Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

The books of July 2015

We took some friends to see Second Beach, still hot at sunset....

We took some friends to see Second Beach, still hot at sunset….

It’s been dangerously hot in BC during June and July, unusually so. There’ve been wildfires across the province, some accidental, some not. School let out, and visitors came, so we’ve had lazy days in the sun, crazy days being tourists in our own town, and the whole spectrum in between.

There haven’t been many days lazing in a hammock reading books, but there are three I’ve read in July that stand out.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Growing up in the UK, I never watched Saturday Night Live, but it’s hard to escape the many SNL alumni who populate the film and television shows we all watch. Tina Fey has been a voice on animated movies, characters on film and television, and a name that appears again and again on the internet, especially when there are comedy awards happening.

The cover of “Bossypants” is quite distinctive, and I’ve seen it on the shelf in the library often enough to be curious about it. Like many autobiographies of the rich and famous, it’s not actually a blow-by-blow account of their lives in chronological order, but a series of anecdotes. Not everything in the book is something you want to know about, but it’s presented well, and I like her sense of humour. What does come across clearly is the staggering prejudice she’s had to overcome – in the comedy improve troupes, in the comedy clubs, in television and in movies. People have told her that “audiences aren’t interested in a sketch with just two women” and other unbelievable things . All of these nuggets of wisdom clearly based on no experience whatsoever, since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took the internet by storm with the two-woman sketch of Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric. Tina Fey is not “funny for a woman”, she’s funny. In fact, she’s hilarious. Her sections on parenting were so true they made me laugh even while remembering the agony of parenting small children.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

This book has been out for a while, but I’ve been resisting reading it. Now that I took the plunge, I can’t remember for the life of me why I was so reluctant. I’ve read all of Neil Gaiman’s books, and a stack of his Sandman comics (though not all) and they always have the same effect: I wish I wrote with a special fountain pen, so I could screw the cap firmly on and put it away for ever. Then I would lie down with a bag on my head, secure in the knowledge that nothing I ever wrote could be half as good as Neil Gaiman’s simplest short stories.

Like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman is living proof that short stories can be amazingly powerful, that they have just as much ability to ensnare the mind as full-length novels. Reading a collection like this is like having a dozen novels at your disposal, with the added advantage that this collection includes a story about Shadow Moon, so you’ve got another sequel to the astonishing “American Gods” (another sequel because there’s another Shadow short story elsewhere, and Mr Gaiman says there’ll be at least one more in the future.)

It would be sad to think that there’s no future for short stories. Amazon made provision for authors to write short stories with their “Kindle Singles” program, and of course, there’s nothing to stop us Indie authors writing and publishing any number of collections of short fiction. What seems to have gone forever is the ready market for short fiction – the magazines that used to accept short stories and give some respectability to new authors. I hope the sales of collections like this and others helps dispel the myth that short fiction isn’t popular.

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S.A.Hunt

I often stumble across great books thank to my friends on Google Plus, and this one was no exception. Having heard a great deal about it from other friends, I finally made the acquaintance of the author himself and downloaded the book. As a bonus, the edition I bought is books one and two, saving a wait when I got to the end of book one. Anyone who has read the Gunslinger books by Stephen King will feel a thrill of familiarity, but truth be told the only thing the two tales have in common is that the lawkeepers of the alternate worlds are gunslingers. In the land of Roland of Gilead, the world has moved on and things are collapsing. In the world that Ross stumbles into, civilisation is alive and well, with a gunslinger on the throne. Comparisons become useless at this point. The story is epic in scale, but well told and original. I will be picking up book three soon.

Due to technical difficulties (my own, not his) I haven’t been able to read my ARC of “Spirit Hackers” by Aaron Crocco, but since I’m a big fan of his “Chrono Virus”, I’m happy to recommend it. “Spirit Hackers” should be released soon, so check aaroncrocco.com for the latest news

As frequently happens, I’ve read a bad book this month too. I’m not going to name names, because reviews are subjective things. Suffice to say, this was a book that had fulsome praise on the back for its ingenuity and unique voice, etc etc. That’s all well and good, but I believe stories should have a beginning, a middle and and end. You don’t need to put them in that order, but as a writer you have a contract with the reader. “Here’s a world,” you say “and here’s the people in that world. Here’s something happening, something worth your attention.” If you do it right, you’ll grab my attention early on, you’ll make me care what happens to those people – whether I want to see them succeed, or want to see them defeated by their enemies, well, that depends on the situation you’re writing about, doesn’t it? But what I really, really don’t want is the story I got from this book: “Here’s an insignificant man. He doesn’t like himself. He’s got a great girlfriend, and he doesn’t understand why she likes him. He cheats on her, and everything goes wrong. Now things are genuinely unravelling for him. His family is broken, dying, he has no girlfriend, the woman he cheated with doesn’t want him…The end.” You know what? I made it sound better than it was. Not only was there no resolution in the story of the central character, but the secondary story that he was writing throughout the book ALSO has no resolution. It is literally interrupted in the final sentences by a ringing telephone, and never finishes. And that’s the end of the book.

