Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the category “Books”

The coincidence thing…

After my Bullying post, I received a Like from Christine Barba, who writes a blog called Project Light to Life. I checked out her page and, coincidentally, found the name of the coincidence thing I keep talking about on Finding Damo. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. So thank you to Christine. Go read her blog.

That means that I can now add BMP to all of the posts that have previously referred to ‘that coincidence thing’.

And speaking of which:

A couple of weeks ago I finished the third book in a most unusual trilogy.

Not that the books were written by the same author, had the same characters or were written in the same universe. None of the three writers wrote their novels as part of this trilogy. But they were a trilogy nonetheless.

Holding to my desire to write about things when they turn up more than three times in a row (BMP!) I wanted to chat briefly about this trilogy.

The Body SnatchersChronologically, the first book in the series is a little known story entitled “The Body Snatchers” (later re-released as Invasion of the Body Snatchers). It’s popular enough for the term “pod people” to have entered into standard English speech, so I won’t worry too much about spoiling the story. It is set in a small town in the United States where a doctor starts noticing unusual behaviour from his friends and neighbours. After an encounter with the town’s resident author, the small band realise that they are being invaded by beings from space, who are rapidly replacing the locals with replicas grown from giant pea pods.

It is an easy read, but Finney manages to really hook you in with some incredible prose. There were moments where a chill thrilled through me at a passage in the story. This book is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. I’m pretty sure there is a dissociative disorder that manifests itself in removing the brain’s ability to connect to people, leading to a person thinking that their family have been replaced by exact duplicates.

Yes, here we go. Capgras Delusion. I typed “pod people delusion” into Google. Anyway, where was I? OK, yes. For anyone who has seen any of the numerous film adaptations, it is well worth taking the time to read this novel. You can knock it off in an afternoon, and Finney’s son, in an interview on the audio adaptation, states that his father was never really happy with the movie version, even though it is a cult classic.

RedShirtsThe second book in the trilogy was written much later. It is an amusing, meta little story called Red Shirts, by John Scalzi. It has nothing to do with The Body Snatchers, but the third book I want to talk about links these two together so tightly that I just had to write about it.

From Amazon:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs.

Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I listened to this one as a download from Audible. Wil Wheaton read it and between Shereen and I, we almost crashed the car at least twice from laughing so hard. The line between reality and fantasy is severely blurred in this novel. It is almost a drinking game turned into a novel. But Scalzi quickly takes us to a point where we really care about the characters, so much so that by the end of the third coda, I had tears in my eyes (again, making it hard to drive). And yes, the codas take a bit of staying power to get through, after the rapid pace of the rest of the story, but they are definitely worth it.

To explain why the third novel in the trilogy actually makes these three novels a trilogy I need to go spoiler-fest on it. I won’t spoil RedShirts, and I assume you already know enough about Body Snatchers that conversation on it isn’t a spoiler (and if not, you might not want to read further).

Night of the Living TrekkiesKnowing the storyline of the third book – Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall – isn’t going to affect your enjoyment of the story. The spoilers are on the covers (I really LOVE the German cover). Basically, Jim Pike is an ex-soldier, returned from fighting in the Middle East. He is settling into quiet obscurity as a security guard at a posh hotel in Dallas. On this particular weekend, there is a Star Trek convention. Also on this weekend, a number of staff are off sick, and others are in, but suffering from illness. There have been a number of unusual biting attacks, and the wounds just won’t stop bleeding…

Soon, the Trek convention is completely overrun with zombies. Not only that, but Jim’s sister is in town for the convention. Jim Pike (get it?) needs to save his sister and get over his fear of command before day break.

That’s the premise. Now for the spoilers.

Spoiler Alert
Early in the novel, Jim notices that the zombies are manifesting an eye on various parts of their body. These eyes are a vulnerable spot. They appear after showing up as a bruised lump, finally splitting through the skin and taking over the host. Here’s the sequel to Body Snatchers: these eyes are an alien life form that drifted to earth as spores, traveling through space for aeons and then landing on earth. They take over the hosts and use them as spreading mechanisms (hence the zombies) but their more sneaky goal is an amalgamation with the Earthlings and eventual colonisation of the planet.

The link to RedShirts is more mundane. The novel is littered with references to Star Trek, and the rules of surviving a Trek episode (even one with zombies). The funniest moment in the novel was the discovery of the last surviving member of a pack of Red Shirts. None of the others had died from zombie attack and he didn’t even realise that the hotel had been infested.

