Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Reading”

Book review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book for my wife when it first came on sale. When she finished reading the book she was immediately asking me when the sequel was being released – a year later, of course. So considering that this trilogy has been finished and the movie has already been released, it shows just how long my TBR list is that I’ve only gotten to this one now (even then, only as the audiobook).

There is something refreshing about a young author writing young adult novels. And it is enjoyable to have a good mix of action, introspection, character development, and social commentary. Some have criticised the five factions, that are the basis of the story’s society, as unrealistic…. Because wars over fuel would never happen in reality – the criticism levelled at Mad Max. What I’m saying is that people making this criticism have kinda missed the point being made.

Definitely worth a read, even for non-YA fans.

NB: This cool cover art was the reason I originally bought the book. I knew nothing about it, except that the cover looked cool and the blurb sounding like it would appeal to my wife. Cover art is really important (for me at least).

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Reading isn’t boring

book-pic

Book review: The Persona Protocol by Andy McDermott

The Persona ProtocolThe Persona Protocol by Andy McDermott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Something a little bit different from Andy McDermott with Persona Protocol; different in that Nina and Eddie aren’t being shot at in this one. But there is still plenty to enjoy about this techno-spy-thriller, not starring Nina and Eddie, but instead Adam and Bianca take over the being shot at duties.

Andy again delivers his mix of breakneck pacing and humour that are the reason I enjoy his books so much. I think this departure from the Nina and Eddie series of archaeological adventures (is it still archaeology if they destroy most of the stuff they find?) is every bit as good, and I hope to see more of these departures from Andy.

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The damage from reading

reading cures ignorance

Book Review: Gotham Central Vol 1 by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka

Gotham Central, Vol. 1: In the Line of DutyGotham Central, Vol. 1: In the Line of Duty by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the new TV series Gotham currently being cast there has been a bit of buzz around what the storyline is going to be about. Unfortunately it is not going to be based upon this excellent series by Brubaker and Rucka (should also mention the art by Michael Lark). This would actually be a great way to do a non-Batman series, especially as it would be able to use the recent Nolan films as a lead in.

I guess people who read will be the only ones to appreciate a series focussed on Gotham city police trying to work in the shadow of Batman.

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Horror stories in two sentences

Prepare to be scared!

20 horror sentences

NB: I tried to find the source of these stories or even the picture without much luck. I assume it has come from a writing competition somewhere, so if you know, please tell us because there are some genuinely good writers on this list we should be having names for.

How to be a good writer

being-a-good-writer-is-3-percent-talent-97-percent-not-being-distracted-by-the-internet-writing-meme-photo-kill-your-darlings-atl1

 

The other 4% is sucking at math.

Is fiction actually fiction?

There has been an interesting duo of videos by PBS’ Ideas Chanel. Mike discusses some interesting concepts surrounding fiction, like the fact that fiction is as much real as it is made-up and vice versa. Worth a watch.


The two videos cover a lot of ground, but one of the more important points I’d like to highlight is the idea that we can’t have fiction without reality. We need something to anchor our ideas and make-believe, shared experiences that allow us to understand and accept these fictions. There are plenty of examples of this, but one of the cooler examples is looking at depictions of the future at various stages throughout history. Compare what sci-fi movies of the 50s thought computers would look like now to what they actually look like, and you see a 1950s computer. Our imaginations actually suck a lot more than we think.

But here’s an idea about our inability to imagine the future: what if our imaginations don’t actually suck, but instead we ignore the outlandish imaginings that are actually more likely in favour of stuff we already know? Think about it. Or don’t, I’m not your boss.

Perth Writers’ Festival 2014

My annual pilgrimage to the Perth Writers’ Festival is over for another year. According to reports, I was joined by 38,500 other reading and writing fans, with ticket sales up on last year (can someone confirm that figure, I thought I read it here but I must have been mistaken. Edit: confirmed figure from WritingWA).

