Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Reading”

Book Review: Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2)Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never do a favour for something as it will come back to bite you.

Mercy Thompson is just your typical small business owner: fixing cars, keeping customers happy, seeing ghosts, dating werewolves, and being asked to do a vampire a favour. The favour involves helping Stephan with a vampire sorcerer, and that goes just as well as you’d expect. With the death-toll rising and even vampires and werewolves powerless against the sorcerer, it looks like Mercy is the only one who can stop evil.

Blood Bound is the second Mercy Thompson novel by Patricia Briggs. Where the first novel had more of a crime novel vibe, this is its own beast. Mercy may be the protagonist, but the world doesn’t revolve around her, so many things happen without her, yet ultimately drag her into the fray. This makes the series quite refreshing and enjoyable for me. I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

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Book reviews: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If a family saga is told about a mob family’s saga, does algebra mean it ceases to be a family saga?

Headstrong teen, Francesca Pacelli, is a mob boss’ daughter living in Havana at the dawn of the Cuban Revolution. Rather than leave for the USA, she falls in love with a revolutionary. Her father takes that news so well that he even sells arms to the rebels to get her back. Good thing she grows up to be a mob boss herself.

When I started Hellmann’s Havana Lost I had been expecting a more standard crime novel. It took me a while to realise that this was going to be a saga stretching from the 1950s in Cuba to modern day USA. Love and tragedy fill the story to the brim, making for an interesting read. But without a protagonist to follow throughout the novel, I felt a little lost. This was partly because I wasn’t prepared for the saga – should have read the blurb I suppose – and partly because there is a lot of setup to the story with Francesca’s character.

So as long as you are prepared for the Pacelli family tale of love, loss, and coltan mines, you should enjoy this.

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Book vs Movie: Harry Potter part 3 – What’s the Difference?

This month CineFix finishes their series covering the Harry Potter movie adaptations. This instalment discusses the differences between the Half-Blood Prince and The Deadly Hallows books, and their associated movies in What’s the Difference?

It has to be said that the movie adaptations made some odd choices of material to drop, and this created problems as the series went on. If the movies were meant to be independent of the books then you would have a hard time following some of the minor plot points or McGuffins. The mirror shard and Snape as the Half-Blood Prince reveal are just two examples. I actually thought the wand lore and Deathly Hallows were poorly handled in the movies, but it has been some time since I saw the movies, so I could be misremembering.

One thing that really annoyed me about the adaptation of the Half-Blood Prince was the Burrows attack. Not only did that make the Burrows a non-safe house ahead of schedule for the series, as discussed in the video, but it served no purpose to the plot of the movie. It was obvious why the movie makers did this: they needed some action for pacing. Because tension and suspense are so 1950’s. Considering the attack wasn’t in the book and there were action set-pieces they were ignoring or about to get to, it stuck out like a sore thumb in a proctologist’s office.

The other thing worth mentioning is the omission or marginalising of the minor characters from the books. Tonks is an obvious one, especially given the tragedy that befalls she and Lupin, and thus her son. But ensemble casts are hard to manage in a movie, so trimming is always going to happen. But one of the unforgivable marginalisations is discussed in the video: Neville Longbottom. Since he was the second possible “chosen one”, he really deserved better in the movies, especially later in the series. The other character that gets a short shrift is Luna Lovegood. I liked the implication in the books that Harry and friends felt guilty for not realising that Luna regarded them as close friends. And don’t get me started on SPEW and Dobby.

With this series on the Harry Potter adaptations done, I think it is time to raise a chief criticism of the Harry Potter movies. I actually think the books would have been better suited by a TV series adaptation. Of course, they started doing the adaptations before that was the cool thing to do with potentially big franchises. So while it is easy to forget that once upon a time not every fantasy author was clamouring for an HBO series based on their books, that time did exist. Of course, several billion dollars in movie earnings probably disagrees with me.

Book reviews: you’re doing it wrong… apparently.

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It is no secret that I like to write book reviews. Except when I’m sleepy. Or if I’m busy. Or if I get distracted by… Where am I?

Anyway, to my mind, book reviews are about helping people find good stuff to read and promoting authors whose work you’ve enjoyed. Of course some reviewers use it as a an opportunity to break away from the internet commenter stereotype and be jerks to others. This can be frustrating for authors and readers, but about par for the course as far as internet comments goes.

