May 17, 2012 — 565 words
By Letitia Coyne
I recently found this list of Top Ten Books, which is based on the number of books printed and sold in the last 50 yrs.
These lists are always problematic – my first problem was having The DaVinci Code and Twilight even appearing on a list of the ten best anything. But these are the most bought books, assumed to be the most read, not the finest efforts of literary expression.
Others felt the same but had other books they would have liked to see there, or were amazed had not been better represented by sales.
Here are some of the points raised by readers of this list:
How many people started reading LOTR and never finished? Or any of the other titles, for that matter.
The Bible shouldn’t count. Churches bulk-buy for hotel rooms, pews, religious schools etc.
Why isn’t there a showing for other religious scriptures, the Quran or Bagavad Gita, for example?
Who reads books of quotes? Aren’t they available on Google?
Da Vinci Code before Anne Frank – Preposterous!
Just because it wasn’t multiple purchased, doesn’t mean it wasn’t widely read – Hello, libraries!
Was Mao’s wisdom ‘compulsory’ reading for the most populous nation on the earth? That should be a foul.
Anne Frank fouled out, too. Wasn’t she compulsory school reading for generations?
Harry Potter over Roald Dahl's works is just embarrassing! Oh well, that's life.
I'm pretty Sure Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss are more widely read than Twilight or Harry Potter. "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." -Dr. Seuss
A few surprises in this top-10 list, but I guess it's not surprising how many of them also have successful movies.
I think that last point is huge! It is part of our modern culture to mix the two, now, and I think books like Twilight are produced and marketed with the plan of multimedia coverage set before the ink is dry on the pages. But the people who bought these books are 'them', the same 'them' that buy all the books. They are us, the readers of the world.
What about you? What surprises you about the list? What titles should be there? What shouldn’t? What points do you think are raised by the list?
Are top ten lists pointless? If so, why are they so very popular? Is the answer the same for books?
Read more of the comments at the original posting of this list from James Chapman at 10 Most Read Books In The World. Also there, the actual sales figures.
May 17, 2012 — 307 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Haddock swam lazily through space below the Galactic Pelican.
"Okay, here we go," said Tic. "Be ready with the cloaking device, Milly. Haglyn, target their ships, not the building itself. We need to get in there afterwards."
"This still seems reckless to me," said Overard.
"Hey, we voted," snapped Tic. "Gal, begin atmospheric entry."
"Yes, sir," said the AI.
Overard settled grumpily into the passenger cabin.
They broke through the clouds directly over the Dunter Yeti Security headquarters and shot past the blaring air traffic beacons.
"Here they come!" said Tic.
Ships began buzzing up out of the hangars. Within seconds, the sky was filled with a dozen Liberati ships and fifteen or twenty of Dunter's green jets.
Tic's courage melted away like snow under an afterburner. "What!? Where did they all come from? Abort!" Milly engaged the cloaking device as Tic pushed the sublight engines to full power. The Pelican screamed away from the city.
Three red diamonds blinked onto the viewscreen. "Cloakbusters!" shouted Tic. "Haglyn, shoot them down!"
Haglyn used the turrets to scatter lasers behind them, and was rewarded with two massive explosions, but one missile was still on their tail.
Tic hollered, "Gal, full power to the shields!"
"So much for the head-on approach," muttered Overard miserably.
The missile hit.
The Pelican tumbled end over end, sinking out of the sky, and hammered into the snowy ground, carving a long scar across the desolate mountainside.
"Urgh," said Tic. "Thank goodness for Entulovian military technology. Are we okay, Gal?"
"I am intact," the ship informed him, "but my flight and combat systems are rebooting. My sensors detect nearby movement." A view from a side camera showed four massive, shaggy beasts with bright eyes rapidly climbing the mountainside towards them.
Haglyn groaned. "Yetis!"
May 16, 2012 — 296 words
By Merissa Tse
I have to admit something: I’m one of those poetry-writing folks.
I’ve never written a novel, and I’m certain it would kill me if I tried. Flash fiction, however, has a special place in my little writerly heart. It’s like walking into a bar and ordering a shot of fiction, straight up—or on the rocks, if you’re so inclined.
