I’ve got the first chapter of my novel here to tempt people into reading the entire thing and sending me feedback. It’s an urban fantasy, about a detective investigating the murder of a city. The entire MS is about 120K words. If that sounds like your cup of tea, please let me know!
“BRAINS!” groaned the zombie horde, as they battered at the bunker walls with their clipboards, slide rules, calculators and fetid popcorn.
“What’s wrong with these people?” he demanded of Mary, his assistant. “What do they want?”
“A decent space movie, sir,” Mary said, closing a secure window just in time as a scientist threw a steaming test tube full of dry ice into the bunker.
“I’ve made one,” Ridley said. “Didn’t they see Prometheus?”
“I think that’s what they’re complaining about,” Mary said. “Your fans can only subsist so long on their Blue-Ray director’s cut editions of Alien and Blade Runner. They turned to Prometheus for sustenance, and unfortunately, it appeared to have starved them into the zombie horde we see outside.”
“Prometheus was a great movie,” Ridley said. “It had beautiful shots, splendid special effects and fantastic direction (if I say so myself). Why are these science-types throwing popcorn at me?”
Mary checked her iPad. “It was the script, sir. Apparently, the scientists felt that they were not portrayed sensibly. Such archaeologists blowing up an alien’s head (rather than cataloging it), a geologist with high-tech cartographic equipment getting lost, the team taking of their helmets without proper atmospheric testing…”
“Gah!” Ridley said. “I don’t care. It had fantastic direction and beautiful sets. How do we get out of this bunker, anywhere?”
“Maybe we could promise the zombies a movie with more science, and they’ll back off,” Mary suggested, as the walls continued to break and crack.
Ridley and Mary frantically searched through the bunker.
“Look at this,” Mary said. “I found this under the couch. It’s a book called ‘The Martian’ by ‘Andy Weir’.”
“Does it have science?” Ridley demanded, snatching the book out of Mary’s hands. He flipped through it. “Not bad. It’s about a guy stranded on Mars. NASA is conducting manned missions to Mars, and during a storm, an astronaut gets stranded. He’s alone, surviving on Mars, against all odds!”
“Are there storms of that velocity on Mars?” Mary frowned.
“There will be in my production,” Ridley said. “And there’ll be science stuff in it. We’ll get NASA on board, consultants, you name it.”
“Will there be a detailed emotional development for the stranded astronaut?”
“Who cares about that! He’ll be a funny guy, ready with good quips. He’ll solve problems. He’ll build stuff.”
“What about the human element?”
“We’ll cut back to NASA on Earth and show how everyone’s trying to rescue the guy,” Ridley said. Already he was dreaming of visual angles and matt paintings.
“Who will play the astronaut?” Mary frowned.
“Matt Damon,” Ridley said, distractedly, still thinking about matt paintings.
“But didn’t he do a similar role recently in Interstellar?”
“He’ll all be warmed up for it,” Ridley said. “Open that window.”
Mary cranked the window open and Ridley surveyed the zombie horde. “I’m going to make a movie out of this book!” he yelled at them. “Scientists will be portrayed as cool and sensible people. There’ll be SCIENCE!”
“SCIENCE!” groaned the zombies.
“And Matt Damon!”
“MATT DAMON!” droned the horde.
Ridley watched as the horde slowly got distracted, shuffling back to their collectors’ editions of Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus.
“They’ve gone,” Mary breathed a sigh of relief.
“Then let’s get going,” Ridley said. “I’m going to science the shit out of this movie.”
1) I will blog more regularly.
2) I will finish my novel. (This is actually doable, as the current draft is pretty solid. Just needs more sanding, grinding, editing.)
3) Further to (2), I will write (hopefully novelish things) more often. I will actually submit stuff, too, rather than letting it sit forever on the Harddrive of Eternity.
4) I will manage my time expertly and well between writing, studying (trying out a Masters’ this year…).
5) I get into shape.
6) Further to (4), I will actually finish existing Steam games prior to buying anything on sale.
7) I will keep these resolutions.
8) I will be awesome.
