31 August 2011

Discussion - Genre blending

Way back when, I posted about how fantasy is unique as a genre, since it can assimilate any other genre that it comes in contact with e.g. if any kind of story has an element of the fantastic in it, that story becomes fantasy. A romance novel with elements of crime doesn't make it a crime novel, but a romance novel with elements of fantasy does make it a fantasy novel.

Recently, I came across a post by Brian Ruckley, author of The Edinburgh Dead, who believes that all genres are underpinned by the same structure, which allows writers to freely make the transition from, say, fantasy to crime thriller to horror and back again.

I haven't really considered this as an idea, but I think it makes sense. Since all fiction is speculative by its very nature (since it reflects that which is not real) I suppose all stories do share a similar core, no matter what branch of genre or sub genre they end up with.

The most prolific example of this that I can give is the adaptation of A Game of Thrones. There has been a debate amongst the fans of the show about whether or not the series can truly be classified as a fantasy.  With the exception of the very last scene of the first season, the show was for all intents and purposes a historical fiction in terms of setting, plot and character.

The same could also be said for fantasies that attempt to be 'realistic' in terms of showing the world as dark as they possibly can. These would bear a striking resemblance to crime thrillers were it not for the any overt fantastic elements within the story. If all stories are connected by similar themes and purposes, fantasy is the one genre that truly comes into its own, since it retains its identity no matter what you throw at it.

Do you agree with Ruckley's idea that all stories have the same roots? Can you think of any other examples where a story stands between multiple genres?

29 August 2011

Book Trailer - The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Source [Orbit Books] via [Fantasy Book Critic]

It's not often that you see a book trailer that has the same feel as a movie trailer i.e. it actually gives you a clue as to what is happening in the story. Enter The Black Prism by Brent Weeks, which is one of the first book trailers that make me want to read the book. It's got one thing that most other book trailers lack; production value. Also, there are some decent special effects in the use of magic too. 

Do you watch many book trailers? Do they influence your decision to read a book?

28 August 2011

Mini movie reviews - Captain America: The First Avenger & Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A combination of factors means that you're getting shorter reviews this week, but so that you're not disappointed, the reviews are doubled up. So that's not just one, but two movie reviews for you!

Captain America: The First Avenger

 The final 'origin' story prior to Joss Whedon's The Avengers movie next year, Captain America did a good job of bringing Cap to the big screen. I was surprised with Chris Evans' performance (especially after his role as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four) which, while not brilliant, was well done. As expected, Hugo Weaving's Red Skull was outstanding. The art direction was spectacular; from set design to the costumes, there was a real vintage, WWII feel to the movie.  Though one of the weaker Avengers movies, Captain America was an enjoyable movie, and sets us up nicely for next year's epic.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

I'm a big fan of the original Planet of the Apes series, and after Tim Burton's disaster I went into this with trepidation. My fears were unfounded, however. A brilliant spin on the origins of the apes' rise to power, with enough subtle throwbacks to the original movies to keep fans like me happy. I'm 100% on the band wagon for Andy Serkis deserving an Oscar nomination for this portrayal of Caesar, and I've a new found respect for James Franco also. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a superb movie that works well into the existing Apes canon. Take note, Burton. This is how it should be made.

I'm having a little tinker around with the way the blog looks/works over the coming week, so there might be a couple of changes. Bear with me while I get everything smoothed out.

Do you think that actors in motion capture roles (i.e. Andy Serkis, seeing as he is the king of motion capture) should be eligible for Oscar nomination?

26 August 2011

Zombie Fitness Friday: Week 1 (Begin Montage Sequence)

So I've officially started my insane idea of getting fit in order to survive the zombie apocalypse. This first week has been mostly about getting information, since there's a couple of things that I didn't take into consideration at first:
  • How fast are these zombies? Are we talking Romero-era shufflers, or 28 Days Later sprinters?
  • Do I focus on the fight or the flee side of zombie survival?
Thanks to your suggestions and some research I've come up with some answers.

My Holy Book throughout all of this will be, of course, Max Brook's The Zombie Survival Guide. Though we all know it's fiction, it's written so persuasively that most would refer to it if the zombie apocalypse actually happened. Brooks goes with the 'Night of the Living Dead' shufflers as an average speed for zombies, but the Camarthern Zombie Apocalypse event that I want to attent explicitely states that these zombies can run!

So how fast do the 28 Days Later zombies run? This is where my second piece of kit comes in handy. There's a free app for the Android called Zombie, Run! that uses GPS to track your location and populates a map with zombies that will chase you. An excellent exercise tool. According to the app, 28 Days Later zombies run at 8mph.

