30 May 2012

Movie marathon survival guide - top five tips for success

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Scene from A Clockwork Orange
Source: RopeofSilicon
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As you may know, in celebration of Geek Pride Day I undertook an epic quest - to watch all six Star Wars movies back to back. With bathroom breaks in between each movie, the marathon totalled a stupidly long 14 hours. You can see the trail of snark and sarcasm I left on Twitter on my #swthon page. My body clock is still readjusting, and so with retrospect I give you five tips to survive any movie marathon without falling asleep.

1. Don't go it alone

Never, ever attempt a movie marathon solo, not unless you've got an iron will. Having a movie buddy (or buddies) gives you enough peer pressure to make sure you stay awake as long as possible. A good thing to do is develop a punishment for anyone who decides to 'rest their eyes'. Anything longer than a blink and they get a slap or get sat on. A harsh punishment, yes, but you don't want someone snoring half way through The Fellowship of the Ring, do you?

No Alcohol sign
Source: Designofsignage

2. No alcohol. At all.

Everyone knows that alcohol is a sedative. It slows you down and makes you sleepy. Why would you want that if you're trying to stay awake throughout the night and most of the next morning? Coffee and energy drinks are what you need, though be sensible. Too much caffeine in your blood isn't pretty. Substitute alcohol shots for  shots of energy drink and play a drinking game. Not only will the caffeine keep you awake, playing the game will stop the marathon from becoming boring.

3. Get social

Make up a hashtag on Twitter and have you and your marathon buddies live-tweet the event in real time. Once you get others taking part in the conversation, you'll feel a bigger buzz about it all, which can be of great help in that 'dead zone' between the Americans going to bed and the British waking updates also gives your eyes a break from staring at a screen for hours on end, so you'll feel less boredom and less eye strain.

4. Pre-set bathroom breaks

Establish right off the bat when there'll be time for bathroom and snack breaks. Every hour? After every movie? Whatever you decide, make sure that everyone agrees and sticks to it. Otherwise one of your group will go 'take care of business' and fall asleep on the toilet. You don't want that, especially since you're the one who's going to have to wake them up.

No Sleeping Sign
Source: Babble

5. Don't fall asleep

I mean after it's all over, don't immediately go and get some shut eye. You do that, and your body clock thinks you're nocturnal and you spend the next week wide awake at 4 in the morning and falling asleep at your desk every lunchtime. Grab a few (very) small power naps during the day, but make sure you stay more or less fully awake until your normal bedtime.



What movie marathon techniques do you have? What's your recommended marathon?

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?

21 May 2012

My entry for Cherie Reich's Flash Fiction Blogfest

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2ns annual flash fiction blogfest button
This is my entry for Cherie Reich's 2nd annual flash fiction blogfest. The requirements of the story are to be below 300 words and to begin with the words 'lightning flashed'. It was about time I started writing fiction again, so this is my first stab at it in a long long while. So here we go! For your reading scrutiny, I give you 'Footloose'.

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Lightning flashed from Math’s fingertips as he drummed a frantic rhythm on the table with his other hand. The sudden blast sent a surge of energy through his body, lifting him off the ground and catapulting him back against the wall. Winded, Math slowly rose to his feet and cracked his neck. Ollie laughed as he emerged from his makeshift barrier behind some boxes.

“Not bad, though try to channel it a little better. You’ll do no good if you keep hurling yourself around like that.”
 

Math’s smile faded as his gaze dropped to the scarred lump of flesh where Ollie’s hand used to be.
 

“Ollie, how are you able to conjure without a casting hand? How can you tap out the rhythm of the spell-form?”
 

Ollie lifted his arm and pulled back the sleeve to expose more of the scarred flesh. “I wasn’t that much older than you when they did this to me. The Casstol priesthood caught caught up with me in a village near Pembroke and murdered the family that took me in. They cut of my casting hand as a warning to others of the consequences of using this gift.”
 

“So what did you do?” Math asked. “How can you perform the rhythm to conjure the spell with only one hand?”
 

Ollie smiled and lifted a leg towards Math, showing him the underside of his shoe. Hard metal plates were riveted into the heel and toe of the worn leather.
 

“I don’t understand,” Math said. “How do they help?” 

Ollie brought his leg back down on the hard floor, the metal hitting the stonework with a loud clack. He tapped a complicated rhythm with his feet, causing a luminescent sphere to appear in his remaining hand.
 

He broke into another wide grin. “I learned to dance.”

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So there we have it! This flash fiction is part of something that I've had in my head for a little while involving percussion as a magic system. Here's hoping I can expand on it. Don't forget to check out the other entries in the blogfest too!

