Review

Emma Newman and Between Two Thorns

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February 21, 2013

If you’re a regular here, the name Emma Newman probably rings some bells. It should, because she’s a mighty talented person and I’ve talked about her a bit. I was lucky enough to be asked by her publisher to pre-review and blurb her short fiction collection, From Dark Places. You can see that review here. I was also happy to host one of her Split Worlds stories here last year.

Well, now the Split Worlds has expanded into the first of a series of novels, published by Angry Robot Books, called Between Two Thorns. And the reason I’m talking about it now is because there’s a sweet little pre-order special offer happening.

Between Two Thorns is an urban fantasy novel. Here’s the blurb:

Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.

The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.

There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

Sound interesting? Well, here’s the offer:

Pre-order a copy of Between Two Thorns for a chance to win a great prize!

BetweenTwoThorns COVER1 e1355137730189 Emma Newman and Between Two ThornsPre-order a copy of Between Two Thorns and you’ll be entered into a prize draw. If you win, you’ll have a character named after you in All Is Fair – the third Split Worlds novel (released October 2013) – and a special mention at the end of the book.

You have to admit, that’s a pretty cool prize.

How to Enter

Pre-order a copy of the book from your favourite retailer (if you pre-order from Forbidden Planet you’ll get a signed copy).

If you order from Forbidden Planet or robottradingcompany.com (for ebooks) you don’t need to do anything else – Angry Robot will take care of your entry for you. If you pre-order from anywhere else you’ll need to email a copy of your order confirmation to: thorns AT angryrobotbooks.com and they’ll assign a number to you.

Here are links to all the places you can pre-order:

Forbidden Planet (signed paperback) http://forbiddenplanet.com/97907-between-two-thorns/

Angry Robot Trading company – for DRM-free ebook http://www.robottradingcompany.com/between-two-thorns-emma-newman.html

Amazon (paperback) UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Between-Two-Thorns-Split-World/dp/0857663194/

US http://www.amazon.com/Between-Two-Thorns-Emma-Newman/dp/0857663208/

The Book depository (Worldwide free postage)

UK Edition http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Between-Two-Thorns-Emma-Newman/9780857663191

US Edition (bigger) http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Between-Two-Thorns-Emma-Newman/9780857663207

There are two UK launches and an international one using the magic of telephone conferencing. All the details are here: http://www.enewman.co.uk/real-world-adventures/between-two-thorns-launches-prizes-and-parties

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Wild Chrome by Greg Mellor – review

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January 8, 2013

wild chrome web Wild Chrome by Greg Mellor   reviewGreg Mellor is a relatively new voice in Australian science fiction, but his debut collection from Ticonderoga Publications places him firmly in the upper echelons of SF writers at work today. Wild Chrome is a collection of 21 short stories, ten of them new and original to the collection and the other eleven reprints from such august publications as Clarkesworld, Cosmos, Aurealis and more.

Mellor has a background in astrophysics and is one of those writers who can dream big ideas and back them up with believable and potentially realisable science. His stories play mostly around the ideas of the post-human singularity, the arguably inevitable conjoining of humanity and technology, which opens up all kinds of questions about mortality and our place in the universe.

Mellor manages to keep an entirely human aspect in all his work, however big or deep the subject matter. That is, unless it’s one of his stories from the point of view of an alien species, and then he manages to write a very convincing non-human.

Not every story in this book hits the mark dead on, but all the stories are imaginative and entertaining, really nailing the excitement and wonder that we should expect from science fiction. And some of the stories are nothing less than brilliant. I’m looking forward to anything else Greg Mellor writes, but he’s set himself a high bar with this collection.

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On idiot reviews

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December 13, 2012

I’ve said many, many times here that reviews are the lifeblood of an author’s career. And reviews can mean literal reviews, posted at places like Amazon, Goodreads and so on, as well as reviews in newspapers and on dedicated reader blogs. But reviews can also refer to readers simply talking about a book they enjoyed with friends, family and colleagues. That may lead to those people buying the book, so it works just like reviews are supposed to. But not all reviews are created equal.

In essence, any review is valuable. Even if you didn’t like a book and you give it a bad review and a low star rating, it’s still useful to potential readers and it may lead a different reader to think, “Well, the problems that person had with the book don’t sound like problems to me, so I’ll give it a go.” And besides, you can’t please all the people all the time, so a good spread of reviews and ratings shows honesty and means we don’t start to suspect that Auntie Mabel and the Sockpuppets are the only people reviewing the book.

For example, American Gods by Neil Gaiman is a book universally recognised by readers and awards alike as being quite excellent. But not everyone likes it. On Amazon it has a 4-star average rating, but that includes 92 1-star reviews. (I’d be ecstatic with 92 reviews of any kind, but that book has over a thousand in total!) Anyway, my point is that not all reviews are going to be good ones and giving a one or two star review is fine. If you’re reviewing the book.

