Collection of very mixed quality, of which only 'Nunc Dimittis by Tanith Lee and 'The Chair' by Dennis Etchison' are of the highest quality, stretching through ordinary efforts by Stephen King, Robert Bloch and other horror luminaries to substandard efforts by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Theodore Sturgeon and T.E.D. Klein. The low-light, as seems to be the case with any anthology in which you find him, is 'Death to the Easter Bunny' by the execrable Alan Ryan. Solid, unexciting efforts by Ramsey Campbell, Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, and Steve Rasnic Tem keep you turning the pages, hoping for something better to really knock your socks off, but it never really arrives. Readers without any previous exposure to the horror genre will find much to enjoy.
Utterly delightful, comic crime caper with a philosophical bent that lends the spiralling absurdity a serious underpinning that lifts it above a merely humorous work. Chesterton's mastery of language and deft characterisation makes this a wonderful read. A masterful work by one of the best authors in the English language.
Slowly evolves into a gripping read as details and points of view begin to spiral inwards towards the final confrontation. Cavanaugh has a gift for setting and detail that can be unsettling but is never less than enthralling. His characters have a tendency to drift towards the stereotypical, including the protagonist Darian Richards, who falls firmly into the supercop-with-a-haunted-past trope, and there are occasional actions that defy the law of narrative belief, but this is an excellently detailed, engaging thriller that never lets the tension drop and is utterly bereft of fat.
It's difficult for me to believe that we've been together, now, for over 11 years. Every day feels like a first. There's a freshness, a spirit, to our relationship: it constantly reinvents itself, changes shape and form and direction, so that I've never once felt any sense of stalemate, or a lack of passion.
She's a woman of immense strength, my Lyn, of intensity and lyricism and devotion. She forgives everyone, sees benevolence and righteousness everywhere, puts the whole world and its achievements above her own. She is by turns humble, empowering and sacrificial. And these great strengths are also her great weaknesses, because they drive her into areas of self-doubt and lack of belief that she doesn't, in the slightest way, deserve. She is capable of great things, and while she achieves them on a daily basis-- overcoming health issues, raising children through the onset of myriad serious, life-changing issues, coping with a past that would keep seasoned horror writers from their sleep-- she holds within her the capacity to create something that will change the way the world looks at itself, if she believes in herself long enough to do so.
She is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I fall asleep at night. She bookends my thoughts like she bookends my day-- nothing I say or do happens without her in my mind. She is the centre of my life.
There isn't a cliche in the world that David Baldacci doesn't hit in this book. Leaden prose, two-dimensional characters, the standard retired-super-soldier-with-secret-past plot.... this is Lee Child for the silver set, so greyishly familiar and just downright stupid that it might be the first novel to pass the Turing Test, it's so hard to believe it was written by a human author and didn't, somehow, write itself from a few choice prompts. Don't bother.
An absolute masterpiece. The stories within this volume constitute an epoch-spanning alternative history of several hundred years, centred round the ominous and possibly-sentient presence of a mile-long ancient dragon, turned to stone and built upon by generations of settlers, and the way they interact with it as landscape, obsession, and possibly, malign active influence in their lives. Shepard paints an epic historical landscape while never letting go of the small stories and personal interactions that drive the narrative. Shepard's narratives are driven by believable, human characters, and it is that strong verisimilitude that lifts these stories above the ordinary fantasy tale. Griaule may be a complex, unknowable force of nature that intrudes into every aspect of these characters' lives, but it is the people themselves we remember. Every one of the stories in this volume is a rich, tightly woven tapestry of superb narrative balance. Taken together, they comprise a tour de force of fantasy writing of the very highest order. A superb volume.
