26 July 2011

Top 5 fantasy/sci-fi TV theme songs

Don't forget to check out my giveaway to get yourself a free hardback copy of Alan Campbell's Sea of Ghosts!

There's no denying it - when fantasy or sci-fi hits the small screen there's something definitely more epic than your garden variety TV show. One of the reasons for this is the theme song - that little minute or so of intro that grabs you by the collar and screams into your face, "You see this?! This is the only thing you need to watch EVER!" Here are my top five fantasy/sci-fi TV show theme songs/tunes. Pop in a comment if you think there's something even better that I've missed out on too.

5. Angel
It's a Joss Whedon show, so it's going to have 'kick ass' written all over it by default. The heavy rock/cello combo was created by Darling Violetta, and it's got a suitable darkness to the more mature Angel.
4. True Blood
I'm not that big a fan of True Blood, but I adore the intro music. It reminds me of a less disturbing Rob Zombie (sort of a dark hillbilly hibe) that fits in well with the show's setting. This little ditty was made by Jace Everett.

3. Doctor Who
The theme music for Doctor Who has barely changed in the 40 years it's been running, which is a damn good example of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". This is the latest incarnation of the theme, composed by Murray Gold and performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

2. Firefly
This was at the top of the list until the very end, pipped to the post by the grand winner. The Ballard of Serenity was composed by Whedon himself and is full of the Western feel that permeates the show. The final version of the theme was performed by Sonny Rhodes.
1. Game of Thrones
What else could it be? A newcomer, yes, but Ramin Djawadi's theme for Game of Thrones sets the tone for the srawling and epic landscape of Westeros, as well as the large scale of the story itself.

Bonus: Red Dwarf outro
Possibly winning the award for 'most inappropriate song for a sci-fi TV show, the end credits song for Red Dwarf is wonderfully absurd. A perfect reflection of the show itself.

That's my top five! What would you put as your #1 fantasy/sci-fi TV show theme?

25 July 2011

The TBR Pile Grows: Bricks by Leon Jenner

Don't forget to check out my giveaway to get yourself a free hardback copy of Alan Campbell's Sea of Ghosts!

Over the weekend I received a package from Hodder & Stoughton containing Bricks by Leon Jenner. I was intriguied by the book as it had started life as a downloadable audio book, which became a cult hit before going to print. Here's the blurb:

This is the story of a bricklayer. A master of his craft, he keeps its sacred teachings secret. For him a house is the dwelling place of a soul, and a house must be built in the right spirit or the soul inside it will suffer. The building of an arch is a ritual to obtain a right relation with the earth and a connection with the truth.

The bricklayer recalls his previous life as a Druid priest. He talks about the creation of the sacred landscape of these islands; how even a simple stick lying on the ground would tell people the direction they needed to go in; how when people stared at the stars, they were staring at their own mind. The reader sees the world through the eyes of this great, magical being at the time of the Roman invasion, and learns how he tricked Julius Caesar and set in train the series of events that would lead to Caesar's assassination on the Ides of March.

But as the bricklayer continues, he worries he is losing his ancient, sacred powers. The vision begins to fray at the edges as we learn how he has recently taken violent revenge on yobs who have mocked him. Is he really connected to a once living Druid priest, or is he gradually losing himself in his own fantasies?

I like the premise here - a modern day bricklayer hearkening back to a past life as a Druid and the connections they share across the ages. There's also a very well made trailer for the book below. Check it out!

23 July 2011

Review - Rhydian's Quest by V.S. Jones (Book Guild)

Rhydian's Quest by V.S. Jones book cover
Rhydian's Quest by V.S. Jones
Published by Book Guild
Hardback – 200 pages
Published April 2011
Review copy given by Book Guild Publishing

Out of ancient Wales rides Rhydian, a raw, untried young knight with a great deal to prove and an arduous journey to make, both physically and spiritually.
On the way, he must face jealous enemies, shape shifters, spirits from other ages, enchantresses and a fabled sword and scabbard, which can render its user invincible but can also lead him into temptation and to craving power at any cost. 