Night of the Living Zombies is the love child of Body Snatchers and Red Shirts. It is a bastard child, not written as well, or with as much raw talent. Neither parent would be overly proud of their offspring. But they, like me, would love it anyway, for the simple joy of laughter and dead trekkies that it brings to the world.

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Dwarves in Space

The last time I was this excited, Shereen was walking up the aisle towards me on our wedding day. I jest; that was far more exciting, but this is a close second.

Dwarves in Space eBook coverDwarves in Space is now available for purchase on Amazon in paperback or as a Kindle eBook, and on Lulu.com in paperback.

It has been a long road (see my first post on Dwarves in Space) to this point. I have sent the novel to half a dozen publishers and the same number of agents. Each time I would send the excerpt or manuscript off, there would be an 8-12 week wait before I’d hear back, and no useful feedback even then. Rather than spend years sending my manuscript to publisher after publisher, I decided that I would take my destiny in my own hands and give self-publication a shot.

I had no interest in spending thousands of dollars on extensive print runs. The eBook option was an easy choice. Even those people who have iBooks and iPads still buy a lot of their digital books from Amazon. At the moment, I have a 90 day exclusive contract with Amazon. After that, I might extend to the iBookstore and Nook etc.

Anyway, the useful information:

Clicking on the links to Amazon and Lulu.com above will take you to the books on the respective sites. I’ve kept the Kindle price low to offset the price of the paperback. The print-on-demand nature of the paperback means that I don’t really make any money on it, but I don’t really care. I just want to build a market for now.

And how can I go wrong? Who doesn’t want to read a story about a young king and his wizard friend who travel through space in a ship shaped like an eagle? A ship that is crewed by dwarves, elves and barbarians with no idea how to operate an electric can opener, let alone a starship? And how could you possibly pass up a novel containing space battles between this crew and a necromancer flying the skeleton of a dragon? There are even some quite funny bits, if I do say so myself!

Not to mention gods, demons, zombies, holograms, trolls, prophecies, mice and a very famous three-headed dog.

Please enjoy my first novel while I finish off the second.

Dwarves in Space paperback cover

Also, if a novel is too much for  you, you could try one of my short stories, available for sale on AlfieDog Limited.

Both are ridiculously cheap and are available for all eBook readers.

Ted's Souls  be practical

Bad Hobbit

This isn’t a movie review blog. I don’t want to make a habit of this. But I really feel the need to unburden myself after living in delighted expectation of “the movie event of the year” (as if there’s ever only one) and then having to sit through three hours of absolute tripe as my hopes died, torn apart by  my ravaging frustration at a talented director getting it OH SO WRONG!

bilbo_640x960But anyway.

I’ll start with the general stuff, and then anyone who doesn’t want spoilers can depart and come back after they’ve read the book or seen the movie or both. No, actually, if you haven’t read the book, leave now. Spoilers abound. For those that have, I’ll try and avoid spoiling the movie for the first bit.

Peter Jackson has proven that he’s a good director. Heavenly Creatures  was a marvellous movie that linked fantasy and reality in a feast of visual and imaginative delight. Dead/Alive  was gory and funny and very well written. And King Kong  . . .

Ah, there’s the problem. I think Tripod  said it best when they sang “Get to the f***ing monkey!”

But even so. He has a great concept of space and the epic. He knows how to elicit emotions from his actors and the audience. His pacing is always good (except maybe for King Kong) and there is no way that he should have been able to screw up The Hobbit.

Jackson’s Hobbit, how did I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

Bringing back the old cast

I think I read an interview with Jackson, where he was overjoyed at being able to work with “all the old gang” again, and I winced. And then we saw trailers of the movie with Galadriel, and I thought “well, ok, it’s a stretch, but it might have happened”. And the cast list included Elijah Wood and I decided that a little introduction at the start might be deemed necessary for the uneducated masses who didn’t know that the movies were also books and needed some linking. Which is what they did. And it was terrible, and boring, and didn’t add anything to the movie, but there you go. As I said, maybe the studio demanded it.

And once that bit was out of the way and the story started properly, I was quite happy with Gandalf and Bilbo and a stack of dwarves. And they sang the songs, and I relaxed, because I had hoped that the songs would be a big part of the movie. And if they changed a couple of story points, then that wasn’t too bad, but I was starting to be a little nervous.

