May 10, 2012 — 880 words
By Letitia Coyne
I’ve been reading a lot again lately, after a few years of reading very little. I had lost interest in most of what I found on the shelves at the bookstores, finding I was disappointed as often as not. Since discovering online fiction and especially webfiction, I’ve found it is possible to read a great deal without the sort of time and emotional investment needed for a really good novel.
Not that there aren’t plenty of exceptional, emotionally involving works available in serial form, but the enforced wait between updates can serve to dampen the effect just as easily as it can heighten anticipation. Which is, of course, the perfect reason to look to the list of 1889 Labs publications; when you have enjoyed the story in episodic form, you can enjoy it all again, differently, with the release of a book.
But, anyway, back to my day to day. I felt it had been too long since I read some really good fantasy - so, off I went to Google up a list of the best in fantasy titles to see what would tickle my fancy. I found an excellent list, which then directed me to a well known online super-marketplace, where I could find reviews on the recommended titles. Once there, I did what I always do. I read a handful of the 5 stars and a number of the 1 star reviews for each title. [I also add up the number of reviews marked 3 stars and under and then compare it to the number of high scores. See, 3 is a fail, for me. Not for the book, it means it is a fair enough read, but I want to find the BEST. There are too many good books out there to waste time choosing something that is just okay.]
What I found reminded me of a comment made by a friend who worked at a pizza chain call centre. She said, “You only hear from the lovers or the haters.” But I wonder how many times lovers and haters are struck by the exact same points. Do the phoner-inners hate their anchovy with a passion as grand as those who were angry there was not enough anchovy? Does an excess of cheese get a poor reception from the diet-conscious and wild applause from the cheese lovers of the world?
In fiction, it seems to happen a lot.
Looking at the Song of Ice and Fire saga from George RR Martin, the very first review listed all the points the subsequent negative and positive reviews would reveal. Many of the elements which make up Martin’s work are not stereotypical, and for those who loved a new face on fantasy: disposable, ambiguous characters, gritty, violent realism, misogyny, and complex plots and subplots, it is a masterpiece. For those who hate all of these elements with an equal passion, it is an abomination.
Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson did not trouble readers so much with leaving behind the norms of the genre. Erikson struggled with what reviewers called a controversial writing style; controversial, because debate wound on and on about whether he was a genius wordsmith or a verbose fool writing incomprehensible drivel. Those who loved his voice delighted in every meandering paragraph through book after book. Many others abandoned the first book, even after several determined starts.
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss struck a different cord again. For readers, lovers and critics alike, it was the characters he drew that caused dissent. Some loved and praised the realization of his central character as both youthfully foolish, and at the same time, clever and skilled enough to show his arrogance. Critics canned Rothfuss for writing an unlikable and contradictory character.
The list is one of fine books, and the reviews for all of them are thoughtful and wonderfully emotive. But in a short time I realized how strongly each of us is motivated by the individual lens through which we see a book. We rarely stop to think – this is not to my taste. We judge the work as good or bad, because we liked or disliked it or something about it. The more passionately we are moved by the fault/genius of the story, the higher or lower we will be tempted to mark it in a review.
It makes reading both the highest and lowest reviews a worthwhile process. People who feel passionately enough about a book to have rated it a 5 star faultless, or a 1 star bilge water, and have then gone to the trouble of telling others why they felt this strongly, have a valid point to make. Whether in the end you agree or disagree, whether you decide to read the book or to let it slide, the book did what all books should do - it stirred an emotional response that was worth sharing.
After that, it’s all a matter of taste.
May 10, 2012 — 299 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic's eyes lit on a cupboard. In a frenzy, he whipped up the strongest Saucy Wench he'd ever mixed, tore open the top of Dr. Fester's IV bag, dumped the drink in, and squeezed. The alcohol rushed directly into Fester's veins.
The old man's eyelids fluttered, then shot wide open. He leapt out of bed like his pants were on fire and shouted, "I predict!"
"I know," said Tic, "but—"
"I predict walruses!" cackled Fester. "I predict the reunification of plaid! I predict a fine pickle!"
