Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Hipster Kindle

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I’ve been pulling out my Kindle more often of late. So many advantages, especially when it comes to getting my hands on Advanced Review Copies to read.

Anyone else love their Kindle?

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Book Review: Raw Wounds by Matt Hilton

Raw Wounds (Tess Grey & Po Villere, #3)Raw Wounds by Matt Hilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood is thicker than water, unless you stab a relative, then it needs to be washed off with water.

Tess and Po have stumbled upon a potential murder victim and are all set to investigate this puzzling crime when Po receives a call. His dying mother wants to see him. His mother’s husband swore an oath to kill him. The rest of the family is ready to help. Except his sister, who has just gone missing near a new oil pipeline development, who Po has just been tasked to find.

Having been a long time fan of the Joe Hunter series by Matt Hilton, I was keen to read this new series from Matt. Much like the Hunter series, Matt has given us a solid crime thriller with plenty of action. The hard moulded Po is a lived in character, and Tess feeling like someone who is still trying to adjust to her new life as an ex-cop. They feel like good characters to follow for more adventures.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Interpreting Music Review Terminology

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Last week I posted a handy guide to Book Review Terminology. Book reviews aren’t the only area that has incomprehensible jargon. Music reviews are often troubling, they use industry jargon that not everyone understands, especially not the people using the jargon. So I have quickly summarised the commonly used phrases and interpreted them.

Solid album: every song sounds the same.
Standout tracks: the only decent songs.
The album grows on you: hated this album the first time I listened to it and after having to listen to it several times to complete the review have found I can tolerate it.
Intricate melodies: pretentious wank.
Outstanding musicianship: lots of solos.
Impressive guitar work: endless guitar masturbation.
Impressive vocal work: wow, an actual singer for a change. They didn’t even use autotune. Now if only they’d work on writing decent lyrics.
Concept album: lots of pretentious filler.
Soulful lyrics: singer recently dumped by their partner.
Soulful melodies: all band members/artist depressed.
Heartfelt emotion: band members/artist suicidal.
Catchy lyrics: I hate this album and all the songs on it, but I can’t purge the choruses from my brain.
Best album of the year: only new album I have.
The best release from this artist/band: it’s about time they put out something decent.
Epic: too long.
Pop sensibilities: commercial radio fodder.
Proponents of (insert name) style: I hate this sort of music.
Founders of (insert name) style: the artists that everyone else copied.
Challenging: annoying.
Diverse styles/sounds: imitates everything popular at the moment.
Critically acclaimed: only pretentious and annoying people will like it.
Commercially successful: listen to it on the radio instead.
New sensation: you’ll have forgotten this artist and their music existed in 6 months.
Uplifting: saccharine.
Back with a vengeance: last album was terrible.
Offers up some great tracks: band/artist only wrote one song then packed in filler.
Career defining: surprisingly good album.
On heavy rotation: has a huge marketing budget to waste.
Staple of radio playlists: inoffensive.
Politically charged lyrics: think they are better than everyone else.
Confrontational: annoying.
Distinguishes itself: will fade into obscurity in a month.
Stamped their mark: all the vapid DJ’s like it.
Most important album/artist of the year: utter crap that is inexplicably selling well.
Taken (insert country) by storm: some DJ overseas thinks that it’s good.
Radio friendly: bland.

Hope that clears things up a bit.

Book review: The Devil You Know by KJ Parker

The Devil You KnowThe Devil You Know by K.J. Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled? Never messing with a philosopher.

Saloninus is the greatest philosopher of all time. But nearing the end of his life he wants another 20 years to complete his final works. So he does a deal with the devil. But the devil is suspicious. They might have an airtight contract for Saloninus’ soul, but there is something amiss. Is the devil about to be swindled by the greatest thinker?

A couple of years ago my uncle recommended KJ Parker to me. I’ve finally gotten around to reading one of Parker’s books. My uncle clearly has good taste.

This was an interesting and often humorous tale. After a recent letdown with an odious fantasy novel, this was refreshing. Briskly paced, world building without the laborious exposition, and characters that felt like real people, topped off a solid and interesting story. I’ll have to schedule some more KJ Parker reading for the near future.

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Interpreting Book Review Terminology

