27 May 2010

My first award!

I've very kindly been awarded the 'Witty Banter and a beer' award by Alex over at Alex J. Cavanaugh. It's the manly award for manly bloggers. Thank you Alex!

Since this is my first award, I'm giving it out to everyone who considers themselves manly enough to deserve it. You know the kind of manly I'm talking about. Think Elendil kicking all kinds of Sauronic ass in Lord of the Rings. Think Zaphod Beeblebrox, a man so manly that his manliness could not be contained in your standard humanoid form (hence the extra head and arm). Think Bruce Campbell. Nothing specific about him though, Bruce Campbell is the manliest dude alive.

On a side note, I've finally finished my Egyptology assignments for the year (yay!) This means I can finally write up my review of Feast of Souls, and I can get down to running a few projects before I start work on my 20,000 word dissertation (I write so much academic stuff I can't get any fiction written!). Also, anyone who wants to write a guest blog for me while I'm away in Egypt this summer (so long as it's fantasy or sci fi, it's fine by me) if you could let me know roughly what you're thinking of posting (or send me an email with whatever you want to talk about) so I don't accidentally cover it before you get a chance to do so. For those of you that have offered to post for me, thank you very much!! I'm new to the whole guest blogging thing though, I don't quite know how it works. Do you send me the articles and I publish them on a time release thing, or do I add you as admins to the blog and you post it up yourself? Any info on this would be a great help!!

25 May 2010

Hero with a thousand faces - fantasy NON-fiction!

Last week I celebrated my 8 year anniversary with my fiancée, and one of the gifts I received from her (in addition to Sherlock Holmes on DVD, 2 kick ass cookbooks and How I Met Your Mother Series 1 on DVD) was Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces. I've been hearing a lot about this book from both Geek's Guide to the Galaxy and Writing Excuses (both excellent podcasts, I can't recommend them highly enough) and I thought 'what the hell? I'll give it a try'.

The most interesting thing about Hero with a Thousand Faces is that it's a fantasy non-fiction book. It's a book about comparative mythology, and how we can see through various different cultures over time the same elements that form the basis for our understanding of the archetypal 'hero'. I'm a huge fan of mythology (the reason why I became an Egyptologist was because of Egyptian symbolism and mythology) and so this book is right up my street. I haven't had chance to read through it yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.

From what I've heard, the points highlighted in Hero with a Thousand Faces influenced a number of highly popular stories today i.e. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, George Lucas' Star Wars and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series'. Maybe the reason why they've all been so successful and have achieved such popularity is because they've tapped into something rooted deep within our culture that sees the archetypes outline in Campbell's book.

You can read a limited preview of the book on Google Books. By the sounds of it, Hero With a Thousand faces is a must read for any aspiring speculative fiction writer. If anyone out there has read it, please drop me a comment and tell me what you thought of it.

24 May 2010

$3,000 for reading sci-fi? You heard right...

I just stumbled on this article in The Guardian about a science fiction author who is so desperate to get his work noticed and published that he is offering a $3,000 prize to anyone who reads the novel and correctly answers 12 questions about it. Sounds like a good way to get $3,000 if you ask me.

The story (available online for free at Universes) follows a string physicist who, when he dies, is transported into an alternate universe that is populated by cannibals. His wife Lucy thinks that he has been murdered and becomes entangled in a web of intrigue.

The whole thing sounds pretty ludicrous. Offering $3,000 just to read your book? You could self publish your stuff for that kind of money (although it wouldn't be as successful if you were to go through the proper channels). At 42,000 words, it's pretty short, and if you're offering up that kind of incentive to read your work then there must be a reason why it hasn't gained that much interest in the first place. If you read the 'reviews' section of his website, he has posted a lengthy rant against people who have posted criticisms of his work. His writing seems to be a labour of  love, and so he will defend anything negative that is said about it, which is going to work against him if he wants a publishing deal.

What do you think about this? It's the first time I've heard something as crazy as this happening, but the guy seems pretty adamant about going through with it. He says,

"I'm 65 god-damned years old, this novel means more to me than anything in the world, and I'm desperate to get it published while I'm still alive. I know this may sound odd, but I feel western society needs this book. It's a contribution I feel I must make."