Fortunately an author has written a blog post advising people how to properly review books. Because you’re doing it wrong…

As a reader, reviewer, and occasionally sober writer, I don’t think authors should be telling readers what to do or how to do it, so the post doesn’t sit right with me. Actually, a lot of things don’t sit right with me, especially if they aren’t single malt and well aged.

Who are book reviews for?

You might be forgiven for thinking that writing a book review is primarily to flatter the author, or thank the author for writing an enjoyable book.

Book reviews are for prospective readers; to inform those buyers who are browsing the Amazon bookstore, chatting on Goodreads or following on-line bloggers, to decide if they might enjoy the book as much as the reviewer did. 

The first major point is one I agree with: book reviews are for readers. But maybe not the readers the author thinks. Reviews are primarily about that reader and their thoughts. Sure, they may be trying to communicate with other readers and make recommendations, but let’s face facts, it is mostly just about sharing an opinion. Or is that shouting into the void? I can never remember the difference.

My philosophy on book reviewing – helping and promoting good stuff – is probably shared by many, or not, I haven’t checked. But I see it as an important aspect of being a reader and writer. Thanks to the wonders of technology we have access to more books than we’ll ever be able to read, and some of them are worth reading. Sharing your opinion of a book can help others find stories that will entertain them. Personally I’m not a fan of sharing reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed, just the ones I think others will enjoy reading, but negative and positive reviews are both helpful.

The next points:

What to include:

The best single rule to remember is this: Only write about the actual book!

You can include a very brief outline of the story, but remember the book description is already right there, so consider these points:

Was the story believable, did it keep you engaged right to the last page?

Did the structure of the plot work for you?

If it’s a mystery, was there one?

The characters. Did they seem real, multi-dimensional people?

The author’s writing style. How was it for you?

The first point on this list is, frankly, rubbish. A book does not exist in a vacuum. Well, unless it was taken into space, but why would anyone do that? Unless they are an astronaut, but they’d want the book in the ship with them. Anyway, all art/media is a product of the space it was created in, it has cultural and philosophical underpinnings that are part and parcel. And following on from that, the cultural landscape changes over time and individuals consuming the art/media are going to evolve as a result. So you can’t just write only about the book in a review, you will always bring baggage with you. Want an example? Try watching the original Ghostbusters movie without thinking Bill Murray’s character isn’t just a tad rape-y by today’s standards.

The next points about the story and how it is written are fair enough advice on things you could include. But you could include all or none of those things and still write a good review. The next part is where this blog post gets juicy:

What not to include:

Your possible relationship to the author, however vague.

If you need to reference the author, then use the surname only or call them the author or include their full name. Never use Christian names as it may compromise the validity of the review and some sites will remove them permanently.

Imagine if you saw this review on the latest Dan Brown: Hello Dan love, fabulous book, Five stars!  I expect the vast majority of us would laugh, Dan Brown would most certainly cringe – but most importantly, would this sort of review help you form a decision to buy the book if you’d not read it?

I don’t know about this, I’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno; I’m not sure he knows how to cringe.

There are two points to unpack here: the first is the idea that your relationship with the author doesn’t have any bearing on a review; the second is the idea that you’re trying to help the author sell books. To suggest that there is a way to refer to an author or that you shouldn’t mention conflicts of interest is wrong. If I like someone I will naturally be inclined to think their book is better than someone whom I don’t know or like. Similarly, if I already like someone’s writing, their lesser works are likely to viewed more favourably than a new author’s work.

It also irks me that the blog is implying that the author is off limits for criticism. That is rubbish. If I know that the book or author is controversial, then that will also colour my review and is worth raising. An example was James Frey’s Lorian Legacies series published under a pseudonym. During my reading of I Am Number Four I noticed several very lazy factual inaccuracies and wanted to know who the author actually was. It was then that I found out that Frey had scammed a bunch of writing students to produce the series. Not only did that colour my (lack of) appreciation of the novel, but it was information I felt other readers should know. Because screw that guy.

