Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: A dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

A Dance with Dragons
(A Song of Ice and Fire # 5)

By George R.R. Martin

Publshed: 2011

Synopsis (via goodreads): In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again--beset by newly emerging threats from every direction.And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all. . . .

I can't believe I've already finished the series! I really should have slowed myself down so that I wouldn't have to reread it in 5-10 years when GRRM finally releases the next book in the series! It's going to destroy my patience trying to wait out the next book's release...waiting is not my forte. Anyway, onto the review of the recently released book five of the wonderful and magnificently large A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. Obviously since this is book five it'll contain spoilers from the previous four books so if you haven't read them yet and you don't want them spoiled do not read on!

Ok so my previous review for book four, A Feast for Crows, stated my ambivalence for this book. Partly because AFFC didn't really live up to the previous books and because A Dance with Dragons takes place at the same time as AFFC but tells the story of the characters who missed out getting in to AFFC. So my verdict? Well...I'm torn. On one hand I raced through this book and at no time did it feel like it was a chore or difficult to get through the 961 pages (my edition) but on the other hand...meh. I'm going to do my best to describe what I liked and disliked about this book but I'm having trouble actually putting it into words it was just...meh.

So as mentioned the book continues along the timeline set in the previous book, but this time we get to hear from my favourite characters, and in my opinion the more interesting characters, Jon (at the wall), Tyrion (escaping from King's Landing) and Daenerys (struggling to rule Mereen), as well as characters like Bran, Davos, Quentyn and a few others. Because I've read these books in pretty quick concession I had no issue picking up where their stories had been left off but I imagine anyone who has had a bit of time lapse in between reads might have difficult remembering all the smaller, yet important, details and more importantly they may have issues recalling exactly who all the minor characters are. Especially those around Daenerys in Mereen with all their ridiculously similar names Hazayrr, Kazayrr, Khazzyr or whoever they are!

It did take a little getting used to the pace of this novel because even though chronologically it's in line with AFFC it doesn't exactly match up. So when Jon's chapters start up Sam seems to linger around for a lot longer than he did in the previous book (where we read from his perspective) because for Jon there was more that needed to happen before he could send Sam away. And at times I'd find myself a little muddled and confusing action from the previous book with this book, "wait I thought Sam was on his way south, why is he still at the wall?" for example. This was mostly an issue at the very start of the book, once Sam had headed south, it was a lot easier to fall into the rhythm of the book.

One of my chief concerns was that this book would waste chapters rehashing an event from another perspective. There were perhaps two chapters where a large chunk of the dialogue/action was exactly as it had been in the previous book. Again the example coming to mind is when Jon tells Sam he's sending him to become a maester. There is dialogue and interaction that occurred before this conversation and we get a bit of insight into why Tilly ran crying from Jon while Sam was waiting to speak with him, but a large chunk of the chapter is simply what we'd already read with the occasional input of internal dialogue from Jon. I found that beyond boring and I found the internal insights confusing because even though I knew they were giving explanation to why Jon made faces at Sam or paused in his speech in Sam's version from AFFC I couldn't actually remember exactly what happened in Sam's version and I wasn't interested enough to pull out that book and read them side by side. Luckily this only happens in one other chapter (that I can recall) but for those chapters it is a little clunky and awkward and really could have probably been edited out or down.

What it does do with this chronological format is provide the full story behind some of the rumours in AFFC. Early into AFFC Cersei receives word that Davos, Stannis's hand also known as the Onion Knight, had been beheaded at White Harbour. In this book we find out what really happened, in much more detail, and this new aspect adds a whole new dimension to the news and information those in King's Landing receive. In my reviews of the earliest books I expressed my delight over the secrecy and double-crossing that was had a constant presence in the books. Basically that's what happens in this book, except rather than just realising it from chapter to chapter when you see what news different characters receive and how they react/act around different people in small groups (most commonly in King's Landing) you see this behaviour taking place across the kingdom. The two sub-plots that blossom in White Harbour with Davos (one that begins to take shape, and one which is left for the next book) are only small but they have the potential to grow greatly and I found them very, very interesting!

This book has a much quicker pace but I think that really comes down to the characters it focuses on. In King's Landing things had begun to stagnate. Cersei was losing her mind to paranoia and struggling to maintain her power through her son around the shifty characters she'd surrounded herself with. It was quite small scale and for the most part concerned only King's Landing and a few characters. Similarly Brienne's chapters were basically her saying "I'm looking for my sister, a girl of three and ten" over and over as she rode through the ruins of Westeros. However this book had Quentyn (son of the prince of Dorne) struggling to make his way to Daenerys to swear his allegiance through marriage, Tyrion racing away from King's Landing and his sister's clutches and falling in to some interesting company (on more than one occasion!) and Jon struggling against the Wildings, the Others and the obnoxious King Stannis and his red witch. So immediately this book covers a far greater area and looks at several different conflicts and issues taking place across the seven kingdoms and beyond. That said it still is a little slow. Not snail pace, but it's filling in a lot of gaps, reminding audiences of earlier conflicts and providing new details of back stories which had previously been hinted at.

I had no real problem with this slower speed especially when about two thirds of the way through it actually overtakes the previous book and begins to give us completely new stories. Cliff hangers from AFFC are answered or at least re-glimpsed and the action takes off at a much faster pace. It really needed those slower two thirds to set up the scene for the last part of the book and hopefully this means the next book will begin at an equally fast pace and really snowball the story home.

So I had no real problem with the pace of the story but I did feel like a lot of it was unnecessary. Did GRRM really need 2000 pages and two books to tell this part of the story? One of the things I really loved about GRRM was how he managed to write this huge, all encompassing story but still maintain it fairly succinctly. I feel like he's perhaps lost control of these books. Davos was given four or five chapters to do very little and as soon as things got really interesting it was left. Bran spent a long time walking north and once things got interesting the chapters ended. Brienne and Jaime were reintroduced at the two thirds mark, we were teased a little and that was it. Jon didn't really develop too much that hadn't been introduced in the previous three books and Daenerys lingers on in Mereen even though nothing happens except people hate her or want to marry her. Ultimately it was 961 pages of story which really could have been worked into the previous book if GRRM had a more concrete idea of where the story was going and what needed to be included, and what was merely interesting filler. I guess this is where the meh reaction comes in. I enjoyed reading the book, I like the characters and I love the world he's created and his writing is still fantastic but did I need to read it, did it advance the story at all? No, not really, and I imagine those fans who've waited five years for it will be a little let down.

Which I guess brings me on to my final point, his unbelievable overuse of cliff hangers! In the first two or three books these cliff hangers weren't really an issue because more often than not the cliff hanger was resumed in the same book at a later chapter. Now that GRRM has so many characters (I think he's literally bordering on a cast of 1000s) if he leaves a chapter as a cliff hanger, especially one of the minor characters like Davos or Sam, there is a chance it won't be picked up again in the same book. So at this point there are literally dozens of story lines left hanging, some since two books previously, which perhaps won't be resolved any time soon. It makes it a little frustrating and a little confusing. There are only so many sub-plots and frayed story lines that can be remembered at any one time and as time goes on they'll need more background provided to rehash them (you can't expect your audience to reread every book again each time you publish a new one) which will take up unnecessary space and waste yet another book.

