre: Science Fiction, Alternative history
Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought myself

In 1912, history was changed by the Miracle, when the Old World of Europe was replaced by Darwinia, a strange land of nightmarish jungle and antediluvian monsters. To some, the Miracle was an act of divine retribution; to others, it is an opportunity to carve out a new empire.

Leaving an America now ruled by religious fundamentalists, young Guildford Law travels to Darwinia on a mission of discovery that will take him further than he can possibly imagine… to a shattering revelation about mankind’s destiny in the universe.

I spotted this book when I was browsing the SFF section of a large city centre branch of Waterstones, it was the title that initially caught my eye, the book being shelved with only the spine visible, and knowing that Robert Charles Wilson has written several Science Fiction novels, I was curious to see what Darwinia had to offer.  Once I saw the beautiful cover (credited to Jim Burns) I knew I had to have this book and the summary on the back confirmed what I had thought… this is my kind of book! A catastrophic event, alternative history, humanity’s destiny; I had high expectations for Darwinia.

This is a book of two halves; I wonder if it was originally 2 or more linked novellas because the tone of the second half is markedly different from the first. I was entranced by Darwinia within the first few pages, it read like an old-fashioned adventure novel similar to Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Europe was completely replaced by a new land almost overnight. The entire population disappeared, all signs of civilisation – buildings, farmland, cities – were gone, to be replaced by a dense green jungle populated by strange, sometimes venomous creatures.

The principal character, Guildford Law is a photographer with a fascination for Darwinia since the Miracle happened when he was a child in the US. He joins an expedition to the interior of the continent with a group of scientists, travelling by steamship with his wife, Caroline, and their daughter Lily, to London, now a frontier town in the same location as the old city. I loved the descriptions of London, the Thames clogged with false lotus plants, strange sea snakes living in the murky water, a ramshackle town surrounded by dense vegetation. As the expedition sets off into continental Europe, pursued by Partisans who resent the intrusion of Americans into their former homelands, and facing unknown creatures in a Europe where only the physical features of the former landscape remain, we still do not know how the Miracle came about, or why? Just that the new Europe appeared, fully formed, over the course of a day or two, accompanied by earth tremors and auroras visible around the world.

A big reveal comes towards the end of the first part of the book, and without giving too much away, this is where the science fiction of Darwinia emerges by way of an Interlude. This is also where my interest in the book starts to wane, for I found this information to be confusing and it led to me wondering what was going on… I felt I had missed some important plot development and was struggling to understand the progression of the story. From the comfortable adventure-in-a-new-world scenario, Wilson introduces a completely new and dominant element without warning and this threw me off balance. From this point on, the book becomes choppy, with the point of view switching between various characters, not always in a time-linear fashion. It is fair to say I struggled to reach the end, and while most loose ends were tied up by the conclusion, I had lost interest.

Overall, Darwinia starts out with great promise with the overnight replacement of the Europe we are familiar with. The effects on both religion and American politics is well realised, and the descriptions of Darwinia itself are magnificent. However, I found the characterisation to be flawed – women do not fare well in this book, there being very few to start with, and Caroline was just annoying, forever playing the weak, insipid wife. Lily, although a stronger personality, was too one-dimensional for me and I failed to engage with her as much as I possibly could have. Darwinia would probably appeal to readers with more of an affinity with hard Science fiction than me. There are familiar SF themes in the second half of the book, with some interesting ideas explored, but the sudden lurch from adventure/fantasy territory proved a bit overwhelming for me. I still love the cover though!

Rating 6/10

Monday, September 13, 2010

Game of Thrones: 'Raven' Trailer and Teaser

Just before True Blood's season three finale aired HBO decided to surprise George R. R. Martin fans [who I am positive cannot wait for Spring 2011] with a brand new trailer and a teaser from the upcoming Game of Thrones TV series. Get them while they are hot, boys and girls. I will convert by reading the first novel in the Song of Fire and Ice, when season one launches. 