You are free to tell me that this is a very worthy thing, that not all stories have a neat conclusion, that the author wanted to write a bleak, dystopic analysis of the psychological makeup of the modern western male. And to that I will say “He shouldn’t have thanked his agent in the back of the book for “giving me the chance to try my hand at comedy” then.”

The next book on my stack is “Go set a watchman”, despite my reservations. I didn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” for a long time, but when I did get around to reading it, there was still a “19” at the start of the year.

What’s been your favourite book this year?

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If verse comes to worst.

I’m the opposite of a poetry snob. I’m a poetry slob. Like many people, overexposure to gradiose verbiage from TS Eliot and Thomas Hardy during my later school years led me to distrust poetry.

It’s not straightforward, not clear in its intent, and some of it is more than obscure, it’s maliciously unintelligible.

I know a couple of poets, and one (The amazing Mark Niel) is a poet for the people. He often writes “stuff what rhymes”. He writes about events, and if he uses metaphor, you can spot it for what it is and understand WHY he’s used it. His poems make you smile, more often than not, and the conclusion will have you nudging a friend or neighbour as you grin and say “Look at this!”

To me, it comes back to the old argument about art and intent. When ordinary folks look at modern art pieces, they often say ‘What’s it meant to be?” and get told “That’s not the right question! Don’t be silly, it’s not supposed to ‘be’ anything” etc etc. Worst of all, some artists deny ever having any intent beyond “Provoking a reaction” in their audience. To me, this is a failure. Art should always have intent, an aim, a message. Poetry, I think, has a harder job than prose, because you are deliberately choosing to frame that message in a set format, either the rhyme scheme, or the number of syllables per line, or the more complicated rules of the many, many other poetry forms. If you don’t know what I mean, pick up one of Neil Gaiman’s collections of short stories – he always includes some poetry, and usually explains the rules of the form he has chosen.

So while I love prose, and the freedom of banging out a play or short story, using the odd trick or effort to create a better image or atmosphere in what I write, poetry makes you, the writer, work harder for your piece. In the last week I was tagged in the five days of gratitude challenge on Facebook, and for a giggle decided to do the whole five days in rhyme. Even though for most of the challenge I was only using doggerel (rhyming couplets, if you prefer), there was a huge strain in trying to fit the things I wanted to say into the confines of those rhythms and rhymes.

Adrian Plass once gave a talk about poetry that I attended, and he said “Let the content dictate the rhyme”. It’s simple advice, but harder than you think. It often involves throwing away a perfectly decent opening line because it won’t allow the right content for the following line.

I think my message here is not to be afraid of poetry – don’t mistake it for some ethereal creature, tied to Byron and th’moon and the vagaries of the Muse. Poetry can be fun, it can be tough, it can break your heart in four lines, and it’s always a damn good workout for your brain.

 

The Books of November

I’m posting this a couple of days early, since I seem to have burnt out on books this month – the latest one is sat on my bedside table and I have no inclination to pick it up. It’ll go back to the library unread.

Part of the reason for that is that I’ve read a lot of good books this month and a lot that I didn’t enjoy at all. Well, maybe not a lot of those, but enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Mrs Dim often pokes fun at me for not challenging myself more with my reading, but I’ve never seen it as something that was supposed to be a chore: Reading is entertainment, and one of the oldest entertainments at that. “Tell me a story!”. This month I’ve read stories that were well-told, certainly crafted, but were unsatisfactory, or even not worth the telling. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, of course. Some of them won awards, for Heaven’s sake! I’m sure they’re wonderful examples of the Great American Novel, or a superb tranche of the zeitgeist that permeates the literary underbelly of the modern pluralistic society. I just didn’t think they were much fun to read.

