Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Links

*The book trailer for Murakami's new book 1Q84 due out in October. I haven't read any Murakami yet but the concept of this book looks wild, so maybe this will be my first trip in.

*Polly Courtney drops her publisher at book launch for pigeon-holing her book as chick lit and chooses to stick with self-publishing to retain creative control.

*25 depressing portraits of closed bookstores. Made me sad :(

*Possibly the best 'Letter of note' ever, a letter from Marge Simpson to the (former) first lady Mrs Bush!

*I want this cake! It's beautiful and amazing and best of all, it's bookish! It looks way too complex for me to attempt but maybe someone more talented in the kitchen could whip it up and invite me over to partake in the tasting (I'm looking at you Laura Rowsell!)

*Superheroes as fetuses. So freaking cute, but kinda weird/disturbing also!

*More book sculptures! These are amazing works of art and perfectly capture the awesome force of imagination that books contain.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland by Patton Oswalt

Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland
By Patton Oswalt

Published: 2011

Synopsis (via goodreads): Oswalt combines memoir with uproarious humor, from snow forts to Dungeons & Dragons to gifts from Grandma that had to be explained. He remem­bers his teen summers spent working in a movie Cineplex and his early years doing stand-up. Readers are also treated to several graphic elements, includ­ing a vampire tale for the rest of us and some greeting cards with a special touch. Then there’s the book’s centerpiece, which posits that before all young creative minds have anything to write about, they will home in on one of three story lines: zom­bies, spaceships, or wastelands. 

Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland is a book by the amazing comedian Patton Oswalt. It's part memoir, part creative writing exercise and has a variety of story techniques within, including a graphic novella and an epic poem about Dungeons and Dragons. It's only short, about 190 pages, and it races by but it's a thoroughly enjoyable read and I'm glad I finally got around to taking it off my bookshelf.

Through 17 chapters...or 17 essays...or 17 aspects of Oswaltian genius... Patton Oswalt recounts some of the defining aspects of his young life, the highs and lows of performing comedy, and the general issues and complexities that faced gen X as they grew up. Even the tales which are fiction rather than non-fiction still tie in with the general attitudes he puts down in the stories. So for instance, Punch-Up Notes, which is a creative piece written as notes for a script (Oswalt has worked as a script editor before) is a critique on the rubbish films cycling through the cinemas by writing about an absurd film as though it were simply in the need of a few (perfectly adequate) tune ups, like "page 44 Fat triplets is funnier than fat twins." and "Page 60 Put roller skates on the dad, a sombrero on the mom, and add an incontinent pug".

It is an incredibly easy book to read, Oswalt is a fantastic writer. Much of the book centres around the impact books and writing had on him growing up, and he writes with such love for the craft that it's really, really pleasant. He has a wonderful way with words that I imagine comes from a youth spent reading a wide variety of books and years spent writing comedy, films, television and comics. Unlike my earlier review on comedian Bob Franklin's book Under Stones where I felt like the writing had the potential to be quite good but was a little laboured, Oswalt's writing feels comfortable. He's found his voice and his writing, while funny, is quite profound and beautiful without being too literary-esque.

Although the book is definitely comedic, I was actually surprised how melancholy it seemed at times, especially in the stories We're Playing Snow Fort and Peter Runfola. These two stories are both about aspects of his life growing up, the first about the time he built a snow fort with some friends when he was around 10. He combines his adult voice and the knowledge that hindsight and adult understanding it contains with the youthful innocence of a ten year old. So he starts off by describing how one side of the fort was "50 feet tall" because he couldn't jump over it, and at that age anything he couldn't easily jump over had to be at least 50 feet tall. From there you see things through both sets of eyes, the older boys walking up the path with paper bags pretending to be cyborgs with silver paint around their mouths (i.e huffing paint fumes) or one of his friends' dads sneaking into the house of the married blonde woman across the street. So at the same time that you're reading Oswalt recollect the simple pleasure of building a snow fort with friends you're realising all the less than perfect things going on which would come to effect him later on.

