Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Ancillary Sword


This is the first book of the year that I've finished reading, which is apposite because Ancillary Justice was the first book I read last year.  While writing this I confused myself over the title of the book, which I erroneously recalled as Ancillary Mercy, but that is the title of the third book, yet to come.  As the sequel to Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword suffers by comparison, because the first book was such a breath of fresh air.  However, this is a really nice story, and by nice I mean its themes resonated with me.  I was moved by the outcome of all the machinations of the Radchaai, the AI and their Ancillaries, and the plotting by Anaander Mianaai the transhuman cyborg-clone-hive-mind ruler of the empire who is warring with herself.

So recommended without hesitation as well worth your time reading.

This weeks writing has been hampered, if that's the right way of describing the amount of time it has taken me, by the need to paint miniatures to take pictures of for the article I'm writing.  Looking back over the week I see I've only written 942 words for my article.  Still it's now running at 2,782 words, so I guess about half done.  Most of my writing time has been spent researching spaceship combat games, and "girl" are there a lot of rules on the market.

So I'm slacking off, but I have another excuse too.  My partner is off this week and we're spending some quality time together.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Another Time, Another Place


Which is my way of paraphrasing "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away," and leading into our recent re-watching of all six Star Wars films.  I still remember seeing the original black posters with the words Star Wars on railway billboards and wondering what it was all about?  Then finding out more, and being enthralled by a display in a local record shop that had devoted an entire window to the John Williams Star Wars album with the tantalizing shots from the movie on the inside of the double album sleeve.  Then watching the opening scene for the first time and I was blown away, and I remember going to see the film 21 times.  I was obsessed.

Even back then, when I was a lot younger and certainly far more naive than I am now, I knew there were plot holes in the original movie that one can fly the Death Star through, but they weren't important in the bigger scheme of things, because Star Wars was an epic tale in the traditional story telling style; as discussed in the book The Seven Basic plots by Christopher Booker, which I cunningly reviewed in my last post here.

Lucas has been quoted as saying that the inspiration behind StarWars comes from reading Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces about the existence of a mono-myth that crosses all cultures.  This book treats traditional story telling from the perspective of comparative mythology, but Campbell like Booker uses discredited Freudian & Jungian theories, which I find troubling.  Also Campbell largely disregards the feminine in favour of the masculine narrative.

But enough of discussing that academic pontification, otherwise I'll drain all the fun out of one of my favourite movies.

We sat down and watched a movie a night and I found myself enjoying the prequels as much as the originals, which was slightly surprising given my previously held feeling on them.  However, on reflection I think that back in 1999, when The Phantom Menace came out, the expectation and hype meant that the no matter how good the film was it wasn't going to meet people's expectations.  Now time has passed it no longer feels disappointing to watch.  Yes I agree Jar-Jar sucks, but he's there for much the same reason the Ewoks were in Return of the Jedi, and I'm reminded of what I say to old die-hard Dr Who fans who complain about New Who – it's not for you, it's for the youngsters who have never seen it before.

So I still like The Empire Strikes Back most of all, but without A New Hope we would never have had it, so the first is probably still the best.  Then in order of enjoyment I think Revenge of the Sith, followed by Attack of the Clones, Return of the Jedi and then The Phantom Menace.  However it has to be said that The Phantom Menace is totally lush, and the extended Pod Race and the death of Qui-Gon Jinn at the end of what was the first epic light sabre battle ever means that just because I've listed it last doesn't means it hasn't got its good points.

Now there is another... trilogy.

You bet I'm stoked about the new film coming at Xmas, which is also a long time and very far away as I write this.  For me it's a fulfillment of the original promise made my Lucas that there would be nine films; a trilogy of trilogies.  So excited that not only did we re-watch the movies, but we've been playing a great little games called Star Wars: X-Wing where you get to pilot the fighters around one's dining room table while listening to the music and quoting lines from the movies.

http://xkcd.com/1477/
And of course Randall Munroe of XKCD makes a good point.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Work in Progress: 21st Jan 2015

Another week of writing has passed.  Looking at my diary where I log my writing progress I see I've been mostly working on articles for Miniature Wargames & Battlegames magazine.  So over the last week I've written 10,049 words spread across the five articles.  All of the articles require me to go off and check what I'm saying is right, and this takes time.  More time than I would like.  This means that no one article is finished, so I've decided I need to focus on one of them and finish it

As for my novel The Bureau I've been distracted, for reasons see above.

I've been using this distraction to think about stuff that's niggling me about the plot of my fourth novel, and by plot I really mean story.  The difference between plot and story is that the first is structural and the second is what scenes you choose to write to tell the story.  The latter has been my main stumbling block, because having taken the novel out of the bottom draw after 25 years I've forgotten how a lot of scenes were supposed to connect to one another.

So that's it until next time.

Edit:  I forgot to add that this week I received another rejection for my short story Territory, which is obviously a bit of disappointment, but I it had a nice line that while the story was not what the editor was looking for hope to see more stories from me in the future.  This was very heartening, because it's the firsts sign I've had that an editor thought what I'd written was promising.

Addendum: You may have noted I've revised the tags under the labels column, as is my won't.  In this case to reduce the list down to a more manageable size to scroll down.  So all TV series and Films will fall under  the appropriate tag, rather than adding a separate entry for each.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Seven Basic Plots


I had thought I'd already written something about Christopher Booker's book The Seven Basic Plots on this blog, but having looked through when reorganizing tags and updating titles I realized I hadn't.  So I think it's about time I rectified this omission. 

After all the book has its own Wikipedia page, and not only that its own TV Tropes page.