One of the issues that gets raised when people say that reviews and word of mouth are the ways to sell books these days, to tell which books are good, is the fact that every review is subjective. Some people are reviewing because they loved the book, because it touched something within them. That may not be true for the next person who reads the books. Some people review because they want to show other people how erudite and knowledgeable they are. Some people review because it’s a good way to get your name all over Amazon.

Just lately, I’ve found I’ve been leaving reviews on books I’ve read more to let the authors know I enjoyed their book, than to recommend them to others. Certainly the presence of a positive review is likely to help sales, but it’s mostly because I’ve experience the frisson of delight when a good review of my book is posted. Writers are a terribly insecure bunch of people, perpetually plagued by self-doubt. Having someone write positive things about your work on the internet is brilliantly reassuring.

Star Wars: Crucible – Troy Denning

I said last month I was going to have more fun reading this month. To start off the right way, I snagged the latest Star Wars offering as it crossed my desk at the library. With our heroes starting to show their age, this book feels a lot like a last hurrah for the original trio. After a chase across the galaxy and numerous fights, plus some deeply spiritual shenannigans at the end, there’s a speech that essentially says “Hey you kids, we’re going to take a back seat from now on, why don’t you guys go off and do the adventuring?” Since each book in the series features a timeline from the original movies and includes all the boooks along the way, you can calculate how old these characters are. If I was still flying a spaceship when I reached Han’s age in this book, I’d be well satisfied.

The 100 Year-Old man who climbed out of the window – Jonas Jonasson

There are some books with intriguing titles where the book doesn’t match the advertising. This one does. The story is brilliant, starting with the man in an Old Folks’ Home climbing out of his ground-floor window to avoid the dreadful 100th birthday party the place has organised for him. He encounters a young man at the bus stop who wants someone to mind a suitcase while he uses the toilet (which is too small to admit man and case) so the old man minds the case, but takes it with him when his bus arrives. The case is full of money.

That’s just the beginning of the fun, and that’s just the current day storyline. As the book continues, we learn about the old man’s past, and it’s as exciting and adventure filled as his modern day life dodging gangsters in pursuit of their money and police and elephants… Great fun.

Star Wars: Force Heretic 3 Reunion – Sean Williams and Shane Dix

I started reading this trilogy a while back and felt I ought to see it through to the end. The story is one of the building blocks of the end of the war with the Yuzhong Vong, as Executor Nom Anor builds a new power base against Shimra, and Luke and friends find the sentient planet Zonama Sekot. Best of all, Tahiri Veila manages to consolidate her divided mind, combining her Vong self and her human half into one personality. Which is nice.

WARP The Reluctant Assassin – Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer seems to be on something good. Having rounded off the Artemis Fowl series in fine style (finishing the last book with the opening lines from the first…) he churned out two adult adventures with blood, gore and mayhem in them, and now has introduced a new partnership who travel the timelines to foil villains. It’s a complex YA tale, with multiple betrayals and about turns, but features a cameo from the Battering Rams, originally mentioned in “Airman“. It’s got a great lead in teen FBI agent Chevron Savano and her new partner, Victorian thief and the Reluctant Assassin of the title, Riley.

No One noticed the cat – Anne McCaffrey

I’d never heard of this little book, despite being a fan of Anne MacCaffrey for twenty years. It’s a short tale about a Prince having to take the reins of his domain after the death of his wise and kindly Regent. The Prince is assisted by the cat his Regent left behind, a creature that doesn’t speak, or write messages, but nonetheless inspires the Prince to be better than he thinks he is, and to remember the lessons he was taught. It’s gentle but engaging.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy – Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown became famous for his “Vader and Son” books, but this wonderfully illustrated story is more than just a send-up. It tells the story of Roan, who desperately wants to go to the Starfighter Pilot Academy like his Dad and older brother, but he is rejected. Lucky for him, he’s invited to the Jedi Academy instead, but it’s not what he wants, he’s older than the other kids there, and he’s not sure he’s got what it takes to be a Jedi.

This is, in fact, a story about going to a new school, and it’s done with charm, humour and compassion. And excellent drawings.

