25 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick post to wish all those of you in the US a very Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm off to a Thanksgiving party hosted by one of my American friends this evening. I've been told to expect a ton of food and a ton of booze, so it's gonna be a fun evening. I've never celebrated Thanksgiving before, so it's gonna be an experience.

I'm thankful for everyone who's helped me make this blog what it is right now. It was a lonely first six months out there but now there's a large group of you guys who I'm honoured to know. I wish you all a great day!

Thanksgiving by AngELofREbellion (DeviantArt)

23 November 2010

Review - The Pan Book of Horror Stories (Pan Giant)

The Pan Book of Horror Stories by Herbert van Thal (editor)
Published by Pan Giant
Paperback - 200 pages
Published October 2010
Review copy received from Pan Macmillan

The Pan Book of Horror Stories is a collection of short stories that was original published in the 1950's. Here, they are presented in their original format (and with the same cover as back in the day). Such stories are Submerged, about a young boy who witnesses a tragic accident, Flies, which tells of a homeless man trapped inside a house that is plagued by demonic forces, and Raspberry Jam, a tale of insanity and the corruption of innocence.

First, it must be stated that the state of the horror genre now is not what it used to be. Though some elements in the stories would be frightening for the characters, they fail to frighten the reader. With a few exceptions, the compilation would not be classed as horror at all, since there are no elements of the supernatural. The vast majority of the stories focus on the prospect of insanity, which in modern terms would be considered a psychological thriller. Though this distinction does not belittle the quality of the writing, it shifts the mindset with which you enter into the stories.

Many stories can be seen to have striking similarities with modern movies. House of Horror puts me in mind of a blend of 'gore-porn' movies such as Saw and The Human Centipede. The emphasis on suspense as the descent into madness of one the characters is revealed is quite disturbing, and the payoff at the end is heartbreaking as well as horrific.

The Horror in the Museum is a Lovecraftian homage that effectively blends the perils of insanity with the terror of facing demonic forces. The slow build up and revelation again focuses on suspense, but the climax here fails to happen.

The Pan Book of Horror Stories is an excellent homage for the kind of writing found back then, but it doesn't hold much stock for the modern audience. Many of the stories seem drab and uninteresting where they try to build suspense rather than go for the shock factor. This just reflects the change in society. This is recommended if you grew up with this kind of fiction, or if you're interested to see how the genre has changed over the years. If you're looking for a scare, then this isn't going to cut it. Some stories are able to stand the test of time, forever relevant to its readers. Others become dated in the ever changing perceptions and social standards of people, and become bland when presented to a desensitized audience. This, sadly, is the latter.

20 November 2010

Hilarious Trailer for 'Your Highness', NaNo update and an award!

My laptop is officially back to the way it was now, thank to a replacement power cable. It does mean I have a ton of blogposts to catch up with, so bear with me, it'll be slow going. Unfortunately, this means that my NaNo word count has been non existent for the past 2 weeks. I'm still less than 10,000 words and we're on day 20 already. There's no way I'm going to catch up in time, and so I am officially bowing down this year.

NaNoWriMo, I have failed you.

I'm still pleased though. Those 10000 words are more than I've ever written for this particular story, and so I'm on the right track. I'm still going to work on it, so expect some updates on how I'm getting on :) I'll likely post something on the official NaNo close with a roundup.

In my absence I found that I had received the Versatile Blogger Award from Kelly over at Nerdville Rhapsody (if you haven't checked out her blog yet, do so now. She has some excellent discussions over there.) Thank you Kelly!

As per the rules of this award, here's seven things about me:

i. I was born with six toes on my left foot (it was removed when I was still a baby) and I am convinced that they removed the wrong one :P

ii. My initial inspiration to become a writer was at the age of 12, when I heard about the success of Christopher Paolini's Eragon. When I realised he was a best selling author at only 15, I became jealous and realised I was wasting my time (I've since matured, don't worry).

iii. I am a British First Grade Fencer (it's a lot less impressive than it sounds).

iv. I appeared as an extra in the Welsh movie Good Arrows, and I've appeared on TV in national political debates (the kind that want to get the 'youth' opinion).

v. I am currently working on the world's biggest ball of Sellotape as well as making chainmail out of soda tabs (weird things happen when I get bored).

vi. Moths and butterflies make my skin crawl. Bats would probably do the same thing too. Way too erratic for my liking :P

vii. When I get 'settled' in whatever house I end up in, I'm going to make one of those hidden bookshelf things that reveal a hidden room, which will become my 'man den'.

There you have it. I'm going to pass this on to Sarah at Bookworm Blues. Her reviews are excellent; well balanced, well written and entertaining too. Check it out if you haven't already.

Finally, I caught the trailer for Your Highness at Geeks Are Sexy. Warning, this is the Red Band trailer, so it's NSFW (but totally hilarious). With Natalie Portman AND Zooey Deneschal in the mix, this is my kind of fantasy (by fantasy of course I mean 'particular sub-genre of speculative fiction. Easy there).