The competition (also on the Universes website) begins in July. Good luck to any that enter!

17 May 2010

Review - Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans is the remake of the 1981 movie of the same name. The story follows Perseus (Sam Worthington, Avatar), the son of the Greek god Zeus on his quest to stop the Kraken, servant of Hades (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter) from destroying the city of Argos. He has to embrace his demi-god power in order to defeat a host of creatures including giant scorpions, Medusa and the superhuman monster Calibos (Jason Flemyng - Stardust). One thing I will not be doing in this review is comparing it to the original, but rather judge it on its own merits.

I didn't watch this film in 3D; I was advised against it by several people so I saw it without the migraine inducing visuals. I think it was the correct choice, since the opening few minutes of the movie were so overdone with CG visuals that were a gratuitous exploitation of 3D technology it would have annoyed me if I'd worn the glasses. The downside was that there wasn't much substance to most of the visuals (with the exception of the Kraken itself).

Most of the cast were well chosen. My particular favourites were Zeus (Liam Neeson, Taken) and Hades, who gave brilliant performances. I think Sam Worthington's continuous playing of half humans (e.g. Terminator Salvation, Avatar) is getting a little stale, and I found it odd that he was the only character to have an Australian accent. The interactions between Zeus and Perseus were on par with a rebellious teenager and an overbearing father, which detracted from the rest of the already thin story. A line that illustrates this is from Zeus, "You are a god, it is time you started acting like one!". There was also a very misplaced romantic interest that seemed to be an afterthought in that it only turned up towards the very end of the movie without anything to precede it.

The battle scenes were very well executed, and it was this that seemed to be the only focus of the entire film. I left the cinema thinking that the film was pretty good because I'd been exposed to 2 hours of fighting and killing. As soon as that wore off I was left with little else, and this is the main problem with Clash of the Titans. It tries to make up for a lack of real substance with overbearing action and overplayed 3D visuals, which the audience will eventually see through. One thing that I would have liked to have seen is more dialogue scenes on Mount Olympus amongst the Greek pantheon (and more than just bit parts from the gods who aren't Zeus and Hades). Wait for this one on DVD, and in the meantime go see the original.

I am the official fantasy reviewer on Prinkipria! Whoohoo!

I've got some fantastic news - I have been made the official reviewer of Prinkipria! Prinkipria is a brilliant new e-zine of fantasy, science fiction and horror that features articles, reviews, news and fiction updates. Plus (best of all I'd say, hehe) I've been chosen to review the newest fantasy releases. Thanks to the guys at Prinkipria for this fantastic opportunity! You can read the full article on the link below.

Jamie Gibbs to Review Books

I am incredibly excited about this. My first review will be Kari Sperring's Living With Ghosts, which will be reviewed for Prinkipria's July edition.

16 May 2010

How Time Travel might actually be possible ... but it has extra complications.

So I'm in work this morning and my mind does a little wander (as it is wont to do) and I started thinking about Hot Tub Time Machine (WARNING: Spoilers abound in this post. You have been warned!). The more I thought about it, the more I realised that their way of dealing with time travel is possibly the most likely we'll get. Allow me to elaborate.

At first, I thought about the part at the end where Lou (Rob Corddry) decides to stay in the 80's in order to sort out his life and become a good father for Jacob (Clarke Duke), whom he realises is his son during the course of the film. When the rest of the cast travel back to their correct time, Lou is a multi millionaire who has done everything right. In order to prevent a paradox, Lou would need to be on an infinite loop of travelling to the 80's, living his life up until 2010, then travelling back again, and so on. Therefore, he wouldn't be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour as seen at the end of the movie, and the moment he breaks from this cycle he causes a disasterous paradox.

Also, Lou is the same age in this new future as he was when he decided to stay in the 80's. Assuming he was about 40 when he made the decision to stay, he would be in his seventies by the end of the movie. The only other explanation for this 'agelessness' would be if he had gone the same route as Biff in Back to the Future 2 and 'groom' his younger self in the past in order to make himself successful.

Then I remembered - the thing about Hot Tub Time Machine is that the characters weren't transported back in time in the normal way. Whenever they looked in a mirror (or whenever anyone else saw them) they were their younger selves. It was their adult consciousness in their younger bodies. This allowed them to escape the usual temporal paradoxes that plague time travel theories, since there is no instance of '2 bodies existing in the same time' thing. It's the application of a new mind into a new body (the newest Geek's Guide to the Galaxy covered this idea).

