Saturday, 29 December 2012

Writing resolutions 2013

I have just put together my writing resolutions for 2013. I thought I would blog them here so that they are public, I am accountable for them, and you can call me on it at the end of the year if I don't achieve them. Without further ado:

Write first drafts of:

Three Dimensions Trilogy novelettes between books 1 and 2
12,000 words each, total 36,000

Reality Shifting, Dimensions Trilogy book 2
80,000 words

Three prequel Senjima no Monogatari novellas
20,000 each, total 60,000

Total writing goal:
176,000 words total
3520 per week (for 50 weeks)
704 per day (5 days a week)

Additional goals:

Revise Symmetry Breaking, Dimensions Trilogy book 1
Revise one Dimensions Trilogy novelette
Revise one Senjima no Monogatari novella

Breaking it down to a daily word count makes this list of resolutions look surprisingly achievable. I already know that I can easily write 700 words a day and not run out of puff. All I need to do is get in the habit of outlining or revising other stories after I have hit my daily word count. If that alone is my goal for 2013, I think I can manage that.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Trip to Marlborough Sounds

At our accommodation

Queen Charlotte Sound, from the mail boat

Queen Charlotte Sound

Kenepuru Sound

Kenepuru Sound

Driving along Kenepuru Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound

At the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
Etrich Taube exhibit

The story behind this exhibit alone was worth the entry price
Grid's Great Escape exhibit
(Some kiwi bloke somersaulting off his crashing plane near a trench, then calmly walking in and asking to use their telephone. Classic.)

The Baron's Last Flight exhibit
(Australian soldiers stripping the Red Baron's craft)

A biplane in the sky. With ME IN IT!
(Photo by BL)

Biplane just after landing
(Photo by BL)

Me waving from the biplane
(Photo by BL)

Some cheesy person grinning in a biplane
(Photo by BL)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

I aten't ded yet

Just a quick post to say, yes, I haven't been blogging much recently. I can confidently say that I will probably continue to not blog much for a few weeks yet. My life has been very busy lately with:

  • moving house
  • wedding planning
  • some freelance work on top of my day job.

So, yeah: busy busy. For the most part this was to be expected, but I am sad that I haven't had a chance to work on my novel for a while. Instead, I have been snatching moments here and there to make notes on what changes I want to make to the text when I have the time. I've also been doing some initial brainstorming and research for the series I want to write after the one I am writing now. With a multiple-book story, I think it is important to set thoughts in motion a year or two before you start writing so that you subconscious has time to work in the background. It makes the outlining process easier. I started brainstorming my current novel two years before I outlined its current form, and more than two years before I started writing it.

I hope to get back to revising Symmetry Breaking in December. Until then, wish me luck getting through this crazy patch.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Book review: The Emperor's Edge, books 1–5

A few months ago I downloaded a free book to my Kindle. The cover caught my eye, and since it was free, I thought 'Why not?'. Of course, because it was free, I didn't read it right away. (Which I am very glad about, because at the time there were only four books in the series, and book 4 ends on a huge cliffhanger!)

The book is called The Emperor's Edge, and it is the first book in a series of the same name, by author Lindsay Buroker.

Anyway, last week I listened to a podcast interview with Lindsay Buroker over at The Creative Penn, and after hearing her talk about her books, I decided to give The Emperor's Edge a go. What followed was a five-day period in which I neglected to answer emails, get proper sleep and (gasp!) check Twitter because I was too busy reading.

The Emperor's Edge series is about a group rather like 'Robin Hood and his Merry Men'; misunderstood misfits who want to do good and help the Emperor, except the pesky bounties on their heads keep getting in the way. It is set in an industrial era secondary world with fantastical elements (magic, etc.). The group includes a female ex-enforcer (police officer); an assassin with an unparallelled work ethic; a womanising dandy with a near-unbeaten duelling record; an ex-alcoholic scholar with a tragic past; a mute ex-slave; and a punk kid with lots of magical talent but very little magical experience. The first three books each chronicle this group fixing a relatively stand-alone problem, although there is an overarching plot linking the three adventures together. Several months pass between each of these books. Books four, five, and the upcoming book 6 are a trilogy covering the same adventure, and book five, at least, started straight after the cliffhanger at the end of book 4.