This links nicely into the next point about reviews helping to sell books. It is true that book reviews help sell books: who’d have thunk? It is also true that if you want to see more great material from an author one of the things you can do is make sure people know you enjoyed the book. But since when is it the reader/reviewer’s obligation to help sell books for an author? Shouldn’t an author be happy that you bought and enjoyed their book? Well, unless you borrowed the book from a library, friend, or got a freebie. I understand the desire of authors to encourage people to review their book/s, and what it can help do in terms of recognition and thus sales, but a review isn’t about selling a book. The review is about the reader sharing their thoughts on a book they have read. Book store clerks get paid, readers don’t. Worth remembering.

The weather! I’m being tongue-in-cheek here but really, no honestly, there’s no need to mention the weather…

How long the book took to arrive in the post, or that it was damaged. This isn’t the fault of the author – stick to reviewing the book.

Likewise, problems with your Amazon account: It won’t download. This is not the author’s fault and should never form part of a book review.

These next few comments are mainly about Amazon reviews and how people talk about the buying of the book in their review. While it is completely understandable for an author to be frustrated with comments in a review that are unrelated to the story they wrote, this recommendation is not only self-serving drivel, it forgets who the review is for. If someone orders a book from Amazon and the shipment is not filled quickly, or won’t download, or the pricing is ridiculous, or the bonus “massager” didn’t arrive with the romance novel order, then that is a legitimate gripe. Other readers on the Amazon store will want to know this stuff. But even if this wasn’t on the Amazon store, there is legitimate griping to be done. For example, in Australia several major publishers price their ebooks based upon the currently available paper version’s price. So if the hardcover is out, you pay hardcover prices for an ebook. Where else but a book review are you going to express your consumer discontent on this? Well, aside from in a blog post like this one. Or if you are talking to one of the publishers at a writers’ festival. Or if you know someone, who knows someone, who is related to a publisher. If the author was raising the point that there needs to be a distinction made been the store’s service, the publisher’s pricing, and the novels, then that would be something I’d support. Along with free hats. Everyone loves a free hat.

Spoilers: giving away crucial parts of the plot and therefore spoiling it for other readers, e.g. I’m glad Susan was dead by chapter three.

Copying and pasting the entire book description – please dont.

And the worst of all: I haven’t read it yet… so one star. Why on earth do sites allow these ‘reviews’ to remain?

Some people really hate spoilers, others love them, others still are ambivalent, others still still will hunt you down and kill you with your own keyboard for posting them. As such there is an etiquette to posting spoilers in a review. If you are an undefeated Muay Thai fighter with a decent ground game, then you can post whatever spoiler you like. If you are anyone else, you can post spoilers as long as you warn people you are going to do it. Then people can read or skip the spoilers to their heart’s content, assuming the Muay Thai fighter hasn’t ripped their heart out of their chest for posting a spoiler.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone post a book review that includes a copy and paste of the book description. If this actually happens then it is either a compliment to the blurb author for capturing the book perfectly so as to act as an appropriate review, or someone needs to learn how to type their own thoughts.

The final point is about the dismissive one star review. Now some people, such as the blog post author, complain about these sorts of reviews are not legitimate. Nonsense. Books have a cover, a blurb, the reader might have read other books by the author, etc, all of which can be more than enough information for the reviewer. For example, let’s say that someone has written a book – fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t really matter – that claims climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, NWO, Zionist Bankers to something something profit-gravy-train. Do I really need to leave a long and extensive review once I’ve read the book? Or can I just point out that it is nonsense? Is that not legitimate comment?

Now these have all been relatively minor gripes to quibble with. Fun fact: Quibbles are the Earth equivalent of Tribbles. Bonus fact: the most famous Quibble currently sits on the next president of the USA’s head.

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Quibbles and Tribbles aside, let’s talk about complaining about book reviews not being done the way you want when you yourself don’t review books. There is that inspiring – or is that insipid? – quote about being the change you want to see which applies here. The author of the blog post has exactly zero book reviews on their site, not counting the promotion of reviews of their own novels. The author’s Goodreads page has no books listed as having been rated or reviewed. Do as I say, not as I do. I mean, sure, that isn’t demanding at all.

In summary, it’s best to be thankful for readers writing reviews, even the bad reviews.

 

Book review: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #2)Finders Keepers by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enter a world where people obsess over books that aren’t Harry Potter. Of course it is a fictional world.