I feel like this has come out really negative which wasn't my intention at all! I really did enjoy the book, some of the story lines were fantastic and I jumped around in anger/happiness/fear more than a few times! But I guess once you start to think about it for an extended period of time you start to realise the inconsistencies and the difficulties the series is up against. If you haven't read the series yet (but have decided to risk spoilers to read this!) don't let this be a deterrent, it's a wonderful series and has some great potential to go into new, uncharted waters. If you've read it, I'm interested in what you think about this book, let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Links

*Hunter S.Thompson's fantastic novel The Rum Diary has been adapted to screen. Actually it was adapted awhile ago, the film has been in limbo land for over a year now (why would anyone hesitate to distribute a Johnny Depp film?) but it has only just received a release date (October this year) and a trailer. It seems very different from the novel, far more light-hearted comedy, but perhaps just the way they've skewed the trailer. Who knows, I trust Johnny Depp to do HST proud so I'll definitely be checking this out.

*I want to buy an iPhone just so I can buy this bookish case from Out of Print!

*I'm considering proposing to Tom just so I can hire Emily Bawn to create similar save the date cards for our wedding. Hint, they're far more undead than the usual save the date fare!

*Melbourne Writers Festival is in full swing (finishes on the 4th September). I've been enjoying keeping an eye on the twitter updates, if you want some bookish tweets by and about wonderful authors and books follow them here.

*By the time this is posted Hurricane Irene should be over and hopefully all have come out the other side unharmed and with minimal (if any) damage to your homes/neighbourhoods. Hopefully you all fared better than Tucker Barnes. Yuck!

*Gelaskins have partnered with Geek Cool to sell their vinyl device covers to us in Australia. So if you have an mp3, smart phone, laptop, game console you should take a look and start personalising your things! I personally recommend the Bookshelf (on my Nintendo DSi) and the Dr Gonzo (on my iPod) for some bookish wickedness!

*The new season of Doctor Who is out! Yay!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Zombie fact of the day

The whole "brains...braaaaaiiinnnns" thing was started thanks to the team behind Return of the Living Dead who decided the zombie would be better if it had an unquenchable desire for human brains. Thanks to the popularity of this film and shows like The Simpsons jumping on with this version it's one of the most popular phrases used in conjunction with zombies in popular culture. However, very few films picked up on it, instead prefering the good old fashioned cannibalism George Romero used in his phenomenal film series.

Weekend bonus...Do you know how many of these Shepard Fairey/Obama-Hope posters there are floating around the net with a zombie and the phrase 'Brains' underneath? Hundreds. Seriously, it's insane.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fanart Friday on hold!

Hi all,

Just a quick post to let you know Fanart Friday will be on hiatus until I finish up my thesis. It's just too time consuming to search for images, contact artists and package them all up into blog posts alongside everything else. So until late October there won't be any new ones...but they will be back! I really enjoy posting all those beautiful images so they'll definitely make a comeback when I have more time. If you have any requests for me to look into when it returns please let me know in the comments!

Review: Brightwing by Sullivan Lee

By Sullivan Lee

Published: 2010

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Edgar and Mallory Battle are on the run after a spectacularly violent escape. Now, with a trail of bodies behind them, they need a hostage against the inevitable standoff with the police. Their first doesn't last long, thanks to sociopathic Mallory. Edgar has been hiding his brother's crimes since they were kids. Now he's torn between family loyalty and self-preservation.They carjack Lucy Brightwing, a criminal fresh from her own heist, with a fortune of uncut gems hidden in her vehicle. She could escape - but she won't abandon her millions. She could kill the Battle brothers, but she has to be careful. For one thing, if the law investigates, they'll find her ill-gotten loot. For another, her own life is sacred. She's the last member of a Florida paleoindian tribe thought to be extinct - the Tequesta. With her share of the money she plans to buy, bribe and blackmail her way into her own ancestral tribal lands in the heart of the Everglades: a Tequesta nation. Lucy leads the brothers into her beloved swamp, determined to kill them. But when she falls for Edgar she must decide whether to risk her heritage and the future of her tribe to save the doomed brothers.

Before I begin I just want to state out in the open that I received this book from the author and in return I am providing her with an honest review. Hee hee, I've been waiting for an age and a half to be given the opportunity to say that! Brightwing marks my very first author requested review and my very first self-published book and luckily for me I was offered a pretty good book to kick start both off with!

As the synopsis describes this book is part love story, part crime story, part Native American history lesson and part moral minefield. That's a lot of parts I know, but this book has just the right mix and makes it work. Before I get started discussing the characters and the story I just want to explain a particular source of pleasure I came across with this book. When the author sent me the request email she told me a bit about her history. The name Sullivan Lee that this book is published under is actually a psyuedenym. Her actual name is Laura Sullivan and typically she writes children and YA novels published by MacMillan/Holt. Now I don't know about you but I get a bit of a perverse pleasure knowing that I'm reading the antithesis of what authors normally publish. When you know that this is an author whose writing is usually used to soothe children and calm them before bed it just makes it oh-so-much better when the novel begins "it was a shame about the hooker," and is followed a couple of pages later with the line "Two minutes later, before he could quite discover the ambivalent joys of erotic asphyxiation, he was choked unconscious, then encouraged to remain that way somewhat longer by a precise blow to the head". It's just so devilishly good!

Ok, so on to the actual content of the book! There is a lot that happens in this book but the real focus is on the Battle brothers, Edgar and Mallory and Lucy Brightwing, the girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time but is more than capable to take care of herself. For me the real interest was watching the characters unravel and struggle and learn new things about themselves thanks to the new and unusual surroundings and people they were thrust amongst.

 The Battle brothers are incredible different and incredibly (stupidly!) loyal to one another. Edgar is perhaps like a few people you know, well except for the professional crook aspect, but Mallory...well Mallory is a whole different kettle of fish. Basically he's batshit crazy.  He's obviously not quite right and there is this strange separation between what he does and what he thinks. Because it's so obvious that he isn't ok mentally there is this innocence about him even though he's a gun-wielding rapist and murderer who acts first and thinks never. He's dangerous but not because he has a gun and isn't afraid to use it. He's dangerous because he doesn't recognise life. He sees himself and his brother in the world everyone else is a thing to be used, abused or disposed of. Edgar on the other hand is the older brother who promised his mother he'd look out for his crazy brother. Unfortunately that means his life is anything but easy and he finds himself holding a gun to someone's head more often than he'd probably like.

Interestingly we're introduced to the brothers at the start of the book not so much through their physical appearance or dialogue but through descriptions of their outlook or reactions to their crimes. Not only did this tell you a lot about how well they work together (or perhaps work not so well together) but it gives a really interesting take into what makes the character who they are and also paves the way for the tension that is looming so very ominously from the start of the book. I found it really effective and a breath of fresh air.

Parallel to these brothers is the character of Lucy Brightwing. When we meet her she's just robbed a jewellery store of millions of dollars worth of uncut jewels and has done it with such ease and panache that she makes catwoman look bad. Immediately we're introduced to this intelligent, crafty, smoking hot Native American who is unlikely to take shit from anyone. As you read on though you learn more about her and see these different facets to her character. She's this incredibly natural and almost mystical woman in terms of her connection to her land, animals and history. She's self-sufficient and can look after herself better than Bear Gryls (and without drinking her own urine) but she's also got this vulnerability about her because she's the last of her tribe and she loves her heritage so, so much and is willing to do anything to maintain it.

When the Battle brothers and Lucy come crashing into each other's lives there is this interesting tension set up between them, and not just because Lucy is there hostage and Mallory is insane. On one side you have these two brothers who are inseparable but Edgar is constantly considering how he can deal with Mallory and release himself from his family ties. On the other side you have Lucy, last member of her tribe and desperate for a family. Even as imperfect as the Battle brothers are it's hard not to see Lucy longing for the relationship these two men have and I suppose that's part of the reason she takes care of them and puts herself at risk so often at the start of this book. 