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Have you ever read a book review and been baffled by the jargon the reviewer uses? Like any profession, book reviewers have their own jargon that is meaningless and annoying to anyone not steeped in the mire of that profession. Since I’m a scientist and science communicator, I’m very familiar with how terrible the media are at explaining science. I’m also familiar with interpreting jargon for an audience. So allow me to elucidate.
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Page-turner: Meets the bare minimum standards for a book.
Gripping: I got this from a library where kids are allowed to play.
Poignant: Something sad happened in this book, most likely a character gets cancer.
Compelling: I spent so much time reading this book I had to finish it despite wanting to hurt myself after every sentence.
Nuanced: I have no idea what this book was about but I liked it.
Lyrical: Should be a poem instead so that it isn’t as long and self-involved.
Tour de force: The book is too long and waffly.
Readable: Boring but better than watching TV.
Haunting: Either used to describe a book that made the reviewer actually think, or, more likely, is meant to make you think but is just pretentious.
Deceptively simple: Could have been written by a 10 year old.
Rollicking: Something actually happens in this book.
Fully realised: The book has a beginning, middle and end.
Timely: Makes passing reference to something that happened 2 years ago.
X meets Y meets Z: The reviewer hasn’t read the book so is quoting the sales blurb.
Sweeping: Long.
That said: I’ve just insulted this entire book but it is popular for some unknown reason (e.g. Twilight).
Riveting: Was able to finish reading it.
Unflinching: Unpleasant.
Powerful: I read the hardcover.
Unputdownable: Reviewer is unfamiliar with English.
Masterfully or Masterful: The author is familiar with English.
Beautifully written: A lot of long words were used.
Startling: Reviewer was surprised the book was published.
Bold: Controversial.
Accessible: Written for kids.
Memorable: Reviewer didn’t have to look up the author or title to write the review.
Epic: Really, really, long.
A tale of loss and redemption: Someone dies, the protagonist gets over it, the end.
Sensuously, seductively, and/or lushly described: Painstakingly boring descriptions of mundane details.
Must read: Bestseller.
What it is to be human: Someone falls in love or someone dies.
Luminous: Has a pretty cover.
Evocative: Not boring or pedantic.
Poetic: Wordy.
Thought provoking: Reviewer is sure the book is cultural or intellectual but didn’t quite get it.
Rollicking roller-coaster: Kids book, or should be.
Provocative: Annoying.
Lends itself to X: Reading the book X was better.
Opinionated: The reviewer disagrees with everything the author has ever written.
Emotional roller-coaster: Nominated for some literary award.
Only minor quibbles: The book sucked.
Stays in your mind long after the last page is turned: Had a bad ending.
Writing at the peak of his/her powers: Much better than the author’s other books.
At once: The reviewer is about to use more than one of these terms in a sentence.
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Also, lets not forget the various terms that are used to tell you what the genre of the book is, rather than just say what the genre is:
Explicit, steamy, romp, raunchy: Erotica or has sex in it.
Charged, taut, woven, layered: Political thriller.
Heart-warming, life-affirming: Romantic drama.
Seamy, gritty, underworld: Crime.
Taut, fast-paced, dynamic: Thriller.
Epic: Fantasy.
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Hope this clears things up a bit.

 

Book review: On Generation and Corruption by Aristotle

On Generation and CorruptionOn Generation and Corruption by Aristotle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not going to review this book. It’s a few thousand years old, I don’t really have anything to add.

What I found interesting about this book was what it got wrong. Obviously Aristotle is one of the most influential thinkers of all time, he was one of the earlier people to grapple with determinism (Democritis and Leucippus got there first). But in Aristotle’s arguments on the Four Causes and the Four Elements, it was interesting that he rejected Leucippus’ and Democritus’ Atomism, a theory that was ultimately proven correct. Which got me to thinking.

How would anyone describe fire – one of the four elements – without our modern knowledge? How would we explain or seek to understand (rationalise) the workings of fire without chemistry, physics, and all of that other knowledge we take for granted?

Reading the arguments melding the four causes and elements into an understanding of change and decay in the modern age, it is easy to point and laugh. Stupid philosophers can’t science! But as I was reading I realised I could counter the arguments only based upon the accumulated knowledge of the natural world. If I was to remove that knowledge and just go by observation, could I do better? The answer is clearly no. At best I could come up with different, but probably not better. Because I’m definitely in the same league as one of the greatest thinkers of all time….

This realisation then had me thinking about how we don’t value our modern age and modern knowledge as much as we should. As Douglas Adams noted, we are surrounded by wonders of technology and science, but could we explain it and rebuild it, or would we have to settle for being a sandwich maker from the stars?

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Book review: Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher

Dark Intelligence (Transformation, #1)Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If AI essentially become gods does that make humans the prime mover?

Thorvald Spear died 100 years ago in the war with the Prador. Fortunately, this is the future, so death is less final than it used to be. But Spear is less than happy with how he died at the hands of the black AI, Penny Royal, and decides to destroy it. Along the way he manages to piss off Isobel Satomi, who has also got a carapace to pick with Penny Royal. So she adds Spear to her list of things to destroy. Meanwhile, Penny Royal is up to something, and everyone wants to know what.

This was my first outing with Neal Asher and his Polity universe. Asher was recommended to me by a fellow blogger – Bookstooge – so I found this recent series in the library. There is much I enjoyed about this book, and by extension the universe Asher has created. The details that give this universe a lived in feel, the cyberpunk sensibilities, the interesting sci-fi technology, are all fantastic. The story and characters are also interesting. So why only 3 stars?

There were two things that really stopped me enjoying this novel more: the length; and the anachronisms.

Sci-fi has a habit of being long because someone decided that that was okay for spec-fic genres. Dark Intelligence made me notice that this was a long book. Usually if you are really enjoying a book, the length goes unnoticed. So I had the sense that there was too much padding, unnecessary exposition, and side plots. It all fits together nicely, but I’m sure that this could come in much shorter without losing anything.