What's the most unusual magic system you've come across?

18 May 2012

The top five best fantasy duelling weapons

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Nothing beats a good action scene to quicken the blood, and the same is true for fantasy 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. Skills is important, but sometimes a warrior is only as good as his tools. Here's the Mithril Wisdom top five duelling weapons in fantasy.

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

The Man in Black vs. Inigo MontoyaSwords 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. As the only real weapon on this list, it deserves a special mention.



#4. Digital Music Monsters
As seen in: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Sex Bob-Omb vs. The Katayanagi Twins
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.

#3. Magic/staves
As seen in: The Lord of the Rings

Gandalf the Grey vs. Saruman the WhiteThe Istar 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.

#2. Lightsabers
As seen in: Star Wars

Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader
One of the most famous fantasy weapons (I'm including sci-fi as fantasy here. Easy, guys). 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.

#1. Wands
As seen in: Harry Potter

Harry Potter vs. Lord VoldemortWhat 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 have a sense of allegiance, so there is even a pseudo code of honour in a wand duel.

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

15 May 2012

I'm guesting over at Callie Leuck's place!

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Guest blog microphone
Image Credit: Gosocialonline
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I'm a guest over at Callie Leuck's blog, 'Write On!' today, talking about Adding culture to your fantasy world. Pop on over and say hi! I talk about alternative history, religion, the interconnectedness of your worldbuilding and your characters, and cursing. Who doesn't love a bit of cursing? Head on over and join in the discussion. My thanks go to Callie for having me over at her place

Callie Leuck - Adding culture to your fantasy world

14 May 2012

First loves blogfest featuring David Bowie and dragons

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First loves blogfest

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The First Loves Blogfest is here! Hosted by our favourite ninja captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, this blogfest showcases our first loves for movies, music, books and people. So without further ado, let's get lovin'!

Labyrinth movie poster

First movie love - Labyrinth

Come on, what child didn't think this was one of the best fantasy movies ever? It had everything; goblins, a quest, music and David Bowie. What's not to like? The combination of Brian Froud's twisted concept, Jim Henson's mastery of puppetry and David Bowie's awesome music (and epic 80s mullet) made Labyrinth a cult favourite for kids everywhere.

First music love - Just So You Know by American Head Charge

Long before fantasy metal pulled me over to the world of long guitar solos, magic swords and symphonic influences, I was a big fan of melodic thrash metal. Just So You Know was the first song that I'd play about a dozen times a day; I couldn't get enough of it. The vocals of this song are what drew me to it, and there are elements in this that I still look for in fantasy metal tracks too.

First book love - Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

In retrospect, Goodkinds books aren't anything particular special, and focus more on gratuitous sex and violence, the exploitation of well trodden fantasy tropes and a platform to push his Objectivist agenda, but as the first adult fantasy novel I read, Wizard's First Rule opened the floodgates to my passion for fantasy fiction. Without it, this blog wouldn't exist, and I'd probably be more of a Stephen King/Michael Crichton fan.

First person love - My fiancée

I've been with her since I was fifteen, so I'd get it in the neck if I didn't mention her as my first love, hehe. She's a fan of hats and dragons (not necessarily in that order), she's about as geeky as I am and she's awesome. She also does a bit of blogging on her art blog, and she currently has the laptop with her in Florence so feel free to blame her for any lack of presence on my part :)

So there we have it! Don't forget to visit the other blogs in the blogfest too!

Have you gone back to read a book you used to love and thought 'Why the hell did I like this rubbish?'?

11 May 2012

ZFF: I ran (and ran and ran)

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Wowza, it's back! It's been quite a while since my last Zombie Fitness Fridays post, and I'll tell you truthfully why.

It's because I'm a very lazy person.

My motivation peters out pretty quickly, so there's not really been anything to spur me on that much. Luckily, a few people at my job have started a running club and I'm doing my damnedest to attend every week. As providence would have it, we run every Friday morning, so I can keep the updates for ZFF coming on a more regular basis.

The route is a 5km run around a local park, and the intention is to run the course within half an hour so we can shower and get back to work. This week my time was 30 mins 19 secs. I've a little bit to work on to get it under the 30 min mark, but I'm quite pleased with my time considering how unfit I am. Here are a few things I need to do to improve my performance:


  • Running shoes. At the moment I'm wearing all-purpose walking shoes, and as a result my feet blister something terrible. A decent pair of running shoes will set me well.
  • Water. I overheat really easily, and dehydration was a bit of a motivation killer half way through the run. One of those handled sports bottley things will put me in good stead.
  • Steady pace. I slowed to a brisk walk a few times on this run, so I need to maintain a steady pace so that I don't tire out so easily.