And by Jove, I think I just encountered such a beast, an experiential film! And existential too. This is Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive", a film about, well... vampires and ennui and stagnation and rock'n'roll... You may want to see this film because of it’s extreme nerd-cred - Loki, the White Witch, the Angel Gabriel, Pavel Chekov, Doctor Who, Alice-in-Wonderland and Beetee are all starring in it! (Or their actors, at any rate.)
If you thought Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog and Deadman were slow, well, wait for this one! And if you like tight and elegant plots, this may not be your cup of tea. The film is more like a long and meandering series of conversations. But it does drip with atmosphere and captures a moment of time in the lives of its main characters before their lives are shaken up.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires. They live in separate cities - Adam, in the urban decay of Detroit, and Eve in Tangiers. Adam is a musician who collects instruments and is surrounded by cutting edge '70s technology and recording equipment. His only friend is Isaac (Anton Yelchin) who shows up every now and then with new musical instruments for Adam’s collection.
Meanwhile Eve spends her time in Tangiers, hanging with vampiric Christopher Marlowe, who used William Shakespeare as a front to publish his own writings. Both Adam and Eve get their blood from blood-banks (where Adam briefly encounters the delightfully cynical ‘Doctor Watson’ - Jeffrey Wright in a nifty cameo), and when they drink the stuff, there's a sense of them getting high; they smile, space out and their fangs are clearly visible. Adam has nothing but contempt for humanity; he calls them 'zombies' even as he lives apart from them, and only has affection for the exceptional people he has associated with over his long life, such as Nikola Tesla.
In fact, Adam so distracted from life that he is thinking about suicide. He gets Isaac to make him a wooden bullet (some sort of dense hardwood, shelled in brass) to fit in his .38 and poses with the gun over his heart. (Van Helsing would have found that very helpful.) Adam rings up Eve, tells her of his depression, and she flies over on a series of convenient night flight to meet him. They have various long and rambling conversations, where the audiences catch glimpses of their long lives. Then, Eve's sister (Mia Wasikowska) shows up; disturbing their routines and forcing Adam to flee with Eve back to Tangiers to build a new life there, only for yet another rung to be pulled out from under them.
As vampires, they’re all essentially parasites on humanity, which Adam doesn’t acknowledge at all. He loathes ordinary people, including the ‘rock n’ roll’ kids that seek him out, trying to learn more about Adam from the music that Isaac’s leaked onto the scene. Eve calls herself a survivor, but they don’t really have a lot of back-up plans when things go wrong for them - no alternative blood supplies or other identities they can quickly step into. They live in a sort of dream-like stasis with no real end or beginning.
There's not a lot of action in the movie; it's conversations between immortals. It's a series of character studies. Adam is brooding and morbid, taking only pleasure in long drives through Detroit's decaying urban landscape which reflects his inner world. He’s very high-maintenance as a husband too; Eve has to drop everything she was comfortable with to visit Adam in his depths of ennui. Eve is more visceral, taking pleasure in the old books and the natural world. This is reflected by the vitality and vibrancy of the Tangiers scenes, in comparison to the emptiness of Detroit by night. Ava, in her brief, by lively appearance, is more of a party-girl, enjoying blood and music and second-to-second living.
The film is expertly shot and directed, with lots of spinning motifs - perhaps to suggest both Adam's love of vinyl records, or their circular eternity that the vampires find themselves in. Adam wears black, whereas Eve favours white.
The film's vampiric lore isn't spelled out, unlike other films which have more sparkling vampires. They need blood to survive but must avoid contaminated blood. It looks like it plays fairly close to movie vampiric lore conventions (rather than Bram Stoker's novel). Wooden stakes (and bullets) are fatal to these vampires and they must sleep in sunlight. They wear gloves and sunglasses at night (perhaps they're hyper-sensitive?) and there are some suggestions that each of the vampires has special powers - Adam has some sort of super-science ability (he's got one of Tesla's weird science experiments working), Eve can tell the age of items at a touch, and Ava can send her dreams to others.