The second problem I had was with the constant anachronisms. Sounds being described as like a domino being slapped on the board… because dominoes is so popular right now, let alone a few centuries into the future. The Polity universe is filled with hyper-intelligent AIs that can do just about anything… but apparently cars still need a human to drive them. Tesla had that covered two years ago. After noticing one anachronism the floodgates opened, to the point where I started to question if this was Asher having a joke. But I doubt this is the case, since he criticised Greg Bear for doing the same thing in a book review.

Perhaps I’ll enjoy The Skinner more, which Bookstooge originally recommended.

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The Art of Comics

Do you like comics? I’m not talking about movies based on comics. I’m not talking about comic fandom that can only be solved Utopia style. I’m talking about the art of storytelling that only the mix of art and narrative can manage.

How Utopia deals with comic fans:

I have previously discussed how some fail to give due respect to comics and graphic novels. The TL/DR is that literary snobs don’t like non-worthy genres to be discussed. I mean, how dare someone dilute words with pictures! Yet the comic format allows for a form of storytelling that other mediums would love to have. Literally showing can condense a novel to a few dozen pages whilst retaining all of the important details, as I discussed in my review of the Parker comics. Text can be used in a way that neither movies nor novels can utilise. An example is the way authors construct their ideas into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters to transition between ideas and moments. When you add the visual artwork you can add effect and impact to those transitions, ideas, and moments. You can’t do that in other mediums. Well, unless you’re Edgar Wright merging movies and comics.

The way the art is used to tell a story is an often overlooked aspect of comics and graphic novels. This is despite the fact that the art is their most distinguishing feature. That and the impossible physiques covered in spandex.

As an example, I’d like to share a page from a comic I bought when I was 10.* On this page is a panel that has stuck with me as an example of the combination of art and narrative. Comics can do this so easily. It would make movies jealous – unless they have the CGI budget. No big illustrated fight scene. No words like ZAP or KAPOW as a blow is struck. And within the context of this larger story, the minimalism is an important narrative device.

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From Batman #422 – Just Deserts (1988)

Obviously, this is just one example that lead to my formative appreciation of the comic book medium.* As much as many formative appreciations of comic books are based around the erotic art work… sorry, lost my train of thought.

For another example of the combination of art and story, Nerdwriter made a particularly good video discussing Maus and how it is constructed as a story and piece of art. Every frame, every image, the whole page, has meaning.

When it comes to discussing the literary and artistic merit of comics the discussion often never moves past the capes, spandex, and insecurity inducing bulges. Some articles have argued that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. But comics are far more than the superficial observations of those dismissing them.

Well, at least I think they are cool.

*Please appreciate this post. It took me ages to figure out which comic I had owned. During high school we were asked to bring in a comic book to be part of a creative writing project in English class. The class never eventuated and the comics were never returned to us. As a result I couldn’t remember the details of this comic, and since there are a lot of Batman comics, it took a lot of effort to track down.

This also opened an old wound created by that high school English class. The wound of crushed creativity. The promise of being taught creative writing that went unfulfilled for decades. But thank goodness we got to learn how to write essays about ee cummings in Lit class instead.

Creativity Explained

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Last week I reblogged an article about some new research into what makes us creative. This week I’m sharing a video from one of my favourite YouTube channels, which essentially covers the same work. But this one is a video!

Since this is going to be a three part series, I’ll update this post as the other videos are released.

Part 2:

Further reading:

Kidd, C., & Hayden, B. Y. (2015). The psychology and neuroscience of curiosity. Neuron, 88(3), 449-460.

De Pisapia, N., Bacci, F., Parrott, D., & Melcher, D. (2016). Brain networks for visual creativity: a functional connectivity study of planning a visual artwork. Scientific reports, 6.

The Real Neuroscience of Creativity – Scientific American.

Eagleman, D., & Brandt, A. (2017). The Runaway Species: How human creativity remakes the world.

Catapult. Durante, D., & Dunson, D. B. (2018). Bayesian inference and testing of group differences in brain networks. Bayesian Analysis, 13(1), 29-58.

Li, W., Yang, J., Zhang, Q., Li, G., & Qiu, J. (2016). The Association between Resting Functional Connectivity and Visual Creativity. Scientific reports, 6.

Bendetowicz, D., Urbanski, M., Aichelburg, C., Levy, R., & Volle, E. (2017). Brain morphometry predicts individual creative potential and the ability to combine remote ideas. Cortex, 86, 216-229.

Writing in Western Australia

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Two months ago (November 2017) the Western Australian Government released its Writing Sector Review. Okay, most of the readers here are international, so you’re probably shrugging your shoulders and reaching for an atlas – atlases are still a thing, right? But after my recent post on support for the arts (I was in favour as long as the support was for all authors, not just those deemed worthy/literary enough), I thought this review highlighted many of the same points and might be interesting.

