Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cheer with a Movie

I'm not the one to wish you everything happy. The holidays of Christmas cheer are usually that time of year, when I sneeze profusely [it's like a clockwork device, people, truly annoying]. So I'll be doing just that, sneezing my eyes off, and hope to watch this movie below:

It's not really cheerful, but I have to say that it's something else entirely in the Christmas movie genre.

Monday, December 20, 2010

[Cover Art] Mort by Terry Pratchett, French Edition

The art fiesta with French Pratchett covers continues. This installment features one of my all time favorite characters, Mort. I'm somewhat fascinated with the personification of Death and I jump at the chance to read a story about Death be it dramatic or humorous. Now, I have not read "Mort", which I hope to remedy soon, but I've enjoyed Reaper Man [which is a bloody fun novel to read].

Although I'm not in love with the human form of Mort prior to his promotion as Death, I do think this is a better cover for current fantasy readers, yet unaware of Pratchett [I think that each new generation has an indoctrination]. It's colorful AND like the original it has many elements, but without looking cluttered.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

[Review] Zoo City by Lauren Beukes [Part 2]

Title: Zoo City
Author: Lauren Beukes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Copy: 364
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, September 2010
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: ARC from Angry Robot

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things.

To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth.
Available from: Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository

Cover Comment: I don't particularly like the US cover. Sure the colors are great and the photo manipulation clever, but truth is that it doesn't do anything for me. It lacks the same WOW effect the UK cover has and that is that.

Review: In yesterday's review I briefly touched upon the plot of "Zoo City", since any coverage is spoiler-risky, and expanded on the world-building aspects of the book, Zinzi December as the driving force behind the novel and pacing. In this post I'll talk about Johannesburg as an active protagonist, the inclusion of animals as support cast, themes and bonus tidbits.

Urban Fantasy, as I understand it, is a genre, in which the city acquires an expanded role. From a setting the city becomes a protagonist, who influences the story. The series I have read in the genre use 'urban' as an indicator the story will take place in a modern setting. Beyond that the city remains a prop and nothing else. In "Zoo City" Johannesburg comes to life and shows its different faces such as Jozie and Joburg. It's a city of many names, of many moods, of many faces. Considering how "Zoo City" follows the noir tradition, it's important to establish how Johannesburg can be both generous and merciless:

The urban sprawl thins out as the road deteriorates; kitmodel cluster homes, malls and the fake Italian maestro-work that is the casino give way to B&Bs, stables, ironwork furniture factories and country restaurants. The hawkers selling giant plastic mallets and naïve Tanzanian banana-leaf paintings and the guys handing out flyers advertising new townhouse complexes get increasingly pushy as the spaces between traffic lights grow longer. A grizzled bush mechanic sits under a corrugated-iron leanto, rolling a cigarette and looking out for customers attracted by the badly hand-painted sign propped up outside advertising exhaust fittings.
At the same time, Johannesburg is Zoo City, home to the 'animalled'.

People take their animals out for fresh air or a friendly sniff of each other’s bums. The smell of cooking – mostly food, but also meth – temporarily drowns out the stench of rot, the urine in the stairwells. The crack whores emerge from their dingy apartments to chat and smoke cigarettes on the fire-escape, and catcall the commuters heading to the taxi rank on the street below.
While dangerous, it still offers protection:

On my way home, the dull crackle of automatic gunfire, like microwave popcorn, inspires me and a bunch of other sensible pedestrians to duck into the nearby Palisades shopping arcade for cover.
Another way "Zoo City" becomes alive is through the 'shavi'. I'm skeptical towards animal characters. It's easy for animals to become deux ex machina especially when they display outside the norm for their species behavior. A bird perched on the shoulder, faithful dog and highly amiable squirrel. Animals can fly, are faster than humans and smaller. Thus it's easy for them to save the human protagonists in the 'nick of time'. The 'shavi' are animals that grant their masters supernatural abilities and display their own distinct personalities.

Deus ex machina is written all over and yet you don't see animals saving humans in dumb or predictable ways. Animals have limitations and I think the reason Beukes gave Zinzi a sloth has more to do with sloths being passive and useless. It's why Zinzi's gift is also not of great use in combat. Zinzi has to rely on herself and not on something given to her. It's a similar situation with other characters and their 'shavi'. Beukes features a mongoose, a poodle, a handicap vulture, a scorpion, a bunny, a butterfly. Animals without fighting capabilities.