Shift – Hugh Howey

I wrote recently about how much I had enjoyed listening to “Wool“, the first in the Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey. Although that first volume comes to an end at an appropriate point, the story is far from over, and I had no doubt that I would get hold of the next in the series. “Shift” fills in some of the back story of the Silo, as well as moving on the current plot in a significant way. It answers a lot of questions about what Juliet finds in Silo 17 and the voices Bernard speaks to on the radio in the Server Room. Mrs Dim is currently working her way through the first book, and though she finds it compelling, the grim atmosphere is not helping to lighten her daily commute. I may have erred in recommending it to her…

Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi

I had heard that this book simply mirrored the events of “The Last Colony” by showing them from Zoe’s point of view (Zoe is a character in the other book, but she isn’t the narrator, as she is in this one). While I did find several events familiar, it was interesting to follow the course of the story from another angle, and Zoe’s adventure does depart significantly from the other characters’ at one point. Also, her first love being killed (Ooops! Spoilers, sorry!) has more impact in this book than in the other, as here we view it first hand, just like we watched their affection grow into love.

It still didn’t bring the overall story to the point talked about in “The Human Division”, which I found a little confusing. If any hardcore Scalzi fans out there who can tell me what I’m missing (When does John bring a Conclave fleet into Earth orbit? Which book?) it would be appreciated.

Dust – Hugh Howey

The trilogy continues and rounds off with Dust, but it’s not any happier or easier going than the other books. I remember reading these three books as you might remember swimming under water. There’s pressure and the terrible need to hold your breath and finally the relief as you break the surface. The last book is a flat out race to the finish and I was glad it ended satisfactorily. I’m not going to say more than that. It’s worth reading, just not pretty.

Gone Tomorrow – Lee Child

I wanted to give Jack Reacher another shot, since I found the last book gripping but alarming. He’s not much better in this one – a good detective, grim soldier and one man killing machine. In this book he ends up wading through gore to murder two people responsible for…well, other murders. So that’s all right then….

Many Bloody Return – Charlaine Harris et Al

A nice collection of short Urban Fantasy stories, all linked by a birthday theme. As ever, some worked better than others, and some struggled to qualify on the birthday theme or story theme. Some, I suspect, were simply adverts for longer series. I’m still not inspired to dive back into Urban Fantasy, though I did make an exception, as you’ll see in my next choice….

Bad Blood – Chuck Wendig

Bad Blood is the sequel to “Double Dead“, the first Chuck Wendig book I ever bought. Mixing up zombies and vampires still feels novel to me, and the fact that the vampire in the book is responsible for the zombie outbreak (or rather, some irresponsible humans who took his blood and experimented with it…) is even better. In this book our anti-hero is continuing his quest to find a lab with a cure, but instead encounters another vampire and some human children survivors. It’s a lot of blood, howling and fighting, but it’s Chuck Wendig, so it’s done with style.

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

This is an award-winning novel. Many, many people liked it. I was not one of them. It’s like the film “Dead Man” without the crowd pleasing comedy. It’s a funeral without the laughs. It’s less enjoyable than stabbing yourself in the leg with a fork.

Well, maybe that’s not fair. Like I said, all reviews are subjective, but I was annoyed by this book. It shows the life of a gunfighter who’s basically been browbeaten into the job by his older brother. They’re on a job that will turn out to be their last. I think I was annoyed by the passive nature of the narrator, his inability to act in any portion of the book, and , ultimately, the downbeat nature of the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Mrs Dim and I have been to Barcelona. It’s lovely, and well worth visiting. This book is set there, but ranges in time from the late fifties to the late thirties, and references politics in Spain during that time, something I’m not familiar with. However, the adventures are gripping, tense and ULTIMATELY REDEEMING. Did you hear that, deWitt? ULTIMATELY REDEEMING! I liked it.

Nothing O ‘Clock – Neil Gaiman

Can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman writing Doctor Who. I read this the same week I went to see the 50th anniversary show. Seemed appropriate that this one featured Amy when the Ponds naturally couldn’t appear in the 50th (Because they’re time-locked back in 1940’s Manhattan, duh….)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend – Matthew Dicks

I was interested to see this book, having read “Imaginary Menot so long ago. This book, too, is written from the point of view of an imaginary friend, but this one is partner to a boy who is “on the spectrum”. Max has lots of difficulty with school, because of the noise, the physical contact and other things, but nothing prepares his friend Budo for the day when Max goes missing from school. Budo thinks he knows what happened to Max, but he can’t tell anyone, because no one but Max can hear him.

It’s a great story, carefully told, and turns out to be about more than just a kidnapping. It talks about life and death and sacrifice, as well as growing up and what that means. It was quite a book.

