28 May 2012

Picking up a book in the middle of a series

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The Ancient Hillfort by ReneAigner
Source: ReneAigner (DeviantArt)
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I had a very interesting comment on my review of Stands A Shadow yesterday by Josh,

"It still confuses me why people knowingly read books from series out of order (or just some without the others) and then talk about it as if it's a decision that is completely normal and fine. It's totally weird. Surely you would spend half the book being confused as hell? I've never done it (ever) because it's like driving your car down the road before you've turned it on, careening into a river and then putting on the brakes."

A very interesting point, and one that I've debated over myself for a while. Is it complete madness to start a series at any other point that at the very beginning? Well, in my opinion, yes and no.

Confusion and coherency in a fantasy series


I completely accept that jumping into a fantasy series in the second, third, fourth, or whatever number book that isn't book 1 will cause an element of dissonance. For many fantasy book series', book 1 is all about establishing the story and characters; getting them out of the way so the action and pacing can progress a lot more from book 2 onwards. Starting after book 1 means that you don't get that build up or establishing connection, and so readers can get a little lost. This is natural. It's like turning up at a movie 5 minutes late and not knowing who the hell anyone is.

Transition


However, it is my firm belief that any fantasy novel, even a follow up, should be able to stand on its own merits and offer a good reading experience no matter what novels have preceded it. Moreover, a good fantasy author should be able to provide a transition that essentially recaps the most important points of its predecessors, at least the ones that are prevalent to the overreaching plot and character arcs. This is similar to people who buy a comic and the inside front cover has a brief recap of the story and the main players. Fantasy authors should also do this, albeit in a much more subtle and integrated way. If you're relying on the information in your previous work to maintain interest in your current novel, there's a chance you could alienate some of your potential readers.

Don't get me wrong - for the most part I prefer hitting a series at the very beginning; it makes sense, especially when it comes to epic fantasy. However, when each book is essentially it's own story that merely forms part of an overall narrative, is it okay to jump in at any point? I'd really like to hear everyone's thoughts on this - from what I've read it's a highly debated topic. I could go on and on, but I'll leave it there.

What are your preferences when it comes to fantasy series'? Are you okay with the idea of starting a series somewhere in the middle and working around it?


27 May 2012

Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan (Book Review)

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Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan
Book 2 of The Heart of the World series
Published by Tor
ARC - 417 pages
Published November 2011
Review copy given to me by the publisher
Read the synopsis on Goodreads

Stands a Shadow is essentially a treatise on war and diplomacy between the Mannians and the Khosians, and Buchanan does an excellent job of going through the minutiae of military campaigns and tactics while at the same time gripping the reader in the struggles of the individual that can sometimes be overlooked in traditional fantasy. Buchanan allows you to see the results of each side's decision on the people doing the fighting.

Ash's personal vendetta and his struggle with his loss and the renouncement of his creed makes him one of my favourite characters. He is increasingly haunted by the memory of his former protege as his guilt increases, and t is his internal conflict is second only to the war that rages on around him.

Frequent readers to this blog will know that I'm a sucker for political intrigue in my fantasy books, and Stands a Shadow delivers this in bucket loads. There are plots and counter plots, assassins who are to be assassinated themselves, personal ambitions and long held grudges that take each side to the brink of civil war before they're even engaged on the field. This is the reality of war, and Buchanan gives a brilliant insight into the minds of the key players as well as the intricacies of conflict that extend far beyond the battlefield.

Stands a Shadow is the follow up from Buchanan's debut novel Farlander, and I very much feel that I missed out on a lot by not reading through the first book. There is a lot of name dropping and worldbuilding that seems to rely on the reader having already come across the names in the first book, which slowed things down a little for me as I tried to process everything. As a standalone novel it's easier to get lost, but as part of a series I think it would likely complement the first novel well.

If you like the logistical and tactical sides of your fantasy conflict, then Stands a Shadow is a must read. Buchanan pens the conflict as though he were the war-scribe with open access to the general's table. A brilliant read that is likely only made better by reading through Farlander, which I intend to do very soon.

25 May 2012

Happy Geek Pride Day!

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Geek Pride Day
Source: Legit Reviews
Today marks the celebration of Geek Pride Day. It is a time when geeks the world over can join as one and be proud of their culture. I'm proud to say that many of my blogger buddies here are outspoken geeks, and it feels good to have that sense of community. Geek Pride Day commemorates three important events:



  • The anniversary of the opening night of Star Wars in 1977
  • Towel Day - a memorial day for Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  • Glorious 25th May - A fictional revolution in Terry Pratchett's Discworld
I'm planning on celebrating Geek Pride Day with my older brother Shaun at Valleys Shutterbug and younger brother Harri in a Star Wars marathon. All 6 movies, consecutively. It totals about 13.5 hours, and it's going to be epic. The only hard part is deciding in which order to watch them.

Oh, you know the list I made about fantasy duelling weapons? I was totally right - lightsabers beat wizard's staves every time.

