Sunday, 17 November 2013

Reviews: Comedic Sci-fi, Haunting Children's Fantasy, Scary 60s Anthology Show.'

Off To Be The Wizard

The world is a computer simulation, we don't know why, who or how, we just know that it is and that certain people can edit it. This allows them to time travel, have super powers and set themselves up as a bunch of wizards in a past that never was. Confused? This is a novel which enjoys exploring its amazing premise and basically shows what happen when a bunch of geeks inherit the earth. Things get loopy, crazy but within a set of parameters that make sense. The characters are lighthearted and funny, and there is a knowing humour that reminds me of Pratchett. Read and enjoy. I'm glad the author didn't try to explore why the world is a computer simulation, in the end it just isn't important and I think any explanation would have been an anti-climax.



The Dark Is Rising Sequence

I read this more than twenty years ago and still catch myself re-reading it every few years. It is enthralling, and magical. The characters do come to life and the magic is bound up with the places and times of our essential Britishness. There is the alien countryside, the closed village mentality, the rugged Cornish coast, a snowed in Christmas, and a mysterious lurking evil force. 

It is a coming of age series with a difference, like Harry Potter but with more atmosphere, more history,  it hints at a secret world that exists alongside the normal everyday world. A secret world both ancient and forbidding. Read it and then read it again, enjoy. 


The Outer Limits Season One

The Outer Limits can be a very creepy show. Take The Sixth Finger or The Galaxy Being, to be watched in the dead of night, alone with the mind doing laps in imagination and fright. I love it because it's in black and white, because it's shamelessly a collection of B-Movies. I love the episode where a moonstone sacrifices its collective life to save the universe, or where a boy outsmarts an invading alien when his dad can't. I'm amazed that the Invisibles are really Heinleins Puppetmasters, or where Martin Landau is a disfigured telepathic creature from the future or a scientist married to Hotlips from Mash the movie. 

This is great stuff, pulpy but told straight. Sometimes the sets or effects are lacking, but the actors give it their all. David McCallum gets a big head as a super evolved being and in another episode, a collection of clocks  allow him to come back from the dead. Robert Culp can hear aliens because of a metal plate in his head. Communists inject themselves with a drug that allows their faces to become clay, and so impersonate the President of the United States. What more can I say? You'll love it or hate it, but you will go to the Outer Limits and maybe beyond.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Second Novelitus

In July 2012 I finished my first novel ‘Threshold Shift’ with a mixture of pride and relief. I had done it, I had written a book when just a year earlier the whole notion of writing a book had seemed insurmountable. What seemed even more unlikely, I believed I had written a good book, one that told the story i wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it. A book I had written with no market in mind, no shoehorning, just doing what I wanted to do and doing it well.

Foolishly I half expected this to make my book stand out, become a bestseller, you know, all the pipe dreams of the first time novelist that we all have. That didn’t happen. I’ve had some good reviews, I’ve had no bad reviews, but none of this has been reflected in sales. What was wrong? The cover? The story? The marketing? Actually I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s really down to time and dumb luck. To become an overnight success takes years. I need to read a lot more, write a lot more, in essence I need to not give up. But there’s something else as well, something very basic. I have to keep enjoying it.

I started a second novel in October 2012 with the belief I could finish it by the end of the year. I finished something, but when I looked at it, it wasn’t any good, not good at all. I was convinced that my fist novel was fantastic and this new novel was just plain awful. For those three months, I had slogged, I had written, but there had been no joy, no fulfilment, the process had become an empty one. I was just putting words down and hoping something would stick and it hadn’t. I put away that novel and said to myself I would have another go in the 2013 and I would enjoy it.

So in January I started again, the story roughly the same but less rough, the characters more fully formed. I had more fun, but by then end of April all I had was a mess. It still didn’t work, it was still rubbish. Was I being overly self critical? Had my writing really deteriorated so much since the first book? It was then that I determined the cause, I had second novelitus. When you write your first novel, you realise you can write. When you come to the second novel, you realise you can write anything, anything at all. Too many choices, too much indecision, too much internal questioning, too much benchmarking what you are writing now against what you have already written. My second attempt at a second novel was a bust.

In May 2013, I decided that my second novel was never going to be a patch on my first, but if I never finished it, if I just gave up, then that would be it. No second novel meant no third novel, no fourth novel etc etc. I sat down again and decided that this time I would finish, this time no matter how bad it was, there would be an end to it. So in May I started again, looking at the first two drafts I took from them what I liked and left what I hated. I changed characters, removed characters, gave some more development, gave others less and worked out the story elements in detail.

