Friday, 30 April 2010

The Campaign for Real Fear

What's this? A blog on a Friday, of all days?

I have exciting news though; my short story The Price was selected to be one of the final 20 winners in the Campaign for Real Fear competition. I am totally chuffed and dreadfully over excited about this- the victory dance I did around the living room was something to be seen.

I shall write about this properly when I have a little more time, but for now a big wahooo and thanks to Maura McHugh and Christopher Fowler, who have put this exciting movement together.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Points of View

Today I wanted to talk about viewpoint.

Yes, I can imagine you all back-flipping with excitement now, can almost hear the hisses of “Yes! Finally, she gets to viewpoint…” The joy is palpable. But I have some questions for you about it, and if you can bring yourself to read through this, I’d really like to know what you think.

I’ve been considering VP as I get deeper into The Steel Walk. I’m at about 16,000 words now, so perhaps you might say that I really should have thought about it before now, but bear with me. I have three main characters; Eri, Saul and Joseth. All three of them are deeply involved with the story and change throughout the course of the book; they go on “personal journeys”, if you want to put it like that, which I wouldn’t. Eri is the obvious(ish) heroine of the book, and Chapter 1 opens with a fight she is involved in, told from her point of view. Saul is at the emotional heart of the story, a boy going through a sort of “coming of age”, complicated by an evil family and a populace that wants him dead. He already has a number of chapters told from his point of view.

My problem is with Joseth. Technically speaking, Joseth doesn’t arrive in the story until the middle act opens and he meets up with Eri and Saul. I like Joseth, and I know him fairly well, although I won’t know him properly until I start writing him, which leads to the temptation of introducing him in the first part of the book; I’d quite like to know what he is up to before he meets the other characters, and I want to see things from his point of view.

My questions are; how many main characters is too many? Once Joseth comes into contact with Eri and Saul, will his viewpoint be redundant? After all, they will be travelling around together for the most part, getting into scraps together and having blazing arguments- how many VPs do I need of the same events?

Do you prefer books that see things from the perspective of one character, or do you find multiple protagonists challenging? I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Anne Mini's excellent Author!Author blog, which gives fabulous advice for those writers who handle a big cast of characters in their books (really, go read it. I’ve learnt some hugely useful stuff there) and it has made me look closely at VP and how I use it.

I know that in the end the likelihood is that I’ll have to figure this one out for myself, but I’m genuinely curious to know how people feel about this, or if they even think about it at all. My reading habits suggest I’m happy with any number of character VPs; two of my favourite authors, Michael Marshall Smith and John Connolly both write largely from a First Person perspective, which nails your viewpoint down to one immediately. I also enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself which has, I think, three major viewpoints and a large cast of supporting characters. That’s not even to mention George R.R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, that has… cripes, I’ve no idea how many main characters (they’re also some of the greatest books ever written, if you ask me).

Tell me what you like, what you don’t like.What's for dinner, where my locker key is, how many Nutri Grain bars I've consumed in the last two days...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Dragon Age:Origins owns my soul

I’ve actually put off writing about Dragon Age for a little while, unsure I’d be able to write about it without a) revealing lots of spoilers and b) sounding like a terrible fangirl. Now, I can’t promise I won’t go all gooey over it, but given that I’m halfway into my third play through I think I can now judge what is safe to reveal to the potential player.

We got Dragon Age:Origins at Christmas, the same time we got the xbox, and I can safely say I have barely stopped playing it since; what’s that, nearly four months? Blimey. So I’m writing this blog partly as a fangirlish squee-athon for the awesomeness that is Dragon Age, and partly to distract my friends from the intervention they are no doubt planning at this very moment.