Similar in tone to the first volume in the series, this book continues with a central narrative involving minifig Megan travelling through different 'zones' in pursuit of an anti-Lego bad guy, discovering different building styles and themes as she progresses from zone to zone. It's a cute conceit, and serves to highlight the maximum number of different approaches to building in a logical and easily digestible fashion. Each section is well-designed, with a range of photos as well an instruction breakdown to help the reader build a typical example of each builder's signature model, and an engaging look at the builder in question. Th tone is pitched perfectly for both child and adult readers, with enough character engagement and plot to encourage the kids to keep turning the pages, and builds that encompass a rang of sophistication so that there's plenty to keep adult builders coming back to use it as a reference text. The ending leaves open the possibility of a third volume, which would be welcome.
There are a plethora of similar books on the market at the moment-- big, glossy, lightly-humorous approaches to building techniques, using a kid-friendly approach with lots of pictures and signifying real-life builders via minifigs that interact with the models thy have built. This is typical of the breed: bright and breezy, but perhaps lacking the depth of other volumes. It's aimed squarely at kids, and is enjoyable without focusing too deeply upon techniques or step-by-step instructions. Instead it serves more as an introductory tome, with the accent on fun and cramming as many completed builds onto the page as possible. It's light and frothy, but doesn't encourage repeated readings.
After a few days away from the work, I managed to sit down today and bash out 2300 words on The Hall of Small Questions, bringing the story to just over 7000 words in total. It's the first of a number of milestones for me: once a work crosses 5000 words, I know it's going to be something. It may not end up a novel, but the story has gelled enough that I know it will eventually become a complete story, at whatever natural length is right for the narrative. And so it is proving in this case: the narrative is beginning to peek out from behind the scene setting; characters have placed themselves into the setting and are beginning to direct the course of the plot; and my protagonist is starting to take independent action. Th Hall of Small Questions will be completed, in time, I now know that for sure.
So, to mark this crossing of my own personal Rubicon, here's a little paragraph from today's writing, to whet both your appetite and mine:
“We are the product of our environment, Wacian.”
Broga tapped my forehead gently with his finger. “The world we inhabit is an
extension of ourselves. If the world outside that window looks beautiful it is
only because the people who inhabit it look beautiful. But we do not concern
ourselves with elegant robes and powdered skin. We peel these things away and
reveal the corruption below. We cannot immerse ourselves in that beautiful
environment, not unless we wish to risk losing sight of the corruption
underneath its skin.”
must remain pure,” Eadward had been waiting for me. Now he stepped forward out
of the nearby shadows. “And we must remain pure in order to search it out.”
Over at Paul's Technic Blog he's running a series of short interviews with AFOLs of various stripes. I chat about how I got sucked in, how my family don't remember what I look like and what I like to build towards the bottom of the page.
LEGO BOY BUILDS
The Perth Lego User Group's June challenge is to build something in 'micro' scale-- that is, at a scale smaller than 1:1 with a minifig. Here's a sneak peek at what I'm building in response.
No explanation for you.
NEW WORK. VERILY, NEW WORK.
Circumstances prevailed, recently, and I was forced to release my agent. A short slough of despond ensued, and frankly, I was facing the idea I might decide never to write again without a whole lot of regret.
Then The Hall of Small Questions stuck its head up and forced me to put aside all that rubbish.
5000 words in the last 4 days is the result. I should have a new novel draft finished by the end of the year. In the meantime, I'm working towards finding a home for Father Muerte and the Divine, to make up for the 3 months I've lost waiting.
Here's a little peek at the progress of HoSQ:
"We are not a Holy
Order,” he said as we stalked down yet another corridor between rooms whose
function I could barely comprehend. “We are not by Royal Appointment. We do not
have a board of Governors, nor do we accept patronage, donations, sponsorship
or favour. Why…” he asked, stopping so suddenly that I almost buried my head
between the folds of the gown hanging down around his arse. “do you think that
I stuttered, thrown off
balance by the sudden change in the flow of his oratory. “I don’t know.”
“Do not say
that!” The anger in his voice was sudden, and fierce. “A Requester is not
supposed to know. A Requester seeks. He questions. You do not not know, you shall do your best to find out!”
"What the hell do you mean, you think we should see other people?"
