Manifesto: UF

Manifesto: UF is the second anthology from author Tim Marquitz, due out in September 2013. This time around Tim asked authors to submit a piece of Urban Fantasy that fast paced, action oriented, and badass. Here is the cover to give you a feel for what it will be like:

Manifesto_UF

So I submitted a short titled Break Free, about a son who plans to break his father out of an airborne prison. I really liked writing this story, and Tim liked reading it, so Break Free will be included as part of the Manifesto: UF anthology. I’m excited to be included in this anthology with the following authors:

September has seemed so far away for so long, but now that I look at the calendar its only a month and a half away. I can’t wait for y’all to read it. You can check out the Goodreads page for it here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17983751-manifesto-uf

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Fifty Shades of Jealousy

Love them or hate them, the “Fifty Shades” books are bestsellers. Everyone is reading them and, of course, everyone has an opinion about them. And that’s fine, because of free speech and suchlike.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

The thing is, people have long memories. There is a time and a place to voice your opinions, and when it comes to opinions about the industry you work in, you should probably think twice before you click that submit button. This is particularly important for genre authors because book publishing is a rather small and tight knit industry, and that comment you just submitted will be forever associated with your name.  That comment may stop you from ever getting a deal. The following is a quote from an author on what they think about Fifty Shades of Grey:

Why did you buy this book? Your review isn’t anything we don’t already know about this book. It is crap, “Oh my, did I say Crap?”

I write much better than crap and I can’t get a soul to even blink at my novel, BUT every wanna-be reviewer has something to say about this turd.

I didn’t buy this book– here is my review. “It Sucks. Quit buying it.” 

Now I know this author, he is a nice guy and he can write quite well, but a comment like this shows an alarming about of jealousy and ignorance. This “turd” is the #1 bestseller in many countries around the world. It must be doing something right. And maybe, just maybe, it would be worth some effort figuring out what it is doing right and you might be able to apply it to your own writing.

Fading Light – An Anthology of the Monstrous

Well it’s been almost a month since my last post but I’m back and with some great news. This September will see me get my first publication credit as an author. YAY!!!!

My short story Light Save Us will be coming out through Angelic Knight Press as part of the anthology Fading Light – An Anthology of the Monstrous, edited by Tim Marquitz of Demon Squad fame. This is a horror anthology, a very dark horror anthology, and Tim managed to secure some really big names. The biggest of which is Mark Lawrence, that guy whose book caused an internet meltdown because of “all the rape” (follow the link and decide for yourself). I am absolutely stoked that my story will be leading into his, and I hope all those people who pick up the anthology for a Lawrence short story enjoy all the other amazing stories in there.

I’ll keep you posted on the release details, but until then expect me to start acting like a rock star. You guys have been beautiful, peace out.

The Avengers – A Study In Character Development

I’ve seen this movie twice already, on Thursday date night with Nicole and again yesterday with my nephew. I wholeheartedly agree with my friend Josh’s statement over on Fantasy Book Review that this is the best comic book movie ever.

While Josh talks about the movie as a whole, what I want to touch on a bit is the characters and the acting, because I think every single person has lifted their game for this movie, and they were allowed to do so because their characters were written so well. When you look back on this movie you will remember those epic action sequences, but when you watch it a second time you realise it is the interactions between the characters that make you laugh, that make you smile, that make you anxious, that even make you sad. I’m going to come out and say it, Joss Whedon is a freaking genius and watching this movie you can just tell that everyone had a lot more fun.

Definitely lives up to the hype!

We have gotten to know Tony Stark as Ironman over a couple of movies now, and while the second movie had a great story, the characterisation was poor. In this movie, Whedon lets Stark play the billionaire playboy philanthropist, lets him be the arrogant smart ass. Unlike Ironman 2 where Stark is forced to grow up and stop being a dick, Whedon says go ahead Tony, be a dick, because I am going to put you into situations that make you choose whether or not you become a hero, and whatever you choose, you might want to hang onto something comfortable. Downey Jr. looks a lot more comfortable doing this, he is given free rein to be himself, and it works.

Thor has been given a small personality makeover in this movie, he has been given a dry wit which combines well with his archaic way of speaking, he makes well reasoned decisions, and he just acts like a god. He is just there to bring his brother to justice, he laughs at the petty leadership squabbles between the other heroes, but over time he comes to appreciate his new companions and readily accepts his place in the team. The big change is in his dialogue – it makes much more sense, it shows that there are multiple dimensions to his character, and because of this is delivered much more fluently by Hemsworth.

