30 Mar 2012

Book review - The Pack by Jason Starr (Berkeley UK)

Written by

 The Pack by Jason Starr
Published by Berkeley UK
ARC - 368 pages
Published April 2012
Review copy received from publisher

Read the blub from Goodreads

After reading this, it's pretty clear that urban fantasy definitely isn't my genre. From my experience of the genre, it has more sex than substance, and The Pack is no different.

There wasn't a single character in the story that I either liked or could identify with on any level. I get that this is a story of supernatural male bonding, but there were too many misogynistic overtones for my tastes. All men ate steaks, ran a lot and got sex constantly, and the women wanted nothing but sex from strong and slightly dangerous men. Everyone annoyed me on some level, even more so once they'd undergone 'the change'. The hyped up sex factor of the book might do something for fans of urban fantasy, or those making the jump from paranormal romance or teen fiction into something more substantial, but for me it grated every time.

One thing I like about Starr's style his his pacing and his style of external conflict. Once it hits the fan, it's an edge of your seat ride. Starr definitely knows how to set good action. The build up of conflict and tension up to the climax at the end was well executed and gives you a little bit of blood lust when reading.

The way that the mythology of lycanthropy was handled reminded me a lot of the Jack Nicholson movie Wolf - from the half-transformations of the werewolves to the immediacy of someone showing heightened senses after contracting the condition. It was also odd that there was only one mention of a full moon (the cornerstone of werewolf mythology) and it was made in passing towards the end of the novel.

In short, The Pack was definitely not my cup of tea. While I enjoyed the conflict, the characters were too hyper sexed and lacking in dimension. This might be one for the post-Twilight generation, but not for me.

23 Mar 2012

Why we'd never survive a zombie attack

Zombie in a suit

The rise of the selfie and viral YouTube pranks means we're all doomed once it really does hit the fan.

I was watching an episode of Being Human last night (the BBC version, not the SyFy version) and there's a clip where a group of people encounter a werewolf.

I won't give details in case of spoilers, but the first reaction of those about to get mauled to pieces is to stand stock still, whip out their camera phones and start taking photos.

This got me thinking of the publicity stunt for The Walking Dead, where a zombie runs into a crowded cinema an no one so much as flinches. It made me realise that if a zombie outbreak actually happened, we'd all be dead in minutes.

Desensitised population

Our problem is that we've been exposed to this kind of stuff for years.

Since Romero's Night of the Living Dead hit the cinema, zombies have become a part of our cultural consciousness. Far from the feared nightmare of Haitian superstition, zombies have become part of the furniture.

If you saw a zombie shuffling down the street, what would you think? Cosplay? A drunk student in a last minute costume? Part of an official zombie walk?

Would at any point your brain give you the signal of "oh crap, it's finally happened" and give you the adrenaline you need to get the F out of Dodge?

Forewarned is forearmed

Mankind seems to have lost the fight-or-flight response for things that go bump in the night. There has been an outbreak of a mysterious disease in Uganda that causes children to go into a trance-like state and set fire to things, but it's still very much in a 'small, contained outbreak' state at the moment.

For anyone who's seen the Living Dead series, you know how quickly a small, contained outbreak can lead to being holed up in a shopping mall surrounded by legions of the undead hungry for your flesh.

Some sort of zombie outbreak contingency plan is necessary, but the powers that be don't have one.

Therefore it's up to you to know what to do when it all hits the fan, and to realise that it's not just a publicity stunt so you can escape the madness before the world goes to hell.

If a virus did actually start turning people into zombies, there would be countless deaths before anyone perceived it as a real threat, and even the footage uploaded to YouTube as proof would be met with cries of "OMG that's so fake!" and "Really badly shopped, lolz0rz".

We've lost our survival instinct. We no longer fear the dark, and that will eventually get us killed.

[Zombie image source]

Do you have any zombie contingency plans? What will you do in the event of an outbreak?

15 Mar 2012

Who's Who in Game of Thrones [infographic]

Don't know your Tywin from your Tyrion? Take a look at this who's who of Game of Thrones to bring you up to speed.

Season 2 of Game of Thrones is coming soon, so for those of you who haven't yet caught up on the awesomeness that is GoT I strongly urge you to catch up before April 1st (not only does the next season start, it's also the start of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, so you're going to be somewhat stretched for time as it is).