Unable to put together a realistic backdrop

Let me back up a bit, because you know that that’s what I do.

When the old Bilbo (from LOTR) is sitting there writing his little book, and Frodo wandered in and made some twee comments, all I could think was “This looks fake!” I was wondering whether it was because we were watching the movie in 48 fps, in 3D. Everything looked like it was on a sound stage. The hobbit hole was too clean and incredibly fake. Frodo looked like he was lit badly and in front of a green-screen half of the time. Any time there was footage of people talking to each other, in caves or houses or on rocky outcrops, my mind was screaming “Made-for-tv movie! Made-for-tv movie!” And so, as my first confession: it could be that the combination of a high frame rate and 3D technology killed the movie for me. And if that’s so- no, there’s no excuse. Jackson chose to use these technologies and probably saw rushes and dailies and test screenings and all sorts of other footage. There is no way he could have watched this movie and thought “yeah, that looks real.” I was never really in the action. Never allowed to let myself believe I was in Middle Earth. And that killed the movie for me.

They were filming in New Zealand for Bob’s sake! A land full of rocky landings and lovely caves. Natural backdrops and fantasy settings. Why did everything look like it was made out of Styrofoam?

Turning a PG movie into an M movie

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been reading The Hobbit to my 8yo daughter. My niece has been reading it. They’ve both loved it from start to finish. I read it myself when I was in Grade 2. These kids should be able to go and see a movie based on a book written for children.

Every sequence that I found unacceptable for younger audiences was one pasted into the storyline by Jackson and had nothing to do with the book. Which leads me to:

Making shit up

Oh, I hate swearing in a blog, but I am so angry right now! Oh, and this is where I’ll probably make some comments on stuff that happened in the movie, so if you want to remain completely spoiler free, run away now.

At some point, it came out that Jackson was making the two movies into three, using “unreleased source material and indexes” and everybody sighed. I thought it would be tacked onto the end, maybe as part of the Battle of the Five Armies (seriously, if you haven’t even read the book, you don’t want to be here right now).

Firstly, there was a massive battle between the dwarves and the orcs – again, giving the movie context in the greater world of Middle Earth. It was bloody and violent and introduced a giant white orc.

Without saying too much more, I’ll say that that orc became the bane of my existence on and off for the next three hours.

What I didn’t know and didn’t care about was that Jackson has incorporated information and story from The Rise of the Dark (the story of Sauron) as well as the backstory of the dwarves. There’s also a lot of backstory for characters from LoTR, and a good chunk of White Council as well, for good measure.

And I get it. Jackson is trying to link The Hobbit to the LoTR trilogy, making a much greater world out of a lot of different source material.

But that isn’t The Hobbit. That story is light-hearted and small. A story of friendships and adventure. A children’s story with a wider appeal.

Changes in tone

Throughout the movie, the tone changes with no apparent reason. There is an amusing run through the goblin tunnels, completely at odds with the seriousness of the situation. There is a completely ridiculous scene involving the knees of a stone giant. There is an unscripted battle scene when the wargs and goblins have the party trapped up a tree. There is not nearly enough singing. The elves are way too serious. It doesn’t look like there will be any speaking eagles. . . I need to stop now.

Seriously, screw the backstory, screw the appendices and the rise of Sauron. Let me have The Hobbit. Let me have my childhood. Peter Jackson, get your grubby fingers out of Middle Earth.

PS I liked Tintin.

Another perspective:

http://io9.com/5968455/the-hobbit-is-a-lot-better-once-you-realize-its-a-war-movie

Guards! Guards!

Last Friday night I went to see Guards! Guards! As performed by the GemCo Players. I was excited, looking forward to seeing a giant dragon setting things on fire all over the stage, and to see our Chair, Carmela, playing Sybil Vimes.

Well, I got to see Sybil!

If you haven’t seen (or read) Guards! Guards! then… well, I think this review will be almost completely meaningless to you. But basically, it is the story of Carrot, a human raised as a dwarf, come to the big city to join the Watch – he had heard it would make a man out of him.

And then, there’s a bloody great dragon terrorising the city.

The show was an outstanding success. It is always a bit of a gamble, watching Pratchett plays on stage. A director with no sense of humour, or a cast with no comic timing can really destroy the master’s work. This was not the case in this production. The crowd were roaring with laughter in a number of places, and chuckling for most of the rest of the show. I was infatuated with the stage, the costumes and the actors. They have a fantastic little group there and I’d love to see their next show.