"Zoo City" isn't only a murder mystery, it's a book about Africa. You can sense that in the heavy use of African slang. On one hand, the slang creates authenticity and adds a pop to the story, separates it from the rest and gives "Zoo City" authenticity. Then again, I could barely grasp any of the African words, only what the contrast hinted. Thankfully, Beukes knew where to restrict herself so that the novel remains accessible to outsiders. Beukes discusses muti, the African traditional medicine as well as the ritualistic murders practice.

As a book about Africa, "Zoo City" handles themes typical for Africa. To me the social dynamics between the normals and the animalled recalls the apartheid system, which was the status quo until not that long ago. However, here the segregation is based not on race, but on whether the individual is an aposymbiot or not. The whole novel deals with Zoo City's forceful isolation from the rest of Johannesburg. There is obvious discrimination. Zoos are denied job positions, services and even entrance to certain establishments. It's as if there is a city within the city, which the majority pretends not to exist.

A truly spectacular novel.

Verdict: 'Zoo City' the novel for the adrenaline junkie. Gripping from page one, it rockets through a rollercoaster plot. Beukes never stops the action and delivers a page-turner seemingly without a fault. Substance, setting, characterization. It's all there. You can't go wrong with this one.

Reviews I've seen: [if there are reviews I have failed to mention link me up in the comments]

Speculative Book Review

Red Book Review
Dark Fiction Review

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

[Review] "Zoo City" by Lauren Beukes [Part 1]

Title: Zoo City
Author: Lauren Beukes
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Copy: 364
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, September 2010
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: ARC from Angry Robot

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things.

To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth.
Available from: Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository

Cover Comment: I'm having an illicit affair with Zoo City's UK cover. It's wild, it's more than dangerous. The cover represents the novel. It's black and white for the noir. The title is a collage of the city's landscape and the shavi of the characters. Very dynamic and alive considering how monochromatic the color scheme is.

Review: I can't start this review without nitpicking the worldbuilding, because it is the crux of the story. Without it, there would be no story. Beukes alters only one thing about reality, but it has a global effect. Every human to commit a grave sin becomes attached to animal and develops some sort of supernatural talent. As a result, the 'animalled' are regarded as sort of subhuman species, because their animals distinguish them as grave sinners, which have no place with the innocent and pure normal people. Notice my sarcasm, but I'll dig into the social dynamics in "Zoo City" later.

Most reviewers instantly go to Phillip Pullman, when discussing the concept of the 'shavi' [the animals]. It can't be helped since Beukes drops his name at some point. I don't think there are many touching points between the two worlds. For one, Pullman's daemons are the manifestation of a person's soul, the good and the bad. Beukes 'shavi' represent their master's sins and nothing else, a sort of divine Scarlet Letter that can't be hidden from the world and society.

Again, unlike Pullman, the 'shavi' grant their aposymbiots [another word for animalled] an ability [in Zinzi's case the ability to track lost items]. If these people are sinners, then who would empower them and why? Corrupted people abuse power as Beukes shows in her novel. Is it a divine balancing act? An attempt to diminish the sting of marked? Or is it a prompt to change through using this power for good? Perhaps it's all about survival.

There are no answers, but I also don't think readers need the answer. Rarely in life do we find anything explained to make sense to us. Why should we expect fiction to spoon feed us explanations.

What I do think deserved to be explained a lot earlier is the concept of the Undertow, a process of the utmost importance for all 'animalled'. The Undertow gets mentioned almost in the beginning of "Zoo City" and until page 181 I had to figure out what exactly it was. The following excerpt might spoil the fun for those, who have yet to read the novel, but the Undertow only adds to the mystery of this world:

Current scientific thought tends toward an understanding of the “Undertow” as a quantum manifestation of non-existence, a psychic equivalent of dark matter that indeed serves as a counterpoint to, and bedrock for, the principle of existence.