To help him, he has his faithful warhorse, his clever hound and his beautiful lady, blessed with second sight. Rhydian needs not only incredible courage but also humility, forgiveness and friendship if he is to conquer lust, hate, anger and vainglory and achieve true knighthood. 
The rich, clear, simple verse will catch, enthral and ultimately uplift the reader. The pace is exciting, the wonderful landscape vividly drawn and all the characters touchingly human.  

Rhydian's Quest has a very unusual format, and it is this format that works to the book's detriment. Most of the story is written in what appear as quatrains, but when the story is read there is no poetic rhythm. It's an odd form of prose poetry that doesn't really work on either level; if the story is read as prose, the line breaks and stylistic quirks of the format make for slightly harder reading, and if it is read as verse the story is completely lost as the reader is so focused on trying to shoehorn each line into some form of rhythmic meter.

 Jones has definitely done her research for this story. The landscapes and geography are detailed and give a very accurate overview of Medieval Wales. The journey is such that it would be possible to plot the progression of Rhydian's Quest on a modern map of Wales from the numerous landmarks, castles and forts that are presented in the story (just from using two locations - Castell y Bere and Castell Du, a quick stop on Google Maps shows that Rhydian travelled at least half the length of Wales). Most of the story could easily be read as historical fiction, though the very unexpected, confusing and out of place science fiction epilogue completely throws this out the window.
Where the world and landscape excel, the characters falter. Every character is a one dimensional archetype - Rhydian is the chivalrous knight with honour and courage, whose only flaw is that he is unable to take another person's life (i.e. he is too nice for his own good). Also present in the story are the typical wise man Emrys, the helpless love interest Gwen, the faithful and devoted companion Alain Throughout the story, everyone either immediately falls in love with Rhydian or they hate him instantly out of jealousy. These characterisations might be in keeping with the kind of tale that a bard would craft for a Medieval knight, but it makes for very stale reading.

The focus of Rhydian's Quest is very much in the travelling, and there is almost no conflict to drive the plot forward. Any hint of conflict, be it internal or external, is extinguished in the same sentence as it began. Again, this is likely in keeping with Rhydian's 'perfect' image and reluctance to kill, but it also means that there is nothing in the story to excite or quicken the blood  - all that is left is the journey itself.

Rhydian's Quest seems to take its style and inspiration from older tales, but the one dimensional characters and slow pace do not gel well with a modern audience. Though it is a very accurate depiction of Medieval Wales, the strange format and lack of conflict make the journey through this landscape a slow one indeed.

20 July 2011

Giveaway: Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell!

My bookshelves are too full; it's time for another giveaway!

Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell is an excellent tale of magic, corruption and revenge. A great fantasy reviewer called it 'a gripping adventure with plenty of action to sink your teeth into ... a dark, fast paced story filled with intrigue, forbidden lore and corruption, and you'll enjoy every page of it.' (note: that was me - check out the review here).

I'm offering one of you beautiful readers a chance to win yourself a copy of the hardcover version of Sea of Ghosts.

'Sure, that sounds awesome!' I hear you cry. 'How do I enter?' The answer couldn't be more simple.

One of the main features about the world of Sea of Ghosts are the magical artefacts that are created by the race called the Unmer. They have the ability to take mundane objects and transform them into powerful objects with strange magical abilities. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is comment below and tell me:

What would be your magical object of choice and what would it do?

Usual giveaway rules apply. Everyone who comments below gets an entry, and if you tweet this post with hashtag #mwfreebie or post it on your own blog, you'll get an extra entry. Bribes of cash and beer are also acceptable.

I'll open this contest up worldwide (money's no object when it comes to you lovely people) and it'll run until Saturday 6th August. I'll announce the winner on the following Monday.

So what are you waiting for? Get commenting, tweeting and posting!!


18 July 2011

Game of Thrones in LEGO, Merlin coming to SyFy in 2012 and a future giveaway!