[Anthology Review] Evolve: Part 4

An Ember Amongst the Fallen by Colleen Anderson [A]

An Ember Amongst the Fallen isn't trademark vampire story; it leans more on alternative Earth as genre. Anderson asks 'What if vampire were the dominant species?', 'What if the human species had not evolved and established their own civilization?'. The answer is this Planet of the Apes meets Daybreakers [at least concept-wise] to give an inside look into this new reversed culture.

The setting is a dinner party, with its ups and downs, personal drama and conflicts. I have to admit that a dinner party is convenient to explore a brand new society with the vampire as the head species. Through Buer's preparations as the host and the story's protagonist I learned how vampirii add flavor to their blood. How they eat, having never to hide. With the party's progression I was introduced to their form vegetarians in the face of Jeanine, an activist and supporter of humans.

Anderson touches on topics such as work, marriage, reproduction, relationships and even religion is hinted with the sentence 'God is known as the Great Deceiver'. Humans in turn are treated as cattle, though we do play the part. There's no sign humans to have developed speech or any cognitive ability to separate us from animals. As the vampirii's sole diet, the hominids are raised in farms and locked in cages. Hominids are to vampirii what cows are to us and that is a pretty morbid reversal of roles.

But I sidetrack. The actual story in-between all these succulent bits of worldbuilding is far from action-packed. It's a dinner party, where Buer hopes to rekindle an old flame, but finds that it's a dead end and in his desperation commits one of the worst taboos in the Book of the Fallen [yes, the Bible]. It's all rather atmospheric and well threaded, but to be honest I loved this for Anderson's skill to ornate a snippet of a moment with an infinite amount of trivia from an uncharted world.

Mama's Boy by Sandra Wickham [A]

I'm ecstatic about Wickam's story, because in the manner of several pages, she gives an interesting angle to the vampire mythology, sketches a likable leading female and in the vein of bloody supernatural horror adds mischievous cruelty. It's bloody, short and grizzly sweet.

The scene: A couple expecting their first born and the mother giving home birth. All is so far not so weird, but the dad reveals he's a vampire and as per custom the mother gets to be the child's first meal. The story is pretty straightforward and I'll leave you to see how it all culminates and why exactly the newborn is a mama's boy.

I had a few gripes with the story. I wanted it to be longer, even though that in its state it could not been anything longer than what it is. I wanted to have a few questions answered as well. Why do vamps breed the way they breed? Are they natural telepaths or do only a select few have that skill? What makes this mother so special in order for the natural law to alter in her favor? What about the father? Did he ever love his wife? I know that this is not the purpose of this short. It's a 10 minute fun thrill-ride with a twist and a darn good one at that.

The Morning After by Claude Bolduc [D]

The moment I read The Morning After I wasn't particularly smitten or intrigued at worst. The prose left me cold. It moved the plot, but didn't captivate. Perhaps it sounds better in its native French, as the language is regarded for its mellifluence.

A woman wakes up to find her eyes missing and tries to establish what has transpired the night before. She follows a pavement and then a wall until she encounters a rapist, whom she in turn murders and steals his eyeballs. She manages to find a main street, but it's too late as the morning has crept through and reduces her to ash.

At first reading The Morning After seems purposeless. A newborn vampire prowls the city, unaware of her nature only to not survive her first night. I still can't see anything that fits or contributes to the theme. This newborn vampire is ticks all the checkboxes as far as vampires go, because this is the vampire firmly lodged into our culture.

However, I tried to look into this a bit more and discovered two very interesting elements. For one, the vampire is deprived of the most important human sense: sight. I read this as a disconnection from the world and the need to rediscover the world through a new sense. I also see how this tied to being a newborn predator, since many mammals are born blind. Is it that the author sees vampires as more animalistic, I can't really tell. Second, the night and day symbolism, which gives the city a certain Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde persona that is not so new. But with the coming of the day the vampire is not safe in a hideout. On the contrary, it gets purged. Even so, I am not entirely impressed with this one.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

[Beyond the Wordcount] Kaaron Warren on Botanica

This Sunday a new feature debuts on Temple Library Reviews. I had the idea back during my hiatus, when I thought I wanted more [because I do always want more in any regard] from the authors I enjoyed. I wanted an insider on how novels are created. I also realize how much effort, research and inspiration is involved behind a novel-length work, which is there on the pages, but the reader, well at least the average reader, doesn’t see how the wonders are created. What the reader sees are the pages and the words. So my intention is to take the reader beyond the wordcount and introduce him to the authors’ adventures in the land of writing, research and publishing.