I rather like this one. Relationships are at the core of narrative, as is conflict, so it makes sense that broken-- or, at least, breaking-- relationships are far more interesting than content ones. Plus, the idea that Adam and Eve haven't developed a concept of clothing but have invented the suitcase amuses me. What exactly does she have in them?
Nothing to say about this one: a whimsy, a bon mot of momentary amusement. What's most am using to me is that the machine is obviously meant to be a labyrinthine maze of tubes and vaguely scientific falderal, and I just as obviously got bored halfway through and said "that'll give me the idea of it...".
Stunning architectural models of differing sizes, from tiny micro-builds to massive structures taller than an adult human, presented in beautifully framed photographs with solid information and insights from the builders. Wrapped up with two fold-out posters and dotted through with ste-by-step instructions for some of the simpler builds, this is an excellent guide for Lego fans, treating its subject as a worthwhile artform rather than the "yeah, it's dorky, but..." approach that many books of this sort favour. Beautiful builds beautifully presented.
Entertaining post-apocalyptic road trip written in an easily-digestible pidgeon, detailing a young man's hunt for the love of his love who has been stolen by an intelligent truck. The narrative is fairly straightforward, and the climax is telegraphed fairly early, but the language, setting and characterisation carry the story along at a cracking pace and makes for a satisfying read.
It's that time of year again: The Perth Model Railway Show, which contains the only annual Lego display of note in these parts, conducted by the WA Brick Society. The kids and I have been for the last 2 years, and enthusiasm was high for a threepeat. So, leaving Lego-loveless Luscious behind to plough further into modernism and the sexual meaning of Mrs Dalloway (or, as she calls it, her University study), we trooped our way up to the Claremont Showgrounds to see what had been prepared for our builderly entertainment.
What had been prepared was trains. Sounds obvious, perhaps, given that the display is in the middle of a fucknormous model train show, but in the two previous years the Lego display has been a somewhat discrete element of the show, and not reliant on preparing their various dioramas around train lines. Perhaps at the direction of the show organisers, or perhaps simply because they decided to move in that direction themselves, this year a significant number of dioramas contained train lines, even when, in the case of a stunningly beautiful Skyrim village, it didn't quite make sense for them to do so.
The beautifully realised and quite stunning medieval-style Skyrim village, complete with train track.
A detail of the simply stunning work on this model.
Another feature was the addition of non-Lego elements: a plethora of plastic toys and doll house features integrated into the display to, as explained by one of the friendly WABS members I chatted to, emphasise that Lego is a toy amongst other toys, and one that can be incorporated into wider play. Fair enough, but I was there for the Lego, so while the other elements didn't detract from the display for me, they rarely enhanced it, and I would have preferred to see more new techniques and builds. That, however, was a personal reaction from a Lego geek, and judging by the depth of the crowd around the displays, did nothing to dilute the display's ongoing popularity.
An example of the integration of non-Lego toys into the display: scale model cars cruise past a row of Lego buildings.
A number of elements made returns from previous displays: the disco, island and giant container ship we had seen in both previous visits were there, and I can understand that once you've created such enormous and well-realised creations you want them to be seen as often as possible. For my kids, however, they were simply things that had been seen before, so they were skated past, as were displays where stock sets had been built and incorporated into a display by means of free-building walkways or paths between them. There was momentary fun for the kids in identifying sets we had at home, but it was accompanied by explaining why they then merited being displayed as they were: picky kids!
An extensive theme park display, featuring the Bag End we have at home, the Haunted House we have at home, the Helm's Deep I've moaned about not getting when it came out.... beautifully put together into a new diorama with a surrounding train track complete with moving train.
The disco, complete with 'giant' TV screen (showing a Vanilla Ice clip as we passed by) made a return to this year's display. Stunning techniques in this WABS standard.