Source: TheForce.net via Blastr
MRSA Giant Microbe
Also, my thanks go to Jeremy of Geeky Tendencies for the GIANTmicrobe contest, and for sending me the uber-cute MRSA Superbug. He's now proudly on my desk at work. I need to think of a name for him.

Do you have any plans for Geek Pride Day? What order is best to watch all 6 Star Wars movies? What shall I call my new MRSA bug?

18 May 2012

Top five dueling weapons in science fiction and fantasy

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Nothing beats a good action scene to quicken the blood, and the same is true for fantasy and sci-fi movies.

Duels are something special, as they bring together two warriors who are (usually) equally matched, and we watch with baited breath as they throw everything they have at one another.

Skill is important, but sometimes a warrior is only as good as their tools. Here are my top five duelling weapons in fantasy and sci-fi.

#5. Swords

As seen in: Pretty much every fantasy you care to name.


Swords are the staple of all fantasy action, from books to movies to video games.

It's one of the most basic weapons a warrior can carry, and it takes all their skill to be able to wield it properly.

Enchanted or not, any hero wandering around without a sword has about as much chance of surviving as a red-shirt on "Bring your gorn to work" day.

As the only weapon on this list that exists in the real world, it deserves a special mention.

#4. Digital Music Monsters

As seen in: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Cooked up in the crazy uber-comic world of Scott Pilgrim, this gives a new meaning to battle of the bands.

As Scott's band Sex Bob-omb goes up against the evil exes The Katayanagi Twins, their warring music physically manifests itself as an indie-rock yeti beating the hell out of a twin headed electro-dragon.

You can keep your Jaegers in Pacific Rim - 21st-century Digimon are where it's at.

#3. Magic staves

As seen in: The Lord of the Rings



The Istari wizards channel their magical abilities through their staves, to a certain extent.

The wizard's duel between Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White shows just how deadly even an aged wizard can be when armed with his staff.

The advantage that a magic battle has over traditional duelling weapons is that you don't have to be within close range to use it.

You can just hurl fireballs at one another from afar.

Or, in the case of Saruman, pirouette your enemy around like the world's saddest rag doll.

#2. Lightsabers

As seen in: Star Wars



One of the most famous dueling weapons ever. The lightsaber duel is probably one of the most replicated scenes on the Internet, and I know that I've engaged in a pretend lightsaber battle at least once in my life.

Wielding a lightsaber demands a control of the Force, martial skill and acrobatic prowess.

Not one for the faint-hearted.

One of the best things about lightsabers is that the Jedi/Sith in question builds it themselves.

Whether it be red, blue, purple, double-bladed, curved, or with cross-guards, a lightsaber is a tool of destruction of which you are the creator.

#1. Wands

As seen in: Harry Potter



What else can come close to the ferocity of a wand battle between two wizards?

Wands are compact and versatile so you can easily transport it and cast a range of offensive and defensive spells.

It's the Swiss Army Knife of the fantasy world.

More than that, the wands in the world of Harry Potter ally themselves to certain wizards. As Ollivander says:

"The wand chooses the wizard".

This makes wands almost sentient beings in their own right. And, since you can only claim another wizard's wand if you defeat them in a duel, gives a code of honour that's lacking from many other duelling weapons.

Do you agree with this list? What gets the top spot for you?

About Jamie

Jamie Gibbs is a self-confessed fantasy geek with a penchant for 80s pop culture nostalgia and obscure movie quotes. He is also a Nu-Whovian and a Ravenclaw.

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4 May 2012

Book review: Nocturnal by Scott Sigler (Hodder)

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Nocturnal by Scott Sigler
Published by Hodder
Paperback - 576 pages
Published April 2012
Review copy given by publisher

Synopsis for Nocturnal on Goodreads

The first thing that becomes apparent about Sigler is that he pulls no punches when it comes to throwing you into a dark, violent and immersive world. His writing is visceral and graphic but never gratuitous, and he manages to incorporate the debase and debauched seamlessly within his narrative.

I loved the supporting cast of Nocturnal. Pookie Chang has a sharp wit and his humour is excellent at breaking the tension in the darker spots of the book. He's definitely the comic relief of the police duo, but it's never taken too far. I also really liked Aggie, the drug addict with a shattered past and his desperation to cling to what shreds of his life remain. I wasn't that much of a fan of the protagonist, Bryan. His emotionless nature and 'strong, silent type' attitude was kind of grating, but made sense within the story.

There was a small infodump about genetics in the middle of the book that completely lost me, but otherwise Sigler managed to interweave a pseudo-magic system that had a grounding in science fact and made a lot of sense. His approach to the antagonists was excellent and seemed like he'd looked at them from an anthropological perspective, which made them more natural predators than villains.

In short, Nocturnal is an excellent dark and gritty contemporary fantasy that takes you into some of the darkest places of humanity. It's fast paced and compelling, and I can't wait for the sequel.