29 October 2012


I will be doing the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, for the first time. 
I've known about it for years and have friends who do it, but I've never actually attempted it before. 

There are various things in my life that feel out of my control at the moment (many of them to do with work and my future plans in that area) and I think this feeling has leaked into other parts of my life, leading to doubt and a stupid malaise. I've decided that I need to remind myself what I'm capable of, I need to give myself a kick and I'm hoping this will be it.
I'm a bit excited at the moment, though I'm not sure how long that will last come November.

My husband is being wonderfully supportive by doing his own November challenge alongside me.

I don't plan to disappear entirely next month, but I won't be posting as much of the usual stuff. I'll try to keep track of my progress here, but don't intend to go on about Nano and nothing else.

I hope you will wish me luck, or at least not damn me to failure (you're nice folks, I'm sure you wouldn't).

21 October 2012

Recent Reading - and a bit of myth

The Assassin's Curse 
Cassandra Rose Clarke

 The Assassin's Curse in the first batch of books published by YA imprint Strange Chemistry, which is part of the Angry Robot imprint. Told in first person POV (as seems traditional in YA) it's about Ananna, daughter of a pirate captain, who escapes an arranged marriage and is chased by assassins for it. Due to a magical accident she ends up bound to an assassin, who must protect her from harm. They reluctantly travel together to find a way to break the curse.
The fantasy world is well drawn and not overly explained. Ananna is a great heroine, confident, brave, quick-witted and rather stubborn, she was born and raised in a world of thieves but has her own ideas of right and wrong. Seeing the world through her viewpoint means it's easy to be on her side, but it is also clear that her actions are foolish at times. The assassin is also a good character, proud, deadly and impatient he also has vulnerabilities, though these remain mostly mysterious. The interactions between the pair are beautifully done. The various characters they meet felt genuine and the situation is complex enough to absorb attention.
The story was a good one, the pace was brisk and events unfolded smoothly. I wanted to see more of the world and learn more about the characters and their adventures. My only complaint is that it ended too soon; in fact it's clear that the story has been cut in two. Weighing in at under 300 pages The Assassin's Curse is a shortish book, although that's not usual for YA. What confused me a bit is that the blurb on the back is clearly a description of the entire story, not just the half I have access to. At least one of the incidents mentioned on the back cover doesn't take place in this book, which is unusual I think. I read quickly but as I got closer to the end I realised that what approached wasn't an actual ending, just a pause in the story. I will definitely buy the next book, but just after I finished reading this one I felt as though I'd been promised more story than I actually got.

The Assassin's Curse is one of the books I bought at FantasyCon, in fact I bought it directly from the publisher, who was working the stall at the time. I only bought 5 books at FantasyCon, the other 15 or so me and my husband bought back from Brighton were all free, which is a sign of a good convention. This is how we discovered that our suitcase is not built to transport nearly 20 books, and how one of its wheels ended up disappearing somewhere on the hill between the seafront and Brighton train station.

The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

I don't tend to read books that have won mainstream prizes, often because there's not enough fantasy in them. However my husband bought this book for me because I love Ancient Greek mythology and it turns out this was an excellent choice on his part and contained more fantasy than I expected. It was an excellent and emotionally powerful read.
The novel is a retelling of the story of Greek hero Achilles, told from the point of view of Achilles' companion and lover Patroclus. According to legend Achilles was the son of human king Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis -whose son was destined to be greater than his father. This prophecy was the reason the Olympian gods (already plagued by inter-generational strife) married Thetis off to a mortal. In the book Achilles is destined to become the Best of Greeks and he will prove himself at Troy, the war that unites the squabbling Greek city-states. However the battlefields of Troy are also destined to be the site of his' demise. All the supernatural aspects of the story are kept (no wonder I liked it) with Thetis being a terrifying and unworldly presence in the book. Here we see powerful, alien, manipulative gods, not the melodramatic -if fun- squabbling family the Olympian gods are often shown as (and in fact were sometimes portrayed as such by the Ancient Greeks themselves).

The next bit of the review actually gets a bit long, since it's so tied up with a subject I love.

14 October 2012

Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhatten

We come to the last of the pre-Christmas Doctor Who episodes. As a Brit I'm used to short series, however I am not used to things having weird gaps of several weeks/months in the middle* and I can't say I approve of this trend in Doctor Who the last couple of years.
I don't like that I'm uncertain about what season of  certain US shows I'm watching because there are odd gaps in the middle that seem to be there so that viewers have time to find something else do to and stop watching, in order for TV executives to then cancel the show because not enough people are watching anymore.**

Anyway, on with the episode.
In Rory and Amy's swansong we see that the couple have allowed the Doctor to take them on a trip across the Atlantic, but as it seems to be modern that is more or less a very convenient holiday and not necessarily at odds with their desire to live ordinary lives. Except that they have visited New York with the Doctor, so stuff is going to get complicated.