Finally, the other book I’ve been reading and editing isEddie and the Kingdom“. There’s no link to that yet, because it isn’t going to be published for another week or so. If you’d like a sneak peek, you can find the first draft of the first couple of chapters inTroubled Souls“, still on sale for the bargain price of $1.99. If you’ve already readTroubled Souls“, why not put up your own review on Amazon.com? If you do, ask me for an advance copy ofEddie and the Kingdomfor FREE!

Sounds Wonderful

Audible logo

I’m a reader. Always have been, always will be. I read at night and at the breakfast table, on my breaks at work, and while I’m waiting for Middle Weasel to finish Ringette practice.

But there are some times when it’s not practical to have your nose in a book. When I go running, I’ve found that reading is a hazard to those around me, as well as myself. When I’m ironing, it’s tricky to manage the iron, the garment and the book. Tasks like cleaning the bathroom floor become very tricky.

So it was that a few years ago I became a member of Audible.com. I’d amassed a reasonable collection of audio books on cds, but switching them back and forth between the car and the household cd players had resulted in scratches and lost discs. I was looking for a better solution. Audible have a big range of audio books, and their app can be downloaded to phones, pcs, and tablets. I have it installed on my phone, on my desktop, my kindle and my netbook. I pay a membership fee each month, which entitles me to one free book each month.

The mathematicians out there will be pointing out that my book is not, ACTUALLY free, because I’m paying my monthly membership. And that’s true, but the membership is a flat rate, and it’s often less than the regular price of the book I choose to purchase. Along with that, there are special offers available to members that turn up often, like $4.99 deals, or “Buy one, get one free” offers.

My app told me yesterday that I now have 61 books in my library, which made me think about my most recent acquisitions. There were two books that I bought and listened to quite compulsively. Normally, as I’ve said, the books are background to a dull task, but these two were so engrossing that I used my phone as a portable sound system and listened to them as I walked the dog, drove to work and did the shopping.

File:Anansi Boys.png

The first was a book I had read years before. Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys“, read here by Lenny Henry. (Find the book on Amazon HERE ) In my memory, it had taken on the sinister tone of “American Gods”, a book I’d read much more recently. When it came up on Audible, I began to listen and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed it. It was FUNNY! The story has serious moments, even some gruesome ones, but the telling is delightful, the characters far out of the usual way, and Lenny Henry achieves the miraculous in delivering believable voices for people who range from young women to middle aged men to ancient crones. The magic in the story fits well into London and Saint Andrews, and best of all, the ending is more than satisfactory (I have a deep-rooted distrust of ambiguous or downbeat endings).

Wool | [Hugh Howey]

This, then, was a book I knew once but had forgotten. But a recent offer gave me the chance to try a book I had heard about, but never read. Hugh Howey’s “Wool” had sparked a lot of interest because it began life as a self-published short story, then pressure from friends and readers brought about the novel, which sold so well online that it became a “real” book, then a NYT bestseller. I had resisted getting a copy, because, frankly, it sounded dull. “Wool” as a title made me imagine it was about the wool trade. I’m sure you could write a “Sarum” style history of the wool trade in Europe, and have exciting characters and helicopter chases and so on. I’m sure reviewers would have to work quite hard not to use the phrase “Spins a yarn” when writing about it.

Luckily for everyone, this is NOT what the book is about. “Wool” is actually about the inhabitants of a Silo. They have lived in the silo for generations, knowing that the air outside is toxic, and that talk of wanting to leave, or criticising the silo can get the expelled, forced to clean the sensors that provide the only view of the grim world beyond. Life in the silo is sparse, but bearable. The story begins with the Sheriff, who has served many years, suddenly expressing his desire to go outside. His wife went mad three years before and was sent outside, and now he wishes to go after her, even though her body is clearly visible through the sensors, slumped dead on a nearby hill.

This sounds gloomy, and the truth is that the story IS grim. There are many secrets and conspiracies in the silo, and the good people who rise to the challenge brought about by the Sheriff’s decision don’t always come out of things well. At times I was worried that a bad ending would mean I had listened to the whole story only to be disappointed. However, despite the tension and the grim nature of the events, I think the story ended well, and I’ve since discovered there are sequels – this is the first of a trilogy, but it works well as a standalone tale.

Thanks to audible, I have a great library of stories, read to me by some terrific narrators. The fact that the company is now a subsidiary of Amazon may put some people off, but I don’t mind – Amazon publish my e-books, after all. It also means that I never forget my Audible login, as it’s the same as my Amazon one these days. For someone who hates to be without a book, it’s a great alternative.