Zinzi December isn't one of the questioning types. The novel isn't focused on the world, but on survival. Now there Zinzi is proficient. She works with what she has and that's no smooth sailing when she has a Sloth attached to her back. In order to survive, she takes up small jobs finding lost items. She participates in 419 scams and her background isn't a pretty one too. Former druggie. Former journalist [never to have a decent reputation] and a current manipulator.

You get the picture. Zinzi isn't a wholesome person. Yet, I couldn't help but care for her or laugh with her, fear for her and applaud her for every new scheme she devised. Zinzi's the adhesive that holds all the elements together. Anything less of this character, stretched between her conscience and what she is willing to do for her survival, and "Zoo City" would have flopped.

Zinzi is the ultimate Bad Girl that is so Good, an archetype popularized in Urban Fantasy and turned into a cliche as soon as the genre boomed. Where other 'Bad Girls' fail with a wide assortment of weapons, martial arts skills and physical force, Zinzi succeed for she's a McGyver when it comes to manipulating others. Her strength comes from within, stems from her spirit's resilience, from her resistance to become her sins. At the same, Zinzi is as vulnerable as any human being living in these circumstances.

And this whole package is enhanced through Beukes' prose:

Yellow light slicing across my pillow like a knife would be the appropriate simile, but it feels more like a mole digging its way into my skull through my right eyeball. There is a boy in my bed, or at least I think it’s a boy. It’s hard to judge gender by the back of someone’s head. But I have my suspicions, based on the sandy curls and the snippetsof last night that my brain is starting to defrag.

Plot-wise, "Zoo City" is a merry-go-round, if merry-go-rounds had rocket engines strapped for maximum velocity that is. It blasts off as a simple task to find a missing ring, then gets upgraded to a missing person's case and at the last stretch involves a high body count. It's a very intricate whodunit noir with secretive clients, frame-ups and scandals ready to pop out in the open.

From this vague summary above, I take it you've figured out how fast-paced "Zoo City". Written in present tense and in first person point-of-view, the book can be described as extremely caffeinated. The present tense in general doesn't allow the narrator to skip any moment in the narrator, unlike the past tense. At the same time, Zinzi's exclusive first person account guarantee's an uncut director's version of what's happening. The combined effect is an adrenaline saturated story.

While Beukes knows what she's doing with the pacing and still delivers a multi-layered story, I'd say that at certain points I needed a break. A short pause to catch my breath. It never came. From one odd or dangerous situation Zinzi flies into another and I needed to sprint after her.

For some people this may not be an issue, but to me it felt unnatural. One scene that I thought was somehow completely without purpose [though I'm open to other opinions] was the sewer chase. I understand how it adds another aspect to Beukes' story in terms of setting, but it felt somehow random and disconnected from the general plot.

Next Part: Tomorrow I'll focus on Joburg and the 'shavi' as active characters, the themes and African culture [though the last in a very modest way].

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

REVIEW: Sympathy for the Devil Ed. Tim Pratt

The Stories:
  • The Price - Neil Gaiman
  • Beluthahatchie - Andy Duncan
  • Ash City Stomp - Richard Butner
  • Ten for the Devil - Charles de Lint
  • A Reversal of Fortune - Holly Black
  • Young Goodman Brown - Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Man in the Black Suit - Stephen King
  • The Power of Speech - Natalie Babbitt
  • The Redemption of Silky Bill - Sarah Zettel
  • Sold to Satan - Mark Twain
  • MetaPhysics - Elizabeth M. Glover
  • Snowball's Chance - Charles Stross
  • Non-Disclosure Agreement - Scott Westerfield
  • Like Riding a Bike - Jan Wildt
  • Bible Stories for Adults, No. 31: The Covenant - James Morrow
  • And the Deep Blue Sea - Elizabeth Bear
  • The Goat Cutter - Jay Lake
  • On the Road to New Egypt - Jeffrey Ford
  • That Hell-Bound Train - Robert Bloch
  • The God of Dark Laughter - Michael Chabon
  • The King of the Djinn - David Ackert and Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • Summon, Bind, Banish - Nick Mamatas
  • The Bottle Imp - Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Two Old Men - Kage Baker
  • ...With By Good Intentions - Carrie Richardson
  • Nine Sundays in a Row - Kris Dikeman
  • Lull - Kelly Link
  • We Can Get Them For You Wholesale - Neil Gaiman
  • Details - China Miéville
  • The Devil Disinvests - Scott Bradfield
  • Faustfeathers - John Kessel
  • The Professor's Teddy Bear - Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Heidelberg Cylinder - Jonathan Carroll
  • Mike's Place - David J. Schwartz
  • Thus I Refute Beelzy - John Collier
  • Inferno: Canto XXXIV - Dante Alighieri (trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
"Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith"
[Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones]