River is back and so are the angels. It occurs to me that though they are truly terrifying to an ordinary individual, and they're still creepy as hell in the way they hunt, for a time traveller they aren't as much of a problem. Yes Rory gets zapped back decades, but there's no doubt that the Doctor and Amy will go back to rescue him. Also if you've been travelling with the Doctor you've probably had to face the idea that you might be stranded somewhere in space and/or time, 1930s New York is a better option than most.

The use of River's detective novel as a guide and possible spoiler is clever. Reading the 'present' is helpful, reading ahead locks you in to certain actions. Is forewarned forearmed, or is it a kind of predestination? Although I wonder how the book got published (Amy must have some real pull in the past) as it surely wouldn't make a lot of sense to most readers, and the afterword is just perplexing.

The angels are as creepy as ever, and their babies are deeply unnerving too. The idea of the angel farm is interesting, it makes a sort of sense as long as you don't think too much about it. The Statue of Liberty being an angel looked impressive but was clearly empty spectacle. It's got to be one of the most looked-at things in New York, and if it starts booming along the streets of a very busy city, people will look and it will be rendered motionless. It was a nice idea, and the inverse of the end of Ghostbusters 2, it just didn't make sense within the context.

The goodbye worked emotionally. Due to the time turbulence and something about a paradox and fixed points, etc. etc. it feels pretty final. Amy makes her choice, she will risk getting sent back in the hopes of being with Rory. The afterword was a nice touch, linking Amy's last appearance with Amelia's first one.
Of course there's no reason that Rory and Amy have to stay in New York, and even if they do they'll eventually pass out of the bad time, so the Doctor theoretically could meet up with them again. This means that the ending is as much the Doctor's choice as Amy's, he knows he must move on and let them get on with the rest of their lives.

* Unless there is sport on, but that just gives me another reason to dislike sport.
** This version of how TV works in the US may well be wrong and is deduced largely from my own irritated observations.

4 October 2012

Films I Haven't Seen

I haven't seen a lot of films.
Sometimes you almost don't need to see the film. If it's popular enough then clips and quotes and pop cultural references can do the work for you. 

Saturday Night Fever
John Travolta is a groovy guy walking confidently down the street to Staying Alive by the Bee Gees. Later he goes to a disco (with an obligatory disco ball) in a sharp white suit. There's a lady in a red dress. It is presumably a Saturday night.

As far as I can tell from popular media this is what America looked like in the 1970s, except that there were also cars, afros and drug dealers.

Jerry Maguire
Tom Cruise plays the title character, who wears a suit. He shouts down the phone and asks someone to show him the money, he is very excited about this. Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr are also there.
I have yet to ascertain whether anyone does in fact show him any money.

Citizen Kane
There is a citizen, his name is Kane, and there is something about newspapers. He holds a big conference with speeches and banners, it's probably political. A man with a moustache whispers "rosebud" and a snow globe is dropped, it turns out this is the answer.
I don't know what the question is, but I sense it is not about gardening.

Banjo music: di-di dee dee dee dee dee dee deeee, di-di dee dee dee dee dee dee deeee.
Something unpleasant happens out in the back country. (That's almost certainly a euphemism.)

I don't actually have any images associated with this film, as far as I know.

The Romans want the massed slaves to identify Spartacus. In a touching show of solidarity they all stand up and say "I'm Spartacus!"
Brain Blessed is not actually there, despite what youtube would have me believe.
My (considerable) knowledge of Romans suggests that many of those slaves were killed.
My knowledge of film suggests that's not the narrative they went with.

Breakfast at Tiffanys
Audrey Hepburn likes Tiffanys, which is a big shop. She has a long black dress, a long black cigarette holder, a sparkly tiara and a large string of pearls. She has breakfast, presumably at Tiffanys. A man is no doubt involved somehow.
Decades later the band Deep Blue Something would record a song examining how kinda liking this film is not really a basis for continuing a relationship gone sour.

3 October 2012

Doctor Who - Power of Three

I'm still behind with the Doctor Who posts, but I was at FantasyCon for 4 days so couldn't really post then. Besides it's been less than 2 weeks (in the UK anyway) so it's not a distant memory.
Plus it almost doesn't matter now as there'll be no more episodes until Christmas. I do not appreciate all these breaks. *pouts*

It turns out the title, Power of Three, was a big pun, which didn't get pointed out until the end, at which point I felt silly for not seeing it sooner. Various people seem a bit irked by this, but lord knows I'm no good at titles so if there's a pun that also works as the episode title you might as well go with that.

We know that Rory and Amy are in their final episodes and that something will soon happen that means they won't be traveling with the Doctor anymore. Power of Three looks at the normal lives of the Williamses the other stuff that happens when the Doctor isn't there. It's hard to physically see how long they've been travelling with the Doctor as the actors don't age that quickly, also judging time is a bit screwy if you're travelling through in.* I was a bit surprised to hear Amy say it had been 10 years, though hopefully that means the silly divorce stuff of a few weeks ago is long forgotten.

I liked the idea of the Doctor showing up in normal life and finding it dull. Usually when he does that the threat is active, but the cubes with their implacable dullness are a real test for the Doctor's patience. I can agree with the timescale of the episode, though I can understand why people say it felt rushed and could've been a 2-parter. Saying that I imagine a 2-part episode would've had a lot more filler.