Peter Saubers’ family is having a tough time of it. The GFC has hit hard, his dad was hit hard with a car, and the arky-barkies might tear the family apart. Then he stumbles upon a literal treasure chest: stolen money and notebooks from the late John Rothstein – a reclusive author in the mould of JD Salinger. Of course, the man who killed for those notebooks, Morris Bellamy, has a wee fixation on Rothstein and his character Jimmy Gold, so not even a life sentence will stop him coming for Peter Saubers and his treasure.

I’ll be honest, I was going to give up on this book. If it hadn’t been written by Stephen King I probably would have. This is the second novel in the Bill Hodges trilogy, and Bill doesn’t show up until a third to half-way through the novel. That is part of what makes this novel frustrating. It takes a long time to set things up and get the plot moving, with that first third or more acting as back story that you’re not quite sure has a point to it.

But the final third of the novel redeems this ignoble start in a taut and suspenseful manner. Definitely not one of King’s better works, but if you can get past the waffly back story, this is an okay read.

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Book review: Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth

KillfileKillfile by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are times that I’m glad people can’t read my mind: I’d hate to have someone else humming The Proclaimers.

John Smith is a specialist who helps wealthy clients with tricky problems. He has a talent for hostage negotiations, corporate espionage, and gleaning people’s deepest secrets thanks to his ability to read minds. Who’d have thought that reading people’s minds would turn his latest job into a death sentence.

Killfile is the first novel I’ve read from Christopher Farnsworth since his excellent Nathaniel Cade series went on hiatus four years ago. I read the Nathaniel Cade series back to back and loved every second of those supernatural thrillers. Killfile was similarly enjoyable with the paranormal thriller element pitched nicely into the realms of corporate espionage and CIA interrogation programs.

Also, as a scientific skeptic (i.e. scientist who hears all the kooky claims and demands evidence) it is always fun to read the conspiracy claims in a more rational format. Dusting off MKUltra and utilising it as a plot point in fiction rather than an outlandish conspiracy tickles me in all the right ways.

Chris’ novels continue to be highly enjoyable reads.

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Book Review: Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega, #1)Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do werewolves smell of wet dog when they are in human form?

Anna is having a tough week. After breaking up with her old pack she moves to the middle of nowhere with a guy/wolf – Charles – whom she has only just met. Then when a rogue wolf starts attacking people, she has to help Charles track it down before it exposes the pack. But is it really a wolf?

Cry Wolf is another werewolf series from Patricia Briggs set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson series. After being won over by the Mercy series, I decided to give Alpha and Omega series a read. So I started with the Alpha and Omega novella and I am still scratching my head as to why it wasn’t just included as the first few chapters of this novel. If you intend on reading Cry Wolf, do read Alpha and Omega first. Or don’t: I’m not your mother.

This was quite a hard book to rate/review. It was an enjoyable read, but the breaking of the story between the main novel and the introductory novella throws out the narrative a bit. The romance between an abuse survivor and a really old life-long bachelor as the central plot is interesting, but it does tend to wander as the other events of the novel occur. At times I felt the story was just happening with no real point or destination in mind, but it felt like things tied together in the end. And for a Patricia Briggs story set in the same universe as the Mercy Thompson series it is going to draw comparisons. Whilst I’d recommend this book (and novella), it isn’t as good as Mercy and her adventures.

My recommendation is that you’ll enjoy reading this to sate your hunger for werewolf stories when you run out of Mercy Thompson novels to devour.

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Book Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If blasting rods and staffs are standard wizard fare, what do they use for euphemisms?

Harry Dresden is having a bad day, or is that week, month, and year? His girlfriend has been semi-turned into a vampire, it’s raining frogs in the park, a ghoul is trying to assassinate him, the vampire Red Court want to torture him to death, the Wizarding White Council are tempted to let the vampires have Harry, the Winter Court of faeries want him to investigate a murder, he has no money, and his house is a mess. Oh, and a war is about to start if Harry can’t find the killer; so there’s that as well.

This is my first foray into Jim Butcher’s much vaunted Dresden Files series. Summer Knight indicates that there is a lot to like about this Harry’s world. The story could be described as an urban fantasy thriller: with thriller being a selling point for me. Butcher doesn’t shy away from piling on the hardships for Harry to overcome, and keeps the action coming thick and fast. I’m honestly wondering why I took so long to dive into this series that has been repeatedly recommended to me.