An anthology of short stories, named after one of my favourite songs, all with the devil in his many guises as the theme... how could I resist such a book! Sympathy for the Devil contains 35 short stories and 1 excerpt from a poem. It is an enticing mix of horror and humour, classic tales and modern reimaginings, drawn from a wide range of authors both familiar and new. This is a book with something for everyone.

While the broad mix of stories means that almost everyone who reads this anthology will find something to their taste, the downside is that there are also a number of stories that do not appeal. Such is the way with a large collection of varied writings all based around a theme. Certainly I found that it was a tough challenge to read this book straight through and instead elected to read one story at a time, which meant it took me several weeks to complete. A word of advice... there are some stories (Theodore Sturgeon's The Professor's Teddy Bear, The God of Dark Laughter by Michael Chabon and Jay Lake's The Goat Cutter, for example) I would not recommend reading last thing at night;  terrifying and disturbing dreams are likely to follow!

I enjoyed most of the stories and, as with any anthology, some are weaker than others. I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's post-apocalyptic Las Vegas in And the Deep Blue Sea and would love to read more of Harrie and her world, indeed I would say this was my favourite. In contrast, I found it very difficult to finish Faustfeathers by John Kessel, which was written as a play and I just didn't get the joke. On the other hand, On The Road To New Egypt by Jeffrey Ford had me laughing out loud. There are authors I want to read more of, having enjoyed their contributions: Kelly Link, Kage Baker, Holly Black and Natalie Babbitt. And there were writers I was already familiar with – Stephen King, Robert Bloch, China Miéville and Neil Gaiman, for example – whose stories reminded me why I liked them in the first place.

Sympathy for the Devil is a well thought out anthology, with an eclectic mix of stories all devil-related. The mix of classic and modern authors showed how the imagery of the devil has infiltrated our culture and that, despite our high tech lifestyle, the basic primaeval fears remain the same.

Rating: 7/10

Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought online

Title: Sympathy for the Devil (Anthology)
Editor:  Tim Pratt
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Night Shade Books (10 Aug 2010)
ISBN-10: 1597801895
ISBN-13: 978-1597801898

Sunday, December 12, 2010

[Cover Art] German Cover for "Spellwright" by Blake Charlton

I was planning on a new cover from the French editions of Terry Pratchett, but then I discovered this:

Yes, the German cover for one of my favorite novels for 2010 'Spellwright' by Blake Charlton. I am very pleased with how this one turned out to be. I can't say that it's better, BUT I can say that it is just as good as the US cover. The hooded figure is actually featured in all three covers I know so far.

The US version [below] is un-hooded and the accent falls on the act of spellcasting. You get the sense from the title and the image about what magic you will experience. The UK cover [which I don't really like, so I will not feature] goes into cliche territory of photoshopping. With this new cover things are a bit different.

For one thing, the accent falls on Nicodemius as a character. The reader gets a sense of his story as hinted in the title, which roughly translates to 'Nicodemius, the One to Misspell Magic' and I am saying roughly, because Zauberverschreiber is a unique for the German language word construction.

The US title could have been easily translated into German as Zauberschreiber [if you ever allowed me to translate titles], but then again the reader would be inclined to even read the blurb, since 'YES, this mage dude on the cover can cast spells. Big whoop.' This way more about the character becomes available. Plus the art, on itself, is stunning. The artist draws inspiration from the game Guild Wars and the image is pretty slick.

Overall, brilliant cover.

[News] In Which I try to Conquer the Internet

Me & my minions. 'Overlord' by Red Devil

Normally, Sundays are dedicated to either Twitter Talks [where I ask the questions on Twitter and then post them here] or Beyond the Wordcount [where I ask authors a question and then supply the answer]. However, it's December, the month of cheer [or sneer] and holidays, so I will pull the oldest number in the book and deviate from structure. I will announce some news about my plans to conquer the Internet.