The story itself builds rather slowly, developing the relationship between these characters, putting them out of their comfort zones and seeing what they'll do. There are constant threats to all of their lives but it isn't until the final 70 or so pages that the action really starts to push home. After some initial tension things began to look like they were calming down and that this weird triangle of people hidden in the Floridian forest might actually manage to make things work. Then suddenly, with the slightest hint of foreshadowing their fragile semblance of normal life is dashed against the wall and all three are struggling to make it to the end of the book alive.

My only complaint would be of the ending. After struggling against the current for so long it comes together almost to neatly. However there is a sequel in the works and there is a suggestion of some added tension in the final pages that I think could redeem the ending for me once I read on in book two. Ultimately though it was an enjoyable and interesting read and a welcome break from my current rather intensive fantasy reading schedule!

My rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Film Review: Inside Job

Inside Job

Released: 2010

Written/directed/produced by:
Charles Ferguson

Synopsis: 'Inside Job' provides a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia.

 Well this was a terrifying film. I'm the first to admit that I'm not so great at economics, finance or business studies. Frankly they go right over my head. Too many buzz words, abbreviations and complex ideas. When the GFC (global financial crisis) went down I relied on the "Dummy Guides" published in the papers and online in order to grasp an idea of what the hell was going on and even then so much of it was abstract and hypothetical. Australia, for the most part, escaped unscathed so much of the numbers (the amounts of people losing their homes, their jobs, their money) were removed from my reality and hard to grasp.

This documentary really hit home the realities of the GFC. Not only did it present the events in the lead up and the actual collapse in easy to understand terms but it conveyed the enormity of the banker's actions and the resulting chaos in simple and terrifying clarity. The film is broken into five parts which examined the financial history of America post Great Depression, the political changes made to the financial system, previous recessions and bubbles, popular financial 'games', the main players, as well as looking at the results of the crash and where we are now. By looking at the past, present and future the film-makers managed to demonstrate the causes as well as the hints towards a crash that then serve them well in their interviews with prominent bankers, academics and politicians.

Before the movie looks at the American crisis though, it looks at the economy of Iceland which went from a successful, stable and thriving economy into a complete mess when the banks were deregulated and big businesses were given right of way to do as they please. This small case study works to show the effects that can happen when financial institutes are given the opportunity to do as they wish and borrow in a large, unregulated manner. The basic thrust of the documentary is the role that deregulation played in the collapse. Now as I've already stated I'm not expert when it comes to this stuff but they sure do make a persuasive case for regulation in banks. As the banks shifted from reg to dereg and the cold war ended bankers started to play around more with making money; borrowing, lending, predicting trends etc. The doco educates it's viewers on derivatives and the instability and risk that these ploys brought to regular people like you and me. Basically banks believed they could make more money from less and they did that by gambling and by playing around with the money they had.

Alongside demonstrating the role deregulation played the documentary makes an effort to educate their audience on accountability. This was a big lesson for me. As you watch the evidence of these men and women defrauding innocent people into signing up to mortgages worth 99.3% of the property value, investing their money into "safe" options which were destined to fail, spending millions of dollars on hookers, drugs and frivolous purchases, and betting on their investments to fail so they can claim the insurance...it's madness. Pure and simple. These people have been allowed to play hard and fast with other people's money with no consequence. They've been encouraged, every time they make a bunch of money they receive massive bonuses and when the investors and bankers do well the economy also thrives. Unfortunately when they do badly, so does the rest of the country. And as this particular collapse demonstrated, so does the rest of the world.

The final part focuses on where America is now, financially. It shows the tent cities, the foreclosed houses rotting street by street and the bonuses bankers are still making while the rest of the economy falters. It looks at the recovery attempts, the bailouts, the supposed political movements being made to stop this from happening again. But as it examines these areas it highlights the fact that the people responsible for this not only haven't been prosecuted for their actions but many of them are now serving on academic boards, financial committees and for the Whitehouse. The financial world is a small one and by letting the responsible people return to their careers without penalty nothing will change. Instead these actions have tainted the respectability and integrity of the entire economics and financial field and left unchecked we're likely to see the collapse of 2008/09 happen again.

Of course, considering this is a documentary it obviously has an angle it wants viewers to lean towards. There are many top people that decide not to participate in this film and considering the fact it's edited there is potentially a score of well reasoned arguments made by the 'guilty' that we are never privy too. That doesn't mean you can't take anything away from this, or that you have to take it all with a grain of salt. Much of the documentary is an education, hopefully enough of one that people won't blindly place their trust in the hands of bankers or traders or insurance brokers. I highly recommend this documentary to everyone, regardless of whether you already know all about this stuff or if you're rather uneducated on the subject like me. It's made for people like you and me. As the documentary states in it's conclusion, these men and women are going to push to avoid prosecution, saying they did the best they could, that it couldn't be avoided and that their jobs are difficult and that they can't be replaced easily. The job of the 'financial engineer' is a diffcult one, but that doesn't mean they should avoid investigation. The livlihoods of entire countries are placed into their hands and they should be held accountable when things go bad. A must-see.

My rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Author Interview: Sullivan Lee

I'm excited to introduce you all to the wonderful Sullivan Lee (aka Laura L. Sullivan) who will go down in Nylon Admiral history as the first author to be interviewed on this bloggy-wog! Sullivan Lee has just self-published her "criminal love story" Brightwing this year but she's no stranger to the world of writing. Under her real name she's released novels aimed at children and YA audiences through Macmillan/Holt and has several more books under her belt just waiting to be written. In order to whet your appetites for my review of Brightwing which will be posted on Thursday I give you my interview with Sullivan Lee, aka Laura L. Sullivan, where she discusses her new book, self-publishing and her writing process. There is some Brightwing related talk which may confuse those of you who haven't read the book or heard of it, so if you'd like you acquaint yourself with it check out the synopsis on Goodreads. Enjoy!

K: You’ve written books for a wide range of audiences (children, YA historical, adult etc) what draws you to such variety?

SL: I write a wide variety of books because I read a wide variety of books. I'll jump from reading historicals to fantasy to the Victorians, and though I'm probably not going to try to emulate Dickens any time soon, I think I'll eventually try my hand at every genre. I'm kind of a dilettante, and I like to dabble.

K: Are there any genres you’d like to try in the future?

SL: I have an idea for a great horror story, with a bad-guy I don't think anyone has used before, so I'm really anxious to start that after I finish a couple of other projects. And one day I'd like to write a true romance with an unequivocally happy ending. I usually have at least a little ambiguity in my finales, so I'd love to leave a couple at the altar and know I didn't have to worry about them any more.

K: What is your writing routine?

SL: Right now, I'm only guaranteed about two hours a day to write – during my Little Guy's nap time – and I feel like I have at least ten hours of work to do! Still, I get at least a thousand words in almost every day. I'm curious to see how my productivity will increase when he starts school next year. They say work expands to fill the time allotted for it, so it might just end up taking me eight hours to write the same thousand words!

K: You decided to self publish Brightwing. What were you reasons for stepping away from a traditional publisher?

SL: Let me first say I'll always write for a traditional publisher as long as they'll have me! But people shouldn't have to limit themselves, and I was excited to be able to explore a parallel career on my own.

Self publishing is particularly well-suited to Brightwing, I think, because it is in many ways a non-traditional book. Where would a bookstore shelve it? That's the first thing publishers ask, and if there isn't a clear-cut answer, they usually pass. Is Brightwing a love story for women, or an adventure for men? (There shouldn't be gender reading divisions, but when publishers market they consider those things.) It resembles a romance in many ways, except for the ending. And what about Mallory, the sociopath? I was told I had to either make him a clear-cut villain who gets his just desserts, or make him more sympathetic. But I knew there was room on the virtual bookshelves for Brightwing's kind of moral ambiguity. Brightwing is gradually finding its audience – which would be impossible on the narrow, contained bookshelves of a traditional store, but is highly likely in the very fluid world of self publishing and e-books.