Even if you haven't ever heard of Patton Oswalt, or even if you don't like his stand up I highly recommend this book. It's beautifully written, funny, a little off-beat and really, just a great read. Is there anything better?

My rating: 5/5

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Links

*Quite often I stare, gaping, at the cover of a book and wonder "How the F do you pronounce the author's name?" Obviously I'm not alone in this because Buzzfeed have collated a list of some of the more difficult author names (think: Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche) and listed the popular incorrect attempts and the actual way to pronounce their names. No more do I need to mumble when I try to suggest Chuck Palahniuk, Chinua Achebe and Matt Groening (Simpsons creator) to friends!

*The greatest typo of all time? Hard to spot, definitely zoom in the give this a read and see if you can find it.

*Roald Dahl, one of my most beloved authors, used to write in the sweetest little hut at the back of his garden. His family is currently engaged in a massive campaign to relocate the beautiful little writing retreat to the Roald Dahl Museum (AGHH I didn't even know this existed!).

*This is for all you anti-teaparty zombie fans out there! A computer game where "teaparty zombies must die!" I haven't played yet (I can sense the amount of procrastination it'd cause) but I'll be catching up come November!!

*An interesting post about the glamour of writing by Aus author Damon Young.  

*Book sculptures are cropping up mysteriously in Scotland! If you don't usually click any of my links I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend that you click this one. A sweet, creative and interesting story.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: SVK by Warren Ellis

SVK (graphic novel)
Written by Warren Ellis, illustrations by Matt 'D'Israeli' Booker

Published: 2011

Synopsis (via the SVK website) : First and foremost SVK is a modern detective story, one that Ellis describes as "Franz Kafka's Bourne Identity". It's a story about cities, technology and surveillance, mixed with human themes of the power, corruption and lies that lurk in the data-smog of our near-future.

I am a huge fan of Warren Ellis. I'll read anything that has his name attached and to be perfectly honest I doubt I could see anything he wrote as anything less than brilliant, even something as basic as a shopping list! That said, I solemnly swear that I'll be reviewing this graphic novel on it's merits, in terms of art, writing and the inclusion of new technology. There will be some minor spoilers, so if you're wanting to read this graphic novel sans spoilers I suggest you turn back now with only this...short by sweet and so worth a read.

So, for those of you willing to risk the spoilers or who already read the graphic novel I'll give you a bit of a background on the comic. SVK is an all new comic experience. Using invisible ink and a UV torch SVK gives readers and opportunity to see into the minds of the characters, to catch a glimpse at some of their secrets and their true reactions to other characters. As their website states "this graphic novel is about looking - an investigation into perception, storytelling and optical experimentation," and indeed it is. Both in terms of their use of invisible ink and the actual plot.

The brilliance of this comic is that it combines the new invisible ink technology into the storyline, rather than just having it attached as a gimmick. The story follows Thomas Woodwind (a Patrick Stewart!) as he is hired by the Heimdall security firm to track down one of their product developers who disappeared with one of their prototypes, SVK. Woodwind is offered a large sum of money and given the barest of instruction and heads off to retrieve the item. In the bad ass maverick way of all Warren Ellis protagonists Woodwind dodges Heimdall's tails (because he's so bad ass he needs people to keep watch of him) and meets up with his super nerd colleague Bulmer. From there they do some snooping and track down the prototype which turn out to be a set of contact lenses, which when inserted, do what the nifty UV torch does to your allows the viewer to see the thought of the people around them.

So I won't go into more detail than that because I don't want to give away too much of the how and why, but I went into this much detail because I wanted to emphasise the brilliance of the story/media combination. By showing the thoughts via UV it emphasises that they aren't something you're supposed to see and it puts you into Woodwind's shoes. Can you imagine if they managed to create this sort of technology? As they say in the comic, imagine if they could tack this on to all the CCTV cameras that abound the streets of London. Faceless corporations constantly monitoring our every thought, perhaps under the guise of security but who'd stop them from using it for something more sinister? And as the comic shows with it's UV bubbles, people think things they shouldn't, perhaps by suggesting the person they're talking to looks like a rapist, perhaps by venting rage by saying they're going to 'kill' their uncle. More often than not it doesn't mean anything, but imagine what the cops would do if they saw their allocated keywords (kill, rape, hate, murder, die) come up on a CCTV screen with your face on it?