Wondering what I’m talking about? Look at this fucking idiot:

sea horse 1 star On idiot reviews

In case you can’t read that, it says:

Taming a Seahorse was good. However, Monday I purchased another Spencer book, and it took sooooooooooooo long to get to my Kindle, I was 20 pages into another book………………..

And the idiot gives the book a 1-star review. I’ve deliberately blurred the name, as I’m not here to witch hunt. It’s just one of many reviews I’ve seen that are like this. This “reviewer” is directly damaging the author’s career by reducing their rating average for reasons that are nothing to do with the author or the book and for things over which the author has no control. The “reviewer” even says they thought the book was good, but they’re giving it a one star review because the Whispernet service was slow delivering a completely different novel by the same author. The degree of stupid here is staggering. What the fuck did the author do to deserve this one star review, exactly?

It’s just petty hollering because the person wanted to have a moan about something publicly and arbitrarily tacked that whinge onto one of Parker’s books. If anything, they should have simply complained to Amazon directly (which, admittedly, is like trying to water a garden bed by pissing on the roof).

This is not an isolated, or even uncommon, incident. These fuckknuckles are everywhere. There are even blogs set up to collect all the reviews that are small nuggets of human idiocy distilled into illiterate paragraphs. This is one of my favourite examples of blogs like that, but I can never get past a few entries before the red mist of rage descends: http://leasthelpful.com/ Seriously, it starts off quite funny for the first one or two, then I begin to despair at the stupid, then, after half a dozen or so, I just want to go out and block the blow hole of a dolphin until it drowns. Then hit stupid people with the dead dolphin.

Reviews are awesome and anyone who takes time to review a book is a fantastic person who will be rewarded with cookies and whisky. But only people who review the book. If you’re using a review and slamming an author’s work in order to whinge about postage times, delivery networks, the fact that your dog shat in your bed (which you deserved, by the way) or anything else, then you’re a broken, stupid person and you should have your internet privileges revoked. Please, won’t someone think of the authors?

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Dredd – movie review

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October 30, 2012

220px Dredd2012Poster Dredd   movie reviewDredd is the second attempt to make a movie from the incredibly enduring 2000AD comic strip, Judge Dredd. The last attempt, with Sylvester Stallone in the title role, was such a smouldering pile of crap that I refuse to say any more about it. Does the new version make up for that? Actually, yes it does.

Dredd is the story of a future Earth where nuclear holocaust has reduced the vast majority of the planet to radioactive wastelands full of mutants, generally referred to as The Cursed Earth. The surviving, unaffected members of humanity live in massive, sprawling cities that cover thousands of square miles, called Mega-Cities. The biggest of these, covering the vast majority of the east coast of the US and home to some 800 million people, is Mega-City One. Most people live in Blocks, mega structures of some 200 stories each. As you can imagine, people crammed in those kind of numbers into that kind of space means crime and violence are everyday dangers. The only line between the people and utter chaos are the men and women of the Hall of Justice, known as Judges. They are judge, jury and executioner, dispensing justice and sentence wherever they go. Of all the Judges, Judge Dredd is the Judgiest. An absolute law man, with a perfect working knowledge of every aspect of Mega-City One’s fascist and brutal justice code and a black and white eye for resolution.

This is a world and a society that has grown incredible detail over the decades, so to tackle the subject in a single 90 minute film is daunting, to say the least. The makers of this film, however, were smart and, after some opening sequences through Mega-City One, they locked two judges in one block and the rest of the film played out there. It’s the story of one particular crime boss, known as Ma Ma, and her control of the new drug Slo-Mo. When you take Slo-Mo, you perceive the world as passing at 1% its normal speed, which gives the filmmakers an excuse for some awesome and beautiful super slo-mo sequences. Also some truly brutal ones, but we’ll get to that.

Judge Dredd is saddled with a new rookie judge, Anderson. The rookie failed her test to become a judge, but only just. She does, however, have a pretty powerful psychic ability and the Chief Judge tasks Dredd with taking her out for a day’s assessment to see if the slight fail can be ignored if Anderson’s psychic abilities prove her to be a good judge on the streets. On investigating a triple homicide in Peach Trees Block, they find themselves trapped in Ma Ma’s web and the crime boss seals off the block with war protocols and orders everyone inside to find and kill the judges. Thus begins a Die Hard-esque fight for survival while Dredd and Anderson try to stay alive and dispense justice.