Tic scratched his head. "What did that stuff do to you?"
The curator shouted, "Bolter! What's going on back there!?"
Tic ripped the IV needle out of Dr. Fester's hand and pulled the old scientist into the hold. "I hope some part of your brain is still working..." He picked Fester up by the armpits—the man was surprisingly light—and lowered him down beside Mr. Cogs. "Give him some tools and see if anything useful happens!" said Tic, by way of explanation, and ran back to the cockpit. "Sir," he began, "I—"
Jeffries interrupted: "Enemy straight ahead!"
"Evasive maneuvers!" commanded the curator.
"AI's still offline... I'm stuck on manual!"
The Liberati ship loomed as Jeffries dodged helplessly, sluggishly left and right. Tic could see the enemy's turrets beginning to glow. He tensed...
And a burst of lasers sliced through the air twenty metres to their right.
"They aren't pursuing!" reported Jeffries. He dropped the Pelican's altitude again and tabbed through some diagnostics on the viewscreen. "Sir... We're cloaked!"
"Ah ha!" said the curator. "Excellent work, men!"
Jeffries added, "And that's not all, sir... We've got extra power flowing to our turrets from somewhere."
"Yeehaw!" said the curator. "We're back in business!"
May 9, 2012 — 309 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic killed the engine, shoved the control stick forward, and dropped the Pelican into a steep downwards dive. The Liberati ship below them found itself squarely in the Pelican's crosshairs.
"Let 'im have it!" cried the curator. He blasted away with his turrets, while Jeffries riddled the sky with vacuumized air pockets, tossing the ship around in heavy turbulence. But the enemy recovered and peeled off, and the Pelican went plummeting past.
Tic's stomach jumped into his throat as the cratered plains rose towards them. He yanked back on the control stick and fired the engine again, and they levelled out at the last moment. Puffs of dust and sand kicked up all around them under a hail of Liberati lasers.
"Did we land any hits?" asked Tic.
"Seemed to, but it didn't do much good," admitted the curator. "Those things have too much energy shielding! We need physical ammo, something explosive or acidic... Jeffries, boost the power on those vac gens if you can! Bolter, get us another pass."
"I'll try," said Tic. "Pelly, where are they?"
But before Pelly could answer, the Pelican was rocked by a heavy impact. The ship nosedived towards the sand, but Tic fought off the dive, skimming the rim of a crater.
"Shields are down!" reported the curator.
"Pelly," said Tic, "how are we doing? Pelly? Pelly!?"
There was no response.
"We're sitting poultry!" said the curator. "We need that cloaking device, now. Jenks, Cogs, how close are we?"
The curator's handset crackled. "We need more time, sir! It's these Gyrian fittings..."
The curator sighed. "Anyone got any bright ideas?"
Something twigged in Tic's subconscious. "I know who can help! Jeffries, take over." He scrambled for the passenger cabin.
Somehow, Dr. Fester was still in a deep coma.
May 8, 2012 — 135 words
By 1889 Labs
1889 Labs has teamed up with BIG JUMP Productions to publish a series of teen novels entitled ASCENSION. The series will be written by debut author Yvonne Reid, with the first book scheduled for release this summer.
We can't give away too many spoilers just yet, but what we will say is that ASCENSION follows a teenage girl whose only hope of survival is winning a tournament she's never trained for... all the while keeping her identity secret. And if anyone discovers who she really is, she'll never make it home alive.
Think "Hunger Games meets robots". Then make it ten times cooler.
The first installment of ASCENSION is coming out this summer. Keep your eyes peeled.
May 8, 2012 — 295 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
The first thought Tic had when he saw the cloud of red lasers erupting from the turrets of the Liberati ships was "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!"
His next thought, as the lasers raked across the Pelican's sides, making the freighter shake violently, was "EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!"
His third thought, upon realizing he was still alive, was "OOOOOOOHH..."
With his fourth thought, he mused that he had skipped a vowel.
"Excellent," grunted the curator, fiddling with his handset. "They only took down twenty percent of the force-shields. Gotta love those modular turrets, eh, Jeffries?"