I think this could actually work as a time travel theory. Of course, there are some serious limitations i.e. first we need to be able to successfully transfer one consciousness from one body to another. Then we'd have to find a way of successfully projecting that consciousness into the past and into the younger body of the original person. And, although the initial temporal paradoxes will have been avoided, they can't come back to this future - once they've gone back, they have to relive their life from that point right up to their death.

This theory may be riddled with holes (please leave your thoughts in the comments below) but I think this has potential for a good sci fi story. A man at the end of his life decides to project his consciousness back into his 20 year old body. It is successful, but the unforseen side effect is that he now has decades worth of memories that aren't real, since he is changing his own future but still remembers people and events from his 'past'.

This is starting to descend into a ramble, so I'll end leave this topic wide open for discussion. What do you think of this? What possibilities does it have for a story?

11 May 2010

Movie Review - How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon is an animated movie based on the books by Cressida Cowell. A Viking village is plagued by attacks from dragons, and all of the villagers have become battle hardened dragon slayers. All except one; the chief's son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel - Tropic Thunder). His incompetence leads him to befriend the most elusive and mysterious of all dragons - a Night Fury. Hiccup nurses the dragon (whom he calls Toothless) back to health and through the dragon Hiccup learns to become a master dragon fighter, though he doesn't wish to become a slayer. His friendship with Toothless leads Hiccup and his village to discover the source of their troubles, but the ultimate question is will the Vikings learn to befriend the dragon menace, or end the threat the only way they know how?

This was another movie I saw in 3D (My eyes! My eyes!). The animation of Dragon was fantastic and didn't overuse the 3D technlology as some movies tend to do in order to cover up their lack of substance. The different species of dragon were well exexcuted in their looks as well as their movements and behaviour, and so you got a good sense of the character of each type of dragon. They did an excellent job of making Toothless behave more or less like a dog in his movementss, which made the relationship between him and Hiccup even better.

There's been some contention over the voice acting in this movie e.g. "If they're supposed to be Vikings, then how come they sound Scottish?". Would they prefer if the voice actors spoke Old Norse? Or had a thick Scandanavian accent? The use of Scottish voice actors, in particular Gerard Butler (300, Gamer) as Hiccup's father, allowed you to believably see a warrior culture whilst still making it accessible for your average movie goer (heck, it worked in 300 with Butler as Leonidis). The voicework of the adult Vikings is brilliantly done, and giving the Viking children standard American voices gives your average kid something to connect with. I was a bit wary about Jay Baruchel at first, but he did a really good job in this one. Let's hope the success doesn't go to his head.

Whilst this is meant to be first and foremost a children's movie, almost everyone will get a kick out of it. This is the best Dreamworks Animation since Kung Fu Panda. Stylistically it's brilliant and it has a great set of characters. Though the story arc may be a little cliché (kid wants to be like dad, kid is a messup, dad shuns kid, kid becomes awesome, dad realises what a jackass he's been) it's got plenty of enjoyable moments and it is a damn fine feel-good. Just go and see it.

7 May 2010

Review - Wrath of a Mad God by Raymond E. Feist (HarperCollins)

Wrath of a Mad God by Raymond E. Feist
Published by HarperCollins
Paperback - 400 pages
Published March 2008
Copy loaned from library

Wow, this one has taken a while to get done. That being said, I wasn't 100% enthusiastic about writing the review, since I was far from enthused after reading the book in the first place.

Wrath of a Mad God is the third installment in Raymond E. Feist's Darkwar Saga, itself a continuation of the events in his Riftwar Saga. While a story and a history that spans so many books is impressive, it becomes extremely confusing if you don't start right at the beginning.

The story of Wrath of a Mad God follows a series of characters on different worlds as they deal with an invasion from the dreaded Dasati empire. Pug, a centuries old magician, is right in the Dasati homeworld, attempting to uncover certain mysteries. His wife, mage Miranda, is part of a war council that attempts to stop the Dasati from invading their world of Kelewan . Also, a small group of soldiers and a thief named Jim Dasher are on the other side of Kelewan, where they are setting up a truce with a lost tribe of elves. Together, they all have one goal - to defeat the Dasati before they consume the universe in the name of their Dark God.