My first guest is a personal favorite of mine, Kaaron Warren, whom I asked to write on the creation of the island named Botanica from her novel Walking the Tree [review by me to follow next month]. If you follow Kaaron around the Interwebs, then you will know that Botanica was inspired during her stay on Fiji and this is exactly this story that I wanted to learn.


My novel, Walking the Tree tells the story of the people who live on Botanica, a large island almost completely filled with an ancient tree.

I live in Australia, and while I’ve spent many days at the coast in my life, this is not the same as living on an island. You couldn’t walk around Australia, unless you had half a lifetime.

So when we found out we were moving to Fiji for three years, I knew that this would help me write the book. It would give me an understanding of what it’s like to live on an island, and what it’s like to circumnavigate that island.

We stayed on a number of small islands while we were there. Our favourites are the less ‘multi-national’ type ones, like Cagalai (pronounced Thangali), Leleuvia and Naigani (pronounced Naingani). The first two were easily circumnavigated, and there is something very fulfilling about walking the whole way around an island.

Pretty islands

I used this feeling in the novel. Most of the young women who set out from their home communities in Walking the Tree stop along the way, and make a new home. They live there for many years but then many of them are compelled to walk back to their birth communities.

I already knew I wanted this to occur, thinking about the many people around the world who live elsewhere but then feel a great desire for ‘home’ after many years. But circling those islands gave me a sense of how it feels to complete the circle, and how it would feel not to complete that circle.

Whenever we stayed on an island I took many photos and notes of how the water looked, the sand, the vegetation. I felt the sense of isolation and I understood that the people who live on the islands are not often compelled to leave. Again, it’s the sense of completeness, of being whole, you feel when you live in such a place.

One experience I had which made it, mood-wise, into the novel, was the time I was abandoned for less than 30 minutes.

We’d gone out to the deep sea for snorkeling. It was a small boat, with about 15 passengers. The boat dropped us variously about the place, and we drifted, and the boat drifted too. At one stage, I felt that even if I called, he wouldn’t hear me.

But he knew what he was doing, and we were all collected.

The Boats

On the way back, he stopped to let us climb onto a very small island, maybe 100 metres in diameter. I think he said there had been families living here once and there was small evidence of that; some rusty tin cans, a deeper hole right in the centre of the island. My friend and I, fascinated, looked in detail at the things left behind, as did another couple of people.

When we looked up, we were the only ones still on the island.

The boat was taking off with everybody else on board.

“We’ll come back,” the driver called. One man onboard held up a fishing line.

“Fishing!” he said, which explained nothing.

The Deserted Island

There was no shelter on the island; none at all. We had water bottles, which were almost empty. There was no vegetation bar some stringy bushes. It was really, really hot.

The four of us sank into the water to keep cool, and we kept calm by talking about how we would build a fire, how we’d catch fish, how we’d find water, if, you know, this was real and we had been abandoned.

It was 30 minutes before they returned. The arrogant fisherman had nothing, which meant we had to drive slowly home for him to find fish. We were sunburnt and thirsty.

That experience, that sense that I was alone and that there was nothing else in the world; that, I used in the book as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

[The Interview Feature] Types of Interviews

Foreword: Last week Amanda and I discussed the motivations and prep work that go behind an interview. This week we are talking about the types of interviews and how the interviewee influences the length and the style of the interview. Among certain topics, we will discuss the tailored and the static interviews. Or more likely, Amanda will ask and I will be the resident know-it-all.

Amanda: Once you have picked your victim (mwah ha ha!), does that affect the type of interview you will conduct?

Harry: As any good serial killer will tell you, you need to stalk your victims thoroughly and learn all their habits. Where they eat, what they eat, what they read and their preferred choice as far as toilet paper goes. All these are essential. The same applies to good interviewing [even though the comparison is slightly creepy], because it gets the interviewer tuned to the wavelength of the author.