"Love 'em like I love my own mother, sir," said Jeffries.
"Wait," said Tic. "Those turrets you installed generate force-shields, too?"
"Our museum displays the finest in twenty-year-old Entulovian military technology!" beamed the curator.
"Wow," said Tic. "So we might actually have a chance..."
The Pelican shook under another barrage.
"Not much of one, if we don't get crackin'!" snapped the curator. "Jeffries, man the vac gens. I'll control the turrets from my handset. Bolter, fly!"
"Yes, sir!" barked Jeffries.
"Er, okay," said Tic. He grabbed the controls. "Work with me, Pelly!"
"Yes, dear," responded the AI. "We're being flanked, by the way."
"Great..." said Tic. "So, uh, let's try this, then." He thrust the controls forward and put the Pelican into a steep dive, then pulled up and around in a tight arc. "Where are they now?"
"Directly behind us," said Pelly. The ship shook again, as if in confirmation.
The curator snarled, "We're at 55% shields! Gotta play some offense. Bolter, get one in front of us!"
Tic banked hard to the right and came around in a 180-degree turn. "Now?"
"One above us," said Pelly, "and one below."
"Uuurgh!" said Tic. "Okay, here goes nothing!"
May 7, 2012 — 420 words
By Greg X. Graves
I would make a terrible journalist.
Did you know that they're not allowed to lie? And if they lie, then there are consequences? Every time a journalist lies the moustache of a robber baron grows three inches and becomes three degrees curlier. A scummy crime boss grows another layer of grim. A corrupt politician crashes the first six miles of his Bentley into an orphanage and has time to finish his single-malt scotch before climbing into his auxiliary Cadillac and jettisoning before the passenger compartment comes within view of the wreckage.
The thought of responsibility makes me sweat. That's why I spend my writing time making up stuff.
Fact about me: facts don't work on me. I zone out and have flashbacks to my past life as a history student. Did you know that Caesar Augustus was not the final Roman Emperor to ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex into battle? That the Sack of Rome is not a lewd reference to Mark Antony? That everything that I know about the ancient world could be inscribed on a grain of rice with an extra-fat Sharpie?
Don't put the cap back on the marker. Take a few deep breaths, then open up Tacitus. You'll get an idea of how I understand history.
But sometimes I have to struggle with facts (ew), just like I have to struggle with transitions. Both hurdles have come up very recently.
I’ve been writing an alternate history novel for the past nine months. And it turns out that for it to be "alternate history" and not "mindfluff" then I have to put some actual history into it. World War I. Wireless telegraphy. Electrification, urban and rural. Tesla. The Curies. Nuclear weapons.
One of these things is totally like the other and you'd believe me if it wasn't for stupid facts.
History, granted, is not fact: history is by its very nature an interpretive act. Historians must choose what stories to tell and what stories go untold. They piece together stories and data into patterns that make or break a thesis. Historians combine fact with passion, intramural drama and incredible myopia to interpret the past.
These qualities are vital to wrest any sort of tangible, worthwhile product out of the howling mysteries of the past.
Wait. These qualities also make for great plots. Passion? Intramural drama? Myopia?
Maybe my next book should be about historians instead of history. Maybe I could ignore some of these facts.
Whoops. I said the f-word again. I have to go lie down.
May 5, 2012 — 374 words
By Terra Whiteman
When we first write something--a book, a short story, an article, whatever--we love it. We think it's the absolute best thing we've ever written. We sit there beaming at those clusters of words strewn into sentences strewn into paragraphs (sometimes) strewn into pages and think: "Yeah, it doesn't get any better than this."
Unfortunately, it does. And yes, I mean unfortunately.
Because like every other aspect in our lives, writing evolves.
The fourth book in a series I've been working on for over three years now has just been released, the fifth and last one due out this summer. Recently I picked up the first book and glanced over it.
... And then I cringed.
I skimmed through the draft of the final book that has yet to be released, and realized the writing is different. It's been nearly two years since I'd revised that first book, and back then I thought it was so completely filled with awesome that no one could have told me otherwise. Now I think it's utter crap. In fact, I'm currently in the process of producing an entirely rewritten second edition after begging 1889 Labs to let me go ahead with it.