K: In Australia there is a certain anxiety that plagues authors trying to write an Indigenous character. Your main character is a Native American, did you feel a similar anxiety or that you had a responsibility to present this character as accurately (in terms of history, lifestyle, voice) as possible?

SL: Oh, I was chock-full of anxiety! I cheated a little bit, because though Lucy Brightwing's tribe, the Tequesta, really existed, they've been gone for three hundred years, and very little is known about them outside of scant archaeological evidence. That gave me a lot of creative freedom, and made it less likely I'll offend any existant Native American.

I did tons of research, though, and (short of killing a raging wild pig with a knife) I've done, or attempted to do, a lot of the things Lucy does to survive in the Everglades. The legends of her people are fictional, but I created them after reading as many other Native American myths as I could, so they are realistic.

Several decisions caused me some anxiety, though. I decided to use the word “Indian” throughout the novel. In public I, for a variety of reasons, would always use the term “Native American” but every Native American I've known, every Native American I've eavesdropped on, every Native American in a book written by a Native American author, uses the word “Indian” almost all the time. (Except when trying to make a political point.) So when seeing the world through Lucy's eyes, I felt justified.

Names were another matter, and for the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes (both alive and well in South Florida) I did take some liberties with the names of the crime bosses, Lazarus Nighteyes and Billie Bald Cypress. They aren't entirely authentic, but since the characters are parallels with Mafia dons, I decided if a mobster can be Sammy the Bull or Baby Fat Larry, I could have a bit of leeway with my Native American criminals.

I could go on about the problem some people seem to have with authors writing outside of their race (or ethnic group, or gender, or orientation, or religion) but I won't use your blog as a soapbox! Suffice it to say that authors need characters who struggle, and I think anyone, or any group, with something to overcome is fair game. Stories need to be told, and it doesn't matter who tells them. The world is big, and we should be too. There – off soapbox.

K: Mallory is such a terrible person, did you feel dirty after writing some of his more shocking scenes?

SL: And how! Lots of cleansing bubble baths after writing Mallory's scenes! It was particularly difficult, coming from a law enforcement background. The cop in me wanted to hunt him down. The writer in me needed him to live. I felt so bad about it I wrote an apology to my law enforcement friends for his character.

The number one comment I get about Brightwing is, “I despise Mallory! How could you let him live?” The number two comment I get is, “I'm ashamed to admit it, but I found myself almost liking Mallory sometimes.” Readers were finding that they felt sympathy for him – if only for a second – and then felt absolutely disgusted with themselves.

Now that's the kind of reaction a writer wants to hear!

K: When can we expect the sequel to Brightwing and can you give us any hints about what it’ll contain?

SL: I have a ton of commitments over the next months, so it will be a while before I can really dig into it. It will be called Swamp Bordello, and though I'm still playing with ideas, I know there will be a whorehouse in the swamp, and Lucy will take in orphans – making her territory a candy store for someone with Mallory's tendencies! Lucy will be tempted by another man, and then betrayed by him. Edgar will salvage his masculinity in book 2, and by the end he and Lucy will truly be equals, and even more deeply in love.

K: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these!

SL: And thank you so much for having me on Nylon Admiral, Kayleigh!

If you want to get to know Sullivan Lee a little better you can visit her blogs, The Omniscient Third Person and Sullivan Lee Writes. Oh and keep your eyes peeled for the review due up on Thursday!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Links

*This week's clip is how Harry Potter should have ended by the HISHE gang. It's a bit of fun and brought a smile to my face. Oh and Snape fans should get a real kick out of this one!

*Here's an excerpt from Tina Fey's book Bossypants that looks at how the rules of improvisation tie in with the ways to have successful relationships, both personal and professional.

*Here's a link to where you can sample (or buy) the book How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. Known for his writing on 30 Rock and The Office I've heard nothing but praise for this novel. I'm hoping to get into it myself soon!

*Evanna Lynch, the actress who plays Luna Lovegood in the HP films has been sorted into a house for Pottermore with some surprising results.

*Jason over at Literature Frenzy has written a review of Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case which has successfully convinced me to take my copy off my bookshelf and finally give it a read.

*I'm almost at the end of my August readathon to raise money for MS Australia but you can still donate to the cause if you feel so inclined. It'd be much appreciated, by me and the wonderful people who the money would go towards. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fanart Friday: Miscellaneous edition

Since I'm not the most organised person when it comes to preparng these posts in advance I often receive the OK from artists after the post that they should have featured in was published. But because they're amazing artists and their work make me all giddy I decided to compile a miscellaneous post of  the artworks that haven't yet been featured but should have. So here are a couple of images from incredible artists who have created amazing artworks inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Game of Thrones and American Gods. Take the time to click through the links and see the rest of their work, it may take your entire afternoon (it's rather addictive!) but it's definitely worth it!

Alice in Wonderland by Maye1a
Lyanna Stark - Game of Thrones by DubuGomdori
Ibis and Jacquel by Hal-O

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: Kingdom Come by J.G Ballard

Kingdom Come
by J.G. Ballard

Published: 2006

Synopsis (via The Ballardian): Richard Pearson, a 42-year-old advertising executive is driving from central London to Brooklands, a town near the M25 on the western edge of the city. A few weeks earlier Richard’s father, a retired airline pilot, was fatally wounded during a shooting incident in the Metro-Centre – a vast shopping mall and sports complex, in the centre of Brooklands – when a deranged mental patient opened fire on a crowd of shoppers. It soon becomes clear to Richard that there was more to the incident than meets the eye. He senses that people are covering up what really happened. His suspicions are confirmed when the local mental patient arrested by police is released. Pillars of the community, among them Dr Julia Goodwin a young doctor who treated his father after the shooting, testify that the patient was with them and could not have committed the crime. Richard resolves to track down the real killer.

My god this novel packs a punch! I picked up my copy of this at a book sale because the $3 price tag was one I couldn't balk at and I've always heard such great things about Ballard, even though I've rarely picked up any of his books. All the reviews I've read of this book suggest it's vintage Ballard but since I can't vouch for that I'm going to do my best to explain why this book left me with my mouth hanging open days later.

As the synopsis describes Richard has headed back to the scene of his father's death in order to try and get some answers. I was actually a little confused at the start, when you join Richard he's struggling to find his way around the labyrinth of roads that tangle around the Heathrow suburbs and I felt as though the book had actually started two chapters earlier and somehow my edition was missing those crucial introductory pages. I was jarred by Richard's character, his motivation, the death of his father, the bizarre restaurant that he stops at, the old couple making out on the street. It was like I was one step behind or I was missing that final piece of the jigsaw that would allow me to see the picture clearly. It became pretty obvious that this is what Ballard wants you to feel. He wants you to be uncomfortable and confused and reading closely because what happens next will require your full attention.

The England he sets his story in, the suburbs surrounding the major highways and Heathrow airport are on the fringe of 'normal' society. They're the suburbs that you drive right by without giving a second glance or thought. Though they're relatively close to the action of London they're left to their own devices and left out of the major activity. They're near enough to the action and hubbub of London that they need stimulation but too far away to attain it with ease. Basically they're bored. They're bored and they have nothing better to do than go shopping or to the sports club to watch the latest soccer/rugby/hockey game.