The sense of claustrophobic darkness in Detroit (we never see the sunlight there) captures the ennui of Adam's life quite expertly, and is only shaken up to a more primal phase when Ava crosses his path. Adam spends his life making music, but doesn't want to release it on the world and shuns the "rock'n'roll" kids that try and seek him out. Eve is a more interesting character - she descibes herself as a survivor and Tilda Swinton plays her with an eerie, otherworldly, almost predatory edge. By contrast, Adam is a typical goth; dark clothing, wasted appearance, hair hanging over his eyes.
The music is interesting; a brooding rock that carries its themes quite well. I liked it, but wouldn’t want to see it again in a hurry. I still think it’s worth seeing, particularly if you are keen on the dark edge of the music scene or really want to get a taste of how long and meaningless the lives of vampires can be.
My father passed away this morning at around 5AM. Prior to that, he was in a coma.
A few weeks ago, he slipped and hurt his head. This started a bilateral subarachnoid haemorrhage (essentially, blood filling up into the spaces between his skull and brain on both sides; I keep imagining some sort of spider monster menacing him). The hospital couldn’t operate to drain the blood in the subarachnoid space because of his heart medication, which essentially acted as a really strong blood thinner. Because it was a new drug, they didn’t have an antidote for it, and he had to go on dialysis before they could operate. After the operation, he had a stroke and then he slipped into a coma for two weeks.
I went up to visit him in the hospital almost daily while he was in the ICU. It was odd, seeing him lying there, just like he was asleep on the couch after a bottle of wine. He was snoring and occasionally made little ‘Dad-sounding’ noises. I could touch his arm and it felt warm and alive.
He just didn’t wake up.
Occasionally there were flashes of consciousness. I would shake him (copying the nurses when they did their hourly ‘neuro assessments’ and say ‘Dad, squeeze my hand’ and he did. I thought he might get better, that we still might be able to have Christmas together. All of his visitors got these little signs – a blink of an eye, a clasp of a hand, a twitch of the face. We all thought that this meant that he was going to wake up soon.
But over the weekend he deteriorated and died of pneumonia.
The last time I spoke to him, it was on Father’s Day. Everything was fine, he said. He was excited about his new business. He was looking forward to my visit in early October.
I wish I’d spent longer talking to him, I wish a thousand and one other things right now, but what’s very clear is that I miss him and wished he had stayed around for longer.
I’ll miss you, Dad.
This was a delight after the turgid prose of The Night Lands. It’s a concisely written novella that is a solid read and had a strong impact on twenty first century science fiction. Because of this, most genre aficionados will have some idea of the plot. I highly recommend it.
Essentially, our narrator is a member of a regular gathering of intellectuals, who meet regularly for discussions and dinner, answering the age-old question of what the proto-nerd/geek subculture did back during the Victorian period. All of the friends have sobriquets (except for poor old Filby) such as ‘the Provincial Mayor’, ‘the Medical Man’, and the ‘Time Traveller’. Most of the story is the Time Traveller telling his adventure to his friends, one of whom is our Narrator. The Time Traveller tells of how he’s invented a time machine, but there’s much scoffing by his guests. The Time Traveller demonstrates the device; he vanishes and turns up late for dinner in a a frightful state – clearly more time has passed for him than for his guests. The Time Traveller tells of how he travelled forward to the year 802,701, where the world is a lush paradise and humanity has bifurcated into two races – the Eloi, who live on the surface as hedonistic, simple-minded, flower-gathering hippies, and the Morlocks – carnivorous albinos who live underground. The Time Traveller starts to explore the area but before he can return, discovers that his time machine has gone missing, forcing him to adventure! (A Doctor Who plot device staple.) The far future is neatly evoked, with lush gardens and mysterious buildings named by the Time Traveller ‘the White Sphinx’ and ‘the Palace of Green Porcelain’; the passing of the ages is keenly felt when the Time Traveller finds that one of these buildings is a museum of human history. The slow, gradual decline the world is one of the tropes I enjoy about this sub-genre. The poetic sense of decay is evoked nicely with the Eloi living amongst the ruins of their ancestors but being unable to comprehend them.