So I'm back on the zombie dodging campaign trail. In terms of diet, I'm doing little things like intentionally buying salad foods (a big step for me) and baking my own bread so I know exactly what goes into it. Baby steps, but let's see if it builds momentum.

The best comment from the last ZFF post goes to Vic for the question, "How do you stay motivated with fitness?",

"Right now, my main tangible motivation is that I can't fit in my pants..." -- (You and me both, Vic. You and me both.)

Who would you put in charge of training your group of zombie survivors?



9 May 2012

Exchanging your used books for credit

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The Book Exchange UK
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One of the best things about hunting for books at my local market was that they offered an 'old for new' credit system. You gave them a bunch of books and you'd get a small amount of credit (something like 50 pence per book) that you could use at any time to buy other books that they sold, which were often quite cheap to begin with. This system made my bookshelf grow pretty quickly, and introduced me to authors like K.E. Mills and Brian Ruckley. When I changed cities I was a little sad that there wasn't anything similar. Luckily I've found an online version that takes care of it for me.

The premise behind The Book Exchange is essentially the same credit system, but on a much larger scale. You get £1 for each book they accept and you use the credit to grab something else off their shelves, which are all priced at £3.95 at the moment. I've not looked at the other genres yet, but their fantasy and science fiction section has a pretty good selection, with the entire Song of Ice and Fire series available too (£3.95 for A Dance With Dragons? Yes please!).

Sites like Amazon do similar version with their their Trade-in system, but it seems quite impersonal. The bonus you get with The Book Exchange is that it's built around a passion for books and sharing this passion with others. Plus they donate 20p for every book they get to the Dyslexia Research Trust, so it's win/win. They seem to be fantasy fans too, so I'm game. At the moment it's only available to UK book lovers, but fingers crossed there'll be enough demand to get some international versions on the go.

Would you use this kind of system to introduce yourself to new books? Would it encourage some of you book hoarders to thin out your bookshelves a little?


7 May 2012

A-Z reflections 2012

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So another A-Z blogging challenge is over, and people all over the blog o sphere are starting to get back to their normal schedules. It's like walking around your house the morning after you've hosted an amazing party. You feel extremely tired but at the same time you feel amazing for having taken part in something so big and so awesome.

I'm really glad that you guys got a kick out of my fantasy metal theme. I was going out on a limb with it since I didn't know if anyone other than Ninja Captain Alex shared similar tastes in music. Everyone seemed to enjoy at least one song that I posted, and that's good enough for me.

There were some great new blogs out there tht I discovered too. My one regret this year is that I wasn't able to visit hardly any new blogs due to an overwhelming lack of computer, so I apologise to you guys. One blog I want to give a shout out to is Video Games Interactive, who have now become my daily source of video games gossip and discussion. They've a great style and are very informative. Check them out.

A-Z was an absolute blast for me this year, and though I didn't participate as much as I would have liked. I'm looking forward to next year already, where I hope to meet new more awesome bloggers and make some new friends too.

What was your favourite A-Z theme this year (besides mine, of course)?

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.

2 May 2012

Writing under scrutiny - IWSG

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Insecure Writer's Support Groupby

So the A-Z Blogging Challenge is over! How did you all do? Hopefully you all managed to get to the end in one piece. Don't forget to check out the other entries to the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

This month's edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is about writing when under the scrutiny of others. This can be in your fiction writing when submitting to publishers, agents, reviewers and critique partners, but it also happens when we blog.

Every post we write and click 'Publish' is an invitation for others to assess our worth judge our character based on the words we put on the page. Whereas some might thrive under such pressure, others may buckle beneath it.

It was with some trepidation that I submitted this blog to be critiqued by Laura Barnes at the start of April. Laura is extremely savvy when it comes to knowing what makes blogs work, and I love reading the advice she gives to other blogs when she critiques them. Although I follow all of her advice, I was still a bit nervous when it came to submitting my blog for review. You can view her critique of Mithril Wisdom here.

What if I'd been doing something fundamentally wrong for the past two years that had cost me followers and comments?

What if my design was so off-putting that it harmed my chances of being taken seriously by anyone in the industry?

What it my writing sucked?

Luckily my blog passed muster, and Laura had some excellent pointers for me to improve the site (watch this space, as soon as I can I'll be making those changes). My insecurities were unfounded, yet it made me wonder how many bloggers and writers are holding themselves back for fear of being under such scrutiny. Make yourselves known! It's what IWSG was made for. My thanks again go to Laura for reviewing the blog.

How do you cope under the pressure of others judging your work?

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