In short, it's happening.

First, I'll review on a semi-regular basis for The Portal: "a free, volunteer-run, online review of short-form science fiction, fantasy, and horror from around the world." It's exciting, because my non-fiction will undergo heavy duty editing. Something I've not experienced before [with my non-fiction] and to be honest the first draft I received bled red. Very thrilling as I'm learning my weaknesses and so far it seems to me that I'm running around in circles.

Since I'm on the subject, you can check out my first review. I got to read Lightspeed magazine Issue 6 [HERE]:

"Genre-wise, Lightspeed focuses on all aspects of science fiction from near-future to hard SF with intergalactic travel. In Issue 6, I got a glimpse of what science fiction has to offer with stories discussing emotional outsourcing, genetic body modifications, time travel and intergalactic CDC. However, between all four stories featured, there was a mutual theme of how technology impacts human life, but also the personal choice of the characters and whether they choose to allow technology to completely alter their existence."

Second, I'm also a review [on a regular basis] for Rise Reviews run by Bart Leib and soon to be officially launched in January 2011. The site's main focus is on fiction and non-fiction, which received below professional level payment [semi-pro and below]. In this category are to be found the small presses. The site is still under construction, so I link will come later and I've yet to start my pick for their launch [Monstrous Creatures edited by Jeff Vandermeer].

Third, I decided to become a bit more proactive about steampunk. I enjoy the aesthetic of it, but I'm yet to acquaint myself with the cultural and literary side. Which is why I'm the newest member of Beyond Victoriana as the newbie steampunker. As a book reviewer I will review books, but I also will be writing historical pieces on my country's history during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I'm on my first assignment, which is of a book reviewing nature and it involves Jules Verne.

So these are my news. I'm going to work my butt off in 2011. It'd be wise to get more organized.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Thor" Official Trailer

The Internet [the comic geek section of it] has been buzzing about the newly released official trailer of the upcoming Thor movie. I'm skeptical about superhero movies nowadays. Hollywood seems to be mass-producing them and after that Wolverine movie I'm really cringing when I hear a new one is in the works. I'm also dispassionate about the Thor project, because the only dealing I've had with the character is through the Ultimate Avengers volumes.

Thor here doesn't seem to be able to fly and he has full recollection of his past, which is not really how the story goes. It's obvious that this won't be a faithful to the comic book origin [I'm getting some serious Wolverine vibe], but then again Chris Hemsworth seems a good fit [physically] and Natalie Portman's involvement might be seen as a sign the movie won't heavily suck.

So far, I dare not be excited about this.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Un:Bound Video Editions is Alive [actually has been since Monday]

I'm this time unfashionably late about this, but my dear friend Adele has the guts and the balls to start a show called Un:Bound Video Editions a video shows gathering the hottest genre news in the UK and present them to you with a camera and lots of humor. I have to say that the first episode has the potential to become something grand. Hope you think the same.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sharon Ring signs Gary McMahon

News, news all around. Sharon Ring, a true Renaissance woman, who has just started a podcast fiction magazine, is a versatile blogger and editor, has ventured to become a literary agent. Her first client is non other than Gary McMahon.

Gary McMahon and Sharon Ring sign author/agent contract.

Gary McMahon has signed up with Literary Agent Sharon Ring. Sharon Ring will act as agent in regard to two titles, The Quiet Room and Rain Dogs (previously published by Humdrumming Press).

Gary is widely acknowledged as a powerful, new talent in British horror fiction. He received a British Fantasy Society nomination in 2009 for his first novel, Rain Dogs, and his short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vols. 19 & 20 (ed. by Stephen Jones). Tim Lebbon calls him a “bloody good writer indeed… heartfelt, talented, soulful… serious and mature.” Conrad Williams describes Gary as “a skilful writer… an able cartographer of these badlands.” With three novels already under his belt, plus three more titles scheduled for publication in 2011, Gary is set to reach a wider genre-loving audience.

Gary McMahon said, “I’m very excited about this new collaboration. Sharon is an ambitious, knowledgeable and proactive person, who believes strongly in both my work and her own abilities to make things happen. Her passion for dark literature, along with the contacts and know-how she has developed over the last couple of years, will hopefully place us in a good position to take things forward and bring my writing to an even wider audience.”