Even with all this enthusiasm and determination it was still rubbish and yet by chapter six there was a glimmer of the old first novel writer. By chapter ten it was happening, properly happening. I finished in August, re-edited until a week ago, and came to the conclusion that while this was an altogether different beast to my first novel, it was also a novel in its own right. There was action, tragedy, pace, self-discovery in as good, if not a better, mix than the first novel. I have now sent it off to be edited and I’m hoping my editor will agree with me. But even if she doesn’t, I finished the second novel, finished it! I know the first one wasn’t a fluke, and in the end I actually enjoyed doing it again. I’m confident I can write a third one, and that even if I do occasionally spout rubbish, none of that effort was ever truly wasted.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Doomlord (The alien among us)

Having grown up in England during the electronic 80s, I read a variety of comic books. There were the British editions of Spider-Man, Thor, (yes only Thor can pick up the hammer, and Beta-Ray Bill, and Odin and...) Transformers, (which had a completely different storyline to the cartoon series), Action Force, (That’s GI. Joe), etc etc, and of course, Eagle Comic.

Eagle was a different kind of creature all together to the other comic books I’ve just mentioned. Eagle was made up of a number of serialised stories such as ‘Manix’ the android secret agent for British Intelligence. ‘Computer Warrior’ where a boy had to play computer games for real to save his friend or be sucked into some sort of electronic hell. Dan Dare, the intergalactic Marshal who fought his arch enemy, the Venusian Mekon. Death Wish, about a disfigured ex racing driver who investigated the paranormal. Quite frankly the list goes on, but chief among this wealth of British imagination was Doomlord.

Doomlord Vek, as he was formally known, was sent to Earth by the high council of Nox, his home planet, to destroy humanity. He ended up rejecting his mission and was judged a traitor by his own people who sent a trio of assassins, The Deathlords of Nox, to kill him and complete his mission. The only story I have from that period is ‘The Deathlords of Nox’ which over a large number of 3 page strips illustrates the tale of Vek fighting his fellow Noxians for his own life and the continued existence of the human race.

For a child this was truly epic stuff, and the fact that I had to wait a week for each 3 page strip was sometimes very frustrating. In appearance Doomlord’s face resembled a skull and his ears resembled wings. He also had a number of natural Noxian abilities. He could ‘warp’ into any form, absorb the knowledge of any being by touch, (consequently killing them), he was incredibly strong and impervious to most human weapons. He also possessed an energiser ring. The ring was his primary weapon and had a host of abilities. It allowed him to levitate, teleport, hypnotise, stun, disintergrate, translate, record. It was better than Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver.

Maybe this sounds a little like a cross between The Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern, but what was different about Doomlord was his logic, he was rarely swayed by human doubt or emotion. His strip was in black and white, not colour, and he showed no remorse when killing either human beings or his adversaries. During the strip, there was, for want of a better word, absolute carnage. Hundreds were killed, mostly by the Deathlords, but many by Vek himself when either studying humans or adopting human form to hide from his pursuers. Vek does not even shy away from that fact when asked about it during a television interview:

“I am your friend and protector,”
“But Doomlord you yourself have killed humans.”
“That is true. The fate of the individual is not important. The survival of the whole species is my priority.”

Doomlord wasn’t Spider-man or Superman or even Batman, he lived in a world that was harder than anything Marvel or DC created. Doomlord was a hero, but he made tough choices that had bitter consequences. He was also an alien, and he had a very different viewpoint on humanity. For a child to come into contact with this sort of adult thinking within a comic book was a revelation.

Years later Doomlord was forced to become evil by his own people and attempted to destroy humanity once more. His half-human son Enoch managed to defeat him at the cost of his own life. That was when Doomlord came to an end after many adventures that questioned human values and morality. Doomlord had a big effect on me, he made a little boy wonder about a world that was much more complicated than he had ever imagined. He also made me realise that it is the alien viewpoint that allows us to learn more about ourselves.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

What is Important For You?

I have recently moved house and was going through all my various bits of writing from long forgotten folders when I found the novel I wrote at the tender age of 13. I’m not going to say how old I am, but let’s just say I wrote this novel  more than a decade ago.  What was it about? Ha. Well it was about a master thief on some fantasy world who slowly becomes more when he discovers a magic sword and is tasked with defeating an evil sorcerer. He meets and befriends companions along the way, etc... etc. Yes not entirely original, but what is? Also the writing style isn’t that bad for a 13 year old, in fact it’s not that different from my writing style now.

