26 Sep 2010

Two trailers for Bioshock: Infinite. Steampunk magic goodness!

Steampunk is definitely on the rise. Kate Elliot's Cold Magic is getting some really good reviews; Sarah over at Bookworm Blues has just reviewed Alex Keller's Haywired (plus and interview with the author) and now Irrational Games is about to bring us Bioshock: Infinite.

Set in late 19th Century USA (predating the events in Bioshock and Bioshock 2), this latest installment sees an entire city set up high in the sky. Think zepplins, zip wires, grammar-phones and large mustaches and you've got the general feel that the game has to offer. Irrational Games has released a cinematic trailer for the game, as well as a gameplay trailer (you can watch these at the end of the post).

I am really excited about this. It's got the fast paced action that the first two games had, as well as the mixing of traditional first person shooter and 'magic' elements in the form of plasmids. I'm really liking the design for the city of Columbia. The Victorian-era steampunk city is excellently crafted, and it's going to be a blast to watch as well as to play.

What are your thoughts on the rise of steampunk in speculative fiction? What do you think of Bioshock: Infinite?

18 Sep 2010

Judging a book by its ... spine?

I got thinking about this after a discussion over at Hannah Mariska's blog, where the big question was asked - do you (and should you) judge a book by it's cover? The answer is, of course, yes. The reason cover's exist is to give the potential reader and enticing taster of the novel within, so judgements need to be made. This can't be avoided. (NOTE: It's insanely difficult to get any photos of fantasy book spines, so you'll have to make do with the covers, hehe).

That being said, if you're perusing your local library or bookstore, you won't get much chance to see the covers of many of the books since they're all tucked away in neat little rows. Only the highlighted and recommended books are displayed facing the front to show you the cover in all its glory. In the nanoseconds it takes for us to process all of the books before us before making a decision on which one to pick up and look at first, what draws our eye and makes that decision for us. The spine design (that last line was kind of poetic; consider that my weekly quote of culture filled).

I might be the only one here, but my initial judgements are made based on the book spine. There's a few things that usually catch my eye when scanning the shelves that will grab my attention:

  • Author/Title - these are obviously no brainers, and necessary for the book spine, but there needs to be a balance. A well established author (e.g. George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan) with a host of best sellers under their belt will need their name to be printed larger and in a much bolder fashion than the title, since I'm more likely to recognise it. A lesser known author may rely on a really catchy title, since at this stage in the game they're selling their story, not themselves.
Artwork - this can be both a blessing and a curse. I've seen books where the cover art of a book is simply repeated on the spine in minuscule format. If I have to get nose-to-book in order to see what I'm looking at, you've lost me. The cover art may be amazing, but at a few centimetres high everything looks like the same blurry selection of colours. Good artwork on the spine uses the shape well and makes it look like a natural addition. The best examples of this are Karen Miller's The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage. The cover art is repeated on the spine, yes, but is uses the tall, narrow space available and makes it eye catching. I've not read the books (yet) but I'm always drawn to those books.

Design - unless the author is well known to me, this will be my first point of call. A good spine design can make all the difference between me picking it up and not realising that it's there in the first place. Joe Abercrombie's novels are great at this. They stand out from other novels on the shelf because they look like something other than a normal book. Pratchett's novels are also very good at this because his cover art encompasses the front, back and spine, so you have to pick it up to kind out what the hell is going on in that small section in front of you

Click the picture to see it full size
Running series - It's satifying to see an author's complete works running along your bookshelf, especially if the books are united by a single theme/design. This also applies when you're looking for books. A series with an interesting theme to tie them altogether will catch your eye and make you want to check it out. Right now the best example of that is David Farland's Runelords series, where the covers of the eight books line up to form a complete panorama, as do the book spines (to a certain extent - and I've checked this, so you can be assured it's true). You can tell where that author's body of work in a given storyline begins and ends; you can gauge the kind of commitment you may have to make if you start reading it.

Does anyone else do this? Have you even thought about this kind of thing? I would love it if you all could email me a photo of your bookshelf, and for the next post I'd like to go over them and pick out what I'd be most likely to read based on the spines alone. 

13 Sep 2010

Review - Merlin Season 3 Episode 1 "The Tears of Uther Pendragon Part 1" (BBC)

Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) in the grip of madness.
Merlin's third season premièred last Saturday (11 September), ready to fill the Doctor Who shaped void in our lives. Season 2 left us with a sense that things were going to take a much darker and more sinister turn, and the team behind the show certainly did not disappoint.

A year has passed, and Lady Morgana is still missing after being taken under the wing of the sorceress Morgause (Emily Fox). A series of frantic and suicidal missions have been ordered by Uther Pendragon. When all hope seems lost, Morgana is found and things begin to return to normal in Camelot. However, Morgana is a changed woman with vengeance in her heart and murder on her mind.

Without giving too much plot away, this is one of the darkest episodes of Merlin to date. The magic that has been done against Uther sets up two quite chilling scenes that reveal more of his character and personal demons that the other seasons have so far. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur has become a little more relaxed than before - there is more banter between them, and the bond between them is getting noticeably stronger. I think that at this stage there needs to be more respect of Merlin by Arthur, however. In the second season it could be subtly seen beneath the insults and commands, but there didn't seem to be any development in this episode.

Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath) plots against Uther.
This was an episode for Lady Morgana, and she performs brilliantly throughout. Where Morgause's character has become a straight villainous one, Morgana is still in a bit of flux. After her battle with her own magic and feelings of hatred towards Uther, you still feel that there is an internal struggle going on. The only drawback was that there were one too many shots that lingered at the end of each scene that showed her smirking or looking doubtful to provide that 'oo, is she really evil?' feeling.

As usual, the locations and sets of Merlin were beautiful, and the visual effects were pretty impressive. I was just a little bit disappointed to see the return of the Dragon this soon into the season after being dismissed at the end of the last season, but this was overshadowed by the awesome look (and voice) of the Dragon.

A solid beginning to what will be a very macabre season, with Morgana's turn to evil as the overriding plot piece. With next week's promise of a Morgana/Merlin showdown, Merlin riding the Dragon into battle and an army of the dead, it looks like Merlin has remained on form. If you haven't watched Merlin yet, I suggest that you start. Now.

Merlin on the BBC website