Seeing as I’ve been a fan of Judge Dredd since before my age hit double figures, I was scared about how faithful to the comics this film would be…

Read the rest of my review at Thirteen O’Clock by clicking here.

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El Orfanato (The Orphanage) – DVD Review

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October 17, 2012

Elorfanato El Orfanato (The Orphanage) – DVD ReviewI’ve been a fan of Guillermo Del Toro for a long time and his films are usually well worth the time. In this case, the Pan’s Labyrinth director is a producer for director Juan Antonio Bayona’s gothic horror about an old orphanage that is being reborn under the care of an ex-resident. As a child, orphaned Laura lived in the big old house by the Spanish seaside and has fond memories of her time there. She was adopted and left the home. Now in her mid-30s, Laura returns to the dilapidated institution with her husband, Carlos, and their seven-year-old son, Simon, to reopen the orphanage for just a handful of special needs children.

But, naturally, there is something weird going on in the beautiful old house. Simon’s behavior begins to grow increasingly strange and Laura and Carlos start to think the boy is getting carried away with his imaginary friends. On the opening day of the new orphanage, Simon’s bizarre behavior is written off as a bid for attention until truly strange events occur and Simon disappears. The search for Simon leads Laura deep into her memories of the orphanage and she begins to uncover troubling things that occurred after her own adoption…

Read the rest of my review at Thirteen O’Clock.

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Blackbirds and Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig, reviewed

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September 12, 2012

My latest reviews are up at Thirteen O’Clock. I’ve been enjoying Blackbirds and Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig. Excellent dark urban fantasy horror thrillers. Review excerpts below.

197x300xBlackbirds 144dpi 197x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic .ZsWYTaHF93 Blackbirds and Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig, reviewedBlackbirds is a novel by notorious internet pottymouth, Chuck Wendig. Chuck’s online writing advice and sheer volume of bloggery is quite impressive and I was slightly dubious about wading into his actual fiction for the first time. I really wanted to like it, but wasn’t sure if I would. I needn’t have worried.

The story follows ballsy, attitude-ridden, hardass, Miriam Black, who has the power to know, from a single skin-on-skin touch, when a person will die. She’ll see in graphic detail, just once, the first time she touches a person, exactly how that person will shuffle off. She’s never wrong and she can’t change anything that happens. What she can do is make notes about the people who are going to cark it and be sure she’s nearby at the time to loot the corpse. That’s how she makes a living. Pretty dark stuff.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered just as he seems to spot her behind the killer. Miriam knows from experience she can’t save him, but if she’s there as he’s murdered, she’d better try, in order to save herself if nothing else.

Wendig delivers this story like shotgun blast after shotgun blast of action and smartmouthed dialogue. The characters, for the most part, are excellent. Miriam is a very well-conceived invention, a real basketcase, and Wendig manages her well.

Read the rest of the review here: http://www.thirteenoclock.com.au/blackbirds-by-chuck-wendig-review/

198x300xMockingbird 72dpi 198x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic .tiYkZkSWq  Blackbirds and Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig, reviewedMockingbird is Wendig’s second novel from Angry Robot Books and the sequel to Blackbirds (which I reviewed here.)

Mockingbird picks up a year or so after the events of Blackbirds, with Miriam and Louis in some kind of stable situation. But this is Miriam Black, so we know that’s not going to last. Louis sets Miriam up with a job using her special power to see how people are going to die. A friend of his works at a school for troubled girls and wants to know if her suspicions of terminal illness are well-founded or not. Miriam reluctantly agrees to use her powers for good.

While at the school she touches a young student, a troubled teen called Lauren, and sees her suffer a hideous death, aged eighteen, at the hands of a particularly nasty serial killer. This leads Miriam to investigate further and she begins to uncover a lot of horror, murder and mayhem, dragging her through several twists, reversals and life-threatening scenarios.

Once again, Wendig showcases his excellent writing skills, with tight powerful prose, locked into the voice of his characters like a tick to exposed skin. The character of Miriam definitely grows in this book – she’s explored more deeply, we discover more about her background and what has led her to be the way she is. She also begins to realise what she is to become, where her own destiny lays.

Read the rest of the review here: http://www.thirteenoclock.com.au/mockingbird-by-chuck-wendig-review/

A way to fight the review buyers and sockpuppetmasters

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September 11, 2012

sockpuppet A way to fight the review buyers and sockpuppetmastersThere’s been a lot of stuff going around the interwebs lately about douchefucks paying for positive reviews, guerrilla reviewing their rivals with one star attacks, sock-puppetry and so forth. I blogged about it a little bit here and a web search will show loads of other people weighing in on the debate. The net result of all this is primarily twofold.