I'm looking forward to this. What do you think about Your Highness? How is everyone doing with NaNo?

12 November 2010

Review - Jingo by Terry Pratchett (Corgi)

Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Published by Corgi
Hardback - 288 pages
Published November 1998
Personal copy of book

Jingo is the twenty-first Discworld novel, and the fourth that centers around the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork. The fabled continent of Leshp rises from the sea, exactly half way between Ankh-Morpork and sand-ridden Al-Khali, capital of Klatch. As dignitaries from Al-Khali arrive in Ankh-Morpork to negotiate an agreement regarding the new continent, unrest and ill feeling towards the foreigners runs rife. After the attempted assassination of a Klatchian prince, both nations are on the brink of war. Only Samuel Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch can unravel the mystery and stop the war, which puts them deep into the heart of enemy territory.

One thing can be said about Pratchett, and that is that the man knows funny. Jingo takes apart social idiosyncrasies and turns them in a way that makes you giggle like an idiot as well as ponder the deeper meaning. His satirical take on territorial disputes and xenophobia is just the topping of a well layered look at racism and immigration, which were big problems in the UK at the time of writing (and still kind of relevant today). It's astounding how he is able to blend the ridiculous with such serious issues so well.

The pacing of Jingo is a little slow in places, particularly at the beginning of the book, but it fits in well with the murder mystery/crime thriller style that the City Watch books are written in. Usually the story picks up again before any kind of lag begins, and the final third of the book turns into a full action adventure. The great thing is that at no point is there a boring moment, even in the slower paced parts of the story. Pratchett's humour never lets off, so it's very difficult to read in public without getting funny looks from people on the bus.

The characters in this are less developed than in previous City Watch books. The bulk of the character development was achieved in the other novels, so the focus here is more on the world in which the already established characters live. This isn't a problem for seasoned readers of Pratchett, but first time readers would probably need to read the other City Watch novels to get a decent understanding of the characters.
The contrasting characters of Vimes and his two subordinates, Nobby Nobbs and Fred Colon, show the two sides of Pratchett's character well; from silly, almost slapstick humour and British wit, to a darker tone that touches on the deeper issues.
Jingo is a recommended read that, while not the best of the city watch titles thus far, will still have you giggling loudly in public as well as thinking about the deeper issues presented in the story. Pratchett is a master of his craft and Jingo is a great example of this. First time readers should read up on the City Watch before tackling this one for maximum laughs, but nonetheless it is a great read.

8 November 2010

NaNoWriMo - Week 1 (plus an unfortunate setback)

This post was originally going to be all about my first week of NaNoWriMo, but today I have had a very bad setback - the power cable of my laptop has completely fizzled out (I'm commandeering my fiancee's MacBook at the moment to write this). Plus, I did a very stupid thing in not backing up my work. Yes, I know, shame on me (feel free to make fun/tell me off in the comments). I've ordered a replacement but it's gonna take about 3 days to arrive, by which time I would have lost about 6-8000 words. It also means I'll be offline for a few days, so I expect to have a ton of blogposts to catch up on. I hate downtime, but I fear it's inevitable. Now that's out of the way, onto the blogpost!


So NaNoWriMo is in full swing, and everyone is hunkering down with their fledgling novels, huge cups of tea and frequent trips to the blog-o-sphere to break up the monotony. Here's how my first week has fared:

Day 1 saw me hit the ground running with over 2000 words on my tally. Not a bad start.
Day 2 hit me with a double whammy of work and a family bereavement, which gave me only 150 words. Slipping already :S
Days 3 & 4 hit the target fine, with about 100 words extra each day.
Day 5 earned me an extra 2000 words, slowly catching up with my loss.
Day 6 was a no go day, with 0 words written. I don't know what happened; either the inspiration was lacking or I wasn't at my computer. My guess is the procrastination demon reared its ugly head.
Day 7 turned me into a typing demon, with another 2000 words added to the tally.

Current word count is about 9000 words, but I'm behind by about 2000 so far. That's only a day's worth, but I'll need to pull my finger out to catch up (especially with this unexpected downtime). Still, it's the most I've ever written of this story, so it's already been worth it!

Here's a short synopsis of my NaNoWriMo WIP:
Noscareg by James Gryste (pen name? Why not!)

The land is changing. Ancient energies are stirring in the earth, and a select few have been chosen to harness its power. The age of magic is beginning.
Mathias Bowen, apprentice apothecary of the town of Nightwater, discovers that he is able to sense the pathways of magic - The Telluric - that weave throughout the land. Moreso, he is able to bend them to his will. When his gift guides him to the body of a warrior priest, he has to set out on a journey to discover the Noscareg, a powerful artifact that can cast the world in perpetual darkness. He is not alone in this quest, for a clan of vampiric Night Walkers also seek the stone for their own nefarious ends.

I'll post an update for next week with some snippets of what I've done so far. Although I'm really enjoying NaNoWriMo, I can tell that this will need a lot of work before it can even be considered a first draft.