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Book Review: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“YOUR CANDLE…WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT – A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED…YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT…NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT”

Tiffany Aching has a lot on her plate. She is the witch of two areas, she has some big boots to fill after the passing of Granny Weatherwax, and trouble is brewing with the elves. The elves love a bit of mischief, and with the passing of Granny Weatherwax, the barrier between their world and the Disk is weaker. With iron and steam now coming to the lands, they want to strike before they lose a place on the Disk. Only the Witches and Nac Mac Feegles stand in their way.

This was Terry Pratchett’s final instalment in The DiskWorld novels. There will be no more. As such, I really wanted this to be better than it was. Unlike other novels in the series, this lacked the levels of humour and satire you would expect from Pratchett. Where he was normally brilliant, this was only okay. Of course, okay for a Pratchett novel is still better than most novelists could ever hope to achieve.

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

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Book Review: Nemesis Games by James SA Corey

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let’s split up, we can cover more plot that way.

With the Rocinante in desperate need of repairs, Holden and the team take the chance to spend some time apart and do their own things. That goes swimmingly for them all. Between ships going missing, someone dropping rocks down the gravity well, people trying to blow them up, and the start of another war, they start to wish they’d never left the Roci.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (James SA Corey) have excelled themselves. In a series that has managed to serve up stories that don’t head in the direction you expect, here is a novel that takes the series in a direction you don’t expect. In hindsight, the plot for this fifth instalment is a logical one for The Expanse universe now that the Stargates have opened up a ‘goldrush’, but it wasn’t the step you expected. I expected to be covering the wave of frontiers people in their wagon-trains to the stars, but instead we cover the repercussions of that social change. A nice little twist. It was also great to have the entire Rocinante crew be viewpoint characters in this novel. For characters that have been with us from the beginning it was about time to get to know them all properly.

The only real downside of this novel is that I can’t just pick up the next instalment in the series to continue the adventure. I have now caught up. I have to wait 3 months for Babylon’s Ashes to hit the shelves. Guess I’ll read the novellas while I wait…

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How Long Did it Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?

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Let’s be honest, Lord of the Rings did feel like it took 16 years to write, but I was surprised Stephanie Meyer took a whole 3 months to write Twilight.

Original courtesy of PrinterInks.com.

Book to Movie: Harry Potter part 2 – What’s the Difference?

Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix are covered in this month’s instalment of What’s The Difference? from CineFix. Previously they covered earlier books and movies, this is part 2 of 3. Grab a butterbeer and enjoy.

For me Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were when the series really took off. The earlier two books were clearly aimed at a younger audience than my snobbish adult reading ways would allow me to fully to enjoy. And when you look on your bookshelf, you’ll notice how much thinner those first two books are – yes, I am assuming you have them in paper on a bookshelf in your house. You aren’t weird, are you? The extra length of the later books in the Harry Potter series also signals a narrative that has matured with its audience – those pre-teens were going to become teens at some stage, just like their favourite book characters.

This extra length also makes the novels harder to adapt faithfully. As the video covers, there are some interesting ways they achieve this, but it also means they have to make other changes that are troublesome for the later movies in the series. For me the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare being skipped over in the movies is an obvious choice, but also one that removes an important layer to the narrative. It is, after all, the Elfish uprising that helps turn the tide in the fight/war against Voldermort. This element can help you see the conflict as more worldly, rather than focussed on one school in the UK. Unless the Wizarding World is only confined to Europe and the UK is the centre of the EU….

There is probably an argument to be made for Harry Potter to be turned into a TV series that faithfully adapts the books to the small screen. HBO would be interested for sure, as long as they could cast +18 year olds with no nudity clauses in their contracts.

Book review: Cibola Burn by James SA Corey

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I’m gonna need to shoot that guy at some point,” Ahhh, Mondays.

Book 4 of The Expanse series has Holden and the Rocinante crew sent to a new solar system as UN Negotiators. Displaced Belters have taken up residence on a newly discovered planet through one of the Stargates (they’ll always be Stargates to me), only to have an RCE research vessel arrive, necessitating Holden and Amos to smooth things out. They get along as well as you’d expect, but their conflict is the least of their problems.