I'm a huge fan of LEGO. I'm a huge fan of fantasy. When the two meet in the middle it creates a kind of awesomeness that threatens to blow a whole in the universe. Game of Thrones LEGO could very well be that thing. Games designer Sam Beattie has created a set of minifigures by cobbling together bits and pieces from other LEGO sets, resulting in a damn good representation of the characters from George R.R. Martin's epic series A Song of Ice and Fire. There are many more on his Flickr page, including an awesome rendition of Firefly.
The Starks in LEGO. We can die happy.

Also, some good news for you fantasy fans from across The Pond. Season 4 of BBC's Merlin has been picked up by SyFy for 2012. The latest season will feature the return of all the characters we've come to love from the series, with the addition of Nathaniel Parker (Dunstan Thorne in Stardust) and Phil Davies (Sherlock). With Game of Thrones and Doctor Who now both done for the year, I'm looking forward to some more Merlin-ey goodness!

Also, I'm going to be hosting my second giveaway pretty soon. I'll be giving away a hardback copy of Alan Campbell's Sea of Ghosts. I reviewed the ARC back in February and I really got a kick out of it - hopefully one of you will too! I'll post with more details on the giveaway on Wednesday.

17 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II [movie review]

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
A non stop, no holds barred finale to the series, Part II shines where Part I was lacking.

After my review of Deathly Hallows Part I, there was both hope and trepidation that Part II would live up to the amount of expectation that has been put upon it by the multitude of fans worldwide. The challenge was accepted, and it was done incredibly well.

Part II picks up immediately where Part I left off. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are still searching for the remaining Horcruxes that contain part of Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) soul. This sees them coming face to face with Voldemort's army of Death Eaters as the final battle at Hogwarts begins.

The main challenge of Part II was allowing for the large cast of characters to have enough time in the spotlight. Given that Part I was almost devoid of supporting cast, the challenge was even greater. Despite the large character rosta, this was executed well; although the main and crucial plot revolved around Harry finding and destroying the Horcruxes, you definitely felt that he was a smaller part in something much, much larger. Of note are the return of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) who really shine in this final installment.

As is expected, the CGI and special effects were sublime. All the stops were pulled out to make this final episode the most explosive and visually captivating. The world is grim, dark and gritty, contrasted by the multitude of flashes and magical paraphernalia from the final battle. The inclusion of the Gringotts dragon was also visually stunning.

I found that there were elements of the story that seemed to take for granted the viewer's knowledge of the books and previous movies, since there were some (few) scenes that lacked explanation or clarity. Whilst someone who had read the books would be fine with this, any newcomers to the series (rare as they may be) would likely have been confused by what was going on. Though these were very few and far between, it may be off putting for some.

The pacing of Part II is definitely where the biggest contrast lies between itself and Part I. Here, the 2+ hours of the movie are over all too soon, such is the constant conflict and drama. Through all this, time is allowed for back story and revelation; a calm centre amidst the vortex of chaos. The tension still surrounds these slightly slower periods, for the viewer knows that all around people are dying and the battle rages on. The only criticism that could be said is that the ultimate end was a little lacklustre when compared to the buildup of the entire series; but then again, I don't think it would ever be possible to perfect an ending to Harry Potter, such is the high expectations of its fan base.

In short, Deathly Hallows Part II is a brilliantly crafted finale that ties in the culmination of the last decade's worth of movies and ensures that justice is done to both plot and characters in this final confrontation. An excellent conclusion and one that will make you want to watch the entire series all over again and again.

13 July 2011

Mini movie review - X Men: First Class, A Dance with Dragons news and bonus discussion

Since my fiancée has gone to Budapest for a few days (and taken her Macbook with her), I'm having to condense my week's worth of posts into a single article since I've not many options when it comes to computer access. Anyhow, here's the week in brief:

Mini review - X Men: First Class
A far more grown up superhero movie, First Class is a definite contender for the top X Men movie, fighting for the top spot with X2. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do a superb job as Charles and Erik with their opposing upbringings and their changing relationship. The supporting cast isn't as solid as the leads (and are the cause of the only scene that detracts from the 'grown up' feel of the movie) but on the whole they are a fine compliment. Although there isn't a great deal of action, especially when compared to its predecessors, First Class has excellent pacing. An unexpected surprise was Kevin Bacon's performance as Sebastian Shaw, which was excellent. I hope that First Class sets the bar for superhero movies in future.