This beneficial in two ways. One, you as an interviewer seem professional [unless I’m delusional about the impressions I make], who knows how to do this. Two, it gets the most out of the conversation and the interview is the best it can be. There is no point in being overly serious when talking to an easy-going author or dropping jokes when speaking to a restraint author.

Amanda: Are some people suited to a different style of interview?

Harry: Yes, I believe so as much as I don’t believe in labeling and categorizing people. I believe that given the right circumstances, a person can be suited for any and every type of conversation. I also believe the same to be valid about interviews, but even so, a person is predisposed to one or two conversation models [judging by myself and the interactions I’ve had with authors and people in general].

I am not as skilled to discern how an author will react to my questions and how he prefers to be interviewed. The written interviews don’t give that kind of information. Now, if the author has podcasts online, I can hear in his voice, whether he likes it shorter or longer, more serious or lighter.

Amanda: Is there ever any benefit of simply asking the same questions of every person you interview? Should you always tailor?

Harry: Yes and no. If you interview an author, then you really want to know more about their work, a book in particular and the author as a person. It’s also safe to assume that you want to learn different things from different authors. It’s common sense to tailor. Otherwise, it shows you are interviewing for the sake of having content on your blog. For the sake of the argument, lets say you’re consistent in what you ask and are comfortable asking [very curious] about a limited number of topics. Then you will receive the satisfaction from the interview, but your readers will eventually get fed up with the same questions.

However, repeating questions works when you’re doing a group interview [kinda obvious]. I believe that has the best examples of how the group interview works. Though, I guess, these interviews group all the answers together. So not exactly what you have in mind. This can also work, when you want to establish a trend and ask authors the same, then sum it up and analyze.

Amanda: How many questions makes a decent length interview? Do some authors prefer shorter interviews to longer? Are you ever given any real guidance or should you just decide yourself?

Harry: There is no universally accepted length. I usually go between 15-20 questions, since I feel comfortable with the longer form. Sometimes though, I can’t personally keep to the number, because I do not feel as nosy about a particular person or because there has been no spark between me and the interviewee. The length is determined by these two factors. If the interviewer is shameless in his/hers nosiness then the interview will be longer and vice versa. The second factor is how well the interviewer clicks with the interviewee. Sometimes the chemistry is not there and the interview shortens or is skinny.

But to answer your question, I think that authors, who reply with one or two sentences on average are best candidates for short interviews. Fewer questions, shorter answers. It just feels proportioned. Authors who answer with multiple paragraphs are more likely to enjoy a much longer interview. Again, proportion-wise speaking.

Amanda: How do you make it sound as though you are conducting an actual conversation in an interview when you have to send across specific questions, and don't know the responses beforehand?

Harry: I send a batch of questions first [six to ten]. When I receive the answers I send a follow-up and then connect the questions with the answers. It’s like plastic surgery. Not entirely organic as far as the flow is considered, but not stilted as sending the whole set of questions. It’s not that hard to do, especially when discussing topics you enjoy. However, there are some truly awesome conversations [not interviews, not really], where the initiator asks a question and the whole is a natural question-reply. I consider Mark Charan Newton’s recent conversation with Alden Bell as the purest and most awesome example of the conversational interview.

Amanda: When is it more beneficial to do a very short interview? What kinds of questions would you ask then to keep it sweet and snappy?

Harry: Two reasons come to mind. One, when you want to be funny and the interview is a way to get a good laugh with the author [given that you know the author]. Two, when you don’t know the author’s work. A version of the last would be promoting a work of the author, which you have not yet read. If you are conducting an interview for any other reason, then a longer chat would be a better option.

I’ve yet to do a gag-interview. I do enjoy some cheekiness here and there, but interrogation is my true vocation. When I start asking questions, I mean business [even if the result is not as I want it to be] and that’s that. Now, for the second scenario. I’d say trust your gut and ask the very first questions that pop. What’s the book about? What makes it different from the evil competition, thus worthy of our attention? Everyone has a different set of go-to questions that are the first to come to mind.
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