Friday, 31 January 2014

Stargate Atlantis and Universe

Pick (formerly Pick TV) has been running what might be called a Stargate marathon. Since about October 2012 they’ve played every episode of SG-1, Atlantis and Universe, as well as the two SG-1 films.

Rather stupidly, I managed to miss, (as I did when first broadcast) a very significant middle episode of SG-1, but otherwise I saw almost all of every series.

There will necessarily be some vague spoilers, but given SG-1 started when floppy disks were still in use (1.44MB of storage… seems ridiculous now) and Universe ended a few years ago I imagine most people who want to have seen it will have.

I wrote about SG-1 here.

To summarise, I really like SG-1. It might be my favourite sci-fi series (I’ve just started watching Battlestar Galactica, though, so that may or may not last). If you haven’t seen it, you really should give it a try.

Atlantis has some good points… but quite a few drawbacks too. I feel even some of the major characters are underdeveloped. Teyla (and the Athosians), Ford (the most boring man in the whole franchise) and Ronan lack much of a backstory. Yes, yes, Teyla’s people got attacked, but the Athosians aren’t especially interesting and if I were asked (after watching a hundred episodes) to name a few things Teyla did when she wasn’t doing her job I couldn’t answer (beyond meditating).

McKay’s a great character, but they seem to have accidentally given him too much. He’s the sarcastic one, the slightly awkward one, and the incredibly clever one. Shepard (who I really disliked initially, but thought was alright later on) is the leader, which relegates Teyla and Ford/Ronon to just muscle.

The Wraith are an interesting villain, but the lack of a real ‘bad guy’ individual early on was a weakness, I think. Apophis and others helped SG-1 (who is Holmes without Moriarty, or the Doctor without the Daleks?). Until Michael and Todd there isn’t anything remotely comparable. That said, I liked what they did with Michael and Todd quite a lot.

It is an entertaining series, but not on a par with SG-1.

Universe was a whole different bag of monkeys. To get biblical on you, Universe is the asynoptic gospel. Whereas SG-1 and Atlantis have a broadly similar feel, Universe deliberately goes for a much darker tone. The cast are stranded on a ship, Destiny, which is on the other side of the universe (hence the name) and have only limited contact with Earth.

I like the premise a lot. The execution… less so.

Robert Carlyle as Rush and David Blue as Eli were very good. I was surprised to like Eli so much. Although a mathematical genius he is the everyman character, thrust into Stargate’s advanced world out of the blue. Normally I loathe ‘nice’ everyman characters, but Blue played him very well.

Carlyle’s a cracking actor, so remarking on that is as redundant as noticing that Samuel L. Jackson is cool. Nevertheless, and for the record, Rush is the best character on the show.

But… otherwise I was less taken with the characters. It’s hard to know whether to attribute that to actors or writers. The colonel, for example, I found tedious every time I saw him. The lieutenant (Matt) came across as a stereotypical incredibly nice guy trying his best and being bland as hell. The sergeant, however, was somewhat interesting (with his anger management issues).

The dark tone was a significant shift for the franchise, but there was no reason it couldn’t work. A problem was when it butted against the light-hearted lore (I remember Jack O’Neill making a typical witticism which seemed to jar with the dreadfully serious tone of the series).

Lack of enemies (as with Atlantis) that were interesting was another problem. There were vaguely menacing but not very well-defined aliens. And automated attack drones with no backstory whatsoever. And the Lucian Alliance, which (being mercenaries) were somewhat more interesting but couldn’t fill the void by themselves.

The issue of long-term confinement with serious difficulty obtaining sufficient food and water came up a few times, and was handled pretty well.

The biggest problem Atlantis and Universe faced was an inability to match, or come close to, SG-1. I’ve heard a few more Stargate films are in the offing, so it’ll be interesting to see how they go.

Although I’ve been a bit down on the latter two series, I do like the Stargate world. It’s less serious and more humorous (and realistic because of that humour) than other sci-fi worlds, but to keep going it needs a new head of steam. Will they bring back the Goa’uld? Or the Ori (I hope not)?

And for those into sci-fi, Pick have just started repeating SG-1 (first episode is on tonight, 8pm) and Battlestar Galactica airs from 9pm on Mondays.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Books to look forward to in 2014

It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these, so I thought I’d take a quick look at some good books due out later this year.

Words of Radiance is the second book in the Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson. It’s going to be a mega-series (probably 10+ books), so be warned (or enticed, as your taste determines). Way of Kings, the first instalment, is probably my favourite of Sanderson’s books. It was bloody enormous, and had some very cool ideas. Here and there I was less taken with it (some interludes did not grab me), but overall I liked it a lot. 