Some write-ups have discussed the heat; we are 1.6 degrees hotter than the long term average for February: thanks climate change! Some write-ups have discussed the wonderful talks from literary authors; can’t be less entertaining than their books. Some write-ups have tried to imply that Perth people gasped when Scott Ludlam used the word crap; yes we clearly are a simple folk over here in the west, not accustomed to swearing and impolite behaviour like taking notes. So I hereby present my write-up.

Friday 21st

I started off my festival adventure with the panel discussion Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Susan May chaired a discussion on writing, publishing, and thrilling books with Chris Allen and Joe Ducie. It was an interesting session, although Joe is not what you’d call a gregarious person and he is limited in what he can say without being sent to a black site for breaking the secrets act. This session attracted a lot of teen readers, a first for any writers’ festival I’ve been to, in part due to the young adult theme of Joe’s book and Chris’ campaign to get more boys reading. Also, why is it that the nice and friendly people always seem to write the books with the largest body counts?

My plans for the day were beaten with a cricket bat when the session Fair Go Mate was filled past standing room only. Not being able to gain admittance I’m going to say the session was clearly for doo-doo heads. Instead, I went and saw The Inner Life of Others. Amanda Curtin discussed building and writing characters with Debra Adelaide, Chris Womersley and Andrea Goldsmith. I was sitting next to the fan for one of the much-needed air conditioners for this session. So while I was quite cool and sweat free, I couldn’t hear the speakers clearly. I think in future the festival need monitors for the speakers or better technicians on hand to get the sound levels right.

I had hoped to see the session Boom Town Rats in the afternoon, as David Whish-Wilson was speaking. He wrote my favourite novel of 2013 after-all. I had to settle for asking him how things went via Facebook: apparently it was an interesting discussion session. Instead I went to Annabel Smith’s workshop on Social Media Marketing. Annabel discussed various aspects of social media and the Hub and Outpost model, with your blog/website being the hub. We had a range of people in the room from social media novices to professionals, and a couple of people who didn’t see the point – I mean, being able to talk and form communities with people on the other side of the planet instantly is so overrated. Annabel did well in catering to such a wide spectrum.

Saturday 22nd

Lee Battersby’s fantasy writing workshop, Universal Law, kicked off my Saturday with a teddy bear explaining humans to aliens (you had to be there). This was a fantastic session and I got a lot out of it. Okay, that could just be confirmation bias talking, because Lee did confirm a lot of my own thoughts on fantasy and fiction writing in general, but I’m just going to pretend we’re both right. Plus, I’ve got the beginnings of a cool little absurdist short story from the session, which may have made the session pay for itself.

Hungry and in need of golden ale refreshments, I headed to the UWA Club. David Marr was holding court with a throng of fans/questioners/listeners after having finished his discussion panel. I was tempted to join the group and ask him when he was going to finally stab Andrew Bolt to death for crimes against journalism, but decided to not ruin his day.

After a leisurely lunch at the UWA Club, I skipped the next beer and went to The Game Changers: What’s In Store? Stephanie “Hex” Bendixsen chaired a fascinating discussion about the games industry and story telling. Dan Golding, Dan Pinchback, and Guy Gadney were all insightful speakers and kept the audience of preteens to curmudgeons entertained. Guy Gadney also showed a quick wit when a young lad couldn’t remember Guy’s name, with the boy ending up on stage answering questions (which he handled quite well).
Hex-and-special-guest-panelist

Although, as if to prove that the games industry has a long way to go, or that men are still dickheads, one of the audience members started his question with “Damn girl, you fine!” when addressing Hex. If there was only some way to breed this behaviour out of the population….