Dragon Age is a cheerfully violent RPG from Bioware (who also brought us the extraordinary Mass Effect, as if you didn’t know) and I will admit immediately that I know very little about such things. Not that I’m a total video games noob you understand; I’ve been an enthusiastic gamer since I got my Gameboy back in, gawd, was it 1989? I had a SNES after that, and a Gamecube, inherited a Playstation and then borrowed a Playstation 2, but having now dipped my toe in the New Age of Gaming that is the Xbox 360 (and no doubt the Playstation 3) I know that my gaming education is somewhat lacking. Games these days are epic! *cough* Anyway, before I get carried away by how exciting video games are now, I’ll get back to my original point. Dragon Age: Origins is the best game I’ve ever played, and this is why…

Characters! A combination of top writing, excellent voice acting, appealing design and a system of approval/disapproval means that by the end of the game, you are likely to be as fond of your various companions as any characters you may have grown to love in any lengthy book. Relationships are complicated in DA, and this, I think, is the true genius of the game. You have to win your companions over, either by making decisions they approve of, or by giving them presents, but even that is not simple; one character will approve of your dodgy dealings with assassins, where another will get the proper hump with you. Pay too much attention to the dangerous elf with the amusing accent and the ridiculously cute ex-Templar will sulk. Appear to be taking things a little easy and the Qunari will lose his rag.

And they don’t just argue with you. Your companions bicker cheerfully in the background as you move from place to place, leading to some excellent dialogue that often had me laughing out loud. Eventually most of them will come to like and trust you as the great leader you are, and your attentions may even pay off in the form of some moodily lit sexy goings on. Score!

It is difficult to point to favourite characters here, because genuinely there isn’t an unlikeable character amongst them, but yes, alright, I do love Alistair. But, I would point out, this isn’t really my fault. They clearly have some sort of evil genius at Bioware, creating a funny, angsty knight in shining armour who I am utterly unable to resist. Honestly, third play through and I still haven’t been able to unlock any other romance achievements…

Aside from Alistair (who also has some of the best dialogue) special mention should also go to Zevram, the Antivan Elf of dubious morals who resembles an infinitely more cheerful Legolas, with the voice of Puss in Boots from Shrek 2, and Morrigan, the sexy apostate mage voiced, in a stroke of geek genius, by Claudia Black. And then there’s Oghren, a sort of 18 certificate Yosemite Sam who spends most of the game drunk and will occasionally stand around shouting “ASS CHAPS!” and Sten, a sort of klingon but without the cheerful disposition, and saucy Leliana and Shale and…

Well, you get the point. There are many other factors that make DA such a joy. You are asked to make difficult decisions at every point in the game, giving you a real sense of responsibility and often changing the outcome of the story. The story itself is compelling, and full of surprises (the first time you play the battle at Ostagar is pretty stunning). Visually it looks fabulous, with dangerous forests and claustrophobia inducing dungeons, and even out of the way, no mark villages like Lothering are fully realized spaces with their own atmosphere.

The game is also, in my opinion, very aware of where it has come from. I was reminded strongly of A Song of Ice and Fire several times whilst playing, along with Lord of the Rings of course, and Marty had echoes of Dragonlance. The people who made this game both know and love the fantasy genre, and aren’t afraid to inject a little humour into it.

The conclusion I came to, in amazement and with no small joy, was that playing DA was like playing a book, only you were allowed to be the main character and make all the important decisions. You can live in another world and go on adventures and at the end, it’s your name in the codex. It’s the purest form of escapism. This does of course apply to many, many other video games and won’t be a surprise to most, but you’ll have to forgive me; I’m a little new to this.

Anyway, since I could happily talk about this all day, and this blog is already much too long, I promise I will shut up about this for a little while. Can’t promise I’ll ever stop playing, though.


Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Familiarity/Comedy Hypothesis

We have recently become converts to The Big Bang Theory (um, the tv show rather than the theory itself. Although we are fans of that, too).

I was initially wary of it as I had assumed it would mainly consist of geek-bashing. A little paranoid of me perhaps but, let’s face it, for the media in general geek-bashing is normally like shooting fish in a barrel, if rather more common. Did I really want to watch a show that was entirely about “Fnar fnar, geeks are losers, fnar fnar”?

As it turns out, TBBT is funny, well observed and well informed, and all mockery is done with affection. Perhaps non-geeks find it funny too, but I hope the majority of its audience are laughing because they recognise the references, and do indeed recognise that “Wednesday Night is Halo Night”. For me personally much of the humour comes from familiarity; we’ve had plenty of discussions concerning Superman down the pub for example, and Penny’s brief addiction to a dragons-and-sorcery type video game had me cringing with recognition ever so slightly too much (anyone who has tried to talk to me about anything other than Dragon Age: Origins for the last four months will know why).