Sworn in Steel is the second Tale of the Kin, by Douglas Hulick. The date has (like Words of Radiance, actually) been pushed back a bit, but at the moment it’s pencilled in for about halfway through this year. The first book introduced the protagonist Drothe, and a pretty interesting world. It was a good read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things go (my suspicion is Bronze Degan will not be in this book, but will be in book 3, but that’s just a guess).

Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie. This is an entirely new work by Mr. Abercrombie, and I believe it’s entirely separate to the First Law world (unlike his trilogy and stand-alone works to date). The entries on his blog suggest it’ll have more of a Young Adult (YA) feel to it. Which puts me in a quandary. I really like his stuff (Red Country was one of my favourite books in 2012), but I’m generally less into YA. I’ll probably download a sample and see what I think.

Malevolence will be an anthology of ghost stories from new publisher Tickety Boo Press. There are many contributors (twenty plus, I think), including Ian Whates, Toby Frost, and a handsome young man called Thaddeus White.

The last book is actually out in 2015, but when checking the release date for one of the other books I happened to see it and had to include it. The Bastards and the Knives contains two prequel novellas in the Gentleman Bastards series and is, of course, by Scott Lynch. Now, Republic of Thieves was delayed quite a lot, but I’m hopeful this will come out on time(ish). The time period covered will have Locke, Jean, Caldo and Galdo as well as Bug in the gang, and will be something to look forward to.


Monday, 27 January 2014

Review: The Later Roman Empire, by Ammianus Marcellinus

This history covers, more or less, the third quarter of the 4th century AD. At this time the Roman Empire was still intact but was well on the path towards splitting into West and East. Ammianus Marcellinus was directly involved in much of the history he writes, and although because of this he is not entirely disinterested, he does furnish us with a great deal of detail, and his moments of bias generally seem to be quite minor.

One thing I liked, which was more down to the translators/editors than the author himself, was that the bits omitted were made clear. Very often in history (particularly with Polybius, whose work is something of a patchwork of missing and extant pieces) the constraints of publishing mean much is omitted, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it made plain what wasn’t in. It’s actually very helpful, and the majority are things which would be of little or no interest to me.

It’s hard to know with this sort of work how much ease of reading is down to the author and how much to the translator, but I found it easy to read.

Most of the book is concerned with the reigns of Constans and Julian, who is clearly admired by Ammianus. However, the author does not let his fondness for the Apostate prevent him from criticising him on numerous counts. Indeed, he’s a fair and balanced judge, it seems to me. Later, Valentinian (mostly criticised by the author) is praised for his work defending the empire. After each emperor’s demise a concise look at his achievements, virtues and vices follows, and there’s always a sound mixture of praise and censure.

Ammianus also appears well-informed about the military situation both regarding Gaul and the Eastern provinces (where the majority of warfare occurs at this period in history).

In short, the book is entertaining, intelligent, balanced and well worth reading. It covers perhaps the final time that the Roman Empire is fully cohesive, before it starts to part ways into West and East on a permanent basis.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

New review of Journey to Altmortis

Been a shade quiet lately, but I'm hoping to post a bit more regularly in the nearish future (off-chance the internet may go wonky in the next few weeks, though).

Anyway, that top chap Brian Wilkerson has very kindly reviewed Journey to Altmortis. You can read his wise and insightful thoughts (as you may've guessed his review is mostly positive, but he does raise some areas for improvement) by clicking here.

Assuming I don't run out of electricity I plan on reviewing Ammianus Marcellinus' history of The Later Roman Empire in the next couple of days. A short version would be that it's a very good book.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Alexandra Butcher interview

I’m delighted to introduce a new interview with Alexandra Butcher, the author of The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles.

TW: There are two books so far in The Light Beyond The Storm Chronicles, with a third on the way. Will the series be a trilogy, or do you have more planned?

AB: Yes, at the moment I have at least six planned. Book III follows some characters introduced in book II, so book IV will return to the main adventurers Dii, and Archos. There are several revelations to come, and some tragedy. Not to mention the resolution of a number of aspects.

TW: What aspect of writing do you find most challenging? 

AB: Focusing on the writing! I have a terrible concentration span, and find it easier to focus on lots of things at once rather than one thing. I usually have the TV on in the background, and sometimes more than one story open.

TW: Who’s your favourite character to write?