Cibola Burn thoroughly impressed me. At a stage in the series where the quality would usually take a nosedive, James SA Corey has managed to keep it onwards and upwards. Part of this is giving us a great villain in Murtry; someone who is the antagonist but not necessarily the bad guy. The other part is that Corey’s plots are much more extensive than you initially expect. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about this aspect, in that the story starts off headed in one direction but ends up going somewhere else entirely. But I see this as a strength and a justification for a novel that cracks 600 pages.

I enjoyed Cibola Burn more than Abaddon’s Gate – although it was still a great read – and there are no signs that this series will rest on its laurels. I started the next instalment, Nemesis Games, immediately after finishing Cibola Burn: that should tell you everything you need to know.

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Book review: Tier One by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson

Tier One (Tier One #1)Tier One by Brian Andrews
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If an operator isn’t wearing 5.11 Tactical clothing are they really an operator?

Tier One are the elite SEAL Team on the black side of ops. They are too good for their own good, as they manage to piss off the wrong terrorists: the kind that hold an explosive grudge. Now former Tier One SEAL, Jack Kemper, must become intelligence operative John Dempsey and take out the terrorists before they strike again.

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson have created a taught and realistic military thriller in Tier One. Much like other ex-military authors (Chris Ryan and Andy McNab being two of my favourites) they pepper the novel with details and perspectives you just don’t get from other authors. This is both the strength and weakness of the novel.

As much as I found this novel to be an enjoyable and fast paced read, it also overused expository military details, and presented clichéd terrorist characters. For me this held the novel back from being a great novel to merely good. Other readers may find the details interesting, or think that terrorists really can be simply defined as “shitheads” à la Fox News, and enjoy this novel more, but it is still an entertaining read.

NB: Thomas and Mercer provided a review copy for my reading pleasure.

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Book to movie: The Warriors – What’s The Difference?

The-warriors-poster-artwork-michael-beck-james-remar-david-patrick-kelly

Did you know that the cult classic, The Warriors, was based on a novel? How about that the novel was based on the ancient Greek tale Anabasis? Cinefix explain in this month’s What’s the Difference.

I can’t really comment much on this instalment as I’ve not seen the entire movie, nor read either the novel by Sol Yurick nor Xenophon’s tale. But it is interesting that even a cult action film about street gangs has pedigree origins. This reinforces a point I’ve often made here; that we shouldn’t be snobby about the things other people like. We might like to think that our subjective taste is better but often we don’t even appreciate how biased we are in that taste. A book/movie about a gang on the run could be one person’s retelling of a Greek tale, or it could be another person’s mindless genre piece. Or it could be both.

6 Story Arcs

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I’ve written before about plots and how there aren’t as many of them as you’d think – somewhere between 1 and 36 depending upon how you want to break them down. Recently there was some research published that analysed 1,737 fiction novels to figure out how the story arcs are constructed. Let’s pretend there is a big difference between a plot and a story arc

The study used Project Gutenberg – i.e. public domain works – and the results suggest that there are only really six story arcs:

Fall-rise-fall: ‘Oedipus Rex’, ‘The Wonder Book of Bible Stories’, ‘A Hero of Our Time’ and ‘The Serpent River’.

Rise-fall: ‘Stories from Hans Andersen’, ‘The Rome Express’, ‘How to Read Human Nature’ and ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’.

Fall-rise: ‘The Magic of Oz’, ‘Teddy Bears’, ‘The Autobiography of St. Ignatius’ and ‘Typhoon’.

Steady fall: ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘The House of the Vampire’, ‘Savrola’ and ‘The Dance’.

Steady rise: ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’, ‘Dream’, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ and ‘The Human Comedy’.

Rise-fall-rise: ‘Cinderella’, ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Sophist’ and ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’.

The most popular stories have been found to follow the ‘fall-rise-fall’ and ‘rise-fall’ arcs.