They don't realise it but the people of Brooklands are spiraling out of control. The sports events have become a front for the "St Georgers," men and women wearing the St George cross, and going on rampages through the street terrorising anyone of ethnic or class difference. When Richard arrives at Brooklands he sees an Indian shop owner bar up his windows when someone in a St George shirt walks past, he sees a group of muslims escorted out of their mosque by the police as men and women with shopping bags around their wrists scream abuse and hurl rocks and punches in their direction. The air in Brooklands is tense and the only respite seems to be the astronomically large shopping centre that glows invitingly no matter where you are. But is it respite?

One review comment on the cover of my edition described this book as a dystopian novel. I'd have to disagree...sort of. In my mind this is event that leads to the dystopia. This is the build up of frustration, anger, hatred, stupidity and violence that ends society as we know it and plunges the world into a right load of shit. I haven't read too many books where I think "yep, this is what the world will look like when the world is on the precipice of the apocalypse". This book absolutely nailed it. The boredom, the rampant consumerism and the dangerous advertisements and inappropriate leaders/false idols. This is our world today dialled up a couple of notches.

The thing that sparked my interest was how real yet unreal this book was. It was almost like walking through a fun-house looking at yourself in all those crazy mirrors. You can recognise yourself but you're...different. The Metro Centre sounds like so many shopping centres I've walked through. The bright lights, soothing music, plastic shiny things adorning the walls and floors and ceilings. But then you take a closer look and you see the animatronic bears that are the shopping centres mascots. Nothing too strange about that, but then you notice the pots of honey and get well cards laid out in front of them to wish them well after the shooting that recently took place and claimed Richard's dad's life. You notice the slightly crazed fervour that the PR rep speaks with when he gives Richard a tour of the centre. You realise that people always seem to be either going to or from the shopping centre regardless of what time of day or night it happens to be.

Similarly the crowds at the sports games are recognisable, and not. You recognise the atmosphere that permeates the air post-game when the crowds move through the streets towards home, cars or buses. You recognise the team shirts, the singing the beer cans in hand. Then you notice the Pakistani family cowering behind a wall waiting for the crowd to pass, or the fact that the crowd doesn't actually seem to be heading home but pushing towards an area of town that's marked by broken windows, overturned cars and ominously dark houses.

The book manages to create this real build of unease as Richard spends more time in the town and realises it isn't quite the quaint suburban town he thought it was. Everyone seems to have hidden agendas and switch from trustworthy to questionable at best. The quest to get to the bottom of Richard's father's dead gains more importance then drops then gains more prominence. There is this faint whiff of absurdism, hilarity on the verge or hysteria throughout the novel. It's intoxicating and you find yourself swept up in it from time to time.

The book has three parts and covers the space of several months and like the start sometimes seems to black out chunks of information. It's such a weird book because in some ways it's like any murder mystery but in so many other ways it is anything but. All I can really say is that J.G. Ballard is amazing and has completely won my heart and mind with this book. I am a convert to the J.G Ballard way of life! His writing style is easy to read but holds landmines of truth and commentary just ready to explode out at you.

This book makes you feel ashamed for your consumerist behaviour but it never preaches. Instead it opens your eyes to the dangers of rampant advertising and unrestricted consumerism and the disgusting nature of sports hooliganism. It connects the two is such a complex and yet simple manner that it astounds and revolts. A must-read for anyone who wants a dystopian novel with a twist, a sci-fi a little closer to home and a mystery that's impossible to crack even though you know the answer from the start.

My rating: 4/5

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In which I put my rant pants on

I feel bad that the blog has been faltering a little lately in terms of content and while I have a couple of book reviews almost ready for posting today's post is not book related at all.

Yesterday in my Monday Links post I posted a link to a ridiculous article by an Australian opinion writer as well as a couple of comical rebuttals to her bizarre beliefs. For anyone who didn't read my post or the articles it linked basically the article was about Australian Finance Minister Penny Wong's announcement that she and her partner are expecting a baby in December. The article basically slams "leftists" for creating a society where people are forced to feign exaggerated happiness for alternative life decisions and if they express their real opinions, i.e. that homosexual marriage and adoption = the death of society, the traditional family and the end of the world, then they are branded bigots, homophobes and "right-wing".

She then went on to say, after slyly suggesting that the birth of this baby coincides rather closely with the coming election (is she freaking kidding me!), that the London Riots were largely a result of fatherless children and therefore if we allow, and especially if we celebrate, gay parents (or single parents for that matter) then it's only a matter of time before the same happens in Australia. Now let's overlook the glaring oversight she's made in suggesting the London Riots had only one cause and ignores that there has been a building of social and economic insecurity in England, and Europe in general, for months now. Let's even overlook the fact that she suggests that mother can't possibly raise anything other than a thug or a hoodlum if she doesn't have a strong man to discipline the children (hello, 1950s calling) and that she's drawing parallels between single parenting in low socio-economic or troubled neighbourhoods (for the most part) and a rich, upper class family that has two loving (though gay which apparently is important) parents and a support system in place.  Let's even overlook that she says, and I quote,"Sure, there are aberrations, and you can always find evils within traditional families, domestic violence and child abuse. But even this imperfect institution is better than the Hobbesian social chaos the children of the underclasses have been born into for the last 50 years."

I'm willing to overlook all of that today because I am shocked and amazed at one thing in particular, namely, that gay couples are somehow different to "normal" couples. Seriously, why is this even a conversation? Why are we still at a point where we talk about homosexuality as though it's some new "lifestyle choice" that is currently the latest fad. Since the dawn of time there have been gay men and women. This isn't news people. They've been lurking through history since before some of your countries were discovered. They're responsible for some of our best art, literature and music, they've lead men to war, governed countries and educated students. Sure for a great part of our history they were stigmitised or kept in the shadows or even executed but that doesn't mean that guys haven't been falling in love with other guys for centuries.

However reading Miranda Devine's article, or any article/blog post from like minded people, you would think that homosexuals were a new form of life that need to be studied before we can truly allow them into our society. In the comments of several articles I've read that have rebutted Devine's idea I've seen people say "I've got nothing against gay people but until there are peer-reviewed studies done to prove that two parents of the same sex won't harm a child's development I'm a little uneasy about the idea".

Seriously world. You want peer-reviewed studies to tell you that, surprise surprise, being gay will have absolutely no effect on your kids, except perhaps they won't be disgusting homophobes and close-minded twits like you? Being gay does not transform you from being human into some alien life form that needs to be studied. The only difference between you and a gay person is that when they go home at night they bang someone with the same bits as them. Seriously. That's as complicated as it gets. This idea that someone they're going to instill harmful or dangerous "whatevers" onto a child is simply ludicrous. Of course there will be bad gay parents, but I can think of a dozen bad straight parents while I sit here and type this up. Being heterosexual does not make you infallible when it comes to being parents, you have just as much chance of cocking up and destroying little Jimmy's life as Jack and James down the road does.

One argument that crops up over and over is that little boys and girls need female and male role models in order to grow up balanced and good and smart enough to know that looting is for dicks. You know what, I don't disagree with that. But two men (or two women) who choose to raise a kid are not going to live in a bubble secluded from everyone. Have you ever heard the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child"? It's well-known for a reason. In the past it was expected that an entire village or group would raise a child. The grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, brothers, neighbours all played a hand in imparting their knowledge, love and ways on a child. In parts of the world this is still the status quo.