Ok I'll put my hammer down, on your face!

Captain America is so noble it hurts, and Evans plays him exactly the same way as he did in the Captain America movie. He is a natural leader and it is this side that Whedon decides to grow. On my second viewing I started to notice all these little moments where it was Captain America who would take charge to stop the squabbling between heroes. So when it comes time for the final battle, it comes as no surprise when Captain America steps up and starts directing all the heroes around the battlefield.

Renner and Johansson are awesome as Hawkeye and Black Widow. You can tell that there is a lot of history between these two characters, and Whedon uses that to his advantage, putting one in danger to evoke a response from the other, and vice versa. It could have been very easy for them to become completely overshadowed by the empowered heroes, but they are given tasks designed specifically for their skill sets that make sense within the context of the movie, and in the end you cheering just as much for them as you are for all the big names.

Hey Hawkeye, you know the Black Widow kills her mate after sex right?

But not everyone can be an avenger, and the support cast does get outshone a little by the big personalities. That said, Samuel L. Jackson owns the screen as Nick Fury for the few brief moments that he gets it, Clark Gregg gives his best performance yet as the very likeable Agent Coulson and I would have loved to see him get more screen time, and Cobie Smulders is a great addition as Agent Hill always there prodding and prying at the motives and actions of her boss Nick Fury while also showing some kickass driving and flying skills.

Hey, we're important too!

Tom Hiddleston gives a much better performance as Loki this time around, and I think that has a lot to do with the writing and directing. Loki just oozes super villain this time around, from the very first scene where he effortlessly wipes out a bunch of SHIELD agents, he is mean, he is powerful, he is charming, he is funny, and he is desperate for vengeance. From the snivelling coward he was in Thor, Loki has truly grown in stature and ability, his well formed motivations are a complex reflection of a mind that he is trying to rebuild after it was shattered in the Thor movie, and I think all this makes him the best villain I have seen in any comic book movie.

Kneel humans, it is more becoming of you.

But it is Mark Ruffalo who steals the show here, who with the assistance of Whedon has brought The Hulk back from that dark and gritty place he was taken to in the previous two Hulk movies. Not to say that Ruffalo’s portrayal does not have dark and gritty, just that in this movie Bruce Banner is allowed to show more emotions than just depression. We get to see the resilience and good nature of Dr Banner, and these two emotions contrast brilliantly against the raw destructive nature of The Hulk.

And somehow Whedon manages to weave all these big personalities together, not into a cohesive team but into a cohesive movie. Whedon doesn’t try to force them into a mould, he just puts them all together on a flying aircraft carrier and lets them work out their own mould. They are allowed to argue, they are allowed to fight, they are allowed to tear each other apart, and that is what grounds this movie in reality, and that is why people will go back again and again to see this movie. Because these characters act as if they are part of their own special family, and you can draw parallels between watching that family grow and watching your own family grow.

HULK SMASH!!!

Vale Mike McKay

Today I learned that one of my online friends Mike McKay passed away over the weekend. I never met Mike in the twelve months we chatted online, but I can certainly attribute a lot my current enthusiasm for writing to his incessant nagging emails asking for more chapters. Michael just wanted me, and the entire Defence Writing community for that matter, to just keep writing. He was a wonderfully positive and optimistic sci-fi and fantasy geek, and I will miss him greatly.

This year he traded in his smoke breaks for writing breaks, and would often entertain us with 150 word bursts of raw unedited stories, and then berate us for not doing the same. Here is an example of one of his “Afternoon 150’s”:

The Captain hadn’t agreed that it was a life form.  The doctor was angry.

 “It’s Carbon Chauvinism.”

 “Huh?”  Cam looked at the Doc.

“Nicolas Chauvin.”  The lights in Cam’s eyes went out.  The Doc frowned.  “Nicolas Chauvin?”

“He fought alongside Napoleon.  He was a French patriot”.  Doc sighed.  “He dismissed all things that weren’t French; said they were wasteful nonsense.  He couldn’t see the big picture. His name is synonymous with a loathing of foreign things.  Come on.” 

“I mean…why does it have to be carbon-based?” 