1. People are now distrustful of all positive reviews;

2. The real victims are readers, because now no one knows what or who to trust.

In some respects, this is only a small part of the bigger picture. Most people buy their books on the recommendations of friends, regardless of reviews. They trust certain outside sources, like book bloggers they respect and so on. However, reviews are a significant part of any author’s literary lifeblood. We will always get new readers when someone reviews a book, someone else sees that review and says to themselves, “Well, that sounds like it’s right up my particular stinking alley, I’ll give it a go.”

So we need people to continue reviewing. We need people, once they’ve read a book, to take a moment to leave a review and a star rating on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing or wherever they frequent. We need them to write about it on their blog, mention it on Twitter or Facebook or wherever they hang out socially. These things are easy and it shows great love for your favourite authors, so said authors get to continue squeezing word babies from their fetid brains for your amusement and delectation. It’s a symbiotic relationship and it works well.

That is, until these fuckmuppets and their sockpuppets start devaluing the whole thing for everyone else. (Incidentally, Fuckmuppet & The Sockpuppets is the name of my next band.)

Some people are suggesting that Amazon needs to address the problem. Some are saying they need to only allow reviews from verified purchasers, or only allow reviews from accounts linked to some third party verification. But there are massive problems with that.

The verified purchaser thing is a problem because what if someone borrowed a copy of a book from a friend and really liked it? What if they wanted to review it on Amazon? Or even if they hated it and wanted to review it. They can’t. People borrow books all the time, there’s nothing wrong with that. Or they buy them secondhand. Or they download them illegally. All these things deny the author a royalty, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just how things are. What does matter is that those people can leave reviews which will help that author in the long term. Take away that option and you take away the ability for borrowers to give anything back to the author they enjoyed (or hated) so much.

And it’s not all about good reviews. People will pay much closer attention to a book with a whole range of reviews than to a book with only 5-star reviews. The more variety in the ratings, the more likely a person is to learn about that book and make an informed decision. You can’t please all the people all the time. An honest 2 or 3 star review can actually help to sell a book. What you don’t like might appeal to someone else.

The absolute last thing we need is for places like Amazon to make it harder for people to review books. If that happens, the douchefucks have won. The power is more in the hands of the reading public than it has ever been, and that power only retains its potency while it is easy to apply. Right now you can read a book from any source, then spend literally five minutes or less popping into Amazon and Goodreads and leaving a star rating and a couple of lines of review. You only have to type it once, then copy and paste it elsewhere. Take this review of RealmShift on Amazon from one Cathy Russell:

I liked that this story had believable characters and explored faith (or lack of), it’s origins, etc. It had a lot of deep themes. The characters were well thought out. The plot was engaging, and I liked the whole idea of a superhuman who could kick the devil’s ass. While reading this, I kept thinking it would make a great action movie or comic book too. I’d recommend this.

That’s a fantastic review (Thank you, Cathy) and would have only taken moments to write. She gave it four stars, too, bless her beautiful reading eyes. Now imagine if Amazon had required some particular hoops be jumped through in order to leave that review. She may still have done it, of course. But she may very well have not bothered. That would damage me as a writer and potential future readers.

star rating A way to fight the review buyers and sockpuppetmastersI don’t think it’s Amazon’s job to police this stuff (beyond the obvious, like removing reviews flagged as hate, etc.) It’s up to us, the readers. BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL, it’s in our hands! We can fight the douchefucks with our minds and tappity typing fingers. I’ve compiled a list below of all the things you can do to help your favourite authors. And you can address authors you’re not so keen on using the exact same list. Because open honesty is what’s required. If we deluge the system with clear and open reviewing, then whatever douchefuckery these other bastards engage in loses its potency with every blow we strike.

At the same time, if you are one of those douchefucks who buys positive reviews, uses sockpuppets, sabotages your fellow authors with 1-star attacks or anything else, just fucking stop it already. You’re a scumbag and you make the world a worse place. Don’t game the system for your own selfish ends. Let the system work. If recent news is anything to go by, you’ll be found out in the end anyway. You’re just pissing in the shared flagon in the meantime, and that’s not on.

So, here’s that list I was talking about.

Whenever you read a book, take a moment to do the following:

  • Talk about the book, online and IRL. Tell people you read it and what you thought.
  • Tweet, Facebook, Google+, etc. a quick comment about it, like “I just really enjoyed/hated reading This Book by An Author.”
  • Go to Amazon, Goodreads or any other bookish place you frequent and click a star-rating.
  • If you have time while you’re there, jot down a few lines quickly about why you rated the book the way you did. You don’t have to be super eloquent or anything. Just honest.
  • If you have time, spend a bit longer on a more thoughtful review.
  • If you have a blog, maybe write a blog post about the book.
  • If you enjoyed the book, buy it for a friend, family member or colleague for their birthday or anniversary or just because you’re a hoopy frood.
  • If you hated the book, buy it for an enemy, because you’re cold like that, you mean sonofabitch.
  • If you’re part of a book group, suggest the book as a future read for your group.
  • Talk about the book, online and IRL.

