Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Blog Hop

This was passed onto me by the delightful EJ Tett, author of various books (mostly YA fantasy), including The Power of Malinas Trilogy.


What am I working on?

My main work-in-progress (WIP) is Sir Edric's Treasure, the second story in The Adventures of Sir Edric. The eponymous hero finds that it's not nice to be wanted when it means a gang of ruthless bounty hunters are after you. To procure funds to pay off his huge bounty, Sir Edric (accompanied by his trusty manservant Dog) takes part in a competition to try and win an enormous inheritance. But he's not the only competitor, and he'll need all his cunning to stay ahead of his rivals, and the bounty hunters.


How does my work differ from others in its genre?

It's pretty rapid-paced fantasy comedy, and I try to add a certain dose of healthy cynicism to fantasy. Sir Edric's a selfish, sceptical, worldly wise fellow. He has no aspirations to world domination (or saving it either), he just wants to make some money, have as much sex as possible, and not die in the immediate future.


Why do I write what I do?

I enjoy it, and (hopefully) other people do too. I like grimdark a lot, but I also enjoy a lighter approach. Other people raising a smile or laughing out loud at my work (ahem, in a good way) is greatly rewarding. Besides, often when reading fantasy certain peculiarities do spring to mind, and it's nice to point these out in a gently mocking way. An example I haven't written about yet would be Mount Doom, and Sauron being the most stupid chap in the world.

There's one place, just one, in all the world that can destroy the Ring. Sauron has an enormous army of Nazgul, orcs, elephants (more or less) and so on. How many men does he assign to guard the solitary entrance to the only place that can undo him? 10? 1,000? 10,000? None. Not one. He's an utter blithering idiot.


How does my writing process work?

Work is such an... optimistic word.

For comedy, it operates with a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Planning is minimal (excepting the basics of the central storyline) which has its ups and downs. Each chapter tends to be more spontaneous than it otherwise would be, and I think that helps creativity and comedy. On the other hand, it does sometimes make progress slow.

I also have four unfortunate beta readers in whose general direction I fling chapters every so often (if possible I prefer to have each chapter read by at least two beta readers, with all, if possible, reading the first and last). Without them everything would be much, much worse, because I'm hopeless at objectively assessing my own comedy (when you've read a joke seven times it becomes an act of guesswork to try and assess how amusing it would be to someone else).


Due to some computer issues (and, er, being so absent-minded I have to check several times a day I'm still wearing trousers), I only remembered to get one more person to carry this on, but she is a delightful one, worth twice the average at the least:

LK Evans is the author of Keepers of Arden (The Brothers volume 1), with a sequel in the works.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Review: Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners, by Bill Manley

I bought this some time ago, largely because I'm interested in the possibility of using ancient Egyptian for inspiration when it comes to fantasy names, and also in the structure and approach of hieroglyphs as the basis of a fictional language/realm.

The approach of the book is very engaging. Instead of starting out by looking at certain words or Egyptian culture in the abstract, the author presents a fairly simple genuine engraving depicting a character from ancient Egypt, and slowly guides the reader through what it means.

Gradually, an increasing number of hieroglyphs and ever more complicated carvings (all genuine) are shown, and it's quite cool to glance at the book's cover and recognise the signs of Osiris, or that the 'ankh' in Tutankhamun means 'life'. It's well-paced, and does not assume any prior knowledge of hieroglyphics.

The sheer number of hieroglyphs, repetition of sounds and odd unique occurrences that you either know or you don't (not unique to ancient languages, the verb 'to be' is irregular in most modern ones) mean that it may take a little while to get into the swing of things. On the other hand, the use of a formula for the 'offering which the king gives' and the use of cartouches to indicate royal names, as well as other little linguistic habits, do give handy signposts to new carvings.

In terms of background information on Egyptian culture, there is a reasonable amount. That's not the primary purpose of the book, of course, but I did learn a fair amount about how Egyptians viewed their gods, pharaohs and the relationship between life and death. Tidbits are provided here and there, and by the end of the book it helps to inform the context of many carvings, as well as being interesting in and of itself.