Click the picture to view in full (spoiler warning!)

If you need a refresher on the multitude of characters; who hates who, who killed who, who's sleeping with who, then look no further. Infographic site Haute Slides has created a couple of infographics for the first season to keep you up to speed.

The main one is a who's who of the main players of Game of Thrones, complete with their connected relationships. In case you haven't realised, SPOILERS ABOUND in these infographics.

Source: Haute Slides

Are you excited for the next season of Game of Thrones?

10 Mar 2012

Why you should tweak your old blog posts

For the past week, I've been playing around with Google Analytics and Blogger's stats feature, and I noticed that over 25% of all traffic to Mithril Wisdom has come from a single image. Unsurprisingly, that image led to my most popular post. Do you want to see that image? Here you go:

Natalie Portman headshot

This single image has given me a quarter of all my hits. Oh Natalie, you've done wonders for this blog.
Update (26/02/13) - This isn't the actual image; but I decided to get rid of all my non Creative Commons images. She's still gorgeous, though.

I went back to the post and realised that I had hotlinked all of the images from other sites, and that I'd not put any tags or labels on the post to categorize it. The images were all over the place and the whole post looked sloppy. So I tweaked it and made it a little better. Now if anyone gets to the post through this image, they'll at least have something interesting and coherent to read.

Once I'd done this, I put up the Popular Posts side bar gadget to find out what else I'd missed. Every one of my all time top five were in the same sorry state. My post about fantasy artist Jason Engle had broken links, broken images from hotlinking and half-assed bits of Amazon advertising embedded in the post. I quickly fixed these, and now you can see a much nicer looking post with clearer images and no adverts shoehorned in.

If that was the state on my most popular posts, how bad are my unpopular ones? Is that the reason that they're unpopular?

It definitely pays off to revisit your old posts and do some housekeeping. It'll make your blog look and work a lot better, and you may get some more hits and followers in the process. Also, a clean and organised blog looks good when search engine spiders crawl your site, so you'll be easier to find on Google and other search engines. There'll be a part 2 to this soon where I'll go through the best things to tweak in your old blog posts.

Read part 2 - Three tweaks to get your old blog posts noticed

[Headshot image source]
What's your most popular post? Please pop a link in the comments; I'd love to see (and I'm sure the other readers would like to have a peek at your blog's past too!)

7 Mar 2012

The ten minute hack - Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writer's Support Group
Written by

This installment of The Insecure Writer's Support Group will hopefully give some of you some help with your productivity.

One of the greatest problems when trying to write is how to find time to write in the first place, and that can be enough of a hindrance to stop your flow before it's started. Something that might come in handy is a technique I found called the Ten Minute Hack.

The Ten Minute Hack is where you wake up and, before you've done anything (have a shower, have breakfast, check your emails) set a timer on your phone or clock for ten minutes. No more, no less. In that ten minutes you write like a demon let loose from the seventh circle of writer hell (they write fast). Write for your fantasy novel, or write some flash fiction, or even write down what you dreamed the night before. Just make sure you write solidly until that timer runs out. Think about what you've managed to achieve in just ten minutes. Think about what you could do with the rest of your day.

It doesn't matter if what you write lacks plot, character development, atmosphere, world building, a solid magic system, or even correct spelling and grammar. The point is that you've written something and you've not even had your first coffee of the morning. Think of it as your own personal mini-NaNoWriMo.

Do you have any writing 'hacks'?

6 Mar 2012

Book review: The Hermetica of Elysium by Annemarie Banks

The Hermitica of Elysium by Annemarie Banks
Written by

The Hermetica of Elysium by Annemarie Banks
Published by Knox Robinson
Kindle eBook - 400 pages
Published December 2011
Review copy received from publisher
Read the official blurb for The Hermetica of Elysium

 The Hermetica of Elysium doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to pacing. From page one, you're throw in to Nadira's world and hit the ground running. Banks has a definite flair for the flow of her story, and there are never any dull moments.

Possibly because I'm a big fan of the Assassin's Creed series, but I kept finding parallels between the video games and this novel, mostly in the world building and time period in which the story is set. Banks has managed to fully capture the feel of 15th/16th century Europe and you can tell she has done her homework. There aren't any actual assassins though. That would have made it far too similar.