Sharon said, “I’ve been working toward taking on my first author as a literary agent for some time now. I wanted to make sure my first client was a perfect fit. An opportunity arose to work with Gary McMahon on two titles and I knew the time was right. Gary is one of the most talented horror fiction authors on the scene, breathtakingly astute in his vision of the modern world and the fears which lie at the heart of us all, and completely unafraid to venture into the darkest of territories. It’s a privilege to be working with him at this time in his career.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

[Book Review] The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games 1) by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

I have been browsing a few YA novels lately and there was a lot of positive buzz about the Hunger Games series so I decided to give it a try buying all three books at the same time. Having a strong female protagonist and being a coming-of-age story was governing factors in my choice. I plan to review the rest of the trilogy in the upcoming weeks.

The story is about a teenager, Katniss Everdeen who takes her sisters place in the annual Hunger Games where 24 youths are pitted against each other in a deadly survival spectacle to the entertainment of the Capitol citizens and the intimidation of the districts.

It is a post gasoline world where a remnant of humanity survives in Capitol and the 12 surrounding districts in what used to be North America. The districts are oppressed by the Capitol and they have to confirm their submission every year by sending two of their young ones to the Hunger Games.

Katniss is the kind of protagonist that is easy to love. She is loving and caring even to strangers and she provide for her fatherless family by hunting outside the fences that surround their district. She hunts with a boy that she has started to have feelings for. Her love for her younger sister is what prompt her to take her place in the games.

The games is inspired by reality shows on TV as is the story according to the author. Katniss is accompanied to the games by 12th districts only surviving game winner, and the district's other champion Peeta Mellarc.

I smiled a little as I read about the stylist team that meets them and the public's participation in the games by sponsoring champions they like. The preparations for the games are quite entertaining but it is when we come to the games them self that I could really immense myself. It was a quite thrilling and emotional read I enjoyed a lot. The way they used a 'fake' relationship to please the crowd added a whole new slightly disturbing dimension to the story but it works out in the end.

The only complaint I have is that the world is so interesting that I would like to know more about it and the history leading up to the situation it is now.

The games are a morbid blood and entertainment show reminiscent of a crazy survival show.

The Hunger Games is a dystrophian and haunting tale about a vivid and human hero. I loved the story and I think most adults would like it too.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: Bought it myself

Rating: 9/10


Title: The Hunger Games
Series: The Hunger Games book 1
Author: Suzanne Collins
Audiobook: 11h 1omin
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Scholastic (2008)

Order from: Audible | Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with every one out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

[Cover Delight] The Color of Magic, French Edition

Click the image to enlarge.

Again I bring you the art of Marc Simonetti. This is the cover for the French edition of "The Colour of Magic" by Sir Terry Pratchett. As with the cover of Lords and Ladies, I love this cover way better than the original. It's mainly because of the colors. The red of the dragon contrasts very well with the greens and the blues in the background and makes the whole cover pop for the readers. Then the hues used are vibrant and bright, making the book seem energetic.

People say to never judge a book by its cover, but then again covers are a factor when buying books and new generations might find this a lot better. Fresh and updated. The composition is very dynamic and the small things such as the uber-muscle warrior and the chest biting the dragon's tail convey the spirit of the novel the same way the original cover did. Well, not exactly the same. No cover can beat the original, the iconic:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

[Twitter Talks] Can you separate author from writing?

There is not much interlude, when it comes to this subject matter. So I will let the cat of the bag. I asked Twitter:

"Can you separate author from writing? When an author offends you, do you abandon his/her fiction?"

Recently, authors have been speaking their minds on sensitive topics, expressing less than favorable by the public opinions and the reaction of the community has been more than noticeable. Neal Asher took on Global Warming, which puzzled me personally, because I think it was undisputed. Elizabeth Moon does not want Muslims to build a mosque near the Twin Towers and she's not being delicate about it.

Then there are the less than recent examples. Orson Scott Card expressed his very backward and crude opinion on homosexuality, which personally offended me. Not so much that he's a homophobe, but that he had such radical opinions. Last and mildest offender, Atwood. When will she admit that The Handmaid's Tale is science fiction? Anyway, to be honest, I don't judge these people for having their opinions.