Okay, that’s probably my West Aussie bias talking. But if it is a problem, just mentally substitute your local area name in place of Western Australia. The points raised appear to be universal. Well, Earthiversal. Well, Writerversial.

The Department of Culture and The Arts had nine recommendations in their report:

Recommendation 1: Maintain current levels of State Government funding to the writing sector
This point is at odds with the rest of the list. Lots of new stuff to fund but no extra funding to go with it. But I guess this is why they are writers and not economists.

Recommendation 2: Create a hub for writing and creative thinking at the State Library of Western Australia building
This makes sense, especially if this extends resources out to the larger library network in the state. And a coffee machine, this needs a coffee machine to be a creative hub.

Recommendation 3: Conduct a distinctive annual Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards The Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards
This is something that used to happen, but became biennial. I’ll have more to say on this point, mark my words.

Recommendation 4: Use investment in the writing sector to achieve synergies with existing Statewide library services to extend and enhance community engagement in the reading of Western Australian writers
Honestly, why wasn’t this already a thing? “Sorry, we don’t have room for you West Aussie authors on the shelves, James Patterson just published 12 new books.”

Recommendation 5: Foster professional development for writers to enable them to navigate the increasingly complex areas of rights and multimedia opportunities
This is already available, but an expansion would be welcome news to all of the state scribblers. The isolation of Western Australia from the rest of Australia, let alone the rest of the world, is something that needs to be addressed. I wonder if there is a world wide… network that could be used in some way to facilitate this.

Recommendation 6: Foster an environment to maximise the potential of Western Australian writers to be published
Like reminding the rest of the world that we exist. Or giving us decent internet. Or a can with a string attached.

Recommendation 7: Enhance data collection about Western Australian writing to provide benchmarks and evidence for policy development
Enhance? Starting would be good. As noted in the report, the Australia Bureau of Statistics stopped collecting data in 2003-04. Also great to see a report admitting they didn’t have evidence to base their recommendations upon.

Recommendation 8: Provide support for screen writing and playwriting
Aside from all of those tax breaks that film and theatre already get….

Recommendation 9: Establish writer-in-residence opportunities at National Trust properties (Source)
This is a specific focus thing about promoting literature with a local history emphasis. I’m sure that will make someone happy. Like sleep medicine specialists.

The overall emphasis of the report is that Western Australia isn’t a cultural backwater yet it is treated as one. So the state government should do something about that by promoting locals writers, local stories, and more people to wear neck scarves and beret caps.

This is very similar to the calls from The Guardian last month, which I covered in my recent post, Literary Fiction in Crisis. The government should be doing more to support, develop, and nurture artists. The publishing industry are somehow not being asked to do this. Apparently they are all tapped out, and definitely not owned by the biggest and most profitable media organisations.

There are a couple of big assumptions built into this report. The first most obvious one is that Western Australia isn’t a cultural backwater. Having lived here my entire life, I can confirm we are a backwater, and not just culturally. I think we need to accept this fact. Maybe if we grabbed a couple of cold beers and watched some sport it would help us get over ourselves.

The second big assumption is that writers in Western Australia are worth funding. Why? What exactly is the government trying to promote with this funding? Is there a return on investment intended? These things aren’t really defined, just asserted as true. Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone loves a government handout, just ask the banks who nearly destroyed the world’s economy. But I’d like to think that this funding is a bit better justified than it appears.

The other big assumption is that support should be directed at literary works. This is a common theme to these reports and the articles I discussed previously.  The report recommends the Premier’s Book Awards be annual again, which they want to be used to promote West Aussie authors and Western Australia as a successful writing habitat – possibly with the inclusion of an emphasis on “emerging” and “developing” authors. I note that they aren’t proposing to support genre authors, nor have awards to promote them.

Why wasn’t there a conclusion that the Premier’s Book Awards should include Spec-Fic, Crime, Thriller, Romance, and YA segments? Are these not worthy? Do these genres lack enough subplots about recovering from cancer and relationships with cats? Because we can fix that.

As I noted in my Literary Fiction in Crisis piece, we could acknowledge that arts are an important aspect of our culture and support ALL artists with grants – not just the “important” literary ones. The initiatives that are meant to grow and sustain the writing sector always seem to be only for part of the writing sector. IF writing is to receive government assistance then it would be nice to see it not playing favourites without some damned good justifications. Until then it appears that some animals are more equal than others.

5.1 CONCLUSIONS

In framing initiatives that will grow and sustain the writing sector, the following issues arising from the research and consultation process have influenced the consultants’ advice.

 The creative process – the act of writing – is severely hampered by lack of time and money

 Market development is a critical issue for everyone working in this sector in Australia, and one which WA needs to address with some urgency. WA’s isolation from decision-makers and peergroups exacerbates this

 Proximity to Asia and the alignment of significant time zones offers a considerable opportunity for WA writers (and to the creative industries in WA more generally)

 Market forces are causing publishers to become more conservative and mean they are not building writers careers in the same way. How is this gap to be filled?

