Sunday, 19 October 2014

Log 2014 19th Oct: Portal


Portal by Eric Flint and Eric E. Spoor is the third book in the Boundary series.

Boundary is the first book in the series.  The story starts with an archaeological dig finding the fossilized remains of aliens.  Apparently they were killed by raptor when they landed on Earth 65 million years ago, which places their death on what is called the KT boundary.  This discovery leads to sending a mission to Mars, where the discovery of a base on Phobos then leads to further discoveries of a base on Mars.  Needless to say the race is on to exploit the alien technology.  Threshold, the sequel to Boundary,  takes the story to Ceres, and then on to Jupiter, ending with the expedition stranded on Europa.

 So I was keen to read Portal, and find out where the story would go next.

The series is unashamedly traditional old school science fiction.  While it may not have won any awards, the story of finding the alien Bemmies (bug eyed monsters), makes for a fun read.  The story has dinosaurs, squid like aliens, and spaceships.  What more can one ask for?  I certainly wanted to continue turning the pages to find out what happened next?

Meanwhile we are still watching Xena Warrior Princess, and are now coming to the end of series three.  It is what it is - lightweight escapist fun.  Sometimes the stories are profoundly cringe inducing, but at the same time the series is strangely addictive.  On a similar note, we both really enjoyed both the recent Dr Who episodes.  The Mummy On The Orient Express played with the murder mystery tropes, and this weeks episode Flatline, which was stonkingly good fun, told a good story with scary monsters.  I like Capaldi's Doctor.

Writing this week has been quite exciting.

I began the week working on my novel The Bureau.  I managed to write 3,732 words, bringing up the running total to 46,803.  I then switched to making notes for a couple of articles for Miniature Wargames.  One about the Blast-Tastic!, a show I went to, and the other describing the scenario I ran at the show.  I then received an editorial report identifying some problems that needed fixing on Bad Dog.  So my week ended up with me adding 907 words during the rewrite.

So this week I wrote a total of 4,639 words, which doesn't sound like a lot until one realizes that I spent eight hours totally restructuring a ninety thousand word novel.  Exciting or what?

Without Scrivener I would have been stuffed.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Log 2014 12th Oct: Firefall - Blindsight & Echopraxia

As I mentioned last week I started reading Peter Watts Firefall, the omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia.  Well I sat and finished read Blindsight last Sunday and what can I say?  How about wow?  If you haven't read it, and you like hard SF novels about first contact scenarios, then I suggest it will be worth your time and effort to do so.

A Google search will bring up a ton of reviews, which I feel the need to comment on.

Blindsight is a novel that discusses complex issues, and therefore if you are not the sort of person that likes to be challenged by rational scientific topic you may find the work not to your taste.  No amount of evidence to the contrary will likely change your mind.

In someways this is the product of our own nature, and how one understands consciousness versus intelligence.  An argument can be made that consciousness deals with aesthetics and emotional responses, whereas intelligence deals with process.  However, the evidence is scarce, hampered by a lack of a general theory of consciousness, with the best research into whether it's nature or nurture that drives human behaviours, only showing correlation rather than causation with either.

As regard the free will debate, I agree in principle that we live in a deterministic universe, but with the caveat that calculating the choice a person, or people in polynomial time within our frame of reference problematical.  As such, while we may not have free will, we live and act in a way that might as well be called free will as described by the two stage model.  I bring this up, because otherwise one would be hard pushed to explain behavioural changes made through cognitive behavioural approaches otherwise.  I apologize for simplifying what is quite a complex argument into one line in the process.

As pitch line: Blindsight by Peter Watts is like Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke, but with more despondency and despair at mankind's deficiencies.

And I finished reading Echopraxia today.  It's the sequel to Blindsight, and deals with what was hinted as happening back on Earth at the end of the first book.  Spoiler alert.  It's not going to end well for homo sapiens sapiens.  For that matter it's not going to end well for any of the other cognitive sub-species either; the vampires and bicameral hive minds.

One thing I will say now is that both books require close reading of the text.  Skim read and you'll miss the clues the author plants.  Reading this book reminds me of discussions about reading levels for information pamphlets when I use to work in the NHS.  Our research showed that we needed to lower the reading age of our pamphlets, so as to make our subject as accessible as possible to the widest number of readers.  I'm not going to comment on reading levels, other than to say that people who like to read have higher than average reading comprehension, and leave it at that.

The point I'm making is that Peter Watts makes no concessions to readers, he assumes you will keep up with what he is writing about.  I enjoyed rising to meet the challenge.  Some readers may find it makes the story less accessible.

My pitch line for Echopraxia would be, it's like Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke, but with even more despondency and despair at the transformation of the world by the Overmind.  One final thought came to mind.  At the end of the story I was really touched by a line of dialogue from Valerie, who is a vampire, who says quote, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along?"  In the context of what a vampire is, I found this a very moving statement.

One day I hope I will get the chance to meet Peter and talk about consciousness.  Until then I will have to console myself by reading his books.

As for my work this week I see I've managed to write 1,668 words, but this translated into five finished chapters.  So on reflection this has been very much a week of edit what I've written before.  So the evidence suggests that I'm still working my way through the morass of plot and structure hurdles, resulting from the process of converting the first draft of what was a graphic novel, into a first draft of a novel.

In addition I wrote 1,600 of reviews for Henry at Miniature Wargames & Battlegames  magazine.  So all-in-all not a bad week, even if it's not the most productive week of writing I've had.

NB: Edit to add opinion.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Plotting, Story & Structure

I'm big into plot, story and structure.  The latter is probably related to why I pursued a career as a cognitive behavioural therapist too.  For me, structure is about splitting the story down into acts to create a beginning, middle and end, which are the basic components of every story.  As discussed here.