Luckily enough, it’s National Flash Fiction Day!
What’s considered flash fiction? A story under 1000 words? 500? Word count is a factor, but more importantly, flash fiction is the art of precision. Conciseness. My favourite flash fiction throws the reader into a world in which the story is over before they even know where they are, or who they’re reading about. Sometimes an entire history can be explained in a single detail. Remember Hemmingway’s six word prose?
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
The shortest of stories with the contents of a novel tucked into the details.
To celebrate the day properly, check out some awesome flash fiction by Sarah Stanton! Sarah is an Australian writer, translator, and editor. living in China. She likes singing in public, the smell of woodsmoke on a cold winter's day, and ducks. Read her recently published flash fiction piece, “To Grind an Iron Rod into a Needle”.
Sarah’s blog, as well as her other work, can be found on her website, http://www.theduckopera.com.
If you’re in the UK, there are plenty of events to check out (better late than never...)! There are also a few international and online events.
May 16, 2012 — 300 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic sat on the edge of the Pelican's ramp, aimlessly kicking his feet.
"Wow!" said Milly, approaching. "Pelly looks really great, doesn't she?"
"It's not Pelly," grumbled Tic. "Pelly's gone. Computer got wiped. Doesn't even remember me. Talks like a man, now."
The speakers in the hold buzzed: "I am perfectly happy to adjust my vocal output to—"
"See?" said Tic. "Pelly was tough. She'd never be that accommodating..."
Milly sat beside Tic. "You miss her, don't you?"
Tic lifted his head and glared. Then he softened. "I guess so."
"And Libden was the one who took her from you."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
Tic fixed Milly with a stare. "I see what you're trying to do."
"You want to go back to Haddock, and you're trying to manipulate me into taking you there."
"Hey, I just—" Milly protested. She lowered her head. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'll find another way."
Tic stood. "I didn't say 'No.' I'm just making a point... I'm in."
Haglyn rolled up, with Overard riding on the bumper of her GyroCart. "We're coming, too!"
Overard nodded. "Libden has taken something from all of us. My ship, Haglyn's legs, Milly's parents..."
Milly was beaming. "Thank you, everyone!"
"Where's the Doc?" asked Tic.
Overard shook his head. "The curator said they're keeping Dr. Fester here to make sure he heals completely."
"That's too bad," said Tic. "Well... Let's get moving! Libden has the Adam Astrobot and a big head start."
"Hey, what are we going to call the ship now?" asked Milly. "You know, since it's basically a whole new AI and everything."
The new AI chimed in: "Might I suggest—"
"Gal," said Tic. "Let's call him Gal."
May 15, 2012 — 278 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
After half an hour in a Revita Tube, a solid dinner, and a good night's sleep, Tic Bolter felt ready to put this whole mess with Lady Libden, the Liberati, rare action figures, and secret doomsday devices behind him.
He woke up gradually and plodded into the museum's kitchen, where he ate a plate of bacon and a heaping bowl of sugary porridge. The curator came and joined him as he was finishing his meal. "Feeling okay, Mr. Bolter?"
"Best I've felt in years," confessed Tic.
"My men have been working on your ship all night. Come see." The curator led Tic to the loading bay, where the Galactic Pelican was hidden under a mountain of scaffolding.
Jenks saw them approaching and lifted his welding mask. "We've done our best," he said, "but it's hard to make something from nothing..."
Tic shrugged. "As long as she flies and holds cargo, I'll be happy."
"All right..." said Jenks. He called, "Roll her out!"
A massive wheeled cart carried the Pelican out from under the scaffolding. Every surface gleamed. The four booster turbines that had previously straddled the wings had been replaced with several smaller, fancier sublight engines.
"Wow," Tic breathed.
"Like I said," reiterated Jenks, "hard to make something from nothing. But not impossible. Those new jets should nearly double your cruising speed."
Tic lowered the ramp and walked up into the hold. "Pelly, you should see yourself! You're gorgeous!"
"Thank you kindly," echoed a smooth male voice out of Pelly's speakers. "Are you Mr. Tic Bolter? I'm told you're my captain."