It still has its wee problems for me- there are no female geeks present still (Leslie Winkle is a science geek, and I’m talkin’ about genre geeks, although it’s worth stating that I’m only halfway through series 2) and all the guys are depicted as being utterly useless with women*, which is a little unfair. I know geeks who are married, in long term relationships, or who date around a lot. But I’m just being whingy.

It doesn’t really matter. The relationships that are shown in TBBT are sweet and funny, and it has also given us a bit of a comedy legend in Dr Sheldon Cooper. Much of the humour is centred around his complete inability to interact with the human race, and his enormous superiority complex, but he remains likable. And worryingly, I find I understand his point of view more and more- not the super-genius side of it, obviously, but the general impatience for human beings and the unshakeable belief in how “right” he is… I sort of feel like that sometimes. Bit worrying. It’s my mum’s dvds we’ve borrowed, as she’s a huge fan; I hope that isn’t just because Sheldon reminds her of what a pain in the arse I was to live with…

*I sometimes wonder if it is in fact women who are useless with geeks. I usually think this when I hear a woman calling herself an “xbox widow” or complaining about having to go and watch the new Star Trek movie. What’s wrong with you?! But then, I have a slightly skewed perspective.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Fish Custard

(there may be one very mild possible spoiler in this- not as in plot but as in "funny thing that happened"- you have been warned!)

A rare thing is happening across the internet at the moment- the Doctor Who fandom is in a good mood.

I know, weird, isn’t it? I dabble in fandom a little, as I don’t seem to have the real dedication it takes to stick to one or the other (I did once, in my Star Trek TNG and X-Files days, and oh my, there was fanart, oh yes) so I tend to be an observer more than anything. One of the conclusions I have made over the years is that hands down, Dr Who fandom is the grumpiest out there. You can forget your Harry Potter shipping wars, the shitstorm over the Avatar casting (Airbenders, not smurfs), Doctor Who fans can create a boiling sea of hatred just over a logo, for goodness sake.

There are certain science-fiction forums where the Who thread is a sort of no go area for casual fans, and the podcasting politics is mindboggling. But, let’s be fair, I have always forgiven them this. After all, of most fandoms, Who fans have had the roughest of deals. It has an epic history, and being a tv programme about time travel, the continuity is a glorious migraine inducer. During the Sylvester McCoy years it was largely ignored (possibly with good reason) and just when it started to find it’s feet again, it was cancelled. Then there were the wilderness years, where fans kept the spirit of the show alive through their own enthusiasm for it, and never quite gave up hope that it would be back in one form or another. In all of geekdom, the Who fans deserve the greatest credit for utter dedication.

So on Saturday night, Matt Smith had his debut episode as the Doctor, and you know what? I don’t know of anyone who didn’t absolutely love it. Well, maybe there are a few out there who just really thoroughly enjoyed it, but largely the Who fandom is currently basking in a warm glow of decent story telling and witty writing, that they can all agree on. Almost. It’s a beautiful thing.

And if you need to ask, I loved it too. My patience has been stretched thin in the past by RTD’s boomy music, nonsensical plots and Jesus-esque Doctor, but both Matt Smith and the story of Eleventh Hour were a joy. We’re back to clever writing, a story that is both fun and scary, and a Doctor who is both bonkers and confident. And Smith does have very lovely hair.

(The only voice of whinging so far has been, surprise surprise, the Daily Mail, although I’m not sure their article on it counts as a review as such. It was largely about the HUGELY scandalous fact that Amy Pond is a kissagram, and wore a short skirt. SWEET JESUS WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?! There were also some eyebrows raised over Amy watching the Doctor get undressed, because god forbid anyone see a woman finding a man attractive… I mean, where will it end?! Certainly men have never been depicted as drooling over young girls, because that never happens… Honestly though, how sad that the Daily Mail (or more accurately, the readers of the Daily Mail) find the idea of a young woman with a sex drive so distressing. Yet again, I wish the Daily Crapfest would disappear up it’s own bumhole)