News - A Dance With Dragons storms the charts!
Though it was only released yesterday, George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, the fifth installment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, has already skyrockets to the top positions, reaching #1 on Amazon UK and #2 on Amazon US. Though I suspect the phenomenal success of HBO's adaptation Game of Thrones has helped bring many newcomers to the series (myself included), the five year wait for the book's release most definitely hasn't hurt either.

Feature - Fantasy/Science Fiction cross-breeding
I won't get into or fuel the fires of the whole 'what makes a fantasy a fantasy' discussion - fantasy and sci fi are two very fluid genres with concepts that bleed into each other. Although there are some things that ultimately divide the two genres (e.g. fantasy has magic, science fiction has technological advancement) there are a number of things that are able to cross the borders, even if they are usually found in one genre only. Personally, I'd like to read more fantasies that use distinct planets or worlds in the story, and possible the transportation between them (as can be seen in the recent Thor movie). What science fiction concept would you like to see more of in fantasy? And for sci-fi fans, what fantasy concept would you like to see more of?

6 July 2011

Magnum Opus: Researching your novel

This is the start of what I hope will become a regular feature on here - where I pose questions and discussions from what I'm finding in my own writing in the hope that someone will show me where I'm going wrong (just kidding, but not really).

This post is all about research in preparation for your novel. I found that at the initial idea stage my mind would go every which way and come up with a lot of different ideas, but as soon as it came to putting pen to paper (or keys to word file, whichever you prefer) I realised that I knew nothing about the time, place or people I was intending to write about. Though I intend to write a fantasy, and so there isn't really a limit to what I can cook up, I've got a definite image in my mind as to where the story is grounded (think Victorian dockside police vs. a smuggled dragon and you've got the basic idea).

I've taken the initial leap into researching the period and the people - I'm lucky in that a new museum opened quite recently called The Cardiff Story that showcases the history of the old Victorian docks called Tiger Bay, so I've got some great insight into the lives of the people there. The only nagging doubt that I have in my mind is 'when should I stop researching?' One of the problems I'm having with the book I'm currently reading is that the period and places are researched in such depth that the story suffers for it. Plot and characterization are lost to accuracy of the text, and that is something I'd like to avoid.

How do you go about the initial research for your novel? What's your most effective tool for research?

4 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger [movie trailer]

Just wishing a Happy Independence Day to all my readers on the other side of The Pond! Hope you all have an awesome day of celebration, fireworks and inebriation. If that's not enough, here's a little slice of All-American action for you, courtesy of the good folks at Marvel. Enjoy!!

What are your 4th July plans?

3 July 2011

Breaking the silence - New posting schedule

Cartoon from toothpastefordinner.com
So I've been away for a while.

I didn't realise how long it's been but it's been a hell of a long time, and I've no excuse.

I fell behind on all things bloggy (that includes posting, commenting, reading etc.).

My usual routine for the past 4 weeks has consisted of getting up, going to work, coming home, eating then crashing out until sleep takes over.

It's not been a good pattern but I've still had time to blog that I haven't used. Shame on me.

I won't make any proclamation like speeches or promises of how I will change my ways.

I'm not the type to make promises I can't keep. Though I do have a few ideas for some tweaks with regards to the blog:

I'll be posting reviews on the weekend, most likely Saturday but depending on how things go some could be delayed until Sunday.

I'll have my news posts on a Monday which will give me time to trawl the internet for decent stories, and Wednesday will be my 'feature' day.

I'm never really sure what goes into a 'feature' but it'll likely be a discussion topic or a question of a ponderous nature that I'll pose to the blog-o-sphere.

I really want to get back into writing so I might use one of the left over days to post a Writing Update on some ideas I've had, or to throw up a bit of micro fiction that will open for critique.

So, what's the gossip, Blogland? Anything monumental that I've missed?