The biggest bones my wife and I had to pick with the show were the length (it started at 8 and the first act finished at 9.30. The second half dragged a little as the jokes thinned out and the hour got later) and the Asterisk.

I get it. The Asterisk is a very difficult plot device to use on stage. It is completely necessary when trying to put across the essential Pratchett-ness of a show, but as a completely written device, it often doesn’t translate well.

But it was overused in this production. The actor (I’m sorry, you’re probably a fine actor!) wasn’t comfortable in the role, was very forced in her humour and folded her glasses one too many times. The director could have easily dropped at least half-a-dozen of the interruptions, letting the cast take some of the exposition, or letting the audience fill in the gaps.

Apart from that one little “*” the cast were mostly excellent. There were a wide range of ages involved, but for the most part, age had nothing to do with talent.

Obviously I thought Carmela did a great job, especially when we first saw her – or the heavy dragon armour that surrounded her. She had a good relationship with Vimes* and a great stage presence.

I was surprised to see that four of the characters were played by a Grade Four student, but happily, he was one of the stand-out comedy parts in the show. His Brother Dunnikin especially had me in stitches as he mumbled about chastised thurribles and the three dollars he would never see again.

Dibbler was my next favourite. During intermission he mingled with the audience, selling chocolates (sometimes for double the price) and assuring us that he was “cutting his own throat”. He had a real presence on stage and played three very different characters. My wife felt that his Thieves’ Guild Head was a little over the top, but I was happy.

The Guards were (again, mostly) well-cast. Colon was very amusing, Vimes had a great physicality and good comic timing. Carrot took awhile to get used to because of all of the guards he is the one that is described the most in the books. But he had a goofy, innocent expression that was instantly endearing and he played off against the other characters with a real skill. Nobby was a case of mis-casting rather than bad acting. He was out of place in the ensemble, but wasn’t a bad actor, just a bad Nobby.

Vetinari and Wonse were both well-cast and Wonse’s range of expression was excellent as the play progressed. He worked well with his secret brotherhood, who in turn, played a number of bit parts throughout the play.

Who have I missed? Of course, the Librarian! His costume wasn’t the best, and he forgot that she was a mon- er, an ape, some of the time, but he was hilarious, especially when playing charades. He made Ook mean exactly what he wanted it to mean, every time. Apparently he also doubled as Death – a seven foot robed skeleton with glowing blue eyes and scythe. Very effective.

And the dragon puppeteer! The swamp dragons were characters in their own right. Very cute, very well designed. Lots of personality. But no jolly great, mechanical, monstrous dragon head lumbering onto the stage! Still, maybe that was for the best. The devices the director used to get around that were very clever and sometimes funnier than if there had been a real dragon on the stage.

The costumes were delightful. I found myself eyeing off the Guards’ costumes and will have Carmela ask leading questions in that direction once the show’s over. And Death was great, glowing in the darkness. The sets were very detailed, very clever, with swinging scene changes that made fantastic use of the stage. The team that put it all together should be congratulated. And then given presents.

All in all, I enjoyed myself immensely. My seven-year-old daughter loved it. My wife loved it. It was definitely worth the drive out to Emerald. Go and have a gander. They finish up on the 24th November.

http://www.gemcoplayers.org/

* Oh, I’m doing this out and about without access to a programme. Please insert the names of actors into your brain as I talk about their characters.

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Must. Read.

asleepLast night, I did something I never thought I would ever do: I asked my step-daughter to put the book down and go to sleep already!

Now, before you lynch me or put me in the same category of book burners and fundamentalist christians, let me explain.

She’s 8. Her bedtime is 8.30. She loves to read. And her imagination doesn’t have an off-switch. So if we let her read until she’s tired, she’ll still be reading at midnight. And then we have to deal with the consequences. So when I saw the light shining from  under the door (again) at 10pm, I had to do the unthinkable.

Normally, I’d be quite happy for her to read all night. Let the stories invade her mind and set fire to her imagination. She is a voracious reader and, at 8 years old, she’s reading well beyond her years. She had to beg us to let her read the second Harry Potter book, and I think we’ll probably relent on the third book as well before she hits ten.

But her mum and I just can’t handle the almost-teenager-like reading hangover that results from a late night. So we have to limit her, like a crack addict, to small doses per night.