One of the themes in the novella is the degeneration of the class system; where the ‘aristocrats’, the Eloi are little more than vacant-minded flower-gathers, and the workers, the Morlocks, labour in the darkness but come up to feed on the Eloi each new moon. The Time Traveller ruminates about how this came to be:
‘At first, proceeding from the problems of our own age, it seemed clear as daylight to me that the gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer, was the key to the whole position. No doubt it will seem grotesque enough to you―and wildly incredible!―and yet even now there are existing circumstances to point that way. There is a tendency to utilize underground space for the less ornamental purposes of civilization; there is the Metropolitan Railway in London, for instance, there are new electric railways, there are subways, there are underground workrooms and restaurants, and they increase and multiply. Evidently, I thought, this tendency had increased till Industry had gradually lost its birthright in the sky. I mean that it had gone deeper and deeper into larger and ever larger underground factories, spending a still-increasing amount of its time therein, till, in the end―! Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth?’
The philosophical Time Traveller also posits the idea that without innate violence of humanity, there can be no progress; as a comment on the apotheosis of communism, the evolution of the cow-like Eloi is viewed as a highly undesirable state:
‘For countless years I judged there had been no danger of war or solitary violence, no danger from wild beasts, no wasting disease to require strength of constitution, no need of toil. For such a life, what we should call the weak are as well equipped as the strong, are indeed no longer weak. Better equipped indeed they are, for the strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no outlet. No doubt the exquisite beauty of the buildings I saw was the outcome of the last surgings of the now purposeless energy of mankind before it settled down into perfect harmony with the conditions under which it lived―the flourish of that triumph which began the last great peace. This has ever been the fate of energy in security; it takes to art and to eroticism, and then come languor and decay.’
The Time Machine is also a good adventure novel, with the Time Traveller venturing into the Morlock’s underground darkness to find his time machine, and then fighting them off with fire when the raid during a new moon. The Time Traveller has a female friend, one of the Eloi, who is obsessed with him after he rescued her from drowning, but he he seems not to view her as a person, perhaps due to her inherent simplicity. (Alas, also an adventure story staple.)
After the Time Traveller eventually finds his Time Machine, he journeys further into the future, seeing the death of the world, and even the moment when the stars go out. When he finishes his story, his dinner guests don’t believe him; only the Narrator does. The Time Traveller offers to prove further time travel to the Narrator, and leaves for one more journey, but does not return.
This book, written in 1912 by William Hope Hodgson is an imaginative tour-de-force, filled with spectacular imagery and grotesque monsters. It’s an epic story that riffs off the Orpheus myths; about a man going entering the underworld to rescue the woman he loves.
Unfortunately, the story is also gratingly written, with large info-dumps, dull meticulous travel details, and a nauseating love story that made me want to pull my teeth out. It’s told in a sort of faux-17th century style that is dull and repetitious. I much preferred the style of the other Hodgson novel I read, ‘The House on the Borderlands’.
In the Night Land, our protagonist in the framing story romances his lover, Lady Mirdath. She dies tragically in childbirth, but luckily, our protagonist is able to dream of the far future, where both he and Mirdath are luckily reincarnated. So while he’s in the past, he’s aware of his future self, and interestingly, in the future flash-forward, the future incarnation can remember the past or current incarnation.
In this future, the sun has died, and all of humanity’s remnants huddles in the Last Redoubt, a giant pyramid that is besieged by strange creatures called the Watchers; gigantic,unknowable creatures or monsters that are moving towards the Last Redoubt at a glacial pace. They reminded me of the Colossuses in ‘Shadow of the Colossus’:
A million years gone, as I have told, came it [the Watcher] out from the blackness of the South, and grew steadily nearer through twenty thousand years; but so slow that in no one year could a man perceive that it had moved.
Beside the Watchers there are “…grotesque and horrible Creatures, which now beset the humans of this world. And where there was no power to take on material form, there had been allowed to certain dreadful Forces to have power to affect the life of the human spirit.” These monsters include the Silent Ones, Giants and Night Hounds, Ab-humans and bestial humans, which inhabit evocative locations in the Night Land like the ‘The Place Where The Silent Ones Kill’, ‘The Lights of the Quiet City’ and ‘The Plain of Blue Fire’.
