Friday, 23 June 2017
And now I've finished the third book in Christopher Rowley's The Vang series, the first being Starhammer, and the middle book being The Military Form, and what a ride it has been.
This is not your usual series or even for that matter trilogy, the story being far looser than what one has come to expect when reading either. Yet it has elements of both.
It's a series if one considers the first novel to be a prequel written to define the setting, which it is because it lays down a lot of world building stuff that underpins the sequels. However, given the settings are separated by a thousand years they're not exactly sequels except for the theme that links them all together.
As for being a trilogy, then if the simple definition of a trilogy is three books that tell a single story then yes but, the single story is not about the humans. It is instead a story about the Vang, and Rowley manages to generate in the second and third book quite a lot of sympathy for the plight of the Vang even as they do horrible things to the humans, which is quite an achievement.
All added up it makes for an interesting execution of what a story is, and how it can be told.
And it is very clear I've given nothing away about the plot of the story, and I'm not going to. If eighties SF interests you, as in all that is old is not necessarily passe, then these books are well worth reading. If one like military SF where the military side is mostly from the alien perspective, then this story will also be of interest. If one thinks that the eighties is full of old fashioned stuff which has no value, then you probably want to skip these.
I loved it, and more importantly I want to read more by Christopher Rowley. The biggest question is how is it that these novels aren't in print, it seems such a shame to me, as they have a lot to offer new readers coming into the genre.
Tuesday, 30 May 2017
I reviewed Starhammer here, The Vang: The Military Form is Christopher Rowley's sequel and middle part of what is loosely a trilogy: the first book is effectively a prequel to the second book, and the third is effectively a postscript. As I said before, the story telling is compelling, and like before I found myself picking the book up in spare moments to read a few more pages.
The story takes place a thousand years after the events in the first book, and mankind has spread throughout the galaxy, free from the threat posed the Laowans who dominated the first novel. But, the threat of the Vang remains, mostly in remnants of their technology. This book starts with a crew who finds something interesting in space, the kind of something that could make them very, very rich or very, very dead.
It's not much of a spoiler to say that the later is closer to what actually happens, as in lots of people die as the consequence of waking a military form Vang, which then proceeds to do what it does best: conquer lesser forms by assimilating them. There's several twists and a wry commentary on how rulers demands mean that the military is not allowed to do what is necessary; and that's just from the Vang perspective.
Had to go away and start reading the third when I finished this, which says everything you need to know really.
Friday, 26 May 2017
This book is the first part of a loosely connected trilogy by an author I've not read. It came recommended to me from a friend of a friend, and I uhm'd and aah'd about getting copies because the prices on Amazon were at one point astronomical. Fortunately, I kept an eye on them and they dropped back to more reasonable levels after about a year. Also, reviews on Goodreads were a bit mixed, and after reading the book I can see why, but my usual comment applies–they're wrong because they miss the point.
Let's start with the pitchline: Aliens meet the Thing...
At one level that tells you all you need to know about the theme and the tone of these books. If you aren't able to manage visceral shock and horror then these books are not for you. However, if like me you enjoyed the film Aliens, and loved John Carpenter's The Thing, then this book and its sequels may well rock your boat.
However, terms and conditions apply. This is not Colonial Marines in space kicking ass, and the alien Vang are not exactly the Thing either, being a far more rational, and disturbing exo-parasite life form. Also, the writing has elements that would get a lot of criticism in today's market, for example, the occasional use of mind hopping in chapters.
But, this none of this detracts from the story that is compelling, driving forward from one crisis to another, that leads to the ultimate reveal of a dead alien races weapon, the eponymous Starhammer, created to fight the Vang. Highly recommended, and I will add the Vang were the inspiration for the Flood in the Halo series.
Monday, 22 May 2017
Looking back at my post I see that it has been ten months since I last posted anything about my archery practice; or preparing for the oncoming zombie apocalypse, if you're so inclined and are thinking about narratives. Anyway, it's that time of the year when the weather is nicer and we are getting out and shooting at competitions, which means I have had to eat my words about doing so as evidenced here.
Last year my scores looked like this:
Last year my scores looked like this:
And this year has seen me move forward and achieve my bowman rating:
We've entered a couple of competition already, and much to my surprise I've come away with a couple of medals and this stunning trophy.