As usual the writing has a bite. Warren Ellis is caustic, quick and every word packs a punch. The illustrations are in black white and pale blue/grey (other than the UV of course) and simple but they work as a perfect compliment to both Ellis' writing and as a backdrop for the added UV. It's a short novella, but the story is filled with Ellis' usual social critique and develops the characters of Woodwind and Bulmer to perfection. Every graphic novel Ellis works on amazes me, because he manages to tell such intricate stories with such complex characters without a lot of exposition or unnecessary side-plots. It's to the point and leaves the reader in no uncertain mind as to what the novel is about and who the characters are. Fantastic!

In addition to the story, there are a couple of articles dotted through the comic that deal with aspects brought up in the book. Jamais Cascio discusses AR (augmented reality) contact lenses and what they'll mean to you and me, while Paul Gravett discusses thought and speech balloons in comics. They're interesting articles and don't get in the way of the reading experience. Because I flicked through the graphic novel before I began I noted where they were and made sure to flick right past them and carried on with the story, returning to them once I had finished. This isn't standard practice in graphic novels and comics but they're included because this comic is more than just a story, it's about changing the rules of comics and storytelling, and is almost an advertisement for this novel idea. Or perhaps like a panel at a writers or media festival.

SVK sold out it's first print run (woot, first edition yo!) but they're working on a second edition (it's expensive to print in UV ink as I'm sure you could imagine!) and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy. Or, if you're a little light in the wallet situation convince a friend to buy a copy and borrow it from them! It's a great mystery, that delivers a wallop of a story with some fantastic bad ass characters and some frightening tech creations.

My rating: 4.5/5

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Links

*It looks like the latest cycle of zombie-mania has finally reached an end. After this film it'll well and truly be down the toilet...

*My favourite Brisbane cinema, the Tribal Theatre, is closing down. It's sad days for those of us who like to watch cult films in their original form and are hungry for the latest films that are a little to weird or arty for the standard cinemas but for any of you Brisbane/Queensland readers I recommend you check them out before they close. They've got some fantastic films showing at the moment, Raging Bull, The Wizard of Oz, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World to name a few. They will be missed!

*Megan Amram has written a fantastic piece about September 11 that focuses less on the event and more on the danger of closing your mind and the beauty of life. A wonderful piece and just perfectly encapsulated some of the things that have been travelling around my head lately.

*I don't know about you but I have a bit of a girl crush on Zooey Deschanel. New York Magazine has a bit of a write up about Zooey and her new show (which looks a little shit if you ask me!) and it's interesting if only to meet my Zooey Deschanel daily quota!

*Brisbane Writers Festival is over once again, and as I'm sure you expected I had a blast! I didn't take my camera with me (I never do when I need it) but check out their facebook page to take a look at some of the pictures taken of wonderful authors and writing-related people discussing all kinds of wonderful topics.

*It's my birthday on Thursday! I'm going to celebrate by spending the entire day behind my computer working on my thesis and hopefully managing to take a break to see Fright Night and have a nice dinner with the boyfriend. Why am I always busy on my birthday?!

Just a short list this week, I'll have a review up later this week but I'll be absent for much of the next 6 weeks. Don't forget me though, I'll try to update reviews and posts whenever I get a chance!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Under Stones by Bob Franklin

Under Stones
By Bob Franklin

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Dip into the world of Bob Franklin‘s fiction at your own risk. The calm surface belies a swift undertow and snags galore. These are not horror stories in the traditional sense; they are more unsettling than that. Under Stones are uneasy tales, set in familiar surrounds. They are journeys into the human psyche and powerful critiques of contemporary Australian society. Bob Franklin pokes and prods at human fears and foibles, revealing with forensic glee truths that you might prefer were, well, left under stones.