The next session I attended was Hi-Viz Days with author and comedian Xavier “Matty” Toby. As a general rule I don’t read non-fiction, as it is often more fiction than non-fiction, is often boring, and has far too low a body count to be entertaining for me. But having attended this session and listened to Xavier read out some sections from the book, I would recommend you read his book about his mining experiences. Having lived in rural Australia for a large chunk of my life, a lot of the conversations, the style of speech, and the characters portrayed sounded like the people I’ve met and know. A few award winning authors should read Xavier’s book to see how rural and regional people actually speak (or at least hand back the awards for capturing the ‘bush lyricism’ in their novels).

Sunday 23rd

My Sunday started rather early. Or rather, my Saturday didn’t really finish until Sunday morning. My little bundle of joy was ill and had trouble sleeping, which meant I did too. It also meant I’ve contracted his illness: parenting is lots of fun.

I’d already missed one of David Whish-Wilson’s sessions on the Friday, but I went the whole hog and missed his Sunday session as well. His interview on Perth, the city and his non-crime, non-fiction book, on Sunday apparently went well (full house). David assured me that there were plenty of interviews being done around the festival on this book. Which means if we check his webpage we could probably track down an interview with David on Perth; the book and the city.

The only event I managed to attend on Sunday was Susan May’s workshop on Standing Out From the Crowd. It turns out that Susan and I had been in the same all day workshop on publishing a few Perth Writers’ Festivals ago. Her take-away from that event had been to avoid the slush pile and somewhere along the way, after developing industry contacts to help avoid the slush pile, she self-published. I agree with one of the other attendees that Susan’s session was enthusiastic and genuine.

And that concludes my Perth Writers’ Festival adventure for another year. It was good to catch up with friends and other attendees over the three days and I hope others enjoyed the event as much as I did.

Book review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The TournamentThe Tournament by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just about everyone has already commented how this novel is a departure for Matthew Reilly. It’s still unmistakably a Matthew Reilly novel, but instead of a thriller, this is a mystery novel.

Whilst this was an enjoyable novel, I can’t rate it as highly as his others. The key to enjoying the change in Reilly’s murder mystery cum chess tournament is to remember this is a mystery and not a thriller. Seriously, some of the reviews I’ve seen sound like they were expecting Scarecrow to time travel back at any moment and start shooting mutant monkeys, and were annoyed when that didn’t happen.

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Total Recall: the movie, the movie, or the book?

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 7.54.03 pm

At the moment there is a lot of talk about Paul Verhoeven’s ‘trilogy’ of sci-fi movies being remade. I think the terms used to discuss the remakes are stupid, banal, and facile. Verhoeven made three fantastic social satires, that were also science fiction action films: Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers*. Okay, only two were fantastic, Starship Troopers was stupid. They were also all made at a time when you could make a grossly violent film and not be shunned by cinemas and TV in favour of PG13 violence – you know, the violence that is heavy on explosions and pew-pew noises, but light on the consequences of that violence, which raises kids to believe that violence doesn’t hurt anyone.

Robocop: The Reboot has just hit the cinemas, spurring people the internet over to complain about a movie they haven’t seen (new Robocop), a movie that hasn’t been made yet (new Starship Troopers – not to be confused with Super Troopers), and how terrible the recent Total Recall movie was. Anyone would think that Colin Farrell had personally shagged Arnie’s housekeeper the way they talk about the Total Recall remake.

So I did something unthinkable: I rewatched the remake, the Verhoeven/Schwarzenhamneggnburger version, and read the Phillip K Dick short story (or is it a novella?). The reason for doing so? Because these remakes were being derided so heavily. Nothing inspires people to touch wet paint like putting a wet paint sign on it.

Let’s start with the Total Recall remake. It is an action film: good start. It is a sci-fi: in that it doesn’t have a talking dragon in it, thus it can’t be fantasy, despite the lack of ‘science’ in the science fiction, making it closer to fantasy. It has half decent actors in it: I’d watch just about anything with Kate Beckinsale in it since seeing Shooting Fish, as long as the movie doesn’t have Ben Affleck in it – yes that one, let us not speak it’s name. It also appears to have a plot: I could be mistaken.