You may have noticed that my list is in increasing order of time and effort. If you only do the first thing, that’s great. It’s better than doing nothing (which is why it’s repeated at the end). The more of those things you do, the better it is for everyone and the less of an impact the dishonest douchefucks will have.

So, take it away. And please comment with your thoughts on the subject and any suggestions you have for doing the right thing by authors and readers. Feel free to suggest additions to my list.

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Paid reviews hurt everyone, except those being paid

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August 28, 2012

There’s a caveat to the title of this post, explained later, but I don’t mind a bit of sensationalism. So, this has come around again. It’s a subject that has cropped up a few times and usually makes the news cycle once in a while. It basically boils down to predatory fuckwits offering to write glowing reviews of any book (which they won’t bother to read) in exchange for cashmoney. Idiot authors jump on the bandwagon and buy those reviews in a desperate attempt to get their work noticed.

Most recently there’s this guy selling reviews for $99. Or 20 reviews for $499. For a cool $999 he would write you 50 reviews. On the one hand you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, you have to say, “Fuck you, pond scum, why are you devaluing the work of legitimate authors and reviewers everywhere!?” To which he’d reply, “Because it makes me around $28,000 a month!” and you can’t really argue with that. Well, you can, but clearly there are no ethics or morals involved here, so applying our own is pretty pointless. His business has failed, thankfully. More on that later.

Of course, it’s not just this guy. From that article:

[Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago] estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.

Well, boil my nuts in the tears of angels, what’s the fucking point? Why don’t we all just buy the reviews we need? The guy in the article linked above has some of the best weasel words I’ve ever heard. How’s this:

“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things. These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”

The fuck does that mean, exactly? He’s likening the reviews to back cover blurbs, but that’s bollocks. Reviews are valuable because they’re impartial. We know that blurbs aren’t. He can “reason” it out any way he likes, he knows he’s lying. Misrepresentation.

Anyway, this particular story has a happy ending. The business was ratted out and subsequently failed, for which we can be thankful. The guy says he regrets his venture into what he called “artificially embellished reviews”. Which is good. At least he realises that what he did was wrong, so there might be hope for humanity yet. Shame he couldn’t admit even then that he was lying and misleading people. Just “artificially embellishing”, but there you go.

Here’s the thing, as far as I’m concerned. Paying for a review is not necessarily a bad thing. We all want to get noticed. We all want our work to fall before the eyes of more readers and reviews definitely help that. I’m always going on about reviewing. If you read something, review it! Two lines and a star rating at Amazon and Goodreads can make a massive difference. People are really busy and everyone needs to make a buck, so someone charging money for reviews is not neecessarily a bad thing. I’ve said that twice now in this paragraph and there’s one very important word that I’ve deliberately left out. That word is “good”. Paying for good reviews sucks Satan’s rancid balls, because you’re corrupting the system and devaluing the work of everyone. Paying someone to read your book and honestly review it, however, is fine. That’s a very important distinction.

I’ve never done it, but I wouldn’t completely write off the possibility. Getting reviews is hard and if someone is prepared to take a free book and a small fee, with the guarantee that they’ll leave an honest review in a variety of places, I see that as a good thing. Sure, you might be paying for someone to tell you, and the entire internet, that your writing sucks, your book is crap and no one should buy it unless they run out of toilet paper. But that’s what you always do when you send a book off for review. And when you do send it off, it might never actually get reviewed. Adding a few bucks to ensure it does makes sense. And if you’re told it’s shit, you know to try harder next time. Maybe listen to the advice of your writers’ group and beta readers. Or get new ones. Or something. Just don’t pay some schmuck to guarantee you a good review. You’re cheating your future readers, you’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating the very fucking concept of honesty. And the only one who really benefits is the person charging you for their artificially glowing review. If your book is good enough, it should hopefully get some good reviews all on its own. Regardless, it should garner some honest reviews over time. Hassle people about reviewing it. When people tell you they enjoyed it, ask them politely, ever so nicely, prettyplease can they put a quick review somewhere.

But, most importantly of all, please honestly review what you read. Lead by example. Make it a habit to add a line or two and a rating on a handful of sites every time you finish a book. Or even just one site of choice, like Goodreads. Whether you like it or not. A broad range of honest reviews will do wonders and takes no time at all. And if everyone got into that habit, we’d have fewer predators out there using sock puppets (multiple fake online personas) to leave bullshit reviews. And when you do find those people, don’t grab a pitchfork and a gang of friends and give them a good, old-fashioned online lynching. Why waste your time? Report them to the sites in question and let the policies of those sites deal with them. Then get on with your day, read a book and review it.