These books are a lot of fun to read. This crazy band of misfits, however well intentioned, have more success blowing things up and causing mayhem than anything else. They destroy mansions, they destroy trains, they destroy underwater bases, they crash dirigibles . . . and garbage trucks . . . Except for a stolen police truck, not a single mode of transport that they acquire makes it to the end of the current book still in their possession and in one piece.

The books are character-focussed. Most of the plot hangs on an awkward and angsty little tangle of interpersonal relationships (not quite a love triangle, but more awkward than one because of who is involved in it). Although my credibility was initially stretched in this regard, particularly in the second book when our heroine was acting rather immature, Lindsay hit her stride portraying this relationship in the third book and I have been invested in it ever since.

The world-building is weaker than the character-building. All the places the characters visit are vivid and well described, but the reader is given very little idea of what is 'over the next hill'.

There are some problems I had with the books, especially the first two. There was one rather eye-rolling occurrence of hero-saves-the-girl-from-being-raped; and, as mentioned earlier, in the second book the heroine's behaviour made me think of some of the more stupid things I said around guys I liked when I was too young to know better. But even if these problems were mistakes, they helped to portray the main character's growth. By the fourth book Amaranthe is far too badass to cower and wait to be saved, and she's mature enough to begin to deal with the relationship she is in.

Occasionally I was jolted out of the story by an unusual typo or misuse of a word, such as 'accept' being used instead of 'except'. Although Lindsay Buroker hired an editor to help her clean up the books, my guess is that she did not also hire a proofreader.

Other than these few problems, I found the books engaging, addictive, and enjoyable. They are an example of an indie author who has worked hard to establish her niche and her brand, and whose works have rapidly caught up to the quality level of traditionally published books in the fantasy genre.

All five books are available from the main eBook retailers.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

So, I disappeared for a while . . .

Sorry for being absent for so long. First, I moved house. Then, I got addicted to a series of books. So addicted that I didn't check Twitter for 5 days. That's . . . unheard of.

Anyway, I'm dropping by to say that I'm intending sometime this week to write a review of the books that took all my attention. So look out for a review of the first five books in the Emperor's Edge series by Lindsay Buroker.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Random photo: Mt. Haguro

Because I haven't blogged in ages, here's a photo:

Climbing Mt. Haguro
I've been thinking about Japan again today. I'm beginning to see the first glimmerings of some characters who may walk a path like this some day.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Book review: Seven Wonders

Seven WondersSeven Wonders by Adam Christopher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven Wonders by Kiwi author Adam Christopher is a superhero novel set in the fictional city of San Ventura. The city, once plagued by supervillains, is now mostly peaceful thanks to the Seven Wonders, a team of superheroes. However, there is one remaining supervillain causing trouble in San Ventura: The Cowl. When Tony, an ordinary citizen of San Ventura, starts to manifest super powers, he decides to do what the Seven Wonders have been unable to do – defeat the Cowl once and for all.

Seven Wonders is a story about the unexpected paths that personal journeys can take. The reader is kept guessing about the motivations of certain characters right until the end of the book.

I enjoyed Seven Wonders, although not as much as Empire State. I liked how the characters were not black and white, despite how that is often the case in the superhero genre. It relied on cliches, but not so much as to remove the fun from the book.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I wish that it could have been packaged and delivered in a different form. In my opinion, it doesn't quite work as a novel. The story is too episodic. Some people have said they would have preferred this book to be a graphic novel. I don't think it would have been necessary to illustrate it: Christopher's descriptions are detailed enough that the visual cues wouldn't have been necessary. But I do think that the story would have worked better if delivered in an episodic format, e.g. a podcast series or a chapter-by-chapter release on subscription.

Seven Wonders is a fun read for anyone interested in the superhero genre.

View all my reviews

This is the last of my posts for SpecFicNZ Blogging Week 2012. See the list of other Blogging Week posts here.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Interview with Matt Cowens

I promised you an interview, and here it is. I recently interviewed Matt Cowens, one half of the writing duo behind Mansfield with Monsters. Read below to find out more about this fascinating book, and the talented writers responsible for it.

C: Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to answer a few questions about your book, Mansfield with Monsters.

M: My pleasure!

First of all, could you give us the 'elevator pitch' for your book?

Mansfield with Monsters takes the short stories of New Zealand's most 
prominent, cherished author and reimagines them full of werewolves, vampires, zombies, sea monsters, mummies, giant bugs, alien invasions and Frankenstein monsters. It's a collaboration from beyond the grave.