As a film the Total Recall remake is fine. All the right things explode, all the good guys live, all the bad guys die horribly, most of the needless violence is against robots so we don’t get caught up in the mass genocide that the hero performs. As an adaptation of the short story, you could be forgiven for thinking the film makers only read the first few pages; much like the original movie. As compared to the original Total Recall, it is a pale, facile shadow.

The Arnie version worked as both a straight up action movie, but also had a much better secondary plot about whether it was all happening or all in his head. This part is what makes the original movie closer to a Phillip K Dick adaptation than the new movie. Although the original movie being closer to the source material is probably because the screenwriter and Verhoeven had read the dust jacket of the story, whereas Len Wiseman and his screenwriter just took Verhoeven’s word for it that there was an original story to base the movie upon.

Dick’s story actually has a really funny and interesting twist ending, which neither movie used because the movies and story diverge at about the time when Doug Quaid (Quail in the book) arrives home after visiting Rekall. In fact, We Can Remember If For You Wholesale bears so little resemblance to the movies that you’d more call it an inspiration for them rather than source material. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as they handed Dick a great big check, maybe a signed picture of Arnie to go with it, maybe some Planet Hollywood shares as well.

The movies are both good fun, both are entertaining, both are well made, both had dubious understandings of physics. There is nothing wrong with the new movie as a piece of entertainment. But it won’t last the way the original movie has. This comes down to Verhoeven’s handling of the secondary plot, which might as well not exist in the remake. I certainly look forward to the even more facile Total Recall movie that will come out in another 20 years, which will probably not even have a three boobed woman in it.

* I could write an entire essay on how Heinlein’s original novel differed from the movie and how its social comment was far deeper and insightful than the movie.

Sony exits ebook biz

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are these things called electronic books now, e-books for short. Now these are brand new (invented 1971, possibly as early as 1949) and understandably the devices to read them are even newer (first e-reader released 1998). So it may come as a shock to many of you that quite a few people read e-books on e-readers now instead of paper books. It will come as even more of a shock to you that the Sony e-reader has become a thing of the past.

That’s right my fellow book lovers – lovers in the adoration sense, not in the brace yourself, oh yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh, chikka bow-wow, sense – it appears that Sony has decided it doesn’t want a dedicated e-reader, in fact it doesn’t even want an e-book store. They have announced that they are pulling out and customers are being transferred to the Kobo store.

Of course, I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised by this decision. Raise your hand if you’ve ever actually seen a Sony e-reader. Now keep it up if you’ve actually owned one. If you can see anyone with their hand still raised, I’d question how you manage to turn people’s web cams on. Sony has been playing at the bottom end of the market for e-readers and e-books for quite a while now. The chart below from Goodreads shows Sony were picking up Kobo’s scraps in the market.

So what does this mean for us readers? Well, it means the big dedicated e-readers remain, the Kindle and Nook. It also means Kobo could pick up a bit more of the e-reader and e-book market. But that isn’t particularly interesting to me, I’ll discuss why in a moment. What is interesting is the Sony e-reader is probably the victim of the modern device market.

I read an interesting tech article that was discussing mobile phones. They pointed out that the companies making money on phones weren’t actually making money on the phone sales, especially at the mid to lower price points, but instead cashing in on the app stores and downloads. The phone is a loss leader for the software business they run. Nokia and their deal with Microsoft is a classic example of this, with Nokia battling to compete for market share and profits.

Translate that to e-readers and the same thing applies. It was even worse for Sony, as the other competitors were/are selling their Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc, as a loss leader to get people using their store or affiliates. This meant that the big stores attract the users, who buy the associated tech, which locks them to the stores (to some extent at least), leading to e-book sales profits. Terrific! As long as you don’t think too hard about the slave labour making the devices.