If anyone wants to follow my progress, Im james.gryste on the NaNoWriMo site. If you're taking part in this too, please comment with your username so I can add you as a buddy :) Also, here's a few places you should visit for more NaNoWriMo goodness:

pornokitsch is running NaNoNoWriMo - 30 reasons not to do NaNoWriMo.
Alex is giving us some awesome progress updates on his Twitterfeed.
Summer, Lee and Sarah have regular updates on how they're doing, with kick-ass extras too (check out Summer's gigantic mug!)

6 November 2010

To digitize or not to digitize?

I've been toying with this idea for a little while, and although it pains me to ask the question, I feel that it needs to be asked.

Should I go fully digital with my reading?

I've resisted the urge to join the rising trend in eBook reading (Bryce has posted on the condemnation that Towers of Midnight received because of a delay in releasing the eBook), turning my nose up at the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader and Apple iPad (although I still want the iPad for different reasons). I'm not a technophobe. Far from it; I love gizmos and gadgets and thingamabobs. The reason I've avoided going anywhere near eBooks for so long is because I would much rather have a physical book in my hand than something intangible on a screen. I love looking at my bookcase, scanning through the titles and thinking "I've read all of these. I've become a part of each of these worlds." It gives a sense of achievement that I don't think I'd get with an eReader.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures. As I showed in a previous post, my 'to read shelf' is completely full (I've since added four more titles to it). As well as that, my bookcase is completely packed with books, and I've had to store all of my Egyptology reference books in crates beneath my bed. I have officially reached maximum capacity.

All of a sudden, an eReader is the logical step to take, albeit a reluctant one. Getting a Kindle would allow me to store tenfold what I already own, and still only take up as much space as a single book. Where I'm living right now, empty space is a precious commodity indeed. The same thing applies to music and movies. If I buy a CD, I upload it to my iTunes and then never look at the disc until something requires me to re-upload the album. I've also had to put all of my DVD discs into folders, and throw all of the cases into my attic.

So should I make the jump and go digital? If I do, do I stop at books, or should I also download all of my music from iTunes and get my movies from something like Netflix (I don't know what the British equivalent is... maybe there isn't)? It makes a lot of sense, but I'm uncomfortable with the thought of having my entire media collection stored in the intangible ether that is cyberspace.

As it stands, I intend to get myself a Kindle after Christmas, and I'm likely to start downloading music over iTunes as opposed to buying the CDs (this also has the benefit of often being cheaper too).

What would you recommend I do?

1 November 2010

Review - The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell (Tor)

The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell
Published by Tor
Hardback - 302 pages
Review copy given by Pan Macmillan

The Reapers Are The Angels is a post apocalyptic novel that follows Temple, a teenager who was born after the zombie apocalypse occurred. Alone and traveling America, Temple seeks brief solace wherever she can find it, moving on before the 'meatskins' or the people become too much for her. After killing man in one of the safe zones, Temple is on the run from the vengeful arm of the murdered man's brother. Temple soon finds out that the one thing worse than sharing a world with the dead is having to share it with the living.

Bell has an unusual writing style. The entire thing is written in the present tense, so there's a definite sense of unease as you're in the action (or the suspense) with Temple as she travels. The lack of punctuation in the dialogue is another feature I've not come across before (apparently this style is similar to The Road, another post apocalyptic novel). For the most part it adds to the pace of the novel, never letting up and building the tension, but on occasions it can stick out as your try to figure out who's saying what, which brings you out of the story.

Plot is not a major feature of this novel. It is set out more as Temple's journey, and her experiences and interactions along the way. In this, Bell puts all of the focus in driving his characters rather than driving the story. The characters define the story rather than the other way around.

Temple is a very likable character; one that you sympathize with rather than identify. Having been brought into this zombie infested world, all she knows is crumbling buildings and killing to survive. Because of this, she is very practical and mature beyond her years, but she still has an innocence that marvels at the little miracles that lay in the centre of the chaos. The supporting characters are satisfyingly complex yet feature briefly enough in Temple's life that they don't slow down the book. This is both a good and a bad thing, since they flit in and our of her life too quickly to properly identify with them.

Bell's world is typical post apocalyptic. The desolation is well written, not so much in the world building but in the experiences through Temple's eyes. The loneliness that occurs on the road is well felt, which Temple attempts to rectify with her brief encounters with other humans, and her 'adopting' Maury later on in the novel. There are lulls during the course of the maelstrom that fill the reader with a sense of calm, but also of impending dread.

As my first post apocalyptic fiction novel, The Reapers Are the Angels was a great introduction. It's made me want to branch out and read mroe genres of its type, something I shied away from for a while. Within its bleak exterior can be found the innocence of childhood that is rapidly taken away as Temple has to deal with a much more dangerous thing than the meatskins that inhabit her world. Highly recommended as a novel that defies convention and sets for itself a compelling character driven journey against the desolation and solitude of this new world.