Or for those that prefer to read graphs because it makes them feel intellectual:

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For those that just saw a bunch of squiggles in those graphs, what you are looking at is the story arc plotted over time for each story analysed. They’ve broken these into similar groups then added an average (the orange line). You can see how some of the story arcs follow the average more, whilst some types vary more. To see an individual story arc, they picked out Harry Potter as an example in the paper, but have the rest archived here (Project Gutenberg books) and here (a selection of classic and popular novels). As they note:

The entire seven book series can be classified as a “Rags to riches” and “Kill the monster” story, while the many sub plots and connections between them complicate the emotional arc of each individual book. The emotional arc shown here, captures the major highs and lows of the story, and should be familiar to any reader well acquainted with Harry Potter. Our method does not pick up emotional moments discussed briefly, perhaps in one paragraph or sentence (e.g., the first kiss of Harry and Ginny).

Harry Potter plot

This is all nice and good, but why is this interesting? Well, aside from using my favourite statistical technique – principal components analysis – this study shows that authors create, and the audience expect, structures that are familiar. The fact that two of the story arcs (rise-fall and fall-rise-fall) are the most common emphasises this point. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful and familiar to us. There is scope to play within the formula, but ultimately we desire stories that fit conventions.

So yes, there is no original art being made.

Book review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight (Reckoners, #2)Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever wonder what Waterworld would have been like with supervillains in it? Yeah, me neither.

In the second instalment of The Reckoners, David Charleston has become Steelslayer: killer of Epics. Which means that Newcago, whilst freed from tyranny, has regular visits from Epics intent on killing Steelslayer. The Reckoners discover that the ruler of Babilar (Manhattan) has been sending these assassins, so they go to confront Regalia, an Epic from Prof’s past. Because that will end well.

Firefight is an interesting sequel to Steelheart in that the first book was about revenge, whilst this novel was about trying to understand your enemy. In fact, it even flirts with the idea that evil can’t be addressed with killing but instead requires compassion. Pretty heady stuff for a YA novel. Don’t worry, there are fights, guns, and even some swords in the story too.*

This was an enjoyable read. If anything it had more humorous similes (or is that metaphors?) that were such a welcome feature of the protagonist’s narration. I’m looking forward to finishing the series with book three: Calamity.

*Can’t sneak the moral indoctrination in without a bit of violence to hide it.

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Book to Movie: The Bourne Identity – What’s The Difference?

This month the Cinefix team are covering the differences between The Bourne Identity movie and book. So this will either be a super short episode or a super long one.

I read The Bourne Identity not long after seeing the movie. Yeah, I’m that guy. I’m frequently that guy. Anyway, I have always referred to the movie as being nothing like the book at all. Aside from a few names and the amnesia thing, there is virtually nothing similar about the two works. I have often wondered if the screenwriters got handed the book and only got as far as the blurb on the back cover before producing their screenplay. Let’s just hope Ludlum was able to cash his cheque* before he typed his last ‘The End’.**

Apparently Robert Ludlum was inspired to write a spy novel involving an amnesic because he briefly suffered from the condition himself. There’s a joke here somewhere about the screenwriters forgetting to read the novel, but I wouldn’t stoop that low. I mean, who is to say they even realised they were being asked to do an adaptation, this is Hollywood after all.

Most action fans love the Bourne movies. At a time when there was a move away from gritty and realistic action, Bourne came along and gave us a tense, gritty, and “realistic” action movie. The book is not heavy on the action and gives us a more traditional spy story about flushing out an assassin with counterintelligence and operations. Comparing the two is really quite unfair. But one area I think the book is superior is in the answer to “Who is Jason Bourne?” In the movie we see Matt Damon struggle to come to terms with not knowing and wondering what sort of man would have his skills. But we know. And he knows. The answers he finds don’t really give him any new information: yeah, you were an assassin dude. In the book the answers are more complicated and more satisfying for the hero: yay, I was bait to capture an assassin.

Without this film we would have not had Matt Damon bringing Mark Watney to the screen. Let’s celebrate by rewatching one of the best car chase scenes of all time:

*now there’s a saying that is appropriate to the time being referenced but is now as apposite and relevant as a broken record.

** Robert Ludlum died in 2001.

Book reviews: No Safe Place by Matt Hilton

No Safe Place (Joe Hunter, #11)No Safe Place by Matt Hilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review wasn’t able to be submitted as it was stolen by a guard dog. I swear, it really happened.