We love you when you review our work. Don’t let the sharks spoil it for everyone. Now I’m off to Goodreads to fill in a few gaps in my own reviewing.

(And if you’ve read any of my books, prettyplease can you put a quick review somewhere? And if you want to read my books and will leave me a review, drop me a line and I’ll send you ecopies for nothing, if you promise to leave an honest review at Goodreads and Amazon. Can’t say fairer than that, eh?)

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In conversation with Gillian Polack

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August 16, 2012

On reading women, reading about women, categories and curses.

Gillian Polack is a fine writer, a fine person and a good friend of mine. You may remember that I reviewed her novel, Life Through Cellophane, a while back. Sadly, the publisher of that book, Eneit Press, fell victim to the Red Group/Borders debacle and went under. It seemed that Gillian’s book went with it. But, a literary phoenix from the ashes of corporate foolishness, it has found new life with the Pan Macmillan ebook imprint, Momentum. Now called Ms Cellophane and with a cool new cover, the book is back.

I got to talking with Gillian about the book recently. She was particularly pleased with my original review when I said:

I must admit that I felt a bit weird reading it. It was like I was hiding out during a secret women’s business meeting, hearing about things I shouldn’t know.

Mirror 6e 225x300 In conversation with Gillian PolackOn hearing this, Gillian said, “It’s a good reaction. You read lots, and this is the only book that gives you that sense. I get a lot of female readers saying to me, “This is my life, I read this and am looking into a mirror.” It makes me wonder why you haven’t encountered other books that give you the same sense. What sort of boundaries are out there and what sorts of restrictions do they put on us without us knowing?”

Alan: I think it’s largely to do with the types of books I read. It’s not that I don’t read books by women. In fact, on checking Goodreads, recently I’ve read:

Felicity Dowker’s Bread & Circuses
Jo Anderton’s Debris and Suited
Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine
Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts
Joanna Penn’s Prophecy
Lisa L Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony

That’s just this year, which is a year where I haven’t read nearly as much as I usually do. But while these are excellent books by women, all with strong female protagonists and/or supporting characters, they’re not as much books about being a woman as yours is. So I wonder if I just don’t choose to read other books more like yours.

Gillian: My book was all about the type of invisibility that many women feel so yes, it wasn’t about a strong protagonist so much as about a very particular aspect of life. Can you pinpoint some of the things that made you feel as if you were entering a foreign universe – and maybe talk about how they differ from the approach you take to your own female characters?

Alan: I have a very simple, perhaps overly so, approach to writing female characters. I basically approach all characters as neither male or female, but simply as people. Of course, I will try to get inside my character’s heads and they’re all very individual people, but gender is only ever a small part of that, never a primary consideration.

Reading Cellophane, I felt as though I was getting an insight into the day-to-day miniutiae of being a woman. You do a good job of putting the reader in Elizabeth’s mind and it almost feels, to me at least, as though we shouldn’t be there. Of course, that’s a sign of great writing – feeling like we’re inside a character rather than simply watching from outside. And, equally, my male-ness is showing, simply because the process of reading your book came as such a surprise to me.

The best thing about it is that none of it was uncomfortable in any way – it was simply fascinating.

To go back to my own writing, I deliberately don’t try to make my female characters “feminine”. I use quotes there to indicate the insufficiency of the word. I don’t know what it’s like to be feminine. I know what it’s like to be around women. I’ve been married a long time and have many great female friends. I know what it’s like to interact with women and I know how they might respond to various situations. My author’s eye is always studying people and scenarios, subconsciously filing it away for later story use. All writers have to be great observers of the world around them. But I can never observe what it’s like to be a woman. Until reading Cellophane, that is. Because that’s something which gave me an insight I couldn’t get on my own. And while I read a lot of female authors – in fact, my favourite Australian spec-fic writers are all women! – I guess I don’t read very much stuff about women. So perhaps I need to know what I could read that would help me with that.

Of course, that also leads to a small problem. I hate “chick flicks”. I have little to no interest in reading books aimed at a purely female market. But Cellophane seemed to transcend that issue, so I guess I need advice on more books like yours!

Gillian: I don’t know where there are more books precisely like mine! There must be. Cellophane can’t be sui generis. I wrote it though, because I wanted to read books like it and I wanted the books to be speculative fiction. One of my publishers suggests that I’m like Anne Tyler, someone else suggests that the female-ness of my world is a bit like Alice Hoffmann, while Sophie Masson suggested that my first novel reminded her of A.S. Byatt. They’re all women writers who often put women in the centre of the story and are capable of working quite inwardly (though don’t always), so I’d start from them, I think, and work out. Ursula le Guin does the same inwards-out approach in Always Coming Home, but she’s more concerned with place and culture and change than with domestica.