The idea of the traditional family being mum, dad and children is bunk. Even in modern western countries you (usually) grow up knowing your grandparents, uncles, cousins, aunts and in some cases, god-parents. Your parents have friends who spend time with you, come round for barbecues or you go on trips together. You have coaches and tutors and teachers and your friends have parents who mingle with your parents. The village might have changed but no parent, single, gay or in a traditional marriage, does it completely alone. Sure there are studies that say that a boy needs a male role model, but that doesn't mean that a boy growing up with two mums is going to grow up without one. It might not be his dad but it might be his grandfather, his English teacher or his soccer coach. Bonds happen regardless of whether you are related to someone by blood. One of my biggest role models is a teacher who I never had for a single class. When I graduated primary school he took me aside and told me that I was destined for great things and that all I had to do was work hard and the world was mine.That single sentence is worth more than everything any other teacher or blood-related male has said or done for me and has stuck with my in the 10 years that have passed.

I feel I might have shambled over a few points here rather haphazardly but basically what I want to say is this. Being gay does not make you different. It does not make you unpredicable as a parent. The idea that people think we need to study homosexual parents as though we're studying the nesting habits of the penguin appals me. wake up people, we are all the same. Who you want to have sex with doesn't change how you'd be as a parent.  I'll say it again, the only difference between a gay parent and a straight parent is that when the kids are finally asleep the gay parent bang someone with the same bits as them. Those same bits do not mean they are going to raise pedophiles or murderers or thugs. They are human beings, their sexuality does not change that. I guess the crux of my point is that I should not be writing a blog post saying that there is nothing different between a straight or a homosexual parent. I hate that I've had to write this and that I've had to use the words "they" and "them" because I feel like I'm drawing a line in the sand and backing up ideas suggesting an "us and them" mentality. I'm only 23 but I'm tired, physically tired, of speaking out against bigoted ideas and breeches of basic human rights. I shouldn't have to speak about the lack of differences in this situation and the fact I am doing that right now makes me extremely sad and weary.

Ok. Rant over. It feels good to get that out of my system. I promise next time I'm back it'll be with a book review.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Links

*A quirky infograph which charts luminous authors and their go-to while-writing snacks.

*Season 2 of The Walking Dead (based on the graphic novel series by the same name) airs soon but the series has been rocked by scandal now that news has leaked that creator Frank Darabont's departure wasn't his choice. He was fired.

*Stephen King has a new novel due for release in November, 11/22/63, that has a character travel back in time to try and stop the assassination of JFK. The film rights to this book have already been sold. Let's hope it lives up to the expectation!

*In other Stephen King news The Stand has received the go-ahead for a multi-film release. Yay! It's being lead by the team behind the HP & the Deathly Hollows films, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves. Yep, easy to say, I'm pretty excited.

*First a bit of context. An Australian politician and Finance Minister, Penny Wong, is openly gay and her partner has just announced that she's pregnant. This has been in the papers and on the news as a source of celebration because "YAY in Australia we accept politicians regardless of race or sexuality" and the fact that she can live her life openly without having to closest her life away like gay politicians in other countries do. Miranda Devine is a hate-filled, angry right-winger who gets far more column space than she should (that should be 0, by the way). Devine decided to write a ratherdisgusting column (surprise, surprise) on the "issue" where she draws links to the UK riots (yeah I didn't get it either...) which has, thankfully, been rebutted by Australian comedian Tom Ballard on Youtube and blogger Max Lavergne tackled it rather creatively on tumblr just to name a coupe. Language warning...

*The boyfriend has started a tumblr and I feel a responsibility as the girlfriend to promote the crap out of it. I feel it's rather...prudent...to explain that these posts are an extension of his stand-up comedy routine and are not for the faint-of-heart. Think of the dark and disturbing comedy of Terry Gilliam, The League of Gentleman, It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia and Jam blended together and amplified by 100, then you'll be getting close...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Behind the Blog: Bookshelves Edition part 4

Now for the second of my primary bookshelves, the first bookshelf I bought after moving out of home.

This wonderful blue set of shelves are my fiction shelves and I sort it by location...mostly. The top shelf holds the older classics (Chaucer, Dickens etc), my selection of plays, which are primarily Shakespeare and the couple of poetry books I own. From there downward the books move through Africa on to England, Scotland, Ireland, Europe (I don't have enough to specify by country!), Russia and Asia/India. The larger shelf homes my special edition and signed books and below that the books travel through Canada down to the United States and down south to Mexico and South America and then on to a shelf dedicated to Australian fiction. The final bottom shelf is a mish-mash of music books, art books, and short-story collections.  In each country group I tried to organise the books in a basic chronological order with authors work kept together.

My signed books and comics
The Godfather special boxset, Paul Smith (Maximo Park) art book and Ducktor Who
A snapshot of my United Kingdom section
How wonderful is the wooden box that my The Godfather trilogy sits within? It was a christmas present from my mum one year, I remember knocking on the present while it was wrapped up trying to work out what the hell it could be! And the Ducktor Who has a special place in my heart, and not only because it's a duck dressed up like the Doctor! Tom and I had been dating for three weeks when I celebrated my 22nd birthday and he showed up to my b'day dinner with that duck, a graphic novel and a bunch of flowers. After three weeks his present was so 'me appropriate' and far more in-line with my personality than what even my family bought for me! It was one of those 'A-ha' moments for me, and it sits proudly on that shelf in honour of the wonderful relationship that's been right since day one.

So that concludes my bookshelf tour! Technically I have one shelf left but it's full of Tom and my research books and sits in our office and is a complete mess! I'd have to do some MAJOR cleaning, tidying and organising to get it even half-way towards being blog level presentable so it'll remain unseen. In case you're curious though it houses Tom's huge collection of game design, flash and programming books, our horror and writing non-fiction books, some journalism books left from my first year and a bunch of English reference books. Along those fun topics are a few photo albums, my box of past assignments (I've kept them all...no idea why though!) and some other office-y stuff. Exciting right!?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fanart Friday: American Gods edition

When I read Neil Gaiman's incredible book American Gods earlier this year I was awestruck by the sheer magnitude of the awesomeness that emanate from the pages. You can read my review for the full length love letter to Neil Gaiman about this book but the short version is this book is magnificent. Even without taking into consideration Gaiman's incredible ability to tell a story and masterful word craft, this book is fantastic. It ignites the imagination through it's complex and descriptive use of a litany of gods from across cultures, religions and eras. Since reading this book and hearing that HBO is planning a TV series based around it I haven't been able to stop thinking about what this book would look like visually. Since the series isn't likely to hit our screens for a few years these pictures by some amazing artists will fulfill that desire for now. Actually that do more justice to the source material than I could have imagined/hoped for! Take a peek at the rest of their amazing work by clicking through the links in the captions.

Anubis takes the Subway by Brendan (ElCapoeria)

Mr Wednesday by Faqy

Zorya Polunochnaya by Miso-San

Thursday, August 11, 2011

About as soothing as a punch in the face: An interview with J.G Ballard

I've just finished reading J.G. Ballard's Kingdom Come and was amazed at the relevancy of this book in regards to the devastating riots happening in the UK. Kingdom Come follows Richard Pearson into the motorway town of Brooklands after the murder of his father. On the surface the town seems like your typical sleepy, idyllic English town but it soon becomes clear to Pearson that bubbling below the surface is a dangerous yearning to attack, riot and leap willingly into madness. The book looks at issues of boredom, suburbia, consumerism, class, race and football (soccer) hooliganism in an explosive environment. I'll get a review up next week but in the meantime I thought I'd share the interview* which was featured at the back of my edition of the novel. In it Ballard answers questions on the English people and English society in ways that parallels the current global discussion on the cause/reason for the riots.