How did you first become interested in the works of Katherine Mansfield?

Debbie and I are both high school English teachers - having travelled to 
Japan together to teach English shortly after we married, and worked in education ever since. We'd encountered Mansfield's fiction as high school students and at University, but I think it's fair to say that my interest in Mansfield was really ignited when I started teaching her stories at school. Fortunately the process of dissecting her work and translating it for high school students did nothing to diminish my appreciation of it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What is your favourite Mansfield story?

I've been surprised by how diverse her stories are, and how dark. 'Miss Brill' is the first of Mansfield's stories I really appreciated, 'The Daughters of the Late Colonel' has really won me over on successive readings, but for a favourite I'd say 'The Fly'. It's a tragic, cruel story, but I love it. Especially with super heroes.

What is your favourite type of monster?

I loved horror films when I was in intermediate and high school. And horror 
fiction, too. I could list a number of monsters, from Romero zombies through to Lovecraft's nameless (or oddly named) horrors, but I think those who know me well would point out that a love of giant bugs permeates my writing. Stephen King's 'The Mist' is one of my all time favourite stories. The ending of Frank Darabont's screen adaptation makes it a little too depressing to rewatch, but it's an amazing film.

Did you learn anything surprising about Katherine Mansfield while researching the book?

Mansfield's biography reads a little like it's already been adapted for our 
project. She had a genuine interest in the occult, visited psychics, and was embroiled in various shenanigans. That she met Aleister Crowley was a surprise to me - especially as I learned of the actual meeting after having inserted a fictional one into her bio.

What three words would you use to describe the process of co-writing a book?

Painstaking. Respectful. Rewarding.

What is the major difference in process between writing a mash-up story and writing a standard from-scratch story?

The puzzle element was a definite change, as was the process of matching our 
style of language and expression. And, as an English teacher, there were a few times where I had to stop myself from correcting or modernizing idiosyncrasies in Mansfield's grammar.

What did you think of the publication process, and what was it like working with Stephen from Steam Press?

We knew that Mansfield with Monsters was a risky proposition - executed poorly it could alienate the literary community and the casual reader, leaving only a bitter taste in reviewers' mouths and a black mark on whatever institution chose to publish it. We were confident that we could adapt the stories lovingly, respectfully, and with skill. After hearing about the project Stephen asked to see the first 3 stories, and that whetted his appetite for more. Stephen is a hugely dedicated, professional and well-dressed editor. Our extensive correspondence about the project was both inspirational and crucial in fine-tuning the stories. Stephen brought a valuable fresh pair of eyes to the work, and crafted a beautiful book. It seems odd that we've only met in person three times - ours is a highly successful long-distance relationship (despite living only about 45 minutes' drive away from each other).

Do you and Debbie have any plans for further works of this type (that you can tell us about)?

We are both working on individual projects at the moment - Debbie has begun a mystery novel manuscript based around a blend of Greek myth and golden age Hollywood, whilst I am attempting the highly dubious sounding process of mashing up one of my own manuscripts, rewriting a Victorian ghost story novella I wrote some years ago to include even more fantastic elements.

Mansfield with Monsters was enormous fun to collaborate on - a kind of literary cryptic crossword for the soul - and we would gladly return to the mashup genre should an opportunity arise.

Where can people find you online?

Information about Mansfield with Monsters is available at Debbie maintains a writing blog at  while Matt occasionally updates

You can find us on twitter: @mattcowens @debbiecowens @steampress

Mansfield with Monsters is available from The paperback is $NZ25 and the ebook (.mobi or .epub) is $NZ8. You can also download a free sample in .mobi, .epub or .pdf to try before you buy.

Although I probably wouldn't recommend this book to history purists, I do highly recommend it to anyone interested in weird or speculative fiction. I'm about half way through it at the moment, and I'm enjoying it immensely.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

SpecFicNZ Blogging Week is on!

SpecFicNZ Blogging Week is on! Yay! Except it is Thursday, and I haven't yet contributed. Er . . .