Above is a picture of what I've been doing this week as I work through the plot, the story and what I need to do to get the whole structure to work.  Mostly this has involved moving scenes around in Scrivener, and making notes about how I'm going to rationalize the Cthulhu mythos in a plausible manner.  I have had some ideas about that.  I'm almost feeling the excitement of wanting to start writing stuff in earnest again, which is a good thing.

I can't recommend Scrivener too highly for this sort of thing.  Without it I would be forced to use post it notes or a cork-board. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Log 2014 28th Sep: Thoughts

What I say and mean is not what you read and understand.

I say this not to gnomic or profound in any way, but to clarify a point about why I write this blog, and post reviews of sorts.  I'm not a critic, in the sense of someone who is trying to address a particular work and write commentary on it.  Though I have been know to criticize games, when writing for magazines.  However, on this blog what I do is review in passing the things I have been reading and watching, and talk about my own work.

So any author who I have featured here I've done so as a fellow author.  I write because your work has touched me in someway.  I do not intentionally write critiques.

Currently I'm reading Peter Watts Firefall, which is an omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia.  It's a weighty tome that could be used as an offensive weapon or a door stop.  I'm loving it.  It's so good that I feel like shooting myself and putting myself out of the misery of knowing I will never be able to write something as good as this.

That is a taster, I will be talking more about this book when I've finished reading it.

Currently we are watching Xena Warrior Princess, which is cheesy fun filled goodness.  Season one started off a bit rough, as in the cheesy fun wasn't piled on high enough to carry one through the rough as shit stories, but after episode eight, and certainly by the mid-season cliff-hanger the series found its legs.  Season two has mostly been good, with only a couple of what I would call cringingly bad episodes.

We've stopped watching at this point to catch up with Arrow.  The first episode of season two on the disc being a recap clipisode, which if we had bothered to check the sleeve info I would have skipped.  it wasn't bad, but there again I don't think it was aimed at me.  Rather it was aimed at viewers with a low knowledge base of DCs universe.

Saturday I was at a writers group event where Sandra Sawicka, a foreign rights assistant for the Marjcq literary agency spoke at some length about her job.  Other than that it was good to catch up with Sean, a fellow writer, and chat about stuff, like the LonCon 3, and made me realize how low I've been feeling has been down to post convention withdrawal symptoms.

Finally, this weeks writing dissected.  Not a great tally. I managed to add 818 words to my current draft of The Bureau, my only excuse being how low I've been feeling.  In addition I did manage to write 1,096 words of stuff that needed to be written to support my Bad Dog novel; as in ideas for future blog posts etc.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Sin and Syntax

I've been reading Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.  I would like to say it's a page turner, but it's not.  There again I didn't expect it to be.  I've been putting Post It tabs  in while reading it, and scribbling marks in pencil in the margins where I want to find stuff.  It's what I tend to do when reading books that are basically research.  In this case this is me reading to improve my writing. Something I've been working on after my first critiquing session.

I have at least one friend who will tell me that reading books about writing is not as good as reading well written books.  But I think my craft is weak; or perhaps I should say I fear that my writing is dull, uninteresting and boring.  So I've set about improving my craft.

Because craft require graft.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Log 2014 Sep 14th: Touch

I have just finished reading Touch: Book 2 of The Queen of the Dead by Michelle Sagara.  You may remember that I counted Silence, the first book in the series, as one of the stand out reads of last year.  I would like to say this was as good, and it has many fine qualities, but it felt rough by comparison.  What I mean by that is there were phrases that threw me out of the text.  Another was a passage on page 218 where I can only assume a piece of text was eliminated when editing the book.  The story is also clearly the middle part of a trilogy, which ends with our heroes left with having to take down the big bad.

This is a problem lots of middle books in trilogies have.

However, all these criticisms aside, this was a book I'm glad I've read, because I like the way the characters are developed through the story.  All of the main protagonists feel like real people, and the formation of the gang who will go on into the next book to face down the Queen of the dead was nicely done.  From reading Michelle's blog I know that she had a lot of problems writing this book, but besides my minor copy-edit quibbles she delivers the story.  What more can you ask for than that?

Work wise this week has seen me restart writing my novel The Bureau.  Scrivener says I wrote 2,934 words, bringing the running total up to 40,049.  Looking back to February I see I had reached 38,957, which by my calculation makes 1,092.  This means that Scrivener is doing something very clever in tracking my word count when I rewrite things.  Anyway, in the break between then and now, I figured out what I needed to add to Act 2 to make it work, or at least make it suck less.

Susan, my Alpha reader, is in the process of re-reading Bad Dog and marking up errors in the text.  So yesterday I was editing Act 1, and today I will be editing Act 2, and when I've finished doing that I imagine I will be doing the edits for Act 3.  And so it goes on.  One of the things that is troubling me though is how long this all this takes.

Changing tack, this week we obviously watched the latest Dr Who episode called Listen.  I really liked it, but I liked all the previous episodes.  Even Robot of Sherwood, which was an over-the-top farce.  What can I say?  I'm a fan.

We also rewatched both the Marvel Captain America films this week prior to watching Winter Soldier.  Really enjoyed the series, and one can see that the writers were skillful in executing the foreshadowing and call-backs through the trilogy; though Avengers Assemble is not strictly the middle film of the Captain America trilogy,  it serves to connect the first film to the second.  The way the stories were told really show how to write the middle part of a series without falling into the usual trap of having an ending that is just the set-up for the next story.

In short make all your stories self-contained; complete in their own right.

TV wise we've started watching Xena: Warrior Princess - Ultimate Collection.  Yes all six seasons for a total of 132 episodes.  We may be some time.