It should be stressed that the book is an introduction to hieroglyphs, so if you want to become 'fluent' (as it were, it's a written, not a spoken, language) you will need other books which the author helpfully recommends. As an introduction, I think it works extremely well, and if you're interested in this sort of thing I would advocate buying it.

Thaddeus



Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The 100 – first episode thoughts

The first episode of The 100, a new sci-fi series, was aired last night on E4 (Mondays, 9pm). If you missed it, as well as a near certain repeat, it's available via Channel 4's on demand service, online.

Beyond the basics of the premise there are no spoilers below.

The basic premise of The 100 is this: nuclear devastation wrecked Earth. Those who could, fled to the small number of working space stations, which were joined together to form the Ark. For 97 years, mankind has survived there.

However, the Ark is failing. The only alternative, if it cannot be mended, is to try and survive on horribly irradiated Earth. The canaries used to find out whether it's possible are 100 juvenile prisoners (due to very scarce resources all crimes are capital, with those below the age of majority being locked up instead). The 100 are sent down with wrist-bands attached to measure their vital signs, so that those on the Ark can decide whether Earth is now safe.

It's a pretty simple and sensible premise. I rather like it (then again, I liked the premise of Outcasts). The action is split between bickering adults on the Ark and bickering teenagers on Earth.

There is a Lord of the Flies feel to the newly released prisoners, many of whom are juvenile delinquents. The Ark was never going to be a happy place given the resources limitations, but it's perhaps going to be just as fraught as the situation on Earth.

Acting, I think it's fair to say, is a little variable. Most of the faces, except the lovely Kelly Hu, are new to me, and if you get weird deja vu with the protagonist, Eliza Taylor, it's because she was in Neighbours a few years ago (I had that for a while when I first saw Jesse Spencer as Dr. Chase in House). It's a slight shame they made her adopt a (very good) American accent rather than her Aussie one. One would've thought that people who aren't American would've survived. (Reminds me a shade of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which has a strong international focus but still gives every single soldier an American accent).

There are relatively few special effects, and I'm glad the show isn't going over the top with that. What CGI etc there is works well.

Anyway, the first episode was pretty interesting and I'll catch the second next week.

Thaddeus



Monday, 30 June 2014

Review: Hannibal: Enemy of Rome (Hannibal 1), by Ben Kane

This is the last of the books I got for Christmas, and I just finished it recently. As the name suggests, it's historical fiction, a genre I used to read quite a lot (mostly Bernard Cornwell) but which I haven't really touched for some time. Hannibal's one of my favourite historical figures, which made me somewhat wary (doing justice to a colossus of history is nigh on impossible).

I had very mixed feelings about the book. Concisely, the plot moves at a cracking pace, it's broadly historically accurate (the useful section at the back enables the author to point out where he deliberately altered things for the sake of the plot), the characters are often two-dimensional, and the writing (whilst always clear) can be a bit simplistic.

The two main characters are Hanno, a young Carthaginian, and Quintus, a young Roman. The two are pretty similar in social terms, until Hanno ends up enslaved and sold to Quintus just as the Second Punic War is about to kick off. There are various coincidences, but unless the plot were to focus on real world key players (they feature but are not the focus) then it necessarily has to be so. Hanno and Quintus are more well-rounded than most other characters, but not especially deep.

There was also a ton of head-hopping. There was no consistent focus on a single character's perspective in a given scene/chapter, so we continuously learn what's in the head of character A, then B, then C. It's a little strange. I'm not particularly bothered by head-hopping, but if you are then this could perhaps put you off.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book was the cracking pace. There's never a feeling of waiting around for something interesting to occur, or that a section is padding to bulk out the book.

The mini-bibliography at the back was useful (I was pleased to see Theodore Dodge near the top of the list), and if/when I decide to buy something new on the subject I'll probably check it again for ideas.

Hannibal: Enemy of Rome is a fast-paced, light read that's enjoyable but not especially deep or challenging.

Thaddeus