Excerpt from The Crystal Sword – 19??, by teenager who had read a few books.

‘Elborn with his free hand found a pouch and he eagerly opened it to reveal the seeing stone. With it he saw his brother and the somewhat battered troops that followed him. The storm he had created to stop them had done more than good. Then Elderon seemed to face him and grinned, Elborn was baffled completely, how did Elderon know he was being watched? Then the picture on the stone flickered and then ceased’

It’s not that bad, is it? I am surprised at the age of 13, I could master ‘baffled’ and ‘reveal’, oh I was good.

At the time I wrote this escapism was definitely the order of the day, escapism and emulation. I was writing like someone who had read too much Dragonlance, David Eddiings and Raymond E. Feist. I was having a ball just trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, and what the rules were.

It was all about the plot then, creating and moving characters around with only the slightest impression of their inner workings. As time moved on, I read more out there books. On my book shelf now I can see such diverse books as ‘Generation X’, ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Spares’, books which are very different, following their own separate rules, their own formulas.

Over time I came to the conclusion that my characters were just as important as my plots, in fact they were my plots. First it was their suffering. All my characters suffered, they still suffer, they still chafe under the weight of their own mistakes. But that suffering slowly changed from self indulgent teenage angst to something with dimensions. Suffering could also be overcome, characters triumph over their circumstances, they look for hope.

What is important? You can read a million books, live a million lives vicariously, but in the end you have to figure out what is important to you. What rules are you going to follow? No-one should be afraid to find their own way, because what we are taught and what we learn are not necessarily the same thing.

I know what I like, and it is pulpy adventure, conflicted characters and hard decisions. I’m not the best writer on the Planet, not even close, and maybe only my mother loves what I write, but I like to think I’m getting somewhere.

I’ll end with something I wrote a few years later, I’m not saying when, but it may have been at the beginning of this century: On purpose I have left it unedited just to show you just how bad my editing skills were. (Still are...)

Take The Risk

‘Old man!’ My Grand-daughter shouted down the stairs at me. I was standing in the hallway ready, my shoes on, my shirt tucked in to my beige trousers, and my cap covering hairless head. I was ready, which wasn’t bad considering I was pushing sixty-seven. Kara wasn’t, which was just awful considering she was just twenty-two.
            ‘Kara,’ I said loudly, not shouting, in response. “We’re going to be late.”
            ‘I can’t find my... Oh! Why did you put my keys in the wrong handbag?’
            Of course I hadn’t.
            A few moments later she came bounding down the stairs, casual jeans and pink top matching the pink highlights in what should have been long auburn hair.
            ‘Old man,’ she smiled.
            ‘Not for much longer...  I hope.’
            She took my arm, and we left the terraced house we had shared since Kara’s parents had died. I remember clearly this tear stricken toddler in her black dresses, always sinking into dark corners. She had changed so much, bright, alive, and she had worked hard, so very hard, to earn the money to buy me the treatment.
            We waited at the bus stop, and I did wonder what would happen if the bus didn’t show, was I leaving too much to chance. The street was quiet, but it was an old street, populated by old people I had known for decades. Some of them had returned from the treatment, some had not. But still, that was the chance the seekers of youth always took.
            The bus came, of course, I had ignored Kara’s request for a taxi. Why should we spend more money when there was a perfectly good bus service? We arrived after a few changes at the clinic. Jumping off on what appeared to be an old country road, more grass and trees than concrete. We walked up the path, and there it was, like an amphitheatre to the Gods, a white marble temple, round and panelled, gleaming with promise, offering the proverbial manna from heaven. The Sandman Corporation had become rich beyond imagination because they owned and built this fantastic structure on a natural spring that could turn back the years themselves.
            We walked into the spectacular ovoid reception, Kara clutching my arm more tightly than she had done at her parents’ funeral.
            ‘We can still go home Grandad,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to do this.’
            I stared deeply into her begging green eyes. She had wanted this because of the cancer, but even with that terrible disease I still had a month or two. By taking the treatment I could be dead a lot sooner.
            I hugged her close. “I love you little Kara, and I want to be around. To see you get married, have children, the whole kit and keboodle.”
            She kissed me on the forehead one last time and then we turned to face the waiting Doctors. 

The end