Never fear. I have plans, honest. I will be reviewing Seven Wonders by kiwi author Adam Christopher before the end of the week. I will also be featuring my first ever author interview. I'm so excited! I've just sent my questions, and I'm looking forward to receiving the answers. Who will I be interviewing? Here's a hint:

Sunday, 9 September 2012

First week of revisions

At the risk of sounding like I'm whinging, revising a novel is much, much harder than writing a first draft. I say this not because it surprises me; I was expecting it. I'm just making an observation. And making an excuse to myself of why I haven't made as much progress this week as I wanted to.

My first reaction to my manuscript when I opened the project file last weekend was 'Oh my goodness, this is crap. I'll never be able to fix this'. I've only just overcome that feeling and convinced myself that I can fix it, if I put the work in.

Have you ever been in this position in a creative project? How did you banish the doubt so you could get to work?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Of earthquakes, books, and hailstorms

Two years ago on this day the first earthquake in the Canterbury quake swarm happened. It was a 7.1M earthquake, described at the time as very close to the city, and very shallow. (Ha! Little did we know then that there would be more major earthquakes, all shallower and much closer than the 4 September shake.)

This evening, when I got home from work, I sat down to finish Towers of Midnight, the 13th book in the Wheel of Time series. Just as I was reading the epilogue, I noticed the sound of thunder in the distance. I went out and stood in the driveway, where I had stood 2 years ago listening to the post-earthquake sirens. I watched an imposing thunderhead approach. I could see the curved, sculpted front edge of its foot, the bulk of the cloud spilling out and above. The lightning lit up the whole sky. It was about sunset, but even so I could see the substantial darkness of the cloud. Lower small clouds scudded around it, attending like pilot fish, brilliant white against the bruised darkness behind. I sat on the ground and watched, wondering how long until the rains would arrive and I'd have to go inside.

I went in when I started to get chilly, even through the coat I had thrown on. I watched the lightning for a few more minutes. Then I noticed a faint sound, like rain. I thought that at any moment the rain would start to fall, but it didn't. The sound grew louder. I stuck my head back out the door. It sounded like a freight train hurling along tracks, but somehow only approaching at a snail's pace. Then it dawned on me that a hailstorm was on the way, and I was hearing hail falling some distance off.

It took another 5 minutes for the hail to reach my place. It hit like a cluster bomb. The media is reporting that the hail was about 15 mm in diameter, but it was bigger than that here, that's for sure. Here is a picture of some hailstones I collected from my driveway.

As you can see, they were more like 20–25 mm (officially a 'severe' hailstorm). The hail that fell on the lawn and therefore didn't shatter was all about the size of the largest hailstone in the picture.

I don't know why I am telling you all this, other than to say it seemed fitting and poignant to me that on the second anniversary of the 4 September earthquake, I finished an epic book (penultimate in a series) about momentous, end-of-the-world events, while an epic storm raged overhead, a storm befitting the book I was reading (although it would have been more fitting if I had been reading the previous book in the series, The Gathering Storm).

I guess I'll try not to finish the last book in the series, A Memory of Light, on 22 February.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Book revisions start today

Today is the day I start the revisions of my book, still tentatively called Symmetry Breaking (although I'm still not convinced that's a good title for a fantasy novel). I'm feeling anxious about it, because I've never revised a book before. This is only the second book I've finished the first draft of. The first book I drafted, when I went to revise it, I found that I no longer liked or believed in the book, so I moved on.

I have no idea how long it will take me to revise the book. I'm hoping I can get it to a point where I will be comfortable showing it to people (for critiquing) early next year. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Random photo: Kitten!

Bad taste in your mouth after reading my bad review of The Iron Wyrm Affair? Here: have a kitten picture.

My cat Callisto at 8 moths old

Book review: The Iron Wyrm Affair

The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare, #1)The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, to be honest, this is the first book for which I have downloaded a sample to my Kindle, bought the full book, and then had an unsatisfying reading experience. Usually the samples are enough to filter out books I won't like. I don't often write bad reviews for books, but I'm going to make an exception for this one.

The Iron Wyrm Affair is set in a Victorian London-esque fantasy world. It chronicles how a sorceress called Emma Bannon and a "mentath" called Archibald Clare (basically Sherlock Holmes by another name) team up to thwart a trio of intertwined evil plots.

I bought this book because I enjoyed Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, and I thought The Iron Wyrm Affair would be a similar sort of book. Unfortunately, whereas Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair are true steampunk, The Iron Wyrm Affair is more "slap some gears on it and call it steampunk".