 Collaboration between allied and sometimes competing parties is an emerging model in Australia and internationally. With the disruption of internet and digital technologies there is a greater need for publishers to cooperate and negotiate with other firms, including competitors, or others such as games, software and media companies in order to create new products.

 For emerging and small publishers, distribution can be a major hurdle

 Self-publishing without an experienced guiding hand is a minefield for new writers

 While authors still seek traditional publisher relationships there has been an increase in publishing innovation and technology driving new models. Australian publishers are experimenting across digital platforms with changes to royalty and subscription agreements, and providing free ebook downloads which helps make niche publishing projects viable

 Digital opportunities are encouraging a more direct relationship between writers and readers, publishers and readers, booksellers and readers

 Sales opportunities in the digital marketplace do not fundamentally alter the economics of publishing but have provided more opportunities for scholarly publishers

 The WA writing sector is supported by a range of community-based writers’ centres, facilitating organisations and by writingWA

 Throughout WA there are also 231 public libraries which provide a nexus for writers and readers in a geographically challenging state.

 There is a strong regional literary festival culture in regional WA – often initiated or supported by the public library. Geraldton, Kununurra, Avon Valley, Broome, Margaret River and Mandurah Festivals are all initiatives of, or have strong links with, their public libraries, and funding from DCA, DRD and Royalties for Regions, delivered via writingWA

 The history and capacity for publishing Aboriginal stories by Aboriginal people is a strength of WA writing

 There is a need to increase the diversity of voices and participants in the writing community

 Recent and current infrastructure developments, plus the proposed reconfiguration of SLWA offer opportunities for increased writing-based activity and activation

 Changes to governance arrangements at Screenwest and its greater emphasis on the telling of WA stories offer opportunities for writers

How Audiobooks Are Recorded

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This is an interesting short video featuring Suzy Jackson, voice artist, recording an audiobook at Audible Studios.

Joanna Penn has also interviewed a number of people on her podcast about audiobooks, which are worth listening to.

I’m quite the fan of audiobooks. Being able to read a book while I’m exercising or commuting has been a life changer for me. There is something about having headphones in that stops people interrupting you to ask what you’re reading. Sorry, not stops, but certainly lowers the number of interruptions.

New study reveals why some people are more creative than others

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The question has long eluded researchers. agsandrew/Shutterstock.com

Roger Beaty, Harvard University

Creativity is often defined as the ability to come up with new and useful ideas. Like intelligence, it can be considered a trait that everyone – not just creative “geniuses” like Picasso and Steve Jobs – possesses in some capacity.

It’s not just your ability to draw a picture or design a product. We all need to think creatively in our daily lives, whether it’s figuring out how to make dinner using leftovers or fashioning a Halloween costume out of clothes in your closet. Creative tasks range from what researchers call “little-c” creativity – making a website, crafting a birthday present or coming up with a funny joke – to “Big-C” creativity: writing a speech, composing a poem or designing a scientific experiment.

Psychology and neuroscience researchers have started to identify thinking processes and brain regions involved with creativity. Recent evidence suggests that creativity involves a complex interplay between spontaneous and controlled thinking – the ability to both spontaneously brainstorm ideas and deliberately evaluate them to determine whether they’ll actually work.

Despite this progress, the answer to one question has remained particularly elusive: What makes some people more creative than others?

In a new study, my colleagues and I examined whether a person’s creative thinking ability can be explained, in part, by a connection between three brain networks.

Mapping the brain during creative thinking

In the study, we had 163 participants complete a classic test of “divergent thinking” called the alternate uses task, which asks people to think of new and unusual uses for objects. As they completed the test, they underwent fMRI scans, which measures blood flow to parts of the brain.

The task assesses people’s ability to diverge from the common uses of an object. For example, in the study, we showed participants different objects on a screen, such as a gum wrapper or a sock, and asked to come up with creative ways to use them. Some ideas were more creative than others. For the sock, one participant suggested using it to warm your feet – the common use for a sock – while another participant suggested using it as a water filtration system.

Importantly, we found that people who did better on this task also tended to report having more creative hobbies and achievements, which is consistent with previous studies showing that the task measures general creative thinking ability.

After participants completed these creative thinking tasks in the fMRI, we measured functional connectivity between all brain regions – how much activity in one region correlated with activity in another region.

We also ranked their ideas for originality: Common uses received lower scores (using a sock to warm your feet), while uncommon uses received higher scores (using a sock as a water filtration system).

Then we correlated each person’s creativity score with all possible brain connections (approximately 35,000), and removed connections that, according to our analysis, didn’t correlate with creativity scores. The remaining connections constituted a “high-creative” network, a set of connections highly relevant to generating original ideas.

Two renderings show the lobes of the brain that are connected in the high creative network.
Author provided

Having defined the network, we wanted to see if someone with stronger connections in this high-creative network would score well on the tasks. So we measured the strength of a person’s connections in this network, and then used predictive modeling to test whether we could estimate a person’s creativity score.

The models revealed a significant correlation between the predicted and observed creativity scores. In other words, we could estimate how creative a person’s ideas would be based on the strength of their connections in this network.