Sunday, 7 May 2017
I have a pile of books to be read. I'm pretty sure lots of people who like to read do to. After reading Grave I decided to re-read The Battle of Forever by A. E. van Vogt. He is one of my favourite authors, with his short story the Black Destroyer being the classic that arguably marked the beginning of SFs golden era, and also inspired the Alien film series.
My worry that the The Battle of Forever wouldn't stand up to a re-read was unfounded, and while I could criticize the way the story was told, doing so is not really my thing. What I will say is that the story kept me engaged and wanting to continue reading, something that a lot of other books do not.
The plot is a combination of the heroes journey, a quest and rebirth, by using a naive character as the central protagonist who is a master of philosophy.
This device allows van Vogt to pit an intelligent but, gullible character against aliens who, if not exactly evil, clearly do not have the best interests of humans at heart. This is in many way classic science fiction, in that the story is about big ideas and discussing a future where travel amongst the stars is possible.
I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one day, an event that is so rare nowadays as to call attention to itself, but also an indicator that the novel is short or as I prefer to think of it, tightly written with no flab.
With regard to my own writing, I'm still adapting to the demands of running a clinic three days week, which is considerably more tiring than just doing two days. I've been progressing my second novel, but have realized that I really need to up my game when describing the aliens, because of stuff I've been watching and reading in the meantime. However, progress remains slow, and realistically if I could do more I would, so I just have to be patient with myself.
Sunday, 16 April 2017
I have now been to see Ghost in the Shell at the cinema, which is a thing for us as we so very rarely go to the cinema nowadays because it's too expensive, and full of people being loud, possibly as we were once from just being young and exuberant.
I shall start by saying the critics are wrong.
This film, while not a classic in the same way as The Matrix or Blade Runner were when they were first released, is despite that a solid piece of entertainment. Probably the best live action cyberpunk outside of The Matrix and Blade Runner.
It tells a slightly different version of the Major's origin story, and for that matter Section 9 too, but this is no way detracts from the film. If anything it's the best bits version of the various iterations of the Ghost in the Shell stories, as told over the years through the various mediums of manga and anime. Scarlet Johansson is perfectly cast as the Major, and Pilou Asbæk nails Batou.
If you want a big screen treat go see it.
Friday, 14 April 2017
We've managed to watch season one of The Expanse, and enjoyed it very much. Certain caveats: it starts slow with the TV equivalent of an info dump/world-building that shakes itself out by the end of the second episode. After that it's pretty much high-octane story telling. The news is that it has been renewed for season three, but that numbers the viewing numbers are not what the network hoped for. Knowing my luck it will be cancelled, but you never know.
If you haven't checked it out I suggest you do. It has certainly piqued my interest in writing a novel set in our solar system: I fancy doing a pretty hard SF take, which is problematical because it will affect what stories can be told and how one tells them.
Still, what's life without a challenge. I may be some time.
Friday, 7 April 2017
Reading wise I finished the third book in the Queen of the Dead trilogy by Michelle Sagara called Grave. I raved about the first book, called Silence, here. I wrote about the second volume, called Touch, here. Now I've finished the third book and have mixed feelings. I struggled to read the book because it felt over long and drawn out, but the climax was heart rending, as in it made me cry for the characters. If only I could write that well.
What I would observe is that book one was a tightly written novel of 289 pages, book two was 325 pages and the third volume was 450 pages. Assuming a page is 350 words that's 101,150 words for the first book, rising to 113,750 in the second, and 157,500 words.
What I take away from this is two things. Longer isn't better. Trying to fill in all the characters back stories takes away from the plot's momentum.
But, I should add the caveat that I'm less inclined towards reading long books, which is why I won't be buying the novels The Expanse is based on if the show is cancelled, for pretty much the same reason I stopped reading George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series after the first volume. This probably marks me as out of touch with the current fashion, but it's not long novels per se, just series that are made of very long novels that drain my will to read.
Monday, 3 April 2017
|Me shooting at the itty-bitty target in the distance.|
As I have mentioned before real life demands, as in my day job, have slowed my writing to a crawl. I've been taking some time away from writing and reading and doing other things, but as people who follow my model-making and gaming blog know I've been writing up my hobby activity, and for those who follow me on FaceBook my archery.
It seems that the urge to write hasn't gone away, and if anything the urge to write more novels remains.
However, being the victim of my own success I've found myself increasing my day job from two to three days, which doesn't sound like much, but it is. My job is quite demanding and leaves me drained, not helped by my rheumatoid arthritis. My consultant may cheerfully write that I'm in remission, but remission is not the same thing as cured.