I have not been paid by Audible or Amazon for this piece. Although, you know, if they DID decide to pay me a bunch of cash, I wouldn’t say no….

Books of July

For some reason there’s a lot of books in this month’s “read” list. Don’t remember having more free time than usual. Maybe I just didn’t get as much sleep…

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The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

To be honest, I was little surprised to find myself picking this book up. The first volume had set out a complex world with a long, involved history that was part myth, part song, part imaginary dream etc etc etc. The lead character was a damaged orphan with unexpected magical ability who is given a letter that leads him to a magical education establishment.

But, despite my misgivings, I wanted to know what happens next, which has to say something about the writing, doesn’t it? And there’s plenty more of what happens next. There’s foreshadowing aplenty, since this is a tale being told in the present over the course of three days, and this book is day two. The hero is an old man recounting the tale of his youth in a tavern he owns, and there are hints that his past is catching up with him, and not in a good “marry your high-school sweetheart” kind of way.

The bad news is that book three isn’t around yet, and there could be another long wait for that. I should ensure all the books in a series are written before I begin reading.

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Joyland – Stephen King

This one surprised me. It says on the cover it’s published as part of the “Hard Cases” crime series, so I was expecting a fairly straight story, even though it’s Stephen King. But, inevitably, the supernatural sticks a hand in. It’s a great read though, and I devoured it in a day and half. The story follows a young man who spends a summer working in an amusement park, though it’s a place that has shadows in its past. Even if you think you don’t like Stephen King, try this one.

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The First Days – Rhiannon Frater

As you know, I’m writing a zombie book myself, so I picked this one on a whim. It turns out the author was writing this story periodically on her blog, and was pressed into publishing by friends, fans, and ultimately an agent. She did a good job, creating an interesting and real zombie apocalypse, with the added fun bonus of characters who are aware of, and reference, zombie movies and tropes. I liked the fortified enclosure she created for her city survivors, and the fact that there may be more of these books out there already. I’ll be looking out for them.

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The Girl in the Steel Corset – Kady Cross

There has to be some Steampunk in the mix too, and this one caught my eye because of the beautiful cover art. Yes, I judge books by their covers. That’s what they’re for. The storyline is neat enough, combining elements of Jekyl and Hyde with the notion of Professor Xavier’s academy from X men and the investigations of the X files. I wasn’t too sure about the tech involved – how exactly does a portable telegraph actually work? But it’s sufficiently different from others in the genre to be interesting. However, I did feel that some of the character’s thoughts got rolled out again and again. Someone would be striding around their room, thinking to themselves how insufferable so and so was, then they would encounter so and so a minute later and recount their thoughts of the previous page. So and so would then storm off, mulling over the things just said to them. All that may happen in real life, of course, but the upshot here is that we, the poor readers, go through the same stuff THREE TIMES.

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Halo: The Fall of Reach/ Boot Camp/Covenant Graphic novels

Eldest Weasel is playing her way through the original Halo game, and I saw this pair of graphic novels come into the library where I was working. I waited til they were out on the shelf and other people had had time to see them, then booked them out to me. They’re good adaptations of the books, which are extrapolations of the game and back story.

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Prey – Michael Crichton

I haven’t read a Crichton novel since “Airframe” nearly put me off flying for life. But this one looked neat and I thought it was time for a grownup book again. It’s the usual mix of tech and hubris, and while I struggled with some of the technical details, the actual plot and procedure all made enough sense for a gripping read. If you’re interested in nano technology or organic/tech interfacing, then this is a book for you.

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Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian – Eoin Colfer

My memory of finding the first Artemis Fowl book is that I read about it in the same “Summertime reading suggestions” article that mentioned a book about a boy called Harry Potter. Neither were big yet, and I bought both over the same weekend.

I liked Artemis Fowl’s adventures for the first four books. After that I felt things went a little off the rails, and I missed “The Atlantis Complex” and this book altogether until last month and this month. I’m glad I went back to them. This book was back on track and is a good way to wrap up the series. I hear Disney is making a movie of the first book, and will be interested to see what they do with it.

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The Girl in the Clockwork Collar – Kady Cross

This book takes the characters from the first book and throws them across the Atlantic to mess with a criminal gang in New York. There’s some historical accuracy, some guest-starring by everyone’s favourite scientist (Tesla, of course) and more mucking about in the Aether. Oh, and clockwork. My previous dissatisfaction remains, but I still read the whole thing. The characters are interesting, and it’s nice to have a strong female character in a period book.