But in a sense, it's a futile battle; I'm sure in another four years from now I'll look back on the rewritten edition and think it's crap as well. It seems like an endless process, and then I wonder if there is ever a point at which we achieve our apex of 'perfect' writing. Do we ever reach our maximum ability? Or perhaps we're not really getting 'better', but instead just writing differently?
Even with these dizzying thoughts, a rewrite would at least make the series more consistent, rather than having it seem as though two different authors had written it. Lately I've become so obsessed with trying to improve that I spend more time analyzing each sentence than focusing on the story. My husband finally told me that it'll never be perfect, and to just put it out and move on. It's what every author does, they move on. After this rewrite, so will I... albeit reluctantly.
I wonder how many other published authors look back on their earliest work and feel like burning it?
May 5, 2012 — 301 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly said, "I think that's everything, right guys?" She gave Haglyn and Overard pointed looks.
Haglyn raised her eyebrow in a "why-are-you-asking-me?" kind of way, but Overard caught on more quickly. "Right," he said, "no secrets here!"
"Hey," said Tic, "wait a minute. This is my ship. You can't just take over like this!"
The curator harrumphed. "Got a better solution? We're under attack! I need your ship, and you need my weaponry. If you had any real armaments, or even some specialized ammunition, I'd welcome you to have at it..."
Tic was about to retort, but another attack from the Liberati rocked the loading bay. "Urgh. Fine! But I'm taking copilot."
The curator acceded the claim, and Tic led him and a staffer—Jeffries, according to his name tag—into the cockpit. Jeffries took the pilot's seat and began acclimating himself to Pelly's controls. Another museum staffer bustled in and pulled Milly, Haglyn, and Overard off the ship into the loading bay.
As Pelly's sublight engine warmed up, Tic's hands started getting clammy. What was he doing!? He didn't rush into battles like some kind of hero...
The curator clapped him on the shoulder. "Let's get 'em, boys!" He held up a handset: "Got those turrets ready?" The staffers outside confirmed. The curator hit a button and the loading bay doors started opening.
"We're going to die, aren't we?" said Tic.
"Wouldn't be war if there wasn't a chance of dying!" grinned the curator.
Pelly, who had been quiet throughout the chaos and bustle, softly said, "Mr. Bolter, it has been an honour working with you." Then Jeffries hit the accelerator and they shot out into the open air.
Lasers instantly started to fly.
On the loading bay floor, Milly said, "Wait... Where's Dr. Fester?"
May 4, 2012 — 303 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"We'd better let the curator in," said Milly. She and Overard hurried into the hold. Tic, still woozy, stumbled after them.
Overard hit the button and the door swished open to reveal the curator in mid-knock, along with half a dozen museum employees. They were all holding various intimidating weaponry.
The curator pushed his way into Pelly's hold. "Took you long enough... Now, what do we have here? Got that engine in yet?"
"Um," said Overard. "No, not yet."
"Gonna be a little while," chimed in Cogs, popping his head up from behind the Jitterdrive. "I'm doing what I can, sir."
"Prioritize the cloaking circuitry," barked the curator.
"Er..." said Cogs.
"Jenks, get in there and help him out."
One of the other museum staff dropped his blaster and hopped down with Cogs.
The curator looked at Overard. "What armaments does this old bucket have?"
"It's his ship, actually," said Overard. He pointed to Tic.
"Well?" said the curator.
Tic shook his head to clear away the cobwebs. "'Well' what? What's going on?"
"You tell me!" said the curator. "I dunno what these scum are after, but I'm guessing it has something to do with you folks. Y'all can explain later! Right now, we gotta fight. I'm commandeering your vessel. The Enemy hit our hangars, crippled us right off the hop. In three days we could construct half a fleet out of our spare parts, but there's no time. We've gotta do with what we've got, and right now, we've got your Galactic Pelican."
There was a pregnant pause.
"Huh?" said Tic.
"Pelly has vacuum generators," offered Haglyn.