All of which sounds rather critical. However, I should point out that the reason I go each year is because the skill of these builders is so much greater than my own that it staggers me to see their designs, techniques and creations. Even when creative decisions don't resonate with me-- such as the incorporation of other toys-- the decision-making process is fascinating to me, and the WA Brick Society is the only Lego group in this State with the co-ordination and organisation to create such large-scale designs and put on a public display of works. And their work is incredible.
Or I could just shut-up and show you some pictures.
A new highlight: a baseball game in mid-pitch, with incredible detail built into the surrounding stadium and a viewing audience including Mr Burns, a vampire, Iron Man, a witch, a mummy, Spidey...
The much anticipated Lego Cuusoo (now Lego Ideas) fan-designed Back to the Future DeLorean set. Rather underwhelming in the flesh (brick?) but incorporated nicely into a wider 'Hollywood theme park' diorama.
That, my friends, is a donk.
Kingswood V8 ute. Because bricks aren't just for bogans to prop one of these up in the front yard on anymore.
A delightful lunar lander diorama, with moving lunar rover that circled the main set, and visitation from a Pixar buddy in the background.
Beautifully realised space station. Some of the 'quiet' techniques used by the WABS members were truly wonderful: this was by no means the flashiest model on display, but the SNOT (studs not on top) techniques are gorgeous.
A highlight of this year's display was a mecha-vs-military display that took up one end of the display space. Sprinkled with what looked, to me at least, like a generous amount of customised 'Brick Arms' parts, it was a fantastic example of what can be done with a strong theme and repeated builds.
It's been over a year since I've MOC'd anything. For those who failed their first year Lego Jargon unit, MOC stands for 'My Own Creation', and it's what adults call that thing I used to call 'playing with Lego' when I was a kid. For the last year I've been on a mission to rebuild all the sets I've purchased over the last 3 years, and having finally completed, photographed, broken up and parted out all 100 sets, I rummaged around amongst my boxes and had myself a play.
It began as a desire to build something with a fully transparent globular cockpit, became an exercise in late night tablescrapping (building something out of whatever random bits and pieces are sitting on your table) one night when Lyn had one to bed early, and ended up as an attempt to build a Vic Viper using only technic pieces as much as possible. The end result is a little shaky, and a little basic, but it's the first original thing of any type I've put together in over a year, and I'm quietly chuffed with it. I've decided to call it the Tadpole for no apparent reason, so here be it:
I've not been writing recently. It feels like a chore, like something I have to get through in order to be finished, rather than something I do for the fun of it. Part of it is my day job: I've just been through the busiest time of the year, where far-too-few staff and I work our arses off to stage a major open-air sculpture exhibition on the local beach (more of that later), but it's more than that. I'm between milestones in a major way: the Corpse-Rat King journey is done and dusted, the publication of Magit and Bugrat is something like 9 months away, and with two novels sitting in my agent's in-tray waiting for him to come out of his coma and notice them I'm a long way from any sort of progress on any sort of front, and frankly, the idea of starting anything new just fills me with a case of the giant whatevers. Be honest, even writing this blog entry is a bloody chore, but then, given I've done fuck all around here in ages, you've probably figured that one out for yourself.
Then Luscious and I went to see Russell Howard at the Regal Theatre a couple of weeks ago. And as brilliant as he was, the former comedian in me took special glee in watching him riff ten minutes of angry material at a moron in the audience who was ignoring the strict 'no photography, no filming' rule, only to realise he'd been starting a fight with one of the floor lights leading to the exit. It was brilliant, off-the-cuff stuff, a spiralling flight of mental fancy that impressed me as much as it amused me.
Then a Facebook link led me to this youtube video. It's Stewart Lee, possibly the most inventive and intelligent British comedian of the past 20 years, and one of my favourite comic thinkers of all time. And he's not being at all funny. He's delivering an address to the Oxford Union on the way writing comedy has changed over the last two decades, and how his own personal evolution has been affected by the changing landscape. It's basically a TED talk for writers, and it's wonderful:
And then one of my work mates sat down and blew out a monster sigh one morning, and we had this conversation:
HER: Anyone get the number?