The reason I don’t find the market positioning of the e-reader devices of much interest is down to a few things. The first is a little statistic that has been showing up in surveys from Goodreads and The Pew Institute; namely that 29-37% of people read books on their phone (23% on a tablet). A dedicated reading device is only really in the book space now because the e-reader screen has less eye fatigue. At the moment! Watch this bubble burst as phones and tablets eat away at the readability technology, such that e-reader screens become redundant. Mobile devices also don’t have to be linked to any one e-book store, so interesting times are on the horizon.

Another view on e-readers future: http://techland.time.com/2013/01/04/dont-call-the-e-reader-doomed/

Isabel Allende’s scorn for genre fiction

science-fiction-vs-proper-literature

Literature vs Genre: jetpack wins!

There is a storm brewing. In the latest of the long line of insults by literary fiction against genre fiction, Isabel Allende has taken a pot shot at crime fiction. Now apparently she hates crime fiction because:

It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people.

But that didn’t stop her writing a crime mystery. It also didn’t stop her saying that the book was a joke and ironic. I think the word she was actually looking for was hypocrite.

I’ve never really understood the people who read or write stuff they don’t enjoy. Sure, I read some really boring science journal articles, but that’s because I enjoy knowing stuff. If I’m going to sit down and read a book, I want that 10-20 hours of entertainment to be, well, entertaining. If I’m writing, which is a much longer and more involved process, why would I invest that much time in something I’m not enjoying doing?

So to some extent, I understand why Isabel decided that her mystery had to be a joke and ironic. But that is also the crux of the problem, she doesn’t seem to understand that she is also insulting readers and fans of genre fiction. I think the book store in Houston, Murder by the Book, that had ordered 20 signed copies of her novel, did the right thing in sending them back.

Now you can write a satirical or ironic take on a particular genre or sub-genre of fiction. But when you do so it has to be because of your love of all those little things you’re taking the piss out of. If you do it out of hate then you can’t turn around and try to sell it to the audience you are taking a pot shot at. I think this stuff is stupid, you’re stupid for reading it, but I still want you to pay me for insulting you.

I get a little sick of snobbishness toward genre readers and writers. Do genre readers and writers take pot shots at literary authors for their lack of plots, characters who have to own a cat and be suffering, and writing that is there to fill pages with words and not actually tell a story? No. We’re too busy reading something exciting.

It would be great if people just enjoyed what they enjoyed and stopped criticising others for enjoying what they enjoy. Enjoy.

See also:

http://www.fictorians.com/2013/03/04/literary-vs-genre-fiction-whats-all-the-fuss-about/

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Lauren two years ago now, when she was running a class on writing (d’uh). This first sentence of the review is essentially a name drop… move along, nothing to see here.

The Shining Girls is such an interesting take on crime novels, with a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey*, plot and some fascinating story telling. Lauren has an interesting setup for the serial killer and his victim protagonist, a setup that you hope has a good payoff. Well, it doesn’t have a good payoff, in the final pages it has an excellent payoff.

The version I ‘read’ was the audiobook, which is worth mentioning because there were multiple narrators to take on the various points of view used in the book. This was a great touch that I wish more audiobooks would do. For a complex novel like The Shining Girls, it is almost necessary. I can say I have stopped listening to at least two audiobooks in the past year that probably would have been improved with multiple narrators to clarify changes in points of view. Or you could just read the novel the old fashioned way, just not whilst driving, or using a table saw, as I was able to with the audio version.

* If you don’t get that reference I pity your TV viewing habits.

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Brain fog

funny-paranoid-parrot-meme-spelling

Can’t we all just get along: DTB vs E-book

Print vs ebook infographic
The big take home from this infographic is that readers are more interested in reading, not on the format it comes in. I also found it interesting that people read slower on an e-reader (which I’d guess is because the screen is smaller and requires more ‘page turns’ which breaks reading flow) yet those using e-readers read an average of 9 more books per year (24 vs 15).

In summary: reading is good, go and enjoy a good book.