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Songs of Love and Death – Various

This book collected together tales whose only connection was – you guessed it – love and death. And now I can’t remember any of them. Maybe seeing the cover in a couple of minutes will help, but right now, none of them leap out. It’s been a big month for reading, and some of the books have been blinders, and some of the ones I’m reading NOW are obliterating my memory completely.

Yes the image helped. Neil Gaiman’s story was as twisted yet enjoyable as you’d expect, and I was disappointed by only one or two of the stories in this volume. Worth a try, certainly.

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Imaginary Me – Desmond Shepherd

This was a brilliant (and free!) download I came across on G+. Written from a first-person perspective, which is always hard, the difficulty is compounded by the fact that the person narrating is the imaginary friend of a little girl and only exists when the girl thinks about him. The story brilliantly conveys the miserable circumstances of the girl, the world around her and the desperate plan that might, just might, save her life. Brilliantly done.

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The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice – Chris Ewan

I donated this one to Mrs Dim, since she’d run out of things to read, and she was unimpressed. I have to say that after a good start, introducing the narrator who’s a reformed (ish) cat burglar turned novellist, everything went downhill from there. The plot was wild, unlikely, difficult to follow and ultimately unsatisfactory.

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Halo: The Flood –  William C Dietz

I picked up this book from my shelf after watched Eldest playing more Halo and being re-energised about the stories thanks to the graphic novels of earlier this month. This book really is the novellisation of the first game, and though it’s been criticised for being little more than a book-length walkthrough, there’s actually more characterisation and some back-story development and some filling in of the gaps that you don’t get in the game, since your perspective there is limited to what the Master Chief can see. And if you don’t follow that, go play the game. It’s ACE!

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Scoundrels – Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn had some work to do to recover from the dull “Night Train to Rigel” thingy I read last month. Fortunately the cover alone made this book worth picking up. I thought at first he’d written a standard heist book and converted it for the Star Wars universe, but soon realised he’d written this book with Star Wars in mind all along. It ties in with later events, later characters and only works with the gadgets and people of the SW universe. However, the scene where he puts a whip in Han Solo’s hands and makes him run along in front of a huge boulder…well, that was just grandstanding. Worth reading just so you can shake your head at that bit. Not to mention the inevitable manipulation of dialogue so Han can say the line “Well, I shot first…” which seems to be de rigeur for any book featuring Solo these days. I think the Star Wars writers have a bet on….

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Plugged – Eoin Colfer

So, Eoin Colfer isn’t writing any more Artemis Fowl books, and if there’s any justice in the world he won’t be writing any more Hitch Hiker’s Guide books either. This is the kind of thing he’ll be writing instead – the adventures of an ex-army bouncer, inadvertantly caught up in a drugs-related gang war, hunted by cops and villains alike, trying to save the few friends he has and maybe make some new ones on the way. It was grim fare at times, but the lead is likeable and the plot moved fast. Plus it was unpredictable and ended well. Please leave the Hitch Hiker (and Dirk Gently) books alone, Mr Colfer, and give us more like this!

As usual, I haven’t included the audio books I’ve been listening to this month, like the excellent “The Ocean at the end of the Lane”, since I often revisit old favourites for a chapter or two, and keeping track of what I listened to when isn’t as practical as noting which book is going back to the library. I read on a website this week that it’s recommended that people “try to read at least one book a month” to improve and broaden their minds. If this is true, my mind should be so broad I could pull it out my ears and tie it under my chin.

Meeting your heroes

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met - Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met – Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

When I first began to really read, I devoured the books of two authors in particular – Douglas Adams and Harry Harrison. I loved their books, read them until the paperbacks fell to pieces and could’ve won trivia contests on obscure plot points.

I didn’t know a thing about the authors themselves. Much later, I got to read articles about, and interviews with, Douglas Adams. I have a copy of “The Salmon of Doubt”, a book put together after his tragically early death, with interviews, articles and unfinished stories. That fills out a little more of the man that I didn’t know.

But this is the 21st Century. This week, I have had the works of John Scalzi almost exclusively playing on my audio books playlist – he’s releasing his new book “The Human Division” chapter by chapter, and I’m buying the audio versions through Audible.com. I stumbled across his blog/website “Whatever” when googling something else, and as a result of becoming a reader of his posts, I bought one of his books. Then several more. This is proof that blogging can lead to book sales. But as well as learning I liked his work, I learned a lot about Mr Scalzi too (though, having not met him, it seems rude to call him “John”). I know the names of his immediate family and have seen pictures of them (that he released in specific circumstances, not because I’ve broken into his house with a flashlight and a stocking mask…) I know about his lawn-mowing habits and ukulele playing desires. I’ve even seen him fall on his ass while singing the theme tune to one of his novels.