Kingdom Come, with its cast of marauding hooligans and morality-free 'pillars of the community', dwells on the dark and dangerous side of human nature. Is this sensitivity to the depth our behaviours can plumb attributable to any particular experience you've endured, do you think?

Ballard:Yes. I think a number of experiences, particularly during my childhood in the Far East during the Second World War, encouraged me to regard the human race as potentially quite dangerous. People brought up in the comfortable suburbs of Western Europe and North America tend to think that human beings are at heart governed by a kind of enlightened self-interest; that they are thoughtful and humane above all. I'm not sure if that is true. If you look at the behaviour of, say, the warring factions in Iraq at the moment with their endless suicides bombings and terrible carnage, or the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, where the most incredible brutality and ethnic cleansing took place, or if you go back to the Second World War in Europe, where tens of millions died in the most brutal way, I'm not convinced that human beings can be trusted beyond a certain point. I think they are quite capable in the right, or rather the wrong, circumstances of behaving irrationally. That's certainly my experience.

People think that the events in Kingdom Come are a bit extreme. But they actually aren't. For example, about two years ago there were riots in an IKEA store near the North Circular road in London. People abandoned their cars and were fighting over sofas; there was a huge riot in which people were hurt. Football hooliganism has been a terrible stain on the national character, and it could come back. Nothing I describe is all that extreme.

It's interesting that you mention the IKEA riots when discussing Kingdom Come because in the British media they weren't reported in a serious way at all.

Ballard: I think it's because we have a sort of Passport in Pimlico view of social behaviours in this country. It's an Ealing-comedy, Dad's Army view of the world: we laugh, but forget that in the real world there is a war going on too, as it were. We like to think of England as a big brown teapot with a nice tea cosy over it but actually we should remember that there isn't always tea in the pot. Sometimes it's something a little stronger.

There's a line in Kingdom Come which says: "Like English life as a whole, nothing in Brooklands can be taken at face value." Was that your experience of English life, when you moved here in 1946?

Ballard: I think the English are great actors, there's no doubt about it, and we're all performing roles whether we're aware of it or not. We don't have the sort of frankness and openness of the Australians, or Americans or Canadians. In England there's a very complex social landscape dominated by the class system, which still seems to be very strong. Here people tend not to say what they think. It's always because we're a crowded island. We behave like people on a crowded aircraft or, if you like, a crowded lifeboat: we put on a face that is designed to lower the temperature, allowing everything to carry on without too much discomfort. The trouble is that this hides the underlying truth about what we feel. Look at how the English are notorious for their pleases and thank yous: when we go into a shop we please and thank you to such an extent that visitors are amazed. After all, you're paying fot the think: you don't need to say thank you. But what the pleases and thank yous actually do is hide an underlying aggression and unease. They are all to do with our desire to paper over the cracks-and there are a lot of cracks.

Kingdom Come seems to have anticipated the recent resurgence of film noir. Is there something in the air at the moment?

Ballard: I think it taps into the same thing. In Kingdom Come Pearson believes that you've got to dip a toe into the waters of psychopathology to provide the kind of high-tension excitement that people need, because everyone in the consumer world is very bored. This is the thing about suburbia: there's enormous boredom, and we've reached the stage where people need something a little frightening, a little deviant, to take notice. It's not enough these days to say this detergent washes whiter; you've got to put a spin on it of some kind. Yes, I think there's something in the air. Compare, say, TV programmes like Inspector Morse, which had a gentleman detective sipping his pint and listening to Mozart as he solved a crossword puzzle, and something like CSI, where you're looking at a corpse on an autopsy table, and ribcages are being opened like suitcases. It's dangerous because I think violence and madness have a huge appeal, and it'll move into the area of politics sooner or later too. We've already seen it, in fact, with the rise of the Nazis.

Your own narrator in Kingdom Come is described as 'beyond psychiatric help'.

Ballard:Yes, although that particular reference is actually a joke at my expense. When I submitted the manuscript of my novel Crash to Jonathan Cape in 1972 the reader was the wife of a psychiatrist and she recommended the book be rejected, saying that I was 'beyond psychiatric help'. I of course took it as the greatest compliment - total artistic success!

Does Kingdom Come match the dictionary definition of a 'Ballardian' novel? Is it concerned with 'dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments'?

Ballard: It's certainly not a bleak novel. It has the bright glitter of big shopping malls, and is quite upbeat in tone, so I don't think one should that dictionary definition too literally. Having said that, if you do believe that England is all cricket grounds and villages and cycling to evensong then you're going to find Kingdom Come about as soothing as a punch in the face.

You're noted as being a writer who's interested in the landscape and how it evolves.

Ballard: I think that's true. Many people have complained that old town centres are being abandoned because huge retail parks are opening on the outskirts of towns. The whole social landscape of England is changing tremendously, and particularly, I think, around the big motorways. Not that the people who work in newspapers and television ever visit these areas. They come back from their cottages in the West Country and they look down for the M4 at places like Staines and Slough and Houslow and they give a shudder and drive on! But it is happening.

Lastly, I have to ask about your own shopping habits. 

Ballard: I hate shopping! It drives me mad. I do as little of it as possible. A big retail park is my idea of hell. Every so often I need to buy a new washing machine and it leads me into a nervous breakdown.

*The interview takes place between Ballard and Sarah O'Reilly and was featured in the 2007 Harper Perennial edition of the novel, Kingdom Come.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fair warning

Since I'm in the "epic writing tonnes of stuff" stage of my thesis I'll probably start posting quotes and excerpts up here from it as I'm inspired. Hopefully the literary side of the blog won't falter too much over the next couple of months (I submit it on October 21st! Yay!) but I promise once I'm done I'll amp up the book reviews and dial back the zombie commentary! But to get the ball rolling I thought I'd share this quote with you since it's gracing the beginning of my introduction...

In the many ways it has been deployed in Western popular culture, however, the zombie has slowly been transformed. It has come to signify something much more complex than just the fear of death. Growing out of a wide range of cultural anxieties – From American imperialism to domestic racial tensions, Depression era fears about unemployment, Cold War paranoia about brainwashing, post-1960s political disenfranchisement and AIDS era body horror –the zombie has become, as we will see, a potent symbol of the apocalypse.

-Jamie Russell The Book of the Dead

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

A Feast For Crows
(A Song of Ice and Fire #4)

by George R.R. Martin

Published: 2005

Synopsis(from book cover): Bloodthirsty, treacherous and cunnng, the Lannisters are in power on the Iron Throne in the name of the boy king Tommen. The war in the Seven Kingdoms has burned itself out, but in its bitter aftermaths new conflicts spark to life. The Martells of Dorne and the Starks of Winterfell seek vengeance for their dead. Euron Crow's Eye, as black a pirate as ever raised a sale, returns from the smoking ruins of Valyria to claim the Iron Isles. From the icy noth, where Others threaten the wall, apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms to the Citadel.

So assuming you've read my previous reviews I'm sure you're aware that I'm kinda in love with this series and so far have not faulted it a drop. Well hold on to your hats people, things are about to change!

A Feast for Crows begins where the previous book ended, which incidentally was my favourite book of the series so far, so I had pretty high hopes for this one. I've heard from other bloggers and friends that this book was by far the worst in the series but I was hoping they were wrong, or exaggerating or jealous of Martin's god-like storytelling abilities. Unfortunately they were right, well, to an extent. This book was by far the worst of the series, but when the four previous books have received 5 stars from me that doesn't necessarily mean much.