Bob Franklin is a Welsh comedian who has been based over here in Australia since the late 1980s. I've never seen his stand-up but I've long been a fan of his work on the Shaun Micallef show (if you've never seen it, seriously, look it up. Quality off-beat humour) and have always enjoyed when he popped up in other TV shows and films. Under Stones is his first attempt at writing fiction (at least first published attempt) and what he delivers is an odd collection of short stories sure to leave you feel a

The synopsis really does a great job of summarising these stories, they're not horror in the sense that vampires, zombies or men with chainsaws chase down unsuspecting men and women. Instead they look at real world horrors that people face...with a twist. While the crux of a story may be the ravaging effects of consumerism, or the crippling fear a beaten wife feels it tackles these stories by introducing a mild supernatural element to emphasise it. Most of the stories are written in a way that suggests that the supernatural manifestation may simply be a psychological effect of the character's break-down but others are driven by the supernatural element but contain a real life concern as well.

The length of the stories really vary. Some are quite long, at around 25 pages, while some are a mere page and a half. Personally I find this method extremely effective. I'm not a huge reader of short stories and I find that the variety this provides kept my interest for longer than it perhaps would have been if they were all longer or all shorter. After reading a particularly long and grueling story, it was nice to have a couple of teeny stories that whacked a punch of absurd horror and refreshed my 'palate' after the previous read.

A common complaint I've had with short story collections is that the quality can fluctuate a fair bit. I'd say this is probably true with this book. Some stories were really great but some just felt lacking. If I had to summarise my complaints for this book it'd be a lack of editing. Not in the sense that there were a lot of spelling or grammar errors but that I felt like a few more sessions rewriting could have tightened up some of the prose and perhaps developed a couple of the stories a little better. I mentioned that I enjoyed the variety in story lengths, and while I did for the most part I also felt like some of the short stories were thrown in to add content at the last minute. The writing style was very 'literary' and at some points it felt like reading the prose of a third year creative writing student. Which isn't to criticise either the author or student writers but to try and give you an idea of what I mean. From the young writing I've read in our uni magazines I feel like sometimes a student puts pen to paper, writes what's haunting their head and then, once finished, leaves it. I feel like if another few months was put into this book it could have been phenomenal because the way Franklin writes, when done to his full potential, is quite haunting and his stories lend an interesting eye to areas that concern most people at some time or another.

So I thought I'd list a couple of my favourite stories:

Plans - In a town of perfectly coiffed men and women, home made jams and clean streets a young misfit computer virus creator (does that make her a hacker?) sets the wheels in motion to take down the centre of the town's organisation team. (12 pages)

Traitors Bay - A battered wife retreats to a small town with her husband and son after an indiscretion by her husband puts them at risk. She starts to see enemies on every corner. A really interesting and psychologically driven story. (26 pages)

Take the Free Tour - A less than desirable journalist decides to take the 'free tour' of a porn site and begins to obsess over the naughty site until things take a twist for the worse. A kooky and bizarre look at porn addiction. (32 pages)

Children's Story - Told from the perspective of a five year old this story looks at a holiday taken by his family and some family friends. Turns gruesome, but stupendously done. (5 pages)

Hell Hath No Fury - A husband and wife quarrel over whether or not they should have kids. The wife takes revenge. Wacky-that's truly the best word I can think to describe it! My favourite short, short story. (2 pages)

The Snow Globe - Lee was always second best. His brother was clearly his parent's favourite and far exceeded Lee's more modest career and life but not he's dead from a tumour in his brain. Lee takes up residence in his brother's house but on his way there he keeps seeing something out of the corner of his eye. (14 pages)

The Rock Lobster Club - Joel wants to be one of the rich and famous. When he met Beth he thought he'd found his way there. The best twist ending, absolutely hilarious! (9 pages)

So as the synopsis says, this isn't your typical horror story. Many of the stories seem bizarre, funny or even absurd, and some have extremely ambiguous endings. This isn't the sort of book that smacks you in the face with it's content, instead it sneaks in under the guise of humour or familiarity and only then starts to let the horror sink in. At it's best it's a scathing and poetic view of our world and society, and at it's worst it falls short of being anything other than strange. Not always the most engaging, but an interesting read nonetheless.