Humanity’s last millions live in the Last Redoubt, a pyramid mega-city, with a culture that reminds me of something you’d encounter on a 1970s Doctor Who episode. There are 1, 320 cities within the pyramid. At the top is the Tower of Observation, which looks upon the Night Land. The Master Monstruwacan and his scholars inhabit the Tower, and that’s where the protagonist ends up working, thanks to his telepathic gifts. In fact, the plot finally starts after several chapters of world-building when the protagonist enters a long-distance telepathic relationship with a woman who belongs to lost colony on the far side of the Night Land. And, gasp, she is the reincarnation of the Lady Mirdath! Her colony is in a bad way, as they have run out of ‘Earth Current’, the soil is bad and monster attacks are frequent. Armies set off to rescue the lost colony and fail miserably. That only leaves our protagonist to journey across the Night Land, and return with the survivors.
Aimed with a handy diskos (a weapon I kept imagining as a giant pizza cutter that glows with fire), the protagonist makes his way across the Night Land, hiding from and slaying monsters. Unfortunately, this is told in a rather tedious style; we’re told how many food tablets he eats, and how much time has past… all the time. Still, that’s quite bearable compared to the second half of the book, where our protagonist finds his girlfriend (the last survivor) and then they spend their time tediously snugging and kissing all the way back. While Naani is a competent survivor (she survived for a while in the Night Land after the rest of her people got eaten by monsters) she’s also an irritatingly happy, flirty, gigglesome love interest and the protagonist’s reaction isn’t that much better; in fact it reads a bit like a proto-Gor novel at some points.
And she made protest that she should truly walk; for that I was all a-weary, and she come to her strength again. And, indeed, I carried her a certain way, and did then put her down to her feet; and truly her knees did so tremble that she had not stood, let be to walk! And I caught her up again; and I kist her, and I told her that I did be surely her Master, in verity, and she mine own Baby-Slave. And truly you shall not laugh upon me; for I was so human as any; and a man doth talk this way with his maid.
Anyway, after much monster killing, snuggling, whipping and survivalness, the protagonist and his heroine return to the Last Redoubt in true epic, metal style. Tailed by monsters, our protagonists are saved when the Last Redoubt folk turn on an ancient superweapon and laser the monsters chasing them to death. Tragically (actually, I cheered a bit) Naani dies on the way back, and there’s this brilliant scene:
And I came in through the Great Gateway, and the Full Watch did stand there silent in their armour; and they made the Salute of Honour. And I went onward with the dead Maid that I did bring out of Eternity.
Unfortunately, this was ruined later on when Naani comes back to life again later on through the power of love. Or something.
Anyway, I have mixed opinions about this book. I love its imagery and scope; I hate the tedious, ponderous way the story is told to me. The epic love story doesn’t work, but the ideas of this relationship spanning different incarnations is fantastic, along with the imagery revealed of previous incarnations that Naani discusses with the protagonist.
This is something I’d love to see the movie version of.
Well, I’ve taken part in the Kickstarter for the Tides of Numenera video game. I’ve ordered the game, the sound track, the comic books, the novella collection and a great deal of exciting swag and stuff.
Only, I don’t have any of this stuff yet.
Because the game won’t be out for a while.
It’ll take about two years.
Well, let’s see if I can do something interesting with the waiting time.
According to setting creator Monte Cook, Numenera’s literary roots are in the sub-genre of far future science fiction, where the technology is so advanced it’s indistinguishable from magic. One of his key inspirations was Gene Wolf’s ‘Book of the New Sun’ series. From my readings this ‘far future’ gene is a strange little corner of the weird fiction genre, filled with the surreal and strange. The sun is usually bloated, red and dying. Civilisation is obsessed with strange cults and practices. Layers of history litter the world, but no one knows the full story behind this ancient ruins.
Since I’ve really enjoyed this ‘end of time’ genre, I plan to do a project – reading a pile of these books and writing about them!
I finished reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time! I have unlocked an achievement! After a Herculean marathon, I re-read most of the books over the Christmas break, and have now caught up on the last three books, co-written with Brandon Sanderson.