There’s a lot of literary fiction written in a character’s head, where the internal view is key to the novel. There’s not, however, much speculative fiction that both takes this approach and focuses on the mundane. Kaaron Warren’s Slights does that, of course, but in such a different way! She wrote about someone quite terrifying and had me accepting, as a reader, that this was quite normal until we realised that this person we had accepted into our headspace was someone we wouldn’t ever want to meet. I really wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.

Alan: Slights is a great example of character, but you’re right, certainly not a particular example of womankind. More an example of arsehole-kind.

I think you hit it on the head when you say that you “wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.”

Is that something you’ll be exploring more? The street-level magic of the everyday wonder rather than the “big story” wonder? Will you write about Elizabeth again?

Gillian: I won’t write about Elizabeth again, but I will definitely be exploring the everyday wonder. In fact, I have a novel out there… It’s one of those hard-to-categorise novels, like Cellophane. Publishers are both loving it and not willing to publish it. This is a problem I face regularly, for there is no general sub-category for what I do, and so it’s hard to fit into a schedule. Personally, I can’t see what’s hard to categorise about a magic-wielding feminist divorced Jewish Sydneysider who is not speaking to her father. In fact, the short story that’s set after the time of the novel was published years ago (in ASIM), for short story markets are more flexible. It was listed as recommended on an international Year’s Best, and I have a recording of actor Bob Kuhn reading it, just waiting for the right moment to appear. People ask me about Judith, and I have to say, “Still no home.”

The cursed novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming – due to appear some time ago) is about dealing with the mundane world, how to escape it and what the implications are of such an escape, but of course, the novel is cursed (and contains dead morris dancers). It was supposed to appear several years ago, but the most extraordinary life events (hurricanes, earthquakes, computer failure, near death experiences) keep getting in the way. I find it rather ironic that a novel about an ordinary person should be doomed to adventures and not be seen, but right now, the story of the The Art of Effective Dreaming’s delays would make a rather good disaster novel.

Alan: Sounds like you need just the right small press for the Judith novel. I’m sure it’ll find a home eventually. I hope it does, because it sounds very cool.

And The Art Of Effective Dreaming will eventually see the light of day, right?

Gillian: From your mouth to God’s ear (to use a Jewish expression I did not in fact grow up with!). You want to read about the dead morris dancers… Actually, The Art of Effective Dreaming also gently takes the mickey out of quest novels, so I rather suspect you might like it. I hope you get to read it soon!

Alan: As far as I’m concerned, the only good Morris Dancer is a dead one, so yes, I’d love to read it.

As Gillian once said to me in an email: “One of the messages I wanted to get out there about my writing is that it’s not bad despite not fitting categories. So many people look for categories and assume that a novel is not readable, simply because they haven’t encountered its like before… for there is a public perception that there’s a gender divide and that women read men’s books but that men don’t read women’s. I’m beginning to think that it’s being reinforced through being assumed and would love to break it down.”

So get out there and have a read of Ms Cellophane. It might change your perceptions a little bit. It’s available now from Momentum.

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The Dark Knight Rises – thoughts on a trilogy

By
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July 27, 2012

There aren’t any spoilers in this post, but there are some spoilers at the places I link to at the end, so be warned.

the dark knight rises The Dark Knight Rises   thoughts on a trilogyIt’s no secret that I’m a Batman fan. In fact, that’s an understatement – I fucking love Batman, in a totally platonic way. I’ve often said that Batman and the Joker are the two greatest fictional characters ever created and I stand by that. So when talk of a new Batman film started back in 2003 or 4 or whenever it was, I was dubious. But it was to be made by Christopher Nolan, a man whose talents I already admired. The result was Batman Begins, the first of a proposed trilogy. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The first thing to remember when films are made from established literary canon, be they novels, comic books, games or anything else, is that a film is a self-contained thing. It’s finite. Batman comics have been going since 1939 and there’s a metric fuckton of established canon and ongoing story with which a film can’t hope to compete. Nor should it try. So a film will always make changes to established canon and we fans can’t be precious about that. It’s how the film plays with that canon that matters.