My second question was answered by those of you who've seen Zombieland (which I've yet to watch),

'Rule #1: Cardio'

Speed and stamina will be my goals for Zombie Fitness Friday. This week I've been to the gym twice, and each time I've done a 5km jog, with two 400m sprints as part of the full 5km. I've not focused on anything diet wise, and I walk to and from work every day.

I've dropped 2lbs this first week, bringing me down to 208lbs. There's a lot more effort needed on my part, but now that I've the tools, I can take on the undead hordes.

Thanks for all your comments and support last week. My favourite comment from last week was from mooderino:

"Hang out with people more unfit than you. That way you don't have to out run the zombie's, you only have to outrun them."

Do you think a fast zombie is a real zombie? What's your 'ideal zombie'?

24 August 2011

Fantasy infographics - can they work?

I'm a big fan of infographics - it's a nice, easy way to digest a lot of information in a short space of time. Infographics take what are usually boring stats and charts and make it visually pleasing, so you find yourself wanting to find out more, and before you know it you've read the whole thing.

As part of my job, I've started designing infographics to see if they're feasible in making content easier to read, and I've found that I really enjoy making them. I'm no artist by any stretch of the imagination, but i love tinkering with stats and graphics to make up a nice looking, informative image. It then got me to wondering if they'd work in terms of the fantasy genre.

I've not seen that many fantasy related infographics, but I've liked what I've seen so far. I want to have a stab at including some infographics on this blog, but I'm unsure if anyone would actually be interested.

Do you think that information about the fantasy genre could be well represented in an infographic? What topics would you like to see covered?
Source: http://www.io9.com/

Source: http://www.orbitbooks.net/

Also, Iceberg Ink have unleashed their inaugural podcast on the world. Check out the first episode of The Giggle Loop for fantasy and sci-fi TV, movies, books and comics.

22 August 2011

Fantasy tunes: Dragonland - The Return

The one thing that makes me love power/folk metal above any other music genre is that more often than not you are presented with epic stories, character arcs and completely new worlds. These things you don't often get in other genres. Sarah's blog Empty White Pages has a series called 'Musical Stories' that looks at how different genres are represented in music. Check it out.

When I heard that Swesish power metallers Dragonland were working on a new album, their first for eight years, I was uber excited. Then I saw the trailer for the album, and I got even more excited. When a music album is presented to you in the same sort of style as a fantasy book trailer, then you know you're in good hands. Take a look see:

It's a pretty short trailer, but it gives you the same sense of scale and story that most epic fantasy has. I first heard of Dragonland from their album Astronomy, which was mostly focused around - you guessed it - outer space. If you get a chance, take a listen to their music.

Do you know any other bands that use fantasy as the inspiration for their music?

21 August 2011

Bricks by Leon Jenner [book review]


Bricks by Leon Jenner
Published by Coronet
Hardback – 136 pages
Published August 2011
Review copy given by Hodder and Stoughton

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?


 Throughout the entire of reading Bricks, my opinion was split between looking forward to the next chapter and wanting to put the book down and stop reading altogether. The book swings between long sections of monologue and preachy rambling in which the bricklayer addressed the reader directly, and retrospective historical events seen through the eyes of the Celts. I relished the latter, and dreaded the former.

The sections that are dedicated to the lives of the Druids and the Roman invasion of Britain was well written and filled with tension - from Ceasar's initial rise to power to the eventual incursion onto the island itself, the Celts and the Druids are seen to be both all knowing and patient. These scenes, taken with care from the pages of history, are plausible and exciting. However, these scenes are all too infrequent. Instead we are shown long sections of sermon from the mind of the modern day bricklayer as he recants this earlier time and waxes philosophical to the reader. Frequently can be read 'I am unable to put into words ...' and 'I would not be able to write in a way that you would understand ...', which comes across as the author not attempting to write in further detail the concepts that he is outlining. These sections of sermon have no plot at all and don't really form any cohesive structure. Whilst this confirms the notion that the bricklayer is slowly losing his mind, it feels less a point of character development and more a point that the author wanted to put across through the writing.

Aside from the question of whether or not the bricklayer is actually the reincarnation of a Druid, or is actually insane, there is no character development in the story. Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Gaius Paulinus are mentioned but aren't developed beyond their guide as Roman leaders. These historical sections should have been given much more prevalence than they were; cutting out these long sections of sermon would have helped with the slow pace of the novel and given more characters a chance to breathe and grow.

In short, Bricks is both an historical novel and a psychological profile in one, but neither satisfies the reader. As a history buff, the most interesting part of the book was the Appendix that had long chunks of text lifted from Caesar's The Gallic Wars. What disappoints me most about Bricks is that, had the novel focused more on character and plot, it would have been an excellent read. As a short book (only 136 pages long) the more eclectic amongst you may enjoy flicking through it. For most though, Bricks reads like a flicker of potential that is lost within a mire of ramble.