Joe Hunter is back in the game and ready to be bashed and shot, and possibly paid. This time Joe is hired to protect a young boy whose mother has just been killed during a home invasion. But the boy’s father knows there is more to the death than that – hint: revenge, it’s always revenge – and Joe suspects so as well. Of course, Joe decides to dig into what is really going on, even if his police friend Bryony would prefer he wouldn’t.

In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. You know it will be an honest review because it was only a book and not accompanied with whiskey.

No Safe Place is Matt Hilton’s eleventh Joe Hunter novel and it did not disappoint. I’ve been a long time fan of the Joe Hunter series, and of Matt’s other works. His writing is well paced, packed with vivid fight scenes, and has compelling plots. This instalment particularly interested me because I noted that there was more of the Northern England language flavourings to the writing than I’d previously noticed. This could be because after ten novels in a series editors concede you are allowed to write whatever the hell you want. They can’t make all of their writers sound like they come from the same place forever.

Looking back through my reviews for the rest of the series I note that I frequently used the term “gritty thriller” and rated them 4 stars. Not much has changed. This is another very reliable, entertaining, crime thriller; add it to your To Be Read pile.

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What I think of Dean Koontz

I was watching Odd Thomas, the adaptation of Dean Koontz’s novel starring Anton Yelchin, on Netflix and realised I haven’t read a Koontz novel in years. The last one I remember reading was Night Chills, which I read as a child. Probably the closest I’ve come to reading a Koontz novel lately is watching the movie Phantoms.

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Odd Thomas was an enjoyable movie, a bit cheesy, but entertaining none-the-less. Same could be said of Phantoms. Even though I read Night Chills over 25 years ago, I can still vividly remember a lot of it because of the interesting take on mind control and what it could be used for. So it seems odd that after having had no bad experiences with Koontz’s novels (and movie adaptations) that I wouldn’t have read more of his work. I mean, he didn’t become the sixth highest paid author by accident. And how many other novels do I remember reading that long ago?

Could it be that “no bad experiences” doesn’t exactly act as a glowing recommendation? Is it just that I’ve written him off as an inferior Stephen King clone? Or is it that whenever I think of Dean Koontz I think of this scene from The Family Guy?

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Of course, Koontz isn’t the only author whose career I seem to have glossed over. It is easy to miss an author. With so many great books by so many great authors, the issue becomes one of hours per lifetime. I’ve long held that a lifetime of reading doesn’t amount to many novels read. Don’t believe me? Allow me to mathetise you:

  • Let’s use two averages 50 books per year and 100 books per year.
  • Assume average reading lifespan is between age 10 and 80 = 70 years.
  • Assume you only read any one novel once.
  • Assume that you aren’t tragically hit by a car and can’t read.
  • Thus, in a reading lifetime you can read between 3,500 and 7,000 books.
  • There were over 300,000 books published in the USA last year. Over 8,000 in my home country of Australia.

So we do have to be picky about what we read. You can’t just waste time slogging through a book you aren’t enjoying: that’s valuable reading life you’re wasting! Not to mention your poor brain being haunted by the experience. Glossing over authors who could possibly be entertaining me greatly in service of finishing that award winning novel literature professors deemed important, is madness. Dying knowing that you had read all of the Harry Potter books would be far more satisfying that dying from sheer boredom in the middle of War and Peace.

Reviews and recommendations obviously become very important here. Being picky about what you read has to come from good advice. That’s why I post reviews of books I’ve enjoyed. Hopefully I’ll help others find something to read that won’t make them regret paying money for. Movie adaptations are part of this recommendation process. Despite the movies always being worse than the book (except when they aren’t) you do get an impression of the book and whether it would be worth reading. I mean, nothing like taking 15 hours of entertainment and squeezing it into 2 hours to help avoid bad books. Odd Thomas recommended its source material enough to make me question my entire accidental Koontz avoidance. I Am Number Four made me erroneously assume you couldn’t write a worse book. The Bourne Identity made me question if they knew it was meant to be based on a book.

Maybe I should read Odd Thomas, or one of the other hundred odd novels Koontz has written. Maybe I should see if the author who managed to write something that lingers in my memory decades later is able to leave that sort of impression again. Maybe I should see how faithful the movie adaptation was and how suited Anton Yelchin was to the role. 

Or I could continue to avoid reading Koontz’s books. You know, whatever.

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