I had various other complaints about the book:

Lack of satisfaction

The Iron Wyrm Affair jumps back and forth between the two characters on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Saintcrow often ends chapters on cliffhangers. This in itself isn't a problem. But when she switches back to a character, instead of being greeted with the resolution to the cliffhanger, the reader instead finds that the character has already solved the problem, and the narrator proceeds to tell the reader what happened "off screen" in a short summary. In other words, a lot of the most interesting action happens while the reader isn't "looking". This makes for a most dissatisfying reading experience!

No understanding of logic

Which, let's face it, is a big problem when one of your characters is supposedly a walking computer / logician. When Archibald Clare is fighting another "mentath", his foe is described as "blasting him with pure logic". Um, what? When the worldbuilding specifically states that what a mentath can do is as far from magic as you can get? What does that even mean? The author seems to have been unable to come up with something for Clare to do, so she defaulted to a magic-like battle because that was what she was comfortable with. Clare's 'deductions' are also poorly realised.

Meaningless props and plot points

Rampaging mecha! Why? Er . . . because they're cool!

Offscreen baddies

As I mentioned earlier, there were, the reader is told, three evil plots to be thwarted by our heroes. But in only one of these was there a proper confrontation with the enemy. In one of the other plots, a secondary character takes out the bad guy OFF SCREEN and we don't even find out who was paying him or what the ultimate goal was. Hell, we never even SEE him! And the third plot we don't even have any evidence that it existed, other than that the characters told us it did, and there were bits of infodumping throughout the book to support their hypothesis. Again, not a satisfying conclusion.

Muddled storyline

The story gets so muddled and nonsensical towards the end that it honestly reads like a first draft. This story needs significant assistance from a structural editor, assistance which it apparently didn't receive.

All in all, I found little to redeem this book. I wouldn't recommend reading it. But it has made me think about what makes a good book, and where stories can go wrong, and I appreciate that lesson.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Book review: Empire State

Empire StateEmpire State by Adam Christopher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superheroes, parallel dimensions, and noir – oh, my!

Empire State is the tale of two cities, reflections of one another – New York, and the Empire State. Neither of these cities are the one we know in our world. In New York, war is being waged between two rocket-powered superheroes who used to be the best of friends until they had a falling out. In the Empire State, a grim city suffering under Wartime restrictions, a private detective is hired to find a missing woman. These stories are linked together in a most puzzling manner.

Empire State kept me guessing – the overall picture of what is going on remains tantalisingly just out of reach for most of the book. I enjoyed the unusual combination of elements; while noir+superheroes has been done before, as has superheroes+parallel universes, noir+superheroes+parallel universes was just enough different to be fresh. I also enjoyed Christopher's attention to small details and his ability to capture the essence of a character or a scene with them. He is clearly a keen observer of human behaviour. Everything from the way characters walk to how they light their cigarettes or drink their drinks is carefully considered.

I do have a few small complaints about the book. First, it seemed as if there were just a few too many elements incorporated into the concept. If merely a single thing had been trimmed, the book might have been a more settled read. My other complaint is the logic of the timelines and people's ages. The only thing that I think needed to change for it all to make sense would be for the character Nimrod to be 20 years older than he was.

But all in all, I found Empire State a fresh and enjoyable read, and I am looking forward to Christopher's next book, Seven Wonders.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Movie review: The Dark Knight Rises

Last night we finally went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I've been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since I saw The Dark Knight. However, I have to say, The Dark Knight Rises is not as good as The Dark Knight. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did. But it didn't live up to the promise of the previous movie.

  • The musical score was good compared with other movie scores, but not as good at the one for The Dark Knight, which is a particular favourite of mine.
  • Seeing Bruce Wayne as a pale shade of his former self was powerful to watch, but it did not compare to the anguish he went through at the hands of Harvey Dent in the previous movie.
  • The 'surprises' in The Dark Knight Rises were easy to see coming. In fact, one of the surprises I picked long before I saw the movie, purely because of the casting.

But it is a good movie, and worthwhile seeing at the cinema if you enjoyed the first two in the trilogy. The actors all gave excellent performances (even Anne Hathaway – I was worried she wouldn't be right for the role of catwoman, but she convinced me). And there are enough explosions to keep any comic book movie fan happy.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Movie review: The Cabin in the Woods

Last week we went to see The Cabin in the Woods as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. It's not the sort of movie I feel that I should give a full review of, because I don't want to give away too much about it. This is a movie that is best watched without prior knowledge of what to expect.