So my plan is to do less frequent updates here and on my other blog too I suspect. Hopefully, I can maximize what spare time I have to working on my novels.
Talking of which, I managed to surprise myself by editing more words than I thought I would on Strike Dog. More importantly I began rewriting a chapter from a different character's point of view that I really, really wasn't looking forward to doing, because it felt like drudge work. Not only that but, I had some ideas come together for my third novel Ghost Dog and I'm currently working on two new point of views to weave into the plot. One I had planned, as in my Alpha reader pointed out I'd left a plot strand hanging, and the other is different idea bouncing off the first.
So that's all for this post.
Monday, 20 March 2017
Cue the music for the news and ask where has all the time gone?
Well, I can at least point you all to this months Galactic Journey piece I did on the 1962 British Eastercon. When writing this I found it remarkable that a lot of the things that are going on in SF fandom now are very similar to what was going in in SF fandom then. Especially, in my case, watching parts of fandom splitting apart over what I would observe as things that are not controllable.
Hence my link to The March of Time video, things may look old fashioned in the film newsreel, but it's the same stuff we are still doing today–living our lives as best we can in a world we can't control.
I've been taking some time out to do hobby stuff, which can be seen over on my other blog where I keep all the stuff about my addiction to toy soldiers and playing games. I've been making up some 20 plus year old Heavy Gear game miniatures and having a blast while doing so. I find working with my hands very relaxing, and it gives me space to let my mind wander.
And the wonder is that when the mind wanders thoughts appear. Ideas stream in from the dark recesses of the mind, and some are even worth writing down, to be incorporated into my novels. As I have said before, I have drafts of both the sequels to my first novel done, but while I have an idea of an outline of where the series goes, nothing is yet set down. Some of my ideas are elusive things that I can't quite get to grips with or, I can see that I haven't quite gone far enough in working out all the ramifications of the idea.
So, one word after another, I will carry on with the next chapter of Strike Dog, my plan being to rewrite a scene from another character's perspective.
Monday, 27 February 2017
It has been a while since I've made a post about my writing.
I've been going through a slow period due to a combination of factors, some in my control, some not. My day job demands have been rising, a victim of my own success, but my manager has got that under control, and I feel a lot let stressed: not just from the work, but from the pressure of having to commit to more work than I can manage.
It's also that time of the year where the weather is miserable, it's dark, damp and cold. I've felt run down and even went off reading, which is a thing. I've only just managed to finish reading a second novel this year. The first was Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion, actually read so I could review it for Galactic Journey, see here.
After that I started Michael Z. Williamson's When Diplomacy Fails. I've only mentioned his work in passing back here, and it took me longer to read the third book in the Ripple Creek series as I kept putting it down. That says more about me than the book, but the author is better handling action than he is with interior dialogues of character beliefs: as in the action grips you by the seat of the pants that is hard to match when writing reflective thoughts that are well meaning, but ultimately don't really add anything i.e.: could be removed without detriment to the story.
Still, Williamson is one of those authors who I will buy his latest book when it's available in paperback because he delivers high octane action goodness. Inspirational too.
So, looking at my diary this year I've only managed to work on my second novel a total of four days out of a possible 16: with some caveats I might say eight days because writing for my blogs and other people's blogs take time, as in they don't write themselves and the Galactic Journey pieces take a lot of research time to do too. That's not a complaint, just an observation. But, assuming that I'm now only going to realistically write one day a week it has consequences on how long it's going to take me to finish the edits on my second novel.
Currently I'm at chapter 16 of Strike Dog out of 62; OK some of those are very short chapters. Words wise I've done 31,209 words out of 97,578 with 66,369 to go, which doesn't sound so bad: a third of the way through rather than just a quarter. However, this doesn't take into account any extra writing I will do to add sub-plots etc. There's a lot resting on this second novel, given that the first was rejected, because the publisher wants to see my second one. I really want to nail it so they'll want to publish my story, because it would make my life so much easier than having to self-publish, given the demands of my day job.
Finally, rewatched Predator over the weekend. Thirty years old and still eminently rewatchable. As the old saw goes, they don't make them like that anymore. And that's not sarcasm, this movie is a streamlined, pulse-pounding action flick that grabs one from the opening scene and keeps the roller-coaster ride going until the end. Neither of the sequels are as good even though both have merits, the third being better than the second because the second hasn't dated well.