Love it or Hate it

To read genre or not to read genre: that really isn’t the question.

With surprising regularity there are articles written explaining why people should be reading certain types of books. It isn’t just books, of course, but I’m trying not to be distracted…. puppy! The thing that these articles have in common is snobbery.

From a young age we are given lessons in snobbery, certain things are cool to read, certain things have value or social importance. These are the things we should be reading. By definition this means everything else isn’t of value and often becomes termed our guilty pleasures. I agree with the sentiments of this article that mentions guilty pleasures as being one of the phrases that makes people hate you.

The idea that something is a guilty pleasure implies that we should feel bad because we enjoy something. Well that’s just stupid. Either we enjoyed reading the book or we didn’t. Do we really have to impress others with our cool choices in reading material? I’d argue that you can enjoy whatever you like and we need to stop with the snobbery and pretence that some books are more highbrow or worthy of reading. I’d also argue that we aren’t in high school anymore and you don’t have to be cool. And reading is cool…. no, you can’t have my lunch money.

Now I don’t want to get into the argument about reasons why people read. Some people read for pleasure, some for entertainment (I’m defining those two categories slightly differently), some to explore social issues, some to learn about a topic, some to experience emotional stories, and on the list goes. For example, I don’t read scientific papers to be entertained, I read them to learn things, but the novels I read are meant to entertain me. So some people will be snobby about what they read because of why they read. I’m more interested in addressing the other type of snobbery about reading things of worth, value and not the guilty pleasures.

A lot of this snobbery comes from English Literature academics, authors, devotees and columnists. They are regularly telling us that we shouldn’t be wasting our time reading genre fiction, we should be reading the important books. You know, the ones so important that the author didn’t bother to make them entertaining. They would have us believe that reading is too important to be just entertaining, that we can’t read a science fiction, fantasy, thriller, romance or similar genre book because that would mean we haven’t read the worthy books.

Is Terry Pratchett worthy? How about Heinlein? They put more social commentary and sophisticated language into their novels than most of the literature I’ve ever read (yes, I was a literary snob at one point). And here is the problem with the snobbery argument: they are closed minded to the idea of genre books having value and thus miss out on entertaining books that also happen to do a better job of being literature.

This is also why we see 38% of people responding to reading surveys saying that they finish a book, not because they are enjoying it, but because they feel they should finish books they start. This is that snobbery having an extended impact upon our reading habits. We’ve been trained/taught to finish books that aren’t entertaining or enjoyable because of the message or value of the book, which we will only truly appreciate by wading through the boring stuff between the book covers. It will make you think, we are promised. Sure. I always think, What a waste of time, I could have read several other books instead of drudging through this crud.

I know that snobbery is very important, because those literary people would be out of a job otherwise, but can people just keep it to themselves, please? It would be nice to see more than 40% of the population being avid readers (a book a month or more). It would be nice if we bought and read books based upon what interests us and not what would look most impressive to be seen reading or have on our bookshelves. Changing this mindset would stop memes like this one:

Stupid meme is stupid.

Stupid meme is stupid – can we just agree that a book is a book, DTB, ebook, clay tablet, whatever?

It’s great that people want to impress others with what they are reading. Currently my toddler has a really impressive array of books scattered all over the house. They make for fantastic things to trip over, stub your toe on, or make us look particularly well read on the adventures of small, overly cute animals. I’m sure all the other toddlers are impressed. I still can’t wait for him to stop impressing everyone and just have them all on an e-reader. We should be reading to enjoy reading, not to decorate our house, impress others, be worthy: no guilty pleasures, just pleasures.

Selected Updates from Publishing 2012

Some interesting points from the recent Bowker Reading industry survey. I would love to post more, but I found myself short the $999 they are asking for the report. When I say short, I mean: there is no way I’m paying a grand to get a report when I could be using that money to buy another guitar.

How to use a semicolon

How to use a semicolon

Writing is easy…. kinda

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