An epilogue from Martin at the end of the book explains that this books is merely half of what he intended to publish. When he realised the book was going to be excessive in size he decided to split it in half but struggled over whether it would be better to take the finished work, cut it in half and slap a "to be continued" at the end or to divide the characters in half and tell the complete story for half of the characters in one book and then release a second book that completed the story for the other half of characters. He decided on the latter, though I'm still debating over whether that was the right move to make or not. For instance in this book we learn that a mid-level character is dead and in the epilogue Martin says that we'll hear from that character. But will it just be telling the story that we heard in this book or does that suggest that there is more to the story and we'll find out perhaps he isn't dead or something else happened before he died which was kept from the Queen and those in King's Landing? If it's the second option then yay! But if it's the first and it plays out as it was told to the Queen then I think it'll be rather boring and something I don't care to read.

So in this book we see a Westeros that has been severely damaged by the war that has nearly petered out completely. The Northmen have died or bent their knee to the Iron throne, Stannis is at the wall but is excluded from this book, Rob is definitely dead and his resurrected mother features very little in this book (though I hope she has a place in A Dance with Dragons), Cersei is losing it and Jaime seems to have had a change of character and is actually proving to be a tough but just lord commander of the Kingsguard. Though the threat of war has been extinguished to the north the Iron men (Theon Greyjoy's family) have taken up arms and are threatening the southern realm, there are more and more outlaws and wolves (the four legged kind) roaming through the kingdom and in Dorne trouble brews.

One of my main concerns about this book was that it focused so heavily on the lagging kingdom and omitted where the action would be, i.e. the wall and with Daenerys. There is far too much focus on Queen Cersei's insane fear of opposition, desperation and utter stupidity. Seriously, she's the stupidest character in the series (in terms of intelligence) and it seems like more and more people are coming to realise that. It was interesting to watch her plot and plan and think how brilliant she was and then read a chapter from Jaime or another character which demonstrates how stupid her plans are, how transparent her schemes are and how disliked she is by everyone. I'll enjoy it greatly when she finally dies, which is such a horrible thing to say, but it's only fiction so I'm allowed to be heartless and bloodthirsty like that! Though this stuff was interesting and will serve in later books as the catalyst for the Lannister kingdom's implosion I'm sure, it did grow a little tedious to just read over and over about her little schemes and men fawning over her and her and Jaime's constant bickering. Similarly I found the travels with Brienne to be equally tedious. I never warmed to her character and now she's almost overwhelmingly obnoxious, always going on about honour and keeping oaths and freaking Jaime Lannister. Seriously Martin, just make them bang already. Though she isn't as pious as some of the other characters have become her self-righteousness is just as annoying and I'm sick of reading how ugly a maid she is.

I suppose this leads fairly well into my second complaint. Because this book only contains half the stories we've been following we also only hear from half the characters. Unfortunately these characters are some of my least favourite (Cersei and Brienne especially) and for much of the time I was desperately wondering what was happening with Jon and Stannis on the wall. What happened with Tyrion, where did he go and is Varys with him? Will he join with Dany, or plot some other war against his sister? And what about Dany, how is her endeavour going? The few characters that I did really enjoy (Arya, Samwell, Sansa etc) had chapters few and far between and are likely to go undocumented until the book after A Dance with Dragons if Martin's epilogue is still true in intent. A few new characters were introduced and held their own chapters but they were also in the minority. On the plus side A Dance with Dragons should be an absolute cracker since it'll tell the stories of the characters which hold my interest the most.

Complaints aside this was still and interesting book and equally as well written as it's predecessors. There are a few interesting story lines that have begun to be explored namely, without giving away any spoilers, the Ironborn Euron Crow's Eye and his recent trip to the depths of Valyria, what is awaiting Samwell in the Citadel and the hints of collusion and revenge mentioned in Dorne. Although these probably set up the events for A Dance with Dragons and more likely the book that will follow I feel like they could have been explored more thoroughly and earlier, seeing as the Euron Crow's Eye plot was the only one really mentioned earlier than 700 pages in. Obviously ends have to be tied for the new chapter in the tale to begin but I really do think too much emphasis was placed on it, and particularly Cersei, and a few hundred pages could have served a better story.

While the seeds for the new war/uprising/threat have been planted and the secrecy of this series has hit an all-time high I'm a little worried about beginning A Dance with Dragons and coming up against the same thing. Perhaps Martin's story would have been better served to have a 'to be continued' line at the end rather than the split it was published with but I won't know until I begin A Dance with Dragons and find out for certain. I know this review has been a bit of a downer but it was still a great book, just a let-down compared to the previous epic tales of the wars and worries of Westeros. Definitely don't give up on the series or skip this book, just be prepared for a dip in awesomeness.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Links

*The idea that William Shakespeare didn't actually write his plays has been bandied around by academics for years, and even though the chances of ever finding out for sure relies on Doctor Who being real and transporting someone reputable back in time to find some sort of proof it's an idea people don't seem to like to let go of. It's possibly the biggest literary conspiracy theory in circulation today. Anyway, the film Anonymous in this trailer deals with this issue by suggesting old Billy Shakes was just a stand-in so that certain messages could reach the public under the guise of entertainment because words are power.

*Fear and Loathing in Australian Politics. A Blog post about the complexities of gender within politics from someone on the inside. Quite an interesting read.

*When Duty Calls: An unfinished screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).  A short dialogue between Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein.

*Aussie August! A group of Australian book bloggers banded together and have created a month of interesting posts, giveaways, discussions that all focus on Australia and books.

*The car accident that cost Albert Camus his life in 1960 may not have been an accident afterall. Instead it may have been a murder plot orchestrated by the KGB. (Note: read with a pinch of salt)

*Coma Calm features a new book trailer that she's found online each week. The latest is a short trailer for Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. It's worth a watch just to listen to Neil Gaiman narrate...seriously, how wonderful is his voice?! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Behind the Blog: Bookshelves edition part 3

So this week we have one of my major bookshelves that houses a fair brunt of my books. Previously it held whatever books I could squeeze into any gaps that remained but a few weeks ago I decided to reorganise my shelves since it was becoming impossible to find anything. This set of shelves has become my genre shelf and features all my horror, sci-fi, fantasy and other similar style of books. Before I go any further I should probably correct myself by saying our bookshelves and books, since Tom and I have consolidated all our bits and pieces and they're all inter-mingling in these shelves.

This bookshelf was a 'gift' from a housemate when she moved out of town and while the collage makes it look like it's rather oddly shaped (which it isn't) it is in fact on a slight lean that frustrates me to no end! So basically the system on this shelf goes, from top to bottom, left to right: biographies, science fiction, travel and language, non-fiction, kids/YA fantasy, this month's to read stacked on top of the HP boxset, fantasy, horror, crime/mystery, and action.The problem with this shelf is that so many of my genre editions of books are from second hand stores and are hardcover and therefore huge. This made it difficult seeing as I usually try to put my big/heavy books on the bottom shelves and and if need be on the outer edges of the higher shelves. Since I was trying to keep everything in their sections that made it hard to organise the books by size like I'd like to so it isn't as neat and orderly as I'd like it to be. 

The Alien from 'Alien'
Terminator bobblehead
My gnome moneybox and pez dispensers
Harry Potter boxset and Harry Potter 3D glasses
Since this is my genre shelf it wouldn't be complete without some genre paraphernalia! On the top of the shelves I have a Doctor Who lunch box which I've converted into a first aid kit (get it?!) alongside our Terminator bobblehead and Justice league lunchbox. The facehugger form of Alien from Alien (and it's many sequels) guards the books from above and alongside my treasured Harry Potter and Chrestomanci books sits a small tribe of pez dispensers, elephants and large silver gnome. I love all these little bits and bobs and they fit so wonderfully with what I tried to do with the shelves.


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