The cubes themselves were a great idea, they're conveniently sized and very simple and since they're ubiquitous people will soon start ignoring them. The shots of all the places the cubes were used or ignored were great.Unfortunately things started to go downhill when the cubes' purpose was revealed. The information gathering made a lot of sense, doing your research is one of my top tips for invading an alien planet. I don't know who those aliens were or what they were doing or why. I don't get how the cubes were tied to people, or why they all did different things when they awoke. The creepy little girl and cube-faced twins were eerie and provided foreshadowing, but I'm honestly not sure what they were for. It seemed as though the aliens had done all that stuff and spent all that time just to give a third of the population heart attacks. Heart attacks that, as it improbably turned out, were actually reversible.

Now here is where the first aider in me gets twitchy.
I'll kind of accept that the Doctor magically manages to save the people with the very alien tech that was killing them, by somehow reversing heart failure. I'll even allow for the fact that the Doctor managed to resurrect people, even though by that time they would certainly be clinically dead** and perhaps brain dead, after all the cubes are tied to people somehow and mumblemumblemagicmumble.
What got to me was that no one seemed to be helping the people who fell down with heart failure. Two thirds of people were fine, and while they wouldn't all know first aid surely quite a few would have tried to help. In fact the UNIT woman said something about hospitals and paramedics not being enough, that the best hope for humanity was each other. After that I assumed there would be scenes of people trying to help others, of CPR and care, or at least attempts to comfort, there was nothing. It seems that was a meaningless throwaway line, which annoyed me.
Also Rory is a nurse, he knows how this works. It sounded as though he would have been more useful out there organising his colleagues to go and administer aid, or show others what to do.

As it turns out the real hero of this episode may have been Vinnie Jones, who wasn't even in it.

I feel compelled to add that you should pay attention to the bit where Vinnie tilts the guy's head back to check his breathing. Always tilt someone's head back first.

* Or in it? I don't know the proper wording for temporal stuff.
** You can recover from clinical death, as long as you're properly treated, but you have minutes before brain damage starts.

2 October 2012

Recent Reading

Fear not, I am still reading.
I know September was entirely blog posts about television, I didn't quite mean for that to happen. Doctor Who was on and I wanted to get series one of The Next Gen finished and really that's more blog posts than I've ever written in a single month so the books got squeezed out. Now I'm planning on getting back into my normal mixture of posts, and to start here's a quick rundown of some books I haven't mentioned yet.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

This book is an excellent examination of what happens when someone returns from a long, unexplained absence. Tara returns to her parents and brother after a 20 year absence, though she insists that from her point of view only 6 months have passed. Her insistence that she was taken by an otherworldly man is met with scepticism and annoyance from her family, especially her brother (now married and a father of 4) who sends her to a psychiatrist. The story is told from the point of view of various characters, and explores not just what Tara claims happened to her, but also the current lives of her loved ones and how her return has changed them. It is a well-written book full of emotional depth and clarity, which subtly explores the ideas around supernatural abduction. This is a fantasy book that I would very happily recommend to non-genre readers as it taps into a familiar fairytale tradition and it's depiction of daily life is perhaps better realised than it's fantasy elements (which I'm sure is intentional).

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Told from the viewpoint of Marcus, a tech-savvy 17 year-old in San Francisco, this book is an exploration of computer security and official surveillance. Due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time Marcus and 3 of his friends are detained by Homeland Security after a terrorist attack. After his eventual release Marcus is incensed at his treatment, but knows he is being watched and feels he can't tell even his parents what happened. He starts up a secret network that counters the heavy-handed surveillance measures being set up around the city, and soon it spreads beyond his influence. The story is exciting and Marcus feels like a very authentic character, although the amount of local references adds to both characterisation and sense of place, a lot of them went over my head. The pace is rather slowed down by the regular digressions to explain how surveillance systems can be beaten, or how cryptography and networks function. Though these things are relevant to the story and often interesting as you're reading, I must confess that I don't remember many of them now. Then again I am over 21 so my brain is not as good at capturing info as that of the target audience (also the book itself pretty much says, being -just- over 25 means I'm basically a lost cause). While I can sympathise with the message that the author is conveying, there is no doubt this is a message book and one which is telling a whole load of information. I have recommended this book to teenagers, and I hope they get something out of it.

The World House by Guy Adams

It's an intriguing idea, a house in which nothing is as it seems and everything is dangerous and out to get you. People from places and times across the 20th and early 21st Centuries interact with the box and get dragged into a place they do not understand and must learn to survive or else die. The workings of the box and the house are explored in the early chapters, after which the established cast of characters make their way through the strangest house in existence. The characters feel rounded, though many aren't initially likeable, but it's easy to sympathise with them and the house certainly tests their mettle. It's clear that there's something else going on here, some agenda or pattern of events, though like the characters the reader is initially clueless. Not quite knowing what to expect I was a bit shocked by certain things in the book, but I can be easily shockable. After the main reveal it's clear that the author is being really rather clever and seeing events take their course is fascinating.