ME: What number?
HER: The number of the truck that ran over me this morning.
ME: Dunno. I couldn't see it from up in the driver's seat.
And my little corner of the office broke up laughing. Immediately. And told me how quick I am, and how clever, and all that little egoboo jazz it takes for me drag my increasingly weary bones through the day.
And it's all rather crystallised: I miss stand-up. I miss the immediacy of it, the jazz-riffing-rim-running skating along the edginess of it. I'm sick of delayed effect, bored with working for months on a piece only to realise it into the wild and watch it sink without a trace. Make no mistake: I was a shit stand-up comic. But I could write a gag, oh I really could. I could write material. I just have no way to make it all fit, anymore.
Dunno what it all heralds, I really don't. But being halfway between fish and fowl seems to be my way of life. Damned if I know what that means for my writing.
Framed as a DC version of Marvel's excellent Marvels, there's no shortage of talent on this book, from writer Len Wein through to a roster of artists that would be the envy of any company: Kuberts ndy and Joe; Dave Gibbons; Walt Simonson; Keith Giffen; Jerry Ordway; Dan Jurgens; Brian Bolland; Frank Quitely; Bill Sienkiewicz... the list just goes on and on. And in the end, it's that talent that save the book because, really, it's really just not that good.
DC has great characters and no mistake: right down to the third-tier supports they have a fantastic range of powers, costumes, and personalities. But the 'everyman' police officer who fills the role of narrator and his story is pure schlock, and take up far too much of the narrative. Rather than an avenue for readers to view the miraculous workings of the overpeople who populate the DC Universe, it overshadows the narrative to the point that the superheroes become an interruption and a distraction, and what we do see of them constitutes, for anyone who has a passing familiarity with DC's major storylines, nothing more than a precis of the major events. There's no angle here, no spin, just a quick precis of the storyline and then on to the next interminable run-down of this average man's very average life.
Whereas Marvels was a brilliant distillation of the Marvel Universe's ethos and philosophy, this is little more than a primer: well-written occasionally entertaining, but ultimately little more than an expertly illustrated Wikipedia article in drag.
Thuddingly average book about a group of third-string characters without any depth that even a writer of Busiek's skill can't bring to life beyond momentary interest in the narrative twists that occur within the text. Not even the addition of Hawkeye-- in the midst of one of his least interesting character turns-- and an interesting side-adventure with Captain America (in the midst of one of his least interesting narrative arcs) and a reborn Citizen V can lift this above the very pedestrian.
There was a period when Marvel was so desperate to create any kind of successful team book that they threw characters together like spaghetti strands at a wall, praying that something would stick. This is a classic example of their approach, and notwithstanding their current attempts to cash in on any random collection of masks by slapping 'Avengers' somewhere in the title, serves to show why, when the Avengers really works, there is no better team title in print.
One for completists or a very rainy afternoon. Not bad, just incredibly average in every way.
Beautifully sad and whimsical fable about the effects of a nuclear conflict upon a retired pair of typical Little Englanders. Filled with gentle humour and deft characterisation, it's a wonderful parable of the dangers of trust in authority and the imminent threat of worldwide conflict. The message is from another time, now, and some of the jokes float more towards the nostalgic then the classic, but the sadness and tragedy at the heart of this bittersweet tale are still strong enough to make it a classic example of graphic storytelling.
Real content in the next few days, I promise. I'm only just emerging from the busiest time of my year. But in the interests of keeping you amused:
"Then I make bullet holes by heating up this pin and poking it through the plastic..."
An unbelievable amount of my teen years was spent in the production of plastic modelling kits. I can make flight wires from sprue, create fencing from left-over bits of frame, all the tricks and wizardry to turn a series of plastic shapes into a realistic diorama featuring some crashed WWII aircraft in some imaginary Scottish Highland. Hours and hours of diligent practice, to produce perfectly represented plastic models.
Surprisingly, I also lost my virginity at 15. Who'd have thunk it?