"It's a start," mused the curator. "Jones, Jackson: wing-mount your turrets." Two staffers leapt into action. "Anything else I should know before we get this freighter in the air?"
May 3, 2012 — 879 words
By Letitia Coyne
Just lately people keep asking me the worst possible question. No, not questions about the motivating forces that apply to perambulating ducks, not ‘would you kill your child to save the world?’ not ‘do you want fries with that?’; worse.
What is your favourite book?
How does anyone ever answer that? At any given moment, it might be the book I am reading now or the one I wish I was reading. I do not have any exclusivity in genre preferences; I’ll read most things and enjoy many. There are too many variables that influence my choice.
There is the weather. Cold wet weather makes me want to read classics. If I can curl up in comfy chair with a hot Milo or Irish coffee, with a TimTam and a duvet, then I like to read old books and pretend it is a simpler time or the world is a different place. So I’d have to start with a list of classical Literature that I have enjoyed repeatedly. But to pick one?
Hot sunny weather is unlikely to bring on a reading binge, but if it did I would want something foreign. Living in Queensland all my life has never cured me of associating heat and humidity with pre-war Singapore, all white linen and broad-brimmed hats on ladies sipping G&Ts on rattan verandah chairs, or colonial African plains spreading out for ever with the threats of adventure, blood and riches. There are masses of those, too. Which one is best?
If, like me, you have had multitudes of sport-playing children to chauffer about on the weekends, you will know there is rarely time to watch any one of them compete. The schedule demands you drop one off with gear early, to get another to their venue just in time to head back across the endless suburbs to where another must be signed in, signed for, paid for, kitted out, fed, and photographed before the whole journey runs again backwards. Throughout that day you will have periods, however brief, where waiting in carparks reading is the only sane option. That book has to be light. That’s the time for chicklit or comedy or blissfully both! But not for Dostoyevsky. Or it's time for a great short story collection. Or even a comic. So – choose your favourite carpark book, I dare you to try.
Doctors’ waiting rooms. Yes, you’re groaning. It depends, doesn’t it? Do you want to flick through an eleven year old celebrity focused magazine with the crossword done in red biro and wrong? No. No one does, but they persevere because trying to choose a good doctors’ waiting room book is too hard. It’s fine if it is only a check up, or a non-life threatening complaint. But what if you can’t think straight because of the persistent burning? What if there is a lump or a discharge? What if it is a prenatal checkup and you are so excited you just cannot see the words?
Having a few different favourite books to take to the doctor is essential. I like books I can open at any page, and familiarity with them allows me to resume reading from any point. If there are really loud and fascinating social interactions going on around you, [as there often are at my doctor's surgery] you can relax knowing you won’t have to keep re reading a passage every time your attention is snagged away.
Can’t sleep and need to? Then something biographical. So many interesting people, fascinating people, who have had the day-to-day diarized for them just so you can read their tales as you try to nod off. Can’t sleep and don’t care? Then something really gripping; something to take your mind off lying on the bed as the time ticks by. A great thriller or adventure novel. Or truly beautiful poetry or poetic prose that lets your tired mind flow through washes and waves of thought and imagery.
I haven’t scratched the surface of times to read, and each one has a hundred books that would be the perfect choice for that moment in time. So for every hundred moments, there are a hundred wonderful books. For every emotional state or state of confusion or relaxation, there are another hundred that I might be thrilled to pick up over and over again.
I answered the question recently for Tonya Moore. I said, ‘Precious Bane’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ as a box set. On reading that, a friend said, “What? You didn’t even mention Douglas Adams?” No I didn’t. I wasn’t thinking of humour at that moment. I was thinking about loam and lovechildren. I didn’t mention Homer, or Terry Pratchett or PG Wodehouse either and every one of their books is a favourite. I might have alighted on ‘The Prophet’ or ‘Sacrament’ or ‘Titus Andronicus’.
I cannot choose. I cannot, ever, reliably choose my favourite book.
If you can, how? What is it and why is it so far above all the beauties of literature that it holds its place in every circumstance? How do you do it?