I really liked Nadira. Her circumstances were typical for this kind of story i.e. always being captured and used by powerful men, but her developing reactions to these circumstances is what makes her an excellent character. Unlike novels with similar themes, where the female lead resigns herself to her fate with a cry of pity and 'Oh, why me?' every five pages, Nadira resists, escapes and learns pretty quickly which men she can trust. It was refreshing to read of a female lead in this time period with a decent head on her shoulders. I found that the romantic elements of the story were a bit rushed, and that Nadira's relationship with her love interest happened a bit suddenly. One minute there's a mutual respect, the next she's full blown head over heels besotted.

The magical elements are very subtle, and only really come into play towards the end of the story. I felt that there wasn't enough exposition with the magic in the story - it was treated with suspicion and persecution in the right ways (given the time period) but there wasn't really anything to explain a bit of the fundamentals of the magic system. I might just be a fantasy book purist here, but I like to have some groundwork laid out about how magic in the world works.

The Hermetica of Elysium is a well written story set in a brilliantly crafted world with genuine characters that extol the virtues of honour and righteous defiance. It's not a magic-heavy story, so it makes for a good transition between traditional fiction and fantasy. A very good read.

5 Mar 2012

The Simpsons' intro parodies Game of Thrones; geeks everywhere squeal with delight


The Simpsons Game of Thrones parody. Screenshot from io9.com

Written by

The Simpsons is world-famous for its couch gags - those little snippets right at the end of the intro sequence that change with every episode. In what is probably one of the best cough gags in recent memory, the show has parodied the intro from Game of Thrones, complete with mechanically raised buildings and the iconic theme music. I sense a geek-splosion any minute now.

FOX keeps taking down any attempt to upload the intro onto YouTube, but io9 has a full, high quality version up still. I'm not sure how long it will be before that's quietly asked to be removed, so watch it while you can!

What's your favourite TV show intro?
Source: io9

4 Mar 2012

Laughs abound as Monstrous Regiment is successfully brought to life on stage [stage play review]

Monstrous Regiment poster, directed by Amy Davies
Written by

Monstrous Regiment
The Gate, Roath, Cardiff
Thursday 23rd February 2012
Performed by Act One Theatre Society

A cross-dressing Igor, a caffeine addict vampire and a possessed religious fantatic bring Terry Pratchett's trademark silliness to life in a satirical tale of gender bending during wartime.

Set in the famous Discworld, a group of Borogravian girls dress as men in order to sign up for the Tenth Foot regiment (known as the 'Ins and Outs') and join the war effort against neighbouring Slovenia.

As each of their disguises fails, they begin to realise that they might not be the only women on the front. Think Joan of Arc with an extra pair of socks down her breeches and you're half way there.

The show was technically minimalist, but this in no way detracted from the experience. In fact, the stripped-down style allowed the players more space to express themselves.

The focus was instead on smaller sets of character specific props, which added an extra level of depth to each member of the regiment.

The performers were spot on in their rendition of beloved Discworld characters. They knew the type of humour that Pratchett conveys in his books and managed to translate that perfectly.

There was no downtime for any of the players. Whenever the main action was happening, the supporting cast would busy themselves in character and often added unexpected chuckles from the audience, such as Igor constantly 'playing' with his chemistry set.

The subtle, visual gags added an extra set of laughs that you can't get from reading the books, but also stayed in keeping with the spirit of the story.

For someone who is new to the world of Terry Pratchett, it would have been difficult at the start to distinguish some of the supporting characters from one another, and the Ankh-Morpork scenes were difficult to hear (though that seemed to be down to acoustics more than anything else).

The stars of the show had to be coffee-guzzling reformed vampire Maledict (Will Pritchard) and battle hardened Sergeant Jackrum (Nick Dunn), whose performances perfectly echoed the feel of the Discworld.

Tip of the cap also goes to  Sarah Roberts for her performance as the fanatical Wazzer. One point had her having to continuously speak in sync with a recorded voice over, which was done brilliantly.
You can tell that this was a production made by fans of the series.

Amy Davies has done a brilliant job of recreating the atmosphere and, most importantly, the humour. Whether or not you're a fan of the Discworld, Monstrous Regiment brings the funny with a fantastic cast in a superb adaptation of the fantasy novel.