The book is controversial, in that some people don't like the way that Christopher Booker has quantified the sacred art of story telling.  Reading the TV Tropes page gives one a light & fluff overview of the work and mentions how long it is.  Wikipedia discusses the critical reactions to the book when it was first published.  Neither are the same as actually reading the book and making up your own mind for yourself.

It took me about three months to read this book, because I would pick it up and read it for a bit, make notes in the margins, put post-it notes in so I could to refer back to passages that I thought were interesting, and then put it back down.  It's not a book that is meant to be read in one sitting, being a scholarly work that took the author 34 years to complete.

My main criticism of the work is that Christopher Booker bases his analysis on Jungian archetypes.  At one level this is OK, because this is a study of literary history and criticism, but on the other hand using pseudo-scientific Jungian psychology (as is non-replicable and done without seeking to prove the null-hypothesis) as one's main analytical tool is a bit of a poor show (as in there are psychological models with more research validity to study the human condition).

Saying that I will, without reservation, recommend anyone who wants to write stories, whether conventional fiction or world creation stories for games etc., to read this book.

Don't undertake to read it lightly, it's a massive tome, a doorstop book of epic proportions, but it so put everything together for me about why I like some stories and not others.  So regardless of my caveat about Jungian psychology being less than scientifically rigorous, the use of archetypes in story connects with people's need to understand the world around us. 

So until such a time as someone comes along and writes a book about plots from a cognitive behavioural perspective read is.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

RoboCop


We rewatched RoboCop over the Xmas holidays and decided to take a chance on the reboot and compare the films.  I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by how good the RoboCop reboot was.  The original Paul Verhoeven RoboCop is one of those iconic films that people still talk about nearly thirty years after its release.  The themes of the story still resonate today and the new film had a lot to measure up to.

The new RoboCop is billed both as a remake and reboot of the original, and of all the sequels I will say it's the best.  It's a remake because it essentially retells the same story, and a reboot because it takes a different slant on the themes.  For me the changes were welcome, because they made the story feel fresh; as in looking at things the original didn't really address.  Also the ED209 scenes, both in Tehran and Detroit, were stunningly good.

However, the original is still the best, because the execution of the ideas were original.

The new RoboCop has some wonderful scenes, and it does talk more about what it means to be human.  Michael Keaton is chillingly good, Gary Oldman plays an interestingly conflicted good guy, and Samuel L Jackson is the man, which I think sums up the weakness of the new movie.  Peter Weller owned the role in the original film, whereas Joel Kinnaman is outshone by his supporting cast, because at best he's riffing off Peter Weller's performance, and at worse is rather bland with none of the nice touches Peter Weller brought to his relationship to his son's interests

Moving on.

This week has been a bit of a mixed bag of stuff.  Still not really into the groove, but I'm getting there.  I added another 3,168 words to The Bureau, but then found a scene in the wrong place (as in moved to the wrong chapter during my last round of edits, which was a bit of an oops moment).  Banged head on table a few times.  Wrote a new chapter that went places I wasn't expecting it to go when I started, which is both a good thing an a bad thing.  Good in that it expands the story, bad as in I have to think about the character's story arc and retrofit stuff in.  So the current novel stands at 50,996 words.

The weekend was a fun filled trip to the Natural History Museum to see Sophie the stegosaurus with our godchildren.  Got home to find a pipe was leaking in the flat, and managed to sprain my wrist moving all the stuff in the cupboard out of the way to be able to get at it.  Been in a lot of pain and was worried I might have triggered my rheumatoid arthritis, but it seems I'm OK.

One final note.  I have, as is my wont, gone back through all my posts and revised titles and tags of my posts.  I had one of those moments when one realizes that if I kept the Writer Log title for those posts that only talk about what I've been working on, it would make it easier to keep track of those posts – well at least for me.  As for tags, I have the habit of revising them as and when needed to keep the labels functional so that when one is searching for something one can find it. No point having a tag if it doesn't do that.  Of course one can always use Google to search my blog if you want, but not everyone wants to cut and paste URLs to do so.

So thank you for reading.  That's it for another week.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Sleepy Hollow


I began to get back in the saddle this week, having been a bit slack with updates on this blog over the Xmas period.  I've also decided that updates will now be scheduled for mid-week, because I want my weekends to be free to do other stuff, rather than writing entries for my blog about my writing that I've been working on all week.  So far this week I've edited my short story Territory and sent it out again to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, who are open for submissions.  Hopefully third time lucky (got to believe otherwise one will just give up).

I'm also working on five articles for Miniature Wargames & Battlegames magazine.  I'll tease you with the working titles just for fun: Take Me Out to The Black, Rantings from Underneath the Wargame Table, The Toy Soldier Game, Operation Sandbox, Escalation – The Last War.  I've been working on all of these on and off for a while, a couple for a considerable while (I lost track of what I was doing at one point and forgot about finishing the articles – too many novel distractions).  However, all of these articles require pictures, and pictures require subjects, and this means I have to make and paint stuff as well to finish the articles off.  This will take time.

Other than that we've been watching a lot of stuff, and just finished the first season of Sleepy Hollow last night.  It's not something my partner would normally watch, but I persuaded her to give it a go, and it has John Noble in it, so she has been enjoying his performance.  I'm not going to tell you anything that will spoil the show for you.  The story is excellent and it's full of twisty-turny plot developments that make for an excellent story.  Not really a bundle of laughs, but there is a lot of humour to lighten the mood of what is ultimately a story about the oncoming apocalypse.  I highly recommend checking out the show.