AB: Oh gosh, each character is so different so I am not sure I have a favourite. I love Dii, she has survived so much and is actually a very strong woman, she just doesn’t realise. Olek is always fun, he can snap between the easy-going half-elf to the ruthless assassin in the blink of an eye. He loves food, so he is great to write when there is a meal involved and he probably has the best sense of humour. Archos is always great to write. He is very powerful, but he is quite arrogant and often actually quite nasty. Ozena is sweet, she had matured a great deal but is still really quite niave and gets shocked by events.

TW: More elven history/lore is revealed in The Shining Citadel. Have you written a full history for the elves that you dip into when needed, or do you prefer to write lore as and when it’s needed?

AB: No, at least not written down. I have a lot of it in my head, but now I have started to document the lore as it becomes relevant. I tend to adapt and change ideas, so writing them down often means I end up tying myself in knots. It is easier for me to keep it in my head and let it ferment there until I need it. There is a lot to be revealed in forthcoming books, and I have the lore of the trolls and some of the history of the humans to contend with as well. That said I do have folders of notes and idea sparks but it is not an organised history as such.

TW: When the series is over will you write more books in the same world, or move on to something entirely different?

AB: I am provisionally planning a later series but we will have to see. There will be short stories too, following more minor characters, I am working on some of these at the moment. I am also planning an erotica short story series. I may also try and do something with another fantasy world I created some years back, and even a Roman style historical fantasy.

TW: What’s your favourite memory of writing (in a broad sense, so a great review or similar would count)?

AB: Oh, hmmm. I used to love planning adventures with my friend for a game we used to play.  Ah and the first time someone I didn’t know bought the book and left a good review.

TW: Excluding your own books, what’s your favourite fantasy book/series?

AB: I like Janet Morris, and I love Lord of the Rings. Ms Morris takes one on such a rollercoaster of adventure and Tolkien is a supreme world-builder. Before that, I would say Discworld and the Odyssey.

TW: Which authors or books inspired you, in terms of both getting into writing and your own style?

AB: Janet Morris, Alexandre Dumas, Tolkein, Gaston Leroux, David Gaider.

TW: Apart from reading and writing fantasy, what do you like to do in your spare time?

AB: I watch a lot of movies and TV, all sorts of genres – fantasy, sci-fi, documentaries, science, natural history, action films, superheroes etc. I like history too and study quite a bit of that. I like growing plants and playing with pets. I also play PC games, although not so much now as I can’t sit at the PC for long these days.

TW: What advice would you give someone who was just about to start writing their first book?

AB: Be patient, be realistic. Sales probably won’t come overnight and it takes work and time to build a fan-base.  Don’t expect to be the next big thing, it very rarely happens. However don’t get disheartened by this, there is no reason, with a very good book or even better many books you can’t make some money.  Keep writing, network and take advice on board. No book is perfect, and someone won’t like it. Bad reviews go with the territory, as do good ones (hopefully). Oh and read the FAQ and TOS for the publishing platform you use. Really. You are doing business and it helps to know what you’re getting into. Most of the newbie questions are explained in the FAQs and you can save yourself some time and upset by reading through them. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t. Finally keep writing and write what you love.

TW: Apart from finishing The Light Beyond The Storm Chronicles what are your writing plans for the future, and do you have an estimate for when your next book will be released?

AB: I am working on some anthology pieces, which should be out later this year. I am hoping book III will be out mid to late 2014.

Twitter: @libraryoferana


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

New reviews
Ahem, I’ve been a bit lax updating ye olde review list. So, I shall fix this now.

Journey to Altmortis: Edric’s Temple:

This very day a new review of Sir Edric’s Temple has been posted by Jo Michaels, giving it a score of 5/5. Here’s a brief excerpt:
“I can't tell you how many times I laughed while reading this book. Sir Edric's inner monologue will have you rolling on the floor while understanding this is probably what 9/10 of the male population is thinking at any given point in time.”

Incidentally, the above sites are all good sources for regular reviews, and (as mentioned in the review), Jo Michaels’ blog will have reviews of many independent authors you might not otherwise have stumbled across. This is a very good initiative and will hopefully help authors (including me) get a higher profile, as well as helping readers find good but lesser known writers.

Right now I’m working on Kingdom Asunder (set in the Bane of Souls/Journey to Altmortis world) and have some vague ideas of more misadventures for Sir Edric and Dog in the future.

So, if you got some money/Amazon codes for Christmas, why not give Journey to Altmortis and Sir Edric’s Temple a try?