Her reading list at the moment:

1. Bridge To Terabithia – I’m reading this to her. I don’t think you ever get too old to have someone read to you, and it helps me bone up on my American accents.

2. The Hobbit – I started reading this to her, but she started making very clever “guesses” about what was going to happen next, and I found that she’d read the whole thing over a couple of nights of subversive torchlight reading.

3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She quotes from Philosopher’s Stone all of the time, so it was only a matter of time.

4. Brer Rabbit Tales by Enid Blyton. She read 15 Secret Seven books in two weeks and was re-reading the Faraway Tree, so I figured she was up for something new.

On top of these, she still reads the grade-two level readers her school gives her, which I agree with educationally (I was able to teach her how to read comics properly, for example) but wish that the school could challenge her a bit with reading.

We were pretty dismissive when we gave her Esio Trot to read and she returned to me in an hour saying it was great and could she have another one. Almost half-heartedly, I’d ask her a question about what happened in the book. She answered promptly. Surprised, I tried something a little more analytical. She had it down pat. From then, I’ve just watched in amazement as she worked her way through dozens of books over the past couple of years, making incredible comments on genre and comparisons to other books. My year 10s can’t do it, that’s for sure.

But I didn’t start this to rave about my step-daughter, who you don’t know and doesn’t enter into Finding Damo in the slightest. I was going to use it as an introductory stepping stone and got carried away.

So… Hop! Next stone.

I used to read in bed as a child. I utilised the torch for my own illicit reading. But I was often found, fast asleep with a book on my face. I’m pretty sure it still happens sometimes.

This is the version I read and still own.

I read The Hobbit in Grade 3. I read the Wizard of Earthsea in Grade 2 – Mum was studying it for school and we were travelling through Queensland and it was there so I read it.

I read Bridge to Terabithia in Grade 5 or 6 – the teacher was giving me and a couple of others books to challenge us as the regular reading was way below us. In primary school I found Encyclopedia Brown, The Three Investigaters, Biggles, Blyton, Asterix and Tintin. As I got older, I devoured all of the Doctor Who novelisations, Judy Blume (Forever was an experience, I can tell you!), Victor Kelleher and Douglas Adams.

Scarily enough, I didn’t discover Terry Pratchet until university. Dave and I had been introduced to a MUD (multi-user dungeon) on the Internet, and we were having problems with some of the quests. “Oh,” said a helpful player, “that one’s straight from the books.”

“There are books?” I asked, to the general hilarity of the online world. Soon after, Dave and I were annoying the crap out of a busload of people as we read Reaper Man and Small Gods on the way to Queensland. And now I’m on the organising committee for Nullus Anxietas IV.

There are a few novels that completely changed my life.

The first, I just finished again, this time on audio. 47 hours of unexpurgated Stephen King. The Stand. A work of genius that draws me in, over and over. I think I’ve read it at least once every two years since it was published. And yes, the re-release was better.

IT, I’ll lump in with The Stand. It is King’s mind at work. But these two, above all of the others, make me come back and read them for the sheer depth of the worlds he created. I also read Christine and Pet Sematary on a regular basis.

Ben Elton’s Stark was the first book I’d read that didn’t have a happy ending. It shocked me, but also opened me to the possibilities. It was incredibly well written, great characters and then… what the hell?

Tad Williams’ Otherland series blew me away. It’s slow going in places, but again, the story had a scope that I hadn’t seen in a novel or series for a long time. That one’s due to my aunty Joan, who put me onto them.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time gave me a new insight into magic. It was a world that touched on hundreds of different mythologies and wove them into an incredibly complex world. And then Jordan wrote books 7-10 (which were unnecessary). And then he died. Brandon Sanderson has revitalised the series, and I’m really looking forward to the last book.

Clive Barker was another writer who pushed boundary after boundary. Imajica redefined horror and fantasy for me. He wrote about things that I would never have the courage to write about under my own name.  He’s not for the weak hearted, but he is an incredibly good writer.

I could go on. I might. But as a youngster, these books changed the way I looked at the world. I still like to get back to them on occasion to revisit writing that makes everyone else look bad. Don’t attack me for the people I’ve left out. I could add at least 20 more books that have also changed my life, but this was meant to be an off-the-top-of-my-head account and these are the ones that came to mind.

Oh, by the way: I’ve written ten more pages of Finding Damo. Word count to come when I’m home.

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