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.