Thursday, 23 February 2017
Sunday, 19 February 2017
Rounding out my birthday week was Picocon, run by the Imperial College Science Fiction & Fantasy Society: a student society. A longstanding, usually one, occasionally two day event that has become the traditional start of science fiction conventions for this season. As always there were authors invited to come and speak, and a small selection of dealers selling books and merchandise.
The first talk of the day was Jaine Fenn, on aliens set against her background of being brought up in a small village where she was the only one reading science fiction, and going to a school where she was the only girl who didn't have a pony.
After a short essential break the next speaker was Paul McAuley, who I've never had the pleasure of meeting or listening to before.
Again the theme was aliens, and this time the portrayal of aliens as a child: with mentions of the Mekon from Dan Dare, Zoonie the Lazoon from Fireball XL-5, and Daleks from Dr. Who contrasted against blond haired aliens from George Adamski's the Flying Saucers Have Landed.
Then it was time for the final talk of the morning with Al Robertson.
Again aliens was the theme, but Al concentrated on corporate entities as artificial intelligences as being the aliens we've grown up with. Then there was lunch, which this year was not in the Student Union bar, but slightly spoiled by the fact we waited 45 minutes for our order of beef burgers and chips, which was appalling. Still, the burger were nice.
The the final talk was by the lovely Justina Robson, who I have had the pleasure of being on a panel with during the London Worldcon back in 2012.
Her talk was about artificial intelligence and thoughts and went through a number of iterative cycles of thinking about what that meant and how we as humans discuss god like agents who can control our destiny. I found her talk fascinating.
The final event that we attended for the day was the four authors talking about artificial intelligence, robots and the future and taking questions from the audience.
You can hear the talks for yourself as Chad Dixon very generously gave his time and resources to putting everything up on the internet. Thank you Chad.
Friday, 3 February 2017
An elegant wargamer from a more civilized age. Oh and I just found this too.
Says it all, though and now you know why I can't find the time to play as many games as I would like; that's a joke by the way, just in case you want to say that games don't take nine hours to play.
Friday, 27 January 2017
|All the small rocky planets of the Solar system to fight over.|
I have as the groovy kids like to say, been chillaxing: for definition of taking some time out from working on Strike Dog that mean I've been writing for the Galactic Journey, a review of Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion, researching what I'm going to write about for the next article, taking pictures of my wargame models for Miniature Wargaming magazine. Quite frankly I needed to take a break because all this is on top of my work in the NHS, which was a little bit stressful leading up to Xmas.
So, I've been taking some time out to do some me things. This mostly means sitting at my workbench assembling wargame models. Some authors draw or paint pictures of the stuff in their imaginations, write songs or poetry, invent new languages. Me, I make miniature soldiers of my imagined future. It's the way I roll, but more importantly it makes me happy.
The picture is a reminder that one day I want to write a near future, for definitions of near that might mean up to five hundred years ahead, story set in our Solar system with colonies on other worlds. It might feature war. Who am I kidding, it will be a war story set either around Saturn or Jupiter: there advantages and disadvantages to both.
So that's it for now, catch you on the bounce.
Thursday, 12 January 2017
I have been working across the holiday season on several things other than finishing my novel. Hence the title distractions.
The first two distractions were writing short reviews of books sent to me for review, which of course I had to read. This time Osprey sent me two books that I could comment on, if not with considerable authority, with enough authority that I felt I could write a brief review for each that would be informative. Those have now been sent off to John Treadway the editor of Miniature Wargames.
Wargaming with toy soldiers is a lifetime hobby of mine and over the years I've amassed miniatures and terrain. My only regret is that I don't get to play as much as I would like, and also not finishing projects in a timely manner. My excuse is that it's my hobby, not my job.
Anyway, John from Miniature Wargames had also asked me if I could supply some pictures for the next issue of the magazine, because he had an article on BattleTech about the new Alpha Strike rules. He asked for ten shots, I sent 17, and I believe four made it into issue #406. Yesterday I saw one of the pictures which is being used for the Dark Horizons insert–a magazine supplement within the main magazine. At the top is my original picture, and below is the crop they used.
I'm feeling pretty chuffed by this. At some point, relatively soon, I will be running a photo essay on my other blog to show off the pictures that weren't used. After all, a lot of work went into making the terrain boards, assembling the models and painting them, and the considerable amount of time it took to take all the pictures.