Asher can not believe in Global Warming. Moon can not be happy about Muslims and what they want to build. Card can be against homosexuality and Atwood can deny that she contributed to science fiction. I'm pro free speech and I'm fully aware that every opinion out in the open will be met with support AND catcalls.

The element I want to pay attention here is the community and their reaction. When the Card scandal hit the Internet [yes, I gave it an official name] I was one of the many to vow never to read or support his fiction. A stronger reaction [and a less rational one at that] that formed this particular question in my head. When this year Moon's attitude towards Muslims became known, she was revoked the spot as guest of honor at WisCon.

In both instances, the careers of these authors got damaged one way or another. The opinions they voiced resulted in direct blows to their reputations. Obviously, the two authors came as a full package: person, bias and writing.

Again, I don't try to imply that they should lie about their beliefs. I also don't want to discuss, if it's right to boycott authors, when they offend us with their worldviews. I want to check, if it's still possible to draw the line between the author's views and his/her work, especially now that most authors run a blog or participate in social networks.

I went to the people that should now aka the readers and asked them.

Here are the answers:

@redhead5318: I've ditched books & authors if they cross the line from SF or lit fiction into preachy "Praise Jay-sus!" land. It's happened.

@unwyn: I easily separate an author from his views. But I stop buying their books if I feel I disagree with them enough and library it.

@Rhube: It depends. I understand Dylan Thomas was a twat, but I can't not love Fern Hill. Mostly, though I do find it very hard. I don't mind an author not being a saint, but there are some things that are Not OK, & knowing them changes how one reads the book.

@readinasitting: Sometimes, sometimes not. I've never touched Card's work again after hearing his particular perspectives...

@warpcoresf: Depends on the manner of the offense. There are a lot of authors I don't agree with politically who I'd still read.

@MarkTimmony I find it difficult. If they offend me I do abandon their work - unless the work means more to me then 'knowing' the author. But that rarely happens. The more accessible I've found authors the more disillusioned I have become with their work.

@Skarrah: Most of the time. There's books I read & love by an author I don't like but there is 1 author who I can't separate from books.

@gavreads: Depends why you are offended? The core of what Moon and Asher have said hasn't fundamentally shocked me. Thought it makes me aware of their bias

@belovedsnail: Mostly. Some exceptions. I've never really forgiven Ted Hughes.

@stujallen: It's a hard one, Harry. There are writers I dislike and still read their books like Amis & Grass for example.

@DDog: Hard for me to support Orson Scott Card or Elizabeth Moon after reading some of their opinions.

@mrsean2k: Ooh, that's a good question, worthy of some thought. I remember reading some SF writer's homophobic remarks but just thinking "silly sod", and continuing to enjoy his novel. Now who the jell was it?

@dreamrock: Depends on how much they offended me. There's only one SF author that has managed to offend me to the point of not reading.

@katheastman: Yes, I can. If I really want to read the book, I will, irrespective of how the author behaves in his or her private life. If I love the author's writing/books, then I'll read them. If can take or leave them, I'll leave them.

@chasingbawa: I try to separate the two, but if an author is rude and offensive then it does put me off their work.

@Jenni_Hill: I dislike authors who can't separate their own offensive views from their writing - OH HAI TERRY GOODKIND.

@Paul_C_Smith: Yes. No.

@pornokitsch: I can... but often choose not to. Not buying a product is one of the few ways that we have left to register discontent. I also get the sulks with authors that aggressively deny writing genre fiction (Margaret Atwood, for example).

@slushpilehero: Ah. I'd say yes (freedom of speech + American psycho)

@CorbSilverthorn: If I don't agree with an author's views I can separate it from his/her work, as long as it's not an integral part of the work.

@thedilettante: Once I'm actually reading their work, yes. It makes me less inclined to read them (and certainly to buy their work) though.

The community has spoken and in short, we try with moderate success. If we are not sensitive to what the bias relates to, then we can. Should we be truly offended, then it's gloves off.

An over-generalization perhaps, but this is what I draw from the answers.

What is your take on this? Can you separate author from his/her work?