In Batman Begins, Nolan turned the notion of Ras Al Ghul a little bit on its head. He made Ras and Henri Ducard the same character, which they absolutely aren’t in the comic canon. He also made Ras an Irishman. But the things he then did with those characters, with Ras’s mission as an idealistic eco-terrorist, were bang on the money. Nolan did a brilliant job of retelling the Batman genesis and origin, and adding in a well favoured supervillain. Within that, he kept the darkness essential to the Batman’s story. He kept the gothic, noir edge of the characters and setting. He made Gotham an integral character in the film. So while he played with some aspects of established canon to make a film-sized story, he did it well and kept enough of what we already know intact to make a very impressive, cohesive whole. I was very happy with the film.

But all along it was touted as a trilogy. And this is where we go back to the nature of film compared to an ongoing series. This film was to be finite in three instalments. The second film, The Dark Knight, stands tall for many reasons. Not least of these is that amazing performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, which is still the highpoint of the trilogy for me. And again, Nolan took some liberties with established canon, but stayed true to so many parts that we love that we went with him for the ride. I did, anyway. And most importantly for me, he totally got what the Joker is all about. The Joker is the worst monster imaginable, because he’s the embodiment of absolute chaos. No rhyme, no reason, no appealing to any sense or intelligence. Just pure, insane chaos. Some men, after all, just want to watch the world burn.

bane The Dark Knight Rises   thoughts on a trilogySo I’d been waiting patiently and slightly nervously for The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final instalment. So often a third film is where a series can jump the shark. It can be the step too far. But Nolan always said this was to be a trilogy and I trusted him as a storyteller enough to hope that he would see it through well. Again, liberties were took. The big bad this time is Bane, and he’s very different from the comic book character. In the comics, Bane is addicted to and fuelled by Venom. But in this film, Venom doesn’t even get a mention. Bane’s origin is also played with, as are the origins of other key players (who I won’t discuss for fear of spoilers). But that’s okay, because Nolan is using Bane in his own way, like he used Ras Al Ghul in the first one. And he does a good job of it.

Nolan also does a very good job of using the Selina Kyle character. She’s never called Catwoman in the film, her cat ears are just her night goggles, pushed up onto her head and so on. But the core of the character is there. She’s a tough, sassy, very capable cat burglar. She’s a real-world foil to the Batman’s black and white view of crime and culpability. She’s so much more than a sexy accoutrement and Anne Hathaway does a brilliant job with a character that is very hard to play well.

And using these characters and settings, Nolan brings threads from both previous films together in The Dark Knight Rises and ties them into a truly epic story, worthy of its comic book roots and also worthy of its cinematic grandeur. He does tell a complete story in three films and he does it bloody well.

Each of the films is successively darker, more epic and more daring than the last and by far the best thing about them is that Nolan has made an absolutely self-contained trilogy. It’s not the same as the comic books, because the comics are still going on, and will continue to do so. Nolan has taken the characters and spirit of those stories and turned them into one complete and very clever tale. We see the full life of the Batman, from genesis, through origin, through rise and fall and rise again, right out to final closure. And it’s very satisfying.

the dark knight rises new featurette The Dark Knight Rises   thoughts on a trilogy

Sure, the films have flaws. With The Dark Knight Rises there are illogicalities, there are strange timing issues, there are simple nonsensical things (like the one I mentioned the other day – how the hell does Bane eat? And he’s a big boy, so he must eat a lot.) There’s actually not nearly enough Batman in the third and final Batman film. There are often certain events in the movies which are entirely too convenient and plot-driven. But, these things are relatively few and far between and largely eclipsed by all the good stuff.

There are those who have suggested that this final instalment is a pro-fascist movie (although I disagree with most of that post and the author obviously doesn’t have any real understanding of the ideology of Ras Al Ghul). I mean, sure, all superhero stories are fundamentally fascist – the super power steps in with violence, operating outside the law, to battle the greater threat on behalf of the people. But that’s a whole other discussion and not one limited to Nolan’s interpretation of Batman.

There are those who have asked what the hell happened to the Joker after the second film. Although Ledger died and couldn’t reprise his role, it’s strange that there was never any mention. Though one possible answer lies here.

(Remember – spoilers at the above links!)

There are several other concerns raised in various reviews and posts I’ve read, some valid, some not so much. Regardless, Nolan has created in his Batman trilogy something rarely seen from Hollywood these days – an intelligent, complex, complete and satisfying story along with the incredible special effects and cinematic epicness we’ve come to expect. Effects are so often utilised at the expense of story, but not with these films. The Dark Knight Rises is possibly the best of the three when it comes to simply amazing set pieces of action and downright brilliant photography. But it’s the combined power of the three films together that really stands out as Nolan’s crowning achievement here.

Personally I can’t wait till The Dark Knight Rises is released on DVD so I can put aside a day to sit and watch all three films back to back in a beauteous Bat-filled marathon of cinematic awesomeness.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Misanthrope. Learn more about me and my work by clicking About Alan just below the header.

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