Tic's jaw dropped, and his heart drooped.
May 14, 2012 — 1,223 words
By Ellie Hall
The Aeon Calling
By Garth Erickson
"Alex Brown is hit with unbearable trauma; self-conscious and obsessive, at once the haunted and the haunter, he time-travels from personal tragedy through war in Africa, rain in Glasgow, and a shit-load of monkey business in-between to domestic psychosis. Armed with the Tarot (a guide for the misguided) and a ghostly pair of pistols, Alex sets about trying to reset his world. Sex, Death and Time - A dark, multi-layered journey through the obsessed and haunted mind of Alex Brown. Alex's mind is alive with the pre-apocalyptic world, but focussed only on Susan - the one woman he cannot have.
The Aeon Calling was my second attempt at writing a novel, the first being an odd little sci-fi thing called Transfer at Pandora Central. Which is not to say that The Aeon Calling is not odd - I did my best to ignore all perceived novel writing wisdom and portray what I saw in my head - supernatural, sexy, sometimes semi-autobiographical and, of course, with the usual helping of pseudo-philosophic-psycho-babble."
Any episodic entertainment takes a risk. Every time an ad breaks the stream of my concentration on the telly I am likely to lose interest and wander off, or turn to another program. The same happens with series and serials. If one episode is bad, the incentive to tune in again next time is at risk. And so it is with serial fiction. But when you find good webfiction, like that found at WFG, fictionaut, Year Zero Writers, or flashing by, it’s addictive. That is how and where I found the author of this month’s review book.
I first read Garth Erickson’s serials from a link at flashing by. I was immediately struck by the beauty of his words and a sense that I was only just holding on to the pieces of each story as he brought them together. That sense of clinging to understanding by the tips of the fingers but learning to trust the author and enjoy the work came with familiarity, and reading his work in novel form is no disappointment.
I loved The Aeon Calling, as I thought I probably would. Erickson’s summary of this book calls it multi-layered. Multi-layered does not begin to describe it.
Alex Brown hears the voices of his ‘ghosts’ long before any trauma has entered his life. They are always there, even the ghosts of his toys broken in anger. As he spins through the chaos and pain of his life they are constant, as is the guilt for things over which he had no control, the Tarot cards he took from beside his dead mother, memories of the Angolan war, and the love of his wife, who is perfect in every way – except she is not the one woman he obsesses over.
Each subject creates a layer of meaning and confusion in Alex’ life, and as we slip into his madness, time itself has no relevance. Memories come and go; there is no firm NOW in this book until the very end. It is a journey through a man’s psychosis. There is no firm REAL for Alex; he recalls his life, and experiences his madness: at times omniscient, at times powerless in the face of consequences.
Don’t be alarmed at the thought of this lack of line. All the separate threads begin to tie together and an order emerges naturally as we follow Alex’ age in each memory. There are clear and clearer markers given at each point to give the reader a firm enough grasp on where they are in the narrative.
The Tarot itself, specifically the Aeon card referenced in the title, gives some insight into Alex’ view of reality:
The Aeon (or Judgement, Last Judgement, Atonement, Resurrection) is numbered twenty and often shows figures arising from graves in answer to the clarion call of an angel. The Aeon forces us to acknowledge that our actions set up a chain of cause-and-effect for which we are solely responsible. Here we pass through the fire of purification, shedding dead and dying wood as we go. We judge ourselves frankly, forgive, and leave the past behind. And then we are free to step into the light.
There will come a moment, if we are true to ourselves, when we know exactly what we need to do. And when that moment comes there will be no further prevarication, no doubt, no fear. This is because time itself has enormous power. To find the right time for anything is a really useful life skill. When a choice comes to its own moment, it becomes empowered by its own momentum, and at that moment we can move forward with confidence. Sometimes, then, just of itself, this card will bring about changes on the day that it rules.
Reading some of Garth’s bio will also shed light into the depths of feeling revealed by the author through his character. The Aeon Calling is not autobiographical, but it plainly draws on a number of experiences and beliefs held by the author [AKA Pisces Iscariot] himself.