Speaking of photography, I'm now working on an article–a rewrite of something I sent Henry the previous editor of Miniature Wargames–about how I take the pictures I took: namely getting everything in focus from back-to-front when shooting pictures of very tiny models.
But before that I have my regular monthly article for Galactic Journey to write, and this month I'm reviewing another Golden Age author whose works I read voraciously when I first started reading science fiction. So, busy with many distractions taking my time up, preventing me from getting on with my novel.
But writing is writing, and I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing, and things fall where they fall. Makes me grateful for having the day job because I don't have to worry about where the money is coming from. Until next week, have a nice one.
Saturday, 7 January 2017
Combat androids are only briefly mentioned in Bad Dog, but they're central to the back ground setting of my universe, and in the sequel Strike Dog one will get to see them in action for the first time. My combat androids are based off the Boston Dynamics company Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin–PetMan–a project designed to fulfill a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) brief.
However, in won't be until final book Ghost Dog that you will get to see combat androids deployed in anger against an enemy.
The Bad Dog universe military designation is HOS, which stands for Human Operator Surrogate, and they're semi-autonomous robots with a hybrid expert system artificial intelligence operating system. Think of them as walking drones that require a human to controller to OK the firing of weapons.
This allows the operator to effectively operate twelve PetMen, with the network allowing them to multi-task, and therefore one soldier can act as a squad. The PetMen acting as both a force multiplier, and reducing the number of soldiers exposed to enemy fire. In my imagination Global Dynamics Corporation Defense Industries sales pitch would call them An Army of One.
Sunday, 1 January 2017
|With my new quiver I have the whole the whole badass archer thing down pat.|
Time for me to look back and sum up my thoughts after four years of writing.
Work wise, it has been a complex year for me, what with starting the day job. Two days a week, may not sound like much, but I run a clinic at a major London NHS Trust, and the work demands a lot of me. Regardless, it's something I thought I'd never do again after my illness, and at the end of January I will have been working for a year. And there's archery... a sport, come hobby, come martial art I've taken up, with the aim being to get me out of the flat and doing more exercise, which is good but takes time. However, all good, all things considered.
Other things that have consumed time this year, besides getting a new camera–that took several weeks to get used to using–was having to change my internet service provider and buying a new computer. Both of these took up more valuable spare time that I could have been using for writing. So much for my excuses.
Less good was having my first novel turned down, and now I have to decide what to do next?
Realistically, given I don't have an agent, sending it out around the publishing houses is a waste of time, and given that good agents are as rare as rocking horse pooh I think I shall avoid going down that path. I have a plan, but you'll need to be a little bit patient with me as I put things into place before announcing what I intend to do next. I need to get several other things in place.
One of those things is my second novel, which is stuck in the editing and polishing stage, with minor re-writes of stuff and additional scenes being worked on. That may actually add a lot of words to the novel, as in twenty thousand or so, depending on what I decide to do. At this moment Strike Dog is currently running at 101,724 words, so we shall see how this goes, but whatever happens it means it's going to take me longer to finish than I expected it to.
My third novel Ghost Dog, running at 97,475 words, is also still being worked on after my Alpha reader pointed out I had planted a sub-plot at the beginning of the story and singularly failed to capitalize upon it. Doh! Tracking my words written this year is therefore a bit difficult, but I guess it ranges from 199,000 to 398,000 words edited, given I've done two drafts of each novel.
But then there is the writing for the blogs: nine pieces for Galactic Journey that came to 8,230 words, 51 pieces on here that came to 18,155 words, and 52 pieces for my other blog adding 12,682 words, plus a few odds and ends. This comes a total of 39,067 words.
Adding everything up I make this a minimum of 238,266 words up to 437,465 words written.
This is way down on last years totals, but there again I had the day job, which only goes to show how much time that actually takes. Still, it sounds like excuses to me and I'm not one who likes excuses.
Reading wise, the number of books read this year felt low, but after compiling my list I see I managed to read 21 novels, which is only five less than last year. I've also read five non-fiction books, which when again rather surprised me as I hadn't thought I'd read that much either. So I seem, despite what I felt, to have made good on intentions and managed to almost equal last years total of books read with less spare time.
This only goes to show that feelings are not facts. Useful to hold onto when things feel like they're getting on top of one.
NB: Told by my beloved that I should show the groups I was getting.
|My group of three top centre, Susan's bottom centre.|