What can I say about this movie? It is a horror, directed by Joss Whedon. Stuff happens – weird stuff.

What did I think of it? Even though I don't usually watch horror movies, I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods. I appreciated the commentary on the horror format, and on media culture in general. And that's all I'm going to say.

If you like either horror or the works of Joss Whedon, you should see this movie.

Friday, 10 August 2012

New title for my novel?

For the past few months I have been referring to my novel in progress as Symmetry Breaking, which is a term I picked up from a physics book. It seemed appropriate in a way because a large chunk of the worldbuilding for my story is inspired by M-theory (because I am that much of a geek). But I've been thinking of Symmetry Breaking as a tentative title, even though it reflected the theme, because it didn't sound quite right. This is a fantasy novel after all, not hard SF.

Yesterday a different title popped into my head – Dimensions of the Mind. May I ask your opinion on these titles? Do you:

  • Prefer Symmetry Breaking?
  • Prefer Dimensions of the Mind?
  • Think they both suck?

Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Googling at the right time

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly irate that my copy of Womanthology, which I backed on Kickstarter a year ago, still hadn't arrived. I know that the project creator has been very sick, but still, I was sent an email saying the international orders were being shipped months ago. I've trawled all over the Kickstarter listing, sending emails and leaving comments hoping for some response. Sadly, nothing.

Sigh. I should learn that Google knows most things. When I Googled Womanthology the top link was a blog that had a post asking for people who haven't received their copies to add their names to a list. Sigh. It looks like my copy did go missing, after all.

Which I figured. Because Womanthology has been available on Amazon and in stores since March. New Zealand may suffer the tyranny of distance, but it's not on the Moon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Book review: books 1 & 2 of the Shattered Messiah trilogy

The Last GoddessThe Last Goddess by C.E. Stalbaum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book caught my eye in the Amazon Kindle fantasy genre list. I wanted to try a self-published fantasy novel, so I downloaded the sample, and then quickly bought the whole book.

The Last Goddess is about an 'information broker' (read: spy/smuggler) who purchases, amongst some ancient artefacts, the body of a woman held in stasis in a coffin. This woman is apparently the Kirshal (Messiah), hidden for a thousand years, and is prophesied to bring about a new age. Of course, there are many people who would like to get their hands on the Kirshal for various, not always benign, reasons.

I found this book to be a gripping, enjoyable read. I was swept away by the story quite thoroughly. However, there were a few things about it that irritated me:

  1. Some of the characters and dialogue forms (particularly the banter) have obviously been copied from the TV series Firefly. The main character is called Nathan Rook. I kid you not. For the first third of the book, I felt uncomfortable with how the characterisation was depending on Firefly as it is not what I would consider an honest practice; but from then on the characters started to stand on their own two feet and become interesting in their own rights. The author should have gone back to the beginning of the book during revisions and updated the characterisations to match the end of the book.
  2. Many conversations were at least twice as long as they needed to be. Characters argued back and forth for too long and rehashed old ground far too often. While this is normal in real speech, dialogue in fiction is supposed to be a shorthand approximation.
  3. Sans map, I found it difficult at the beginning to keep straight in my head which faction was which. It didn't help that in this book the reader has to keep track of both nations and religious groups which don't overlap neatly. Also, there were some names which were too similar to each other; I kept getting Edehans and Ebarans muddled up, even though they were very different groups of people!

Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the book. It is as good as a lot of traditionally published books I've read, and better than many!

The Last Empress (The Shattered Messiah, #2)The Last Empress by C.E. Stalbaum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought The Last Empress, the second book in the Shattered Messiah trilogy, shortly after reading book one. I have to say, although this book was just as gripping as the first book, I didn't think it was quite as good overall. I have two reasons for this:

  1. There were too many POV characters and plot threads for the size of the book. It jumped around about as much as a Wheel of Time book, even though it was less than half the length. A few of the plot threads could have been trimmed.
  2. The book was a lot darker than the first, which isn't in itself a bad thing. This extra darkness was added in part through the characters making a lot of stupid mistakes. Unfortunately, some of those mistakes were out of character and were unbelievable considering who the characters are. The two main mistakes that bothered me were Rook not being overly concerned about Aston, and Selaste letting the four mages go behind enemy lines. These mistakes lessened the characters, and showed them to be idiots.