 He pointed.  “There’s no reason!  This is just Carbon Chauvinism.”

They were standing over a thing.  An ugly thing.  A dormant thing. It wasn’t composed of carbon.  It was a thing of silicon.  It was made of a tetravalent metalloid, not unlike carbon…but unlike any life on Earth.

“Well?” 

“Well what?”, the Doc responded.

 “How do we tell?  Is it alive?  Is it dead?”

To honour my friend, I decided to write my own “Afternoon 150”. This is for you Mike, for pushing me to keep on writing and writing and writing when I should have been working. RIP buddy, may you have plenty of Stargate episodes to watch in sci-fi heaven.

I cheered with the utmost delight as I flew through the air, my hands grasping at the invisible reins while my feet pushed against invisible stirrups. I rode the wind with an easy confidence, soaring over mountain tops at exhilarating speeds before plunging down the other side like a bird of prey. I flew just inches from the ground, bending blades of grass and stripping seeds from dandelions as I displaced the air around me. It was incredible.

I closed my eyes, stood in the stirrups, and pulled back on the reins, my knees gripping against the buffeting air as I climbed and climbed. I opened my eyes and beheld the most beautiful of sights, the curvature of the Earth spread out before me as if I belonged in one of those sci-fi stories. With a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I let go.

The Art Of Reviewing

I feel like I haven’t had a good rant in a while, so when I came across the following review of Theft of Swords on Strange Horizons and skimmed all of the comments in response to that review, I felt like I needed to get my rant on.

To review is to provide an opinion, an appraisal based on a set of criteria that is personal to the reviewer. I like books that are fun, set in strange places, and full of colourful characters. If you want to call a book garbage, you should provide evidence based on the criteria by which you judge a book. Similarly if you want to provide lavish praise of you new favourite book, tell me why you think it is deserving of your lavish praise.

In the Strange Horizons review, reviewer Liz Bourke says the book is rubbish and one of the worst books she has ever read. She then goes on to provide evidence of why she thinks it is one of the worst books she has ever read. And that should be fine with everyone, because if you apply her criteria for what makes a good book then you will see that Theft of Swords does not perform so well. If you apply my criteria for what makes a good book then you will see that Theft of Swords performs quite admirably. We are different people, we have different tastes, and it is differences like this that make us unique individuals, a quality that should be celebrated.

For reviewers like myself and Liz, writing a scathing review of a very popular book makes the fans of that book very angry. They take it as a personal affront, a well publicised article that calls them stupid for liking a book that they shouldn’t, and they come together from all corners of the internet to vent their fury via the comments section. Rarely do they try and understand the reviewer’s criteria or point of view, more often they accuse the reviewer of bias,  accuse them of a failure to understand what the book is all about, or assert that because the reviewer does not like the given genre they are not qualified to have an opinion on the genre. They do not want to engage with the reviewer on the content of the review, they want the reviewer to change their core values so that they align with their own values.

For me the choice is easy, find a reviewer whose values you can relate to, and appreciate that other people have different values. Liz is well within her right to review the book, and for those share her values (ie. the regular readers of Strange Horizons) the review will act as a handy guide not to bother with that book. This is not a bad thing, and for the author Michael Sullivan, he now knows if he wants to appeal to the target audience that Liz is a member of, he will have to fix all the issues she identified with the book.

In the end I had a couple of problems with the review, not that she disagreed with me, but because of her not so subtle attack on a group of people based on their personal choice, and her lack of consistency. It can be hard for people to see past the emotion when they see something like “I want to hunt down every single soul associated with the decision to give this series the imprimatur of a major publishing house and rub their noses in it like a bad puppy”. In this case Liz has gone away from critiquing the book based on her own person criteria and has decided to take aim at a group of people because they dared to have a different opinion to her.

As for her lack of consistency, it appears that after reading a few of her previous reviews the criteria Liz used to judge Theft of Swords is not the same as what she has used to judge similar books in the past. Consistency is a very important part of being a reviewer as it demonstrates a level of competency and integrity, instilling a measure of worth in your reviews. If you are the sort of person who will change your criteria to give a book a bad review because you disliked it that much, how are people supposed to take stock in the words you write? You will find people quickly losing respect for your reviews, and to be honest how could you ever feel satisfied providing an opinion on something when absolutely nobody is willing to respect it?