19 August 2011

Zombie Fitness Friday: I ain't gonna get et

10 mins after it starts, I join the horde
Recently I came across a local zombie survival game, where you are put into a real life situation where the zombie apocalypse has happened. You are a survivor and, armed with Nerf guns and your own wits, you have to run and fight to defeat the zombies (played by volunteers). The event happens within the town itself, so there's a definite element of realism. It sounds amazing, and I geared myself up to take part.

Then I realised - I wouldn't last 5 minutes in that thing, let alone a real zombie outbreak. I'm 210 pounds and I'm seriously unfit. I'd be one of the first to get eaten.

With this rather weird wake up call, I decided that I would make this annual event my ultimate fitness goal:

Get fit and get in shape enough to outrun and kick zombie asses in next year's game.

That is my vow, and I decree it to the entire world through the Internet (I'm probably setting myself up for a fall here). I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to go about doing this zombie fitness program, but I'll be keeping updates on here every Friday - Zombie Fitness Friday!

In my search for information I came across Am I Zombie Fit?, a program with similar goals to my own. It's good to find companionship in this zombie infested world we live in.

Do you have any zombie survival fitness tips that I could use?

15 August 2011

Unbound lets readers shape an author's work from the beginning

I first saw this over at Floor to Ceiling Books, and I think it's an awesome idea. Similar to Kickstarter, Unbound allows readers to connect directly with a writer's work by pledging to support it. People can pledge any amount they like, and as a reward they have their name in the book as a support once it's published (as well as a free copy of the eBook). Larger amounts give you extra goodies, such as getting a signed copy of the book in hardback, or getting an invite to the launch party, or lunch with the author themselves.

The first book, to be written by Terry 'Monty Python' Jones, has already received 100% funding. There are currently 5 other books on Unbound that are looking for funding, and I suspect that the list of potential books will grow quite quickly. Personally, I'm on the lookout for a fantasy on that list, and as soon as one crops up, I'm supporting it. I think that in an industry as competitive as publishing, this might be the best and only way some authors are likely to see their work get out there. Possibly better than self publishing, since the readers have an integral part in the story-making process from day one, since before the book is written they pledge based on a pitch made by the author.

Check out Unbound's website to get more information (and maybe even make a pledge).

Would you pledge for a book to be written this way? Do you think that all books should go the traditional publishing route?

10 August 2011

Discussion: Finding time to blog

This is where my time goes - to Melty Land.
It seems to be a common thing now that I'm able to fully keep up with blogging (posting, commenting on other blogs, networking etc.) for a full week, and then the following week I've completely run out of steam and do nothing, which gives me twice as much work the week after that.

I'm not sure exactly what it is. Possibly just being tired through work (though that's no excuse). Laziness? Likely. Lack of organization? Possibly. I for one find it strange that I repeat this 2 week cycle, where in the first week I'm firing on all cylinders and am a blogging machine, then on the second week I can barely look at my RSS feed let along write a blog post.

Don't worry, this isn't one of those 'poor me' posts. I'm opening up the floor here for any advice on how I can dig myself out of this rut? Is it just a case of organizing my posts well in advance? Should I use this second 'dead week' to make a single 'weekly update' post so I ease myself back into a proper schedule? Plenty of possible solutions, but I'm unsure as to what's best.

How to you find/make your time to blog (making posts, trawling through news, commenting on other blogs daily)? Any tips or pearls of wisdom you could pass on?

In other news, I've been published for the first time! It's not a magnum opus by any means. It's not even fiction. It's not even in the public domain. It's a small article for my company's in house magazine. But my words are in print and my name is alongside it, so it damn well counts! 

Before you go, Sarah over at The Aspiring Sub Creator has a damn good post about muscular prose. Be sure to check it out. 

8 August 2011

Winner of the Sea of Ghosts giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who entered my Sea of Ghosts giveaway. I loved your entries too; there were some damn good magical artefacts in the comments.

Your entries were taken and carefully deliberated by a handpicked panel of specialist expert judges*, which assessed the comments, tweets and reposts of the contest in order to find the true winner**. And, ladies and gentlemen, that winner is.....

Alexia Chamberlynn

Congratulations, Alexia! Her magical artefact was,
'a knife [that] could cut holes in time and space ... like, cut a hole at my house and step through to the Eiffel Tower in year 1920 ... or, maybe New York in 2200.'

If you aren't a follower of Alexia already, check our her blog, The Life and Literary Pursuits of Alexia Chamberlynn. Congratulations again, Alexia! You'll have your copy of Sea of Ghosts pretty soon. Oh, and if you do end up in New York in 2200, be sure to pack a flamethrower or a chainsaw-gun or something (I've read enough dystopian novels to know that a knife just isn't going to cut it out there ... pun not intended).

* i.e. just me.

**i.e. I put all the names into a hat and picked one out at random