For a lot of this book, I was completely confused and I had little clue as to what was going on. This was the first novel in the series that I had read, and Feist does precious little to recap on history of characters or events. There were a few chapters involving Pug where one of the characters talks for quite a while about a certain historical event (which seems critical to their current position) but it didn't clarify the events of the previous books for me. All it did was serve to further confuse me, as I was presented with a  wealth of disjointed information.

The characters themselves were well written and had great interactions with each other, likely based on the histories created in the previous books. I particularly liked the storyline following Jim Dasher and the soldiers; the camaraderie and sense of brotherhood was well done.

Feist also knows how to write a fight. From the small one on one melees to the large scale battles, he has a grasp of how blows will be parried, how the fighter will adapt as it learns its opponent's strategies, and the logistics of full scale war. The action scenes in this book were by far the most enjoyable.

The world building in this is huge. It's so big that is spans entire dimensions. The only problem is that often it seems to thinly spread over such a large area that there's not enough attention paid to each item. There are so many 'main' characters that you don't get their full flavour, and often a character will be left for large sections of the story, so that you forget what the hell they did once you come back to them. There seems to be a lack of definite focus, and too many viewpoints for the reader to comprehend.

One final thing; Wrath of a Mad God didn't really feel like a fantasy to me. Even though there's swords and magic etc. the image in my head from start to finish was that of an alien invasion (the Dasati needed to terraform Kelewan in their initial incursion in order to acclimatise to their environment, for example). This didn't really strike a chord with me, and I think it was this jarring of ideas as well as the epic scale of the story that put me off it.

In conclusion, Wrath of a Mad God seems to have some nugget of fantasy gold within it, but the plot and characters are stretched too thinly to allow any to be found. Also, the lack of explanation of many past events and people that seem integral to the current story may leave the reader feeling confused and annoyed. Ultimately, I wanted to not finish the book, and it seemed a struggle to care about it at all. If you plan on reading the entire Feist corpus of material, then by all means read Wrath of a Mad God. Otherwise, I would not recommend it at all.

6 May 2010

I'm back! Plus: ch-ch-changes

Wow, it's been a crazy few weeks. All the deadlines for University coursework have sort of flown towards me, like papery vampire bats. I've not much work left to do before the dissertation stuff begins, so I can finally return to blogging (YAY!). I've got a nice list of things I need to do, plus I want to reorganize some of the things that I do on here:

  1.  Go through my A-Z Blogging RSS posts and comment on them
  2. Reply to comments made on my posts
  3. Post reviews of Wrath of a Mad God, How to Train your Dragon and Clash of the Titans
  4. Finish and review Feast of Souls
  5. Read and review Living With Ghosts and Azarrii
 Let's see how quickly I can catch up, eh? As for changing the blog, I'm not 100% sure what'll be done, but here's some ideas I've been kicking around;

  • Music reviews - once a month, review a new power/prog/symphonic metal album (in keeping with the fantasy themes)
  • Flash Fiction Fridays - once a week I write and post some fantasy flash fiction, or showcase someone else's fiction
  • Retro reviews - I go back to older movies, video games etc. and review them to see if they've stood the test of time
  • Awards - This will be a while in the making, but I want to give out awards to fantasy based blogs for fiction, news/gossip etc.
  • More interviews - I'll actually get off my behind and talk to some real people (shock horror!)
And that's it for now! Hopefully these'll be some good changes (please let me know if you think any of them suck)

One more thing, and this is where you fine folk come in. I will be going to Egypt between mid July and mid August of this year on an archaeological expedition. It may sound glamorous but it's going to be a month in Africa in Summer in the desert (it'll still be awesome though). I probably won't be able to post in that time, so what I'd love would be to have some guest posts from you other fantastic bloggers out there. Preferably those dealing with fantasy and science fiction, in keeping with the theme of this blog. Besides that, it could be about anything; a review, plugging your own writing, an article, whatever! Post a comment or send me a message if you're interested, I'm looking for at least one guest post a week while I'm gone.

Thanks in advance to all of you! Now to get some work done!