I remember reading the early books in high school and at university. My favourites were those first four or five books, but after the sixth book, Lord of Chaos, the wait between each book got longer and eventually I lost interest. In 2007, Robert Jordan passed away, meaning that the last three books were written by Brandon Sanderson from Robert Jordan’s notes. Having enjoyed Brandon’s Mistborn series, I had confidence that the Wheel of Time would be finished competently.
The early books in the saga are quite gripping. They’re my favourites; the ones I remember the most. Not that they weren’t flawless – Robert Jordan had several tics and themes that he was fond of – rich descriptions, men and women not understanding each other in a hammy comedy of manners, sniffing and braid-tugging and women folding their arms beneath their breasts (which is harder than it looks). But he did epic scale fantastically. Each of the earlier books had a wide scope – protagonists would split apart - but then snap together for the big, slam bang conclusion which tied everything together. Jordan also had a good way of building tension and mounting fear – I remember the last act of the Great Hunt vividly, where Egwene was caught and enslaved by the Seanchan. I loved the Fremen-inspired Aiel culture and Rand’s visions in the city of Rhuidean. I liked the sense of fear and shadowy machinations – who could they characters trust in the White Tower?
Then, the sense of pace was lost in the middle of the series. Epic deeds gave way to a stronger focus on the comedy of manners, as though Jordan really wanted to be writing nineteenth century novels. Characters spun away from each other and books would simply stop before reaching any kind of solid convergence of plotlines or a conclusion. In the early run of the books, Robert Jordan’s slow, cluttered writing style worked in his favour. I enjoyed the slow bucolic descriptions of the Two Rivers and the harsh Aiel Waste. During the slowdown of the middle books, these descriptions became fascinated with furniture, clothing and cups of tea. Although Jordan was interested in gender politics and communication, he explored this mainly through people making assumptions about each other, often having frustrating stupidities arising as a result. He hammered this trope so hard it became was quite a relief when the characters would actually sit down and talk to each other! Knife of Dreams shows signs of Jordan’s return to the epic fantasy scope; a sign that he had branched out as far as he could and was drawing everything for the big ramp up to the last act of the series.
Only Knife of Dreams was Robert Jordan’s last novel. The last three books, co-authored with Brandon Sanderson, had to basically provide a solid conclusion to the previous eleven books.
Overall, the first of Sanderson’s trilogy, the Gathering Storm, was my favourite. There was a sense of pace again; Rand’s story arc peaked as he struggled with his personal darkness and Egwene strove to unite the White Tower. Jordan’s little ticks and themes were pushed aside, and the dialogue shifted to more of a snappy banter. Some characters didn’t quite seem themselves, but in general, I was very pleased with it. The next book, Towers of Midnight, while it had some excellent core scenes, felt a bit piecemeal, as though a large chunk of its chapters should have been the previous book. And finally, I read the last book, A Memory of Light. Its primary focus is the Last Battle; and much of it is taken up with battle planning and Trolloc blasting and troop movements. There are some character deaths; although it did feel like some of the characters should have died, rather than miraculously surviving.
What I missed from the last book was an epilogue. One of my favourite conclusions to an epic fantasy series was the last chunk of David Eddings’ Belgariad, which covered the characters’ life after their epic quest, and how it changed people and how they moved on. A Memory of Light doesn’t offer that sense of closure; it simply ends when the battle ends. It felt like as if the Return of the King ended after Frodo and Sam had just been rescued by the giant eagles. The epilogue is scattered across Brandon Sanderson’s last three books – in the conclusion of character arcs, in the glimpse of alternate realities when Rand conducts his battle with the Dark One. Given the lengthy, almost sumptuous pace at how this earlier plotlines were developed, the ending felt almost abrupt, and unfulfilling. Some of the plotlines are touched, resolve as if they were being ticked off a list. Other plotlines are treated with the epic scope they deserved, and I quite enjoyed the series of duels against the villainous Demandred.
So the concluding trilogy was good; but didn’t quite scratch that itch to make it solidly satisfying to me. If you got stalled by the middle period of the book, I’d suggest trying the last three books out. Overall, it’s great that a twenty two year journey for me has finally ended and I’m reminded of once more why I love epic fantasy in this series.