My rating: 3.5/5

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Links

*Stephen Colbert + Stephen King in matching outfits holding hands is almost too awesome for my brain to comprehend! Thanks to the tumblr Awesome People Hanging Out Together for this bit of magic!

* Uproxx posted the 15 Exceptionally Haunting Movie Cinemagraphs and they are definitely worth a look over!!Basically a cinemagraph is a GIF where only a certain aspect of the image moves. There is a tumblr dedicated to them, but check out the uproxx link for some rather terrifying images, some take awhile to move so the tension build up is quite fantastic. Enjoy!

*My favourite bookish zombie blog is Swedish Zombie. In case you can't tell from the name it's a Swedish blog so you'll need to google translate it (unless you happen to know Swedish) but it's definitely worth it!

*Flavorwire listed 10 unconventional bookstores awhile ago, but I just came across it in my bookmarks folder so I thought I'd finally share it with you all!

*I occasionally dabble in baked goods, mainly when a birthday is coming up, and I think this cake will be my next attempt. It's four layers of the most exquisite blue shades topped with blueberries....mmmmmmm!

*This is more for the girls but I found the most gorgeous little clutch bag shaped like a book over as ASOS! It's quite darling! Maybe not as cute as the ones by Olympia Le-Tan, but far more wallet friendly!

*He's a permanant fixture in my sidebar on the right but I think I should reiterate how fantastic Neil Gaiman's blog is!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August Wrap Up

 Another month down. 2011 began a blink ago and we're already in the 9th month? Incidentally, September is one of my favourite months, so I'm not so sad that August is over. It's spring and on the 15th I celebrate my birthday! Even without the awesomeness of my birth's anniversary September is looking pretty huge. Not only do I have my thesis due date looming (Oct 21st) but a good friend is getting married (which brings all those other wedding events like the Hen's Party), I'm volunteering at the Brisbane Writers Festival once again and then there's general life to get on top of! Anyway, let's not get ahead of myself. August has just finished and it's been a pretty quiet month reading wise. I've gotten through the rest of the Game of Thrones books and reviewed my first author requested book, Brightwing, but otherwise I haven't made a huge dint in my reading or challenge lists.

Hosted by Two Bibliomaniacs
8 books and 8 films.

3 books and 2 films so far. No improvement from last month :(


Books Read:

Films watched:

Next to read:
The Great Gatsby -Graphic novel adaptation by Nicki Greenberg

Next to watch:
Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford, Sean Young and Rutger Hauer

Hosted by GabrielReads

Aim: Avid Reader (2 books per month)- changed from the original aim of casual reader (1 book per month)

Progress: I finished two books, but at the moment I've only got the one review up on the blog. The next should be up in a day or so.

Books read:
Kingdom Come by JG Ballard - An interesting novel set on the precipice of our world an a dystopian world.
Read my review here.

Under Stones by Bob Franklin - A series of short stories that look at the more depressing, mundane and naturally horrific side of life.
Review to come.

Next to read: TBA

Aim: 75

Progress: 54 read so far. According to GoodReads I'm currently five books ahead.

Books read:
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin - A good read but a definite decrease in quality from the previous books.
Read review here.(Warning! Spoilers!)

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R Martin - The latest installment. Not bad, but not great.
Read review here. (Warning! Spoilers!)

Freakangels by Warren Ellis - The series is finally complete. A little sad to see the end of it to be honest! I didn't review this specific book but you can read my review of the series here.

Anything New:
*I completed my readathon to raise money for MS Australia. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to dedicate to a really serious 'sit down and read' session so I only read 8 books but I did manage to raise $890 so I'm feeling pretty happy!

*I've put my Fanart Friday posts on hold for the time being. Once my thesis has been sent off to the examiners I'll have a lot more time to dedicate to rummaging through the hundreds and thousands of works of art on Deviant Art. Any requests for my first week back (28/10/11)?


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