We further tested whether we could predict creative thinking ability in three new samples of participants whose brain data were not used in building the network model. Across all samples, we found that we could predict – albeit modestly – a person’s creative ability based on the strength of their connections in this same network.

Overall, people with stronger connections came up with better ideas.

What’s happening in a ‘high-creative’ network

We found that the brain regions within the “high-creative” network belonged to three specific brain systems: the default, salience and executive networks.

The default network is a set of brain regions that activate when people are engaged in spontaneous thinking, such as mind-wandering, daydreaming and imagining. This network may play a key role in idea generation or brainstorming – thinking of several possible solutions to a problem.

The executive control network is a set of regions that activate when people need to focus or control their thought processes. This network may play a key role in idea evaluation or determining whether brainstormed ideas will actually work and modifying them to fit the creative goal.

The salience network is a set of regions that acts as a switching mechanism between the default and executive networks. This network may play a key role in alternating between idea generation and idea evaluation.

An interesting feature of these three networks is that they typically don’t get activated at the same time. For example, when the executive network is activated, the default network is usually deactivated. Our results suggest that creative people are better able to co-activate brain networks that usually work separately.

Our findings indicate that the creative brain is “wired” differently and that creative people are better able to engage brain systems that don’t typically work together. Interestingly, the results are consistent with recent fMRI studies of professional artists, including jazz musicians improvising melodies, poets writing new lines of poetry and visual artists sketching ideas for a book cover.

Future research is needed to determine whether these networks are malleable or relatively fixed. For example, does taking drawing classes lead to greater connectivity within these brain networks? Is it possible to boost general creative thinking ability by modifying network connections?

The ConversationFor now, these questions remain unanswered. As researchers, we just need to engage our own creative networks to figure out how to answer them.

Roger Beaty, Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience, Harvard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

I Before E, Except…

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That’s right. Never trust anything the grammarians say, with their “rules” and mnemonics.

Apparently the 923 words figure comes from a QI fan who crunched the numbers from Scrabble. Most of the words are more obscure, so the rule is probably okay for the average person, and invaluable to football commentators.

Literary Fiction in Crisis

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Literary Fiction in Crisis was the headline lede for a series of articles in The Guardian last month. Long known as a balanced and inclusive arts publication (/sarcasm) they sought to highlight a serious problem and a solution for literary fiction.

In case you haven’t heard, people aren’t reading literary fiction. Book sales are dropping. I covered this in my post on Australian Fiction, and US Fiction, and the Guardian article covered the UK figures in its first piece in the series.

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Let’s try not to think too hard about sales being in value terms and not volume. I mean, ebooks aren’t usually priced cheaper or anything and would hardly contribute to this revenue figure whilst being more profitable. Clearly we need to get onto blaming the real culprits. Stupid kids these days are playing Tweeters and Facepage instead of buying books.

One reason suggested by the report for the decline in literary fiction sales is the recession, happening at the same time as the rise of cheap and easy entertainment. “In comparison with our smartphones, literary fiction is often ‘difficult’ and expensive: it isn’t free, and it requires more concentration than Facebook or Candy Crush,” the report’s authors write.

Won’t someone thinking of the starving artists!!

The researchers looked at the 10,000 bestselling fiction titles over the last five years and found: “Outside of the top 1,000 authors (at most), printed book sales alone simply cannot provide a decent income. While this has long been suspected, the data shows unambiguously that it is the case. … What’s more, this is a generous assessment. After the retailer, distributor, publisher and agent have taken their cut, there won’t be a lot of money left from 3,000 sales of the 1,000th bestselling title. That we are returning to a position where only the best-off writers can support themselves should be a source of deep concern.”

OMG, you’re telling me that artists have to have day jobs?* Oh the humanity! Surely this must be a new thing… Unless it has literally always been a thing. If only there was a graphic somewhere that could highlight the proportion of authors who make a living writing…

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Source: A 3.5 year old Guardian article…

The second article covers some of the same ground before highlighting a couple of important points.

This continuity imperative has long been built into the foundations of commercial publishers, who expect many of their most successful writers to cough up a book a year. And as publishing has become more centralised, with much of its power now concentrated in three giant conglomerates, it has become more ruthless.

The brutal truth is that through the 1980s and 90s it was possible for the literary novelist to make a living on advances that didn’t “earn out”. They were supported by an old-fashioned value system that sanctioned the write-off of losses for the kudos of association with an “important” writer and a belief that literary value could be offset against the profits of more pragmatic publishing.

These points are ones which are not made often enough. In an industry that runs on the work of part-timers (88.5%), the proceeds to these employees are decreasing, the time commitments are increasing, and the investment in their careers is decreasing. Where are the three articles criticising this problem?

Of course, we need to steer the ship away from that iceberg of issues. The second article instead makes the argument that the UK Arts Council should fund more authors (and let’s assume the implication is that other governments around the world should do the same).