Despite these issues, I am looking forward to reading book three when it is published.

View all my reviews

Monday, 23 July 2012

Thank you, Margaret Mahy

I'm deeply saddened to hear that one of New Zealand's greats, Margaret Mahy, passed away today. I'm sure there will be many, many people out in Aotearoa sad to hear this news, for Mahy has been one of our greatest children's writers for more decades than I've been alive. If you will indulge me, I would like to share with you what Margaret Mahy meant to me.

Although I am NZ-born I was not quite NZ-raised. We lived in England for 9 years during my childhood, and when we returned to NZ I found myself a Kiwi with little knowledge of what it was to be a Kiwi. Being a bookish child, naturally my solution to this problem was to read all of the books in the library written by Kiwis. As you do. I scoured the shelves for that little koru sticker on the spines that indicated a New Zealand book. When I found a Kiwi author whose work I enjoyed, I got all her books out of the library and read them one after another. One of those authors was Sheryl Jordan, another was Caroline MacDonald. And one was Margaret Mahy. Of the three authors named, Mahy's works were the ones that taught me most about what it is to be a Kiwi.

Thank you, Margaret, for making my reintroduction to NZ culture easier. I appreciated it then, and I appreciate it now. Rest in peace.

Book review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern WorldGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the version of this book. I purchased the book because I wanted to learn more about non-European history. With the exception of my enthusiastic yet patchy knowledge of Japanese history, so much of what I have learned about the past, whether at school or otherwise, is heavily Euro-centric. I am keenly aware of the gaps in my knowledge, and that my worldview must be biased because of it.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World started by recounting what is known of the early life of Genghis Khan, or Temudjin as he was known then. It moves on to how he gained rule and founded his Empire, and recounts his conquests. The book doesn't stop with the death of Genghis Khan, but rather follows the Empire under the rule of his sons and grandsons, until the breakdown of the Empire several generations later. The book also details some long-standing influences the Mongolian Empire had on global culture. For example, Genghis Khan was the first ruler to try to establish a common writing system that could be used to write any language; and the Mongols established many of the major trade routes throughout Asia.

The research sources used in this book are not always reliable, but the author takes the time to mention when there are doubts about the veracity of a claim. Therefore, the reader or listener has an idea of how likely it is that the events in the book are true as portrayed. I appreciated this honesty.

Overall, I found this book to be a fascinating and informative listen.

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book review: Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher

Introducing The Honorable Phryne Fisher (Phryne Fisher, #1, #2, #3)Introducing The Honourable Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded the sample of this book to my Kindle after reading a review, and quickly ended up buying it.

This book is an omnibus of the first three in Kerry Greenwood's long-running Phryne Fisher books. The series is set in Melbourne in the late 1920s and follows the adventures of a rich (with a poor background) fashionable flapper detective with loose morals and yet a strong sense of justice. It features a wide cast of strong women very different from one another, and an assortment of awesome men from various walks of life. If there's one thing these books do, they demonstrate that strength comes in many forms, and can be found in many places.

In each book Phryne and her associates solve two crimes. If you are looking for intriguing, intricate mysteries, you won't find them here: I don't read a lot of mysteries, and yet even I could call most of the outcomes. But even still, the ways in which Phryne & co. go about their investigations and the shenanigans they get up to are fun and diverting to read about.

This book is highly recommended for a fun weekend read.

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Monday, 16 July 2012

Book review: the Inheritance Trilogy

I've recently read the Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. I'd heard good things about the trilogy, and so my expectations were quite high. The books met those expectations with flying colours.

You know how some books can be put down and returned to later, and some books you just have to read all in one gulp? All three of the Inheritance Trilogy were 'gulp' books for me. I had some late nights while reading these. Not that I am complaining. I love it when a book picks me up and shakes me like that.

The Inheritance Trilogy is set in a world where the three Gods and their numerous children, the Godlings, are not vague distant beings, but rather live in close and frequent contact with humans. The books are set some time after a terrible war was waged among the Gods and Godlings, after which the losing side was bonded to become servants of the ruling human dynasty. The trilogy follows the after-effects of the war, and details how the wounds that the war left begin