I rate this an easy FIVE stars. That means I not only enjoyed it, I recommend it without any reservation, and no ifs or exceptions. Superb.
About the author: Garth Erickson
Just for the record: the most I will try and sell you is one of my books; I have no other agenda; I’m not a teacher, a preacher or a double glazing salesman. Neither do I aspire to be any of those. Which is not to say that I have nothing to give; I believe that the events that shaped (and continue to shape) my life have resonance beyond the (meta)physical presence of Pisces Iscariot. We are all involved in history. With this in mind, anyone expecting guidance, enlightenment, epiphanies or healing might as well leave now.
Some basic facts: • I was born in Durban in 1962. According to the rules of the game this makes me a South African. • I am a pacifist; I don't want to get killed in anybody's territorial/resource war • I am an atheist; I owe my soul to no god. Other works
May 12, 2012 — 307 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
The world exploded, and Tic thought he felt his skull burst. Then he blinked, coughed, and saw the ground rushing towards him through the cockpit viewscreen.
He hauled back on the controls. For a horrifying half-second, the Pelican didn't respond. Then it whined feebly and levelled out.
"Atta girl, Pelly!" cheered Tic.
The AI didn't respond.
The curator sat up, rubbing his head. "Excellent work with the shields, Jenks."
"Credit Cogs, sir," replied Jenks from the hold. "He reacted faster than I did."
"We're in rough shape, sir," said Jeffries from the seat beside Tic. "I'm not sure how we held together, honestly."
"The Gyrians do good work," said Tic, patting the dashboard affectionately.
"Better land before we crash," said Jeffries.
"Belay that," ordered the curator. "Do a low pass over the enemy crash sites."
"Yes, sir," said Tic. He swooped the Pelican down over the smoking wreckage of the first Liberati ship. There was no movement. Near the second crater, however, two figures were crawling out from under white parachutes. Jeffries took them out with well-placed bursts from the vacuum generators.
The curator said, "Now we can head back."
Tic flew the Pelican up to the museum, past the charred remains of the hangars. Milly, Haglyn, and Overard were nervously waiting.
The moment Tic landed, every flickering screen and sparking circuit went dark. "Don't worry," the curator assured him. "Our techs will fix her better than ever in no time, maybe even do some upgrading. Parts and labour on the house; you've earned it!"
"Can you get the AI back?" asked Tic.
"No promises," said Jenks. "Looks like a pretty catastrophic system failure. We'll try."
Tic forced the hold door open manually and stepped into the loading bay, where Milly astonished him with a tearful hug.
May 11, 2012 — 291 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"We've gotta restore power to our shields," said the curator, as Tic strapped back in.
"Wait," said Tic.
The curator glared. "Think you know better than I do, son?"
"Of course not, sir. But they tore through us like paper before, and we couldn't even scratch them."
"We weren't cloaked before," pointed out the curator.
"Exactly," said Tic. "So let's make that our defense. Forget the shielding: put the extra power into the blasters."
"You know, that's not bad," mused the curator. He grabbed his handset and relayed the plan.
Tic took the flight controls back. "Now," he said, grimly, "let's go hunting..." He pulled the Pelican up into a higher altitude. Searching visually, he spotted the Liberati ships doing confused circles below. "This one's for Pelly," he muttered, then swooped.
The vacuum generators churned out pockets of negative pressure and the curator bombarded the area with heavy laser fire. One of the Liberati ships lost a wing and went spiralling into the ground.
"Whoo!" shouted the curator gleefully.
The other enemy ship sent return fire ripping through the air where the Pelican had been, but Tic had already changed course. He brought the ship around in a tight arc, placing the second enemy directly in the crosshairs.
A blinking red alert popped up on the viewscreen. "Um," said Tic. "What's that?"
"Missile detection!" said Jeffries. "Cloak-breaker, headed our way!"
"Shoot it down!" roared the curator. He hammered the trigger control, and the air filled with lasers. The other enemy ship took several scattered hits and spun away, in flames.
The missile kept coming.
Tic slammed the control stick left to dodge.
"FULL POWER TO SHIELDS!" shouted the curator into his handset.
The missile hit.
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!"