My Sort-of Best List from 2010

I'm a guest over at The Book Smugglers as part of their Smugglivius festivities, in which each guest recaps how well 2010 has treated them and share the top reads you encountered. Here is an excerpt of my post.


It’s the end of the year? Already? Nah, that can’t be true… *checks calendar* Crap! You are most definitely right on target with this one. What the heck was I doing this year? Did the feline overlords conquer Earth, yet? *listens to the invisible man whispering something in my ear* Oh, that is scheduled for 2012. Death by kittehs. Mwa-ha-ha.

Since I don’t really exist [I’m an elaborate scheme devised by The Book Smugglers] I can’t tell you how my year has been so far. So I will lie. Yes, I will lie. I slew mutant penguins, played banjo for the Queen and received critical acclaim for my role as Prince Siegfried in the ballet Swan Lake. I guess the tights won the crowd over.


As usual, I try to be funny, but I do get serious and you can find my sort-of top book for 2010 [HERE]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reading Plans for December

In November I set some pretty hardcore reading goals [given the context of NaNoWriMo and the multiple tests from the university]. Let’s recap. I set out to finish The Gunslinger by King, which I did after two sittings. The review should air sometime in 2011. Patience, grasshoppers and bookworms.

I wish I had the same level of success with Poe’s Selected Works. It’s quite surprising to see myself struggle with a book I want to finish. My relationship with this red volume started in 2009, when I bought it and spent eight months trying to start it, until I did start it and now struggle a third month to consistently read through the collection. It’s not that I don’t like the journey and want to put down the book, but for some reason every time I sit down to read it, I fall asleep. Maybe it’s because it’s so heavy and big that I have to place it on the table and then grow sleepy.

My other failure is Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne. I honestly didn’t expect such a relaxed novel [read this as nothing happening] with that such concentration of scientific references [physics and mechanics do not rank that high in my Topics of Interest list and yes, I do have one; this winter it’s all about suicide chickens]. However, I did not finish it because of time restrictions rather than the novel not being my cup of tea.

December will have me attempt to finish both Poe and Verne. I know I will manage Verne, but Poe is a formidable challenge. My other picks include:

I promised Sam Sykes that I will attempt his challenge and read something incredibly outside my comfort zone. Not only outside what I usually enjoy, but actually featuring all the things that I do not like to read. So Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell [the man who wrote the Sharpe’s Stories] combines the three things I essentially find boring: historical fiction, war campaigns and unnecessary length. This also begs the question: Why the heck do I bother with epic fantasy? I plan on answering that.

I return to Lovecraft with The Colour Out of Space, The Shadow over Innsmouth and Rats in the Walls [I checked them all out and all three together can be devoured in one day]. This is research reading [excuse to read more Lovecraft] since I plan on writing a Lovecraftian horror story set in Japan [because Cthulhu is probably their secret mascot] and I want to recreate the correct spirit of what Lovecraft has created.

I will also continue with my research by reading Issue 5 of Innsmouth Free Press to sample some interpretations and convince myself that I’m allowed to bend the world to my own tastes [I do like being faithful to anything]. But while I’m indulging myself in magazines, I will sit down to read M-Brane Issue 21 [I’m making this public, because I plan on reviewing this]. I have been stashing issues since number 14 or so.

I’m completely excited about Monstrous Creatures by Jeff Vandermeer. It’s a non-fiction title and it’s a new review format for me personally. Then again I’ll have finally gotten my greedy little hands on some Vandermeer [which for some reason is impossible for me; if you have Vandermeer and want it to have a new loving home, then my e-mail is on the left of my blog] and there is even some Mieville in there [also a bonus]. I’m prepping this for Rise Reviews, where I will be a monthly addition to their theme [yes, I am everywhere these days].

Last [and most questionable as whether it will be read in December] is The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. It’s a sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. I have a January deadline to review the themes of both books using Captain Nemo as a bridging character, so it has to be done. I hope the sequel is an adventure novel with a faster pace than its predecessor or I may have to reconsider Verne altogether no matter how interested I am in going back to the basics of speculative fiction.

Wish me luck. I’ve picked only… *does Math* 10 pieces. Thank god for the holidays.

Tell me now, what have you planned for December?
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