The point of all this is that authors have now really got the option of stepping out of the shadow of their books. One of the things I have always loved about Stephen King’s short story collections is his habit of explaining a little something of them either before or afterwards. He talks about the genesis of the idea, or how the story was changed, or where a character came from. Now he has a website, there’s the chance that a direct query might be answered in person, that those things you might otherwise have wondered about til your dying day could be sorted out in an email.

Much as I liked the image of a Salinger-like hermit, locked away from the world, dropping pearls of books to adoring but distant readers, this idea of accessible authors is much more exciting. I’m sure they’re occasionally ticked off with the number of wannabes who press them for the secret of their success, or where they get their ideas from, but they also get the positive feedback, the letters and emails that say how much their work is admired. Today, anyone can write a book and get it published. You can have your own work available for sale through Amazon, the most popular method of book purchasing in the modern world. This being the case, publishing your work isn’t the prize it once was. What’s more important to a lot of writers (and I know this is true of myself) is hearing that other people have been affected by the stories, that they have been touched by the tale in the same way the author was. That they’re glad it was written down and sent out into the world.

Writers write because they have to, because the stories demand to be told. But we publish because we want to share those stories.*

So take advantage of this amazing new world we live in. Reach out and meet the authors you admire. And not in a “Here’s my underwear, please sign it and send me some of yours” kind of way. Read their blogs, add your review of their books to Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. Link to their blogs from yours so other people can find them too.

I know, from what other people have said, that meeting Douglas Adams could be a joyous thing, and I’m sorry I never had the chance. But I have had reply tweets and emails from Neil Gaiman, from James Moran, and John Scalzi, and Chuck Wendig. People whose words have moved me, have changed the way I see the world. People who, ten years ago, would have been as distant to me as the stars they write about.

Which authors have you contacted and heard back from? Which blogs do you recommend? Which author (living or dead) would you most like to converse with? Bearing in mind the dead ones won’t be much for conversation…..

 

 

* receiving a large sum of money in return is often looked upon as a bonus, however.

The house I grew up in…..

One of the places I've called home.

The weasels were a major reason for our emigration. We wanted them to have a home, and life with the RAF meant a lot of moving around. I worried about their childhood being little more than a series of half-forgotten friends and a collection of school photos where the uniforms changed year after year.

I moved around a little myself as a child. I was born ‘Oop North and managed seven years in Sunderland before we came south. That’s long enough to have an accent you could bend steel on, by the way, which is a tough thing to carry in a village school of only fifty kids, all of whom have grown up in the depths of Hampshire. We were only there a handful of years before we moved again, and then in my college years we moved within that town.

All this strolling down Sentiment Lane was prompted by listening to the excellent Amanda Palmer on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast . In the session (which contains the odd rude word, please don’t be offended) she prefaced a song called “House that I grew up in” with the story of her parents telling her the house that had been her childhood home was going to be sold. She said that travelling the world and having no real base had been fine because she’d always had this home in her mind, and now that was going. That made me wonder how the Weasels might feel about their nomadic life to date – have we deprived them of an important piece of childhood’s landscape : The Family home?

So that’s why I was examining my past. I’ve been ok with the many moves since marrying Mrs Dim, and part of that was the preparation of my own roaming past. I see how Middle Weasel struggled to cope with change during her first two moves and realised that allowing her to stay and put down roots at an early age might have exacerbated that problem – someday, for some reason, we would have had to move, and then the explosion might have been nuclear, instead of only…well, conventional doesn’t seem the right word.

Mrs Dim’s folks lived in the same house for thirty years. Almost until the time we moved to Canada we could go visit and she could show the kids the room that used to be her bedroom. She could describe the many changes to the house, including the extra rooms that were built on while they were living there. I envied her that history, but then I never suffered that feeling of loss when the house was sold.

As we have travelled around the UK, home has been the place where we keep our stuff, the place where the five of us are together. The apartment we stayed in on landing was as much home to us as the first rental house, as much as the RAF house in St Athan. For now, the New Wonkey House is shaping up to be a pretty good home, and I hope we’ll stay here for a long time. For one thing, it’s going to be years before I get round to sorting out my garage room.