Unlike the performing arts, publishing has always been a largely commercial sector that has had to square its own circles. This is reflected in the fact that it gets only 7% of the funding cake handed out by the Arts Council, compared with 23% to theatre and 11% to dance.

Personally, I want to see Arts Council funding to be decided in a Thunderdome. It would be great to see starving artists facing off against one another for grants. The fit and agile dancers doing battle against the people who spend all day sitting and typing. They could stream it on Pay Per View and raise some extra arts funds.

There will be those who argue that this just shows that literary fiction is a hangover from the past, and the poor dears should knuckle down and resign themselves to writing what people actually want to read. But few would dare to make the same argument about experimental theatre or dance.

Yes, I’d argue this. And I would dare to make the same argument for theatre and dance. Thun-der-dome, Thun-dur-dome, Thun-der-dome!

The third article in this series makes just this argument – just to be clear, for writing what people want to read, not fighting in the Thunderdome. It doesn’t mince words and goes straight for the jugular.

Following the announcement from Arts Council England that sales of literary fiction are plummeting, it is suggested that arts subsidies be deployed to help writers survive. I have another idea. They should write better books.

This article goes on to imply that literary authors could put some effort into writing stuff people want to read, mainly via utilising compelling plots, which the author feels is a major flaw in literary works. I think he misses an important point. Authors can write whatever they want. But I do agree that authors can’t expect to earn a living from this unpopular writing, nor have people like it, nor have it be accepted as appropriate (e.g. racism). Pleasing a small club of literary snobs with worthy books doesn’t entitle authors to a full-time career.

Of course, nobody is proposing supporting genre authors. They aren’t writing important fiction and are thus not real authors. They deserve to starve! This is the main issue I have with the argument to fund literary fiction. Somehow we’ve glossed over all the authors who aren’t making a living writing genre, as though they have nothing to contribute to society, and are thus unworthy of arts funding. Admittedly, a very good study, mentioned in the second article, does show there are clear empathy differences between readers of genre and literary novels** – although why is still a question to be answered. So there is an argument to be made for literature support.

As I see it, there are a few paths we could tread. The reading industry could acknowledge that most authors are part-timers and do more to support this reality while they balance a day job with their art. Or we can acknowledge that arts are an important aspect of our culture and support ALL artists with grants – not just the “important” literary ones. This latter option could be easily and justifiably funded by taking government funding out of popular high level sports – i.e. no more free stadiums for you football! Let’s just hope that sports doesn’t go up against arts in the Thunderdome.

*Side note: we could probably even refer to the artistic projects as the Side Hustle. This piece by Zen Pencils is quite good and captures the idea behind the author dream.

**Worth reading this paper, which I’ve linked directly. I expected this to be a small sample, poorly analysed, poorly reasoned, paper that was written to elevate snobbery with pseudoscience. It was actually a very solid study. Although, it is worth noting that literary merit was on a spectrum, so literary could be found in many titles. This included Raymond Chandler in the top third of literary titles, which surprised me (last spot was James Patterson, which should surprise no one).

The Emu War

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From Veritable Hokum. Check them out!

And yes, this Emu War actually happened. Roughly 20,000 emus migrated into the Eastern Wheatbelt area, discovering newly cleared farmland filled with crops and watering points for sheep. They liked this supply of food and water and were ambivalent toward the soldier settler (and other) farmers’ tough run of grain prices and droughts.

Since these were ex-soldiers facing ruin (from drought, grain prices, broken subsidy promises, and emus – blame the killer emus!), they liked the idea of using machine-guns (2 Lewis Guns) against the birds in the same way they’d used them against opposing infantry in WW1. This didn’t go anywhere near as well as expected. Emus are faster, harder to kill outright, and generally not running straight at a machine-gun embankment; so their casualties were low.

Two attempts were made at an emu cull, but ultimately the government decided to offer a bounty on emus instead. Later they went with the tried and trusted move of building a fence to keep the emus out of agricultural areas (along with dingoes, wild dogs, rabbits, kangaroos – although the latter laugh at attempts to build a fence they can’t jump over).

KSP Writer’s Fellowship

The Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre have announced their Writers-in-Residence and Fellows for 2018. I’ve been awarded a Fellowship to work on a satirical novel titled Evil Corp.

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This will be a wonderful opportunity to have time and space to write. Here’s the blurb for the story:

Evil-Corp

Here at Evil Corp we have been successfully carving a path toward world domination for 15 years. With our dedicated staff we want to have you serve our every whim.

Your family deserves the security and friendly authoritarian rule that you could expect from an organisation like Evil Corp, but with the personal touches that only a caring and understanding community minded team can offer.

Have you bowed down to Evil Corp?

Update: The list of residencies and dates with author profiles are now available. I’m afraid it appears I’m the only one who didn’t take their profile seriously.

Top 10 Posts of 2017

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Everyone seems to be doing these Top 10 Posts listicles on their blogs, and I’m nothing if not a joiner.

Actually, that isn’t true. I’m not a joiner at all. But I do want to do a listicle. I’m not exactly sure why I want to do a listicle, but it is probably to do with procrastinating from doing something hard.

If we go by the blog stats, this was a pretty good year. 2016 technically had more visitors and views than 2017 (just), but it was buoyed by one post going viral in December. Every month for 2017 has outperformed 2016 in every metric (except of course the viral December post). I wrote 114 posts in 2017, 66 book reviews, had +25k visitors, and +30k views. Not huge numbers, but I’m pleased that the page is continuing to grow, especially in the areas of likes and comments. A big thank-you goes out to my followers and regular readers, new and old.

So let’s see what the most popular posts were.

1) The Actual 10 Most Deadly Animals In Australia

Recognise this one from last year? Originally written for one of those comedy list sites, I’m glad so many have enjoyed this post.

2) Do People In Australia Ride Kangaroos?

One of my trademark snarky Quora answers. Its popularity both last year and this year shows that I need to write more articles about Australian animals.

3) Shark Attack

This is one of my older posts discussing the overblown coverage of shark attacks. I actually prefer the post I wrote a few years after this one, but probably need to revisit this topic with more recent stats. Which people can ignore in favour of the older post that pops up first in their search…

4) Book vs Movie: A Clockwork Orange – What’s the Difference?

Finally a post written in 2017 on the list. This is part of my long running series that piggybacks on the CineFix videos. I do enjoy sharing the videos and discussing book adaptations.

5) Book vs Movie: The Bourne Identity – What’s the Difference?

And we’re back to posts from other years… This is one of my favourite book adaptation posts. When I first read The Bourne Identity I couldn’t get over how dissimilar the book and movie were. I didn’t understand why anyone would bother to pay the author money to proceed to not use their source material. Essentially, this book and movie are partly the inspiration for my discussions on book adaptations.

6) Why Being Smart Sucks

Whilst perennially popular, I didn’t write this one, just added some colour commentary. Wish I could claim more credit on this piece.

6) Book vs Movie: The Warriors – What’s the Difference?

Another book adaptation post. These were popular this year.

7) Book vs Movie: 2001 A Space Odyssey – What’s the Difference?

Seriously, I must have hit a search engine algorithm or had people scrolling back through previous instalments or something.

8) 20 Proven Benefits of Being An Avid Reader

This article was a repost of a listicle, but unlike the original list, I’ve actually included links to references. Not that you’d know it, since they have deleted the original.

9) Fast and Furious Series

After watching Vin Diesel leap a souped up V8 over a decidedly murky shark filled estuary, I felt the need to write this post. I wrote another more recently summarising the series thus far. This will probably become a regular series given people keep going to watch these films.

10) Is Sport King In Australia?

When I pitched this article the response was deafening silence. I decided to write it as a blog post instead. It then became my most down-voted item on Reddit. Apparently we don’t talk about sports negatively. Especially not if you back it up with facts. I’m glad people here have once again enjoyed it.

Here’s to 12,018: I hope everyone has a good year!

Book vs Movie: Oldboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month in CineFix’s series What’s the Difference? they cover Oldboy. Live octopus not included.

Not having read the Manga, I don’t really have much to add to the above video. The film is amazing. It redefined “off-the-wall” and managed to make it compelling watching.

Let’s not talk about the Spike Lee remake. Because it wasn’t very good. Although, because it is an American adaptation of a South Korean adaptation of a Japanese work, it can be interesting in an intercultural sense. This article is very interesting in that regard.

Best Adaptations of All Time?

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In keeping with my monthly series of posts on book adaptations – Book vs Movie – I thought I’d share this CineFix video as my last post before the Festive Break. They cover a lot of great adaptations, even mentioning a few I was unaware were adaptations.

Thanks to my readers and commenters for dropping by this year. I hope you all enjoy whatever Holiday tradition you celebrate. Best wishes from me to you.

Now let’s argue over whether this video has missed any of our favourite movies based upon books.

Book review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)Neuromancer by William Gibson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you directly influence the creation of cyberpunk, The Matrix, the term cyberspace, and popularising the term ICE, does that mean you get a pass on influencing dubstep?

Case is your average run-of-the-mill washed-up loser. On his way to drug addled death after his hacking career is cut short, he is recruited to perform the ultimate hack. Patched back together with new organs, he joins a team recruited to help an AI.

I feel like I’m being unfair in my rating for Neuromancer. This is one of those classic novels that deserves the praise it receives. The influence this novel has had on science fiction, particularly upon film, is hard to overstate. It is also easy to underestimate the skill of Gibson’s writing. For example, just before starting Neuromancer I tried (and failed) to read a sci-fi novel with a similar level of world building and interesting ideas. Where that novel failed in being able to make the jargon feel natural, and the explanations flow, Gibson succeeds. His narrative isn’t bogged down by the world building the way many others can be.

Having said that, Neuromancer didn’t grab me. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading, but not enough to have me rating it higher. I’d imagine that had I read this novel 20-30 years earlier my opinion would be different. It is the curse of being the original that everyone copies. At some point people like myself won’t be wowed because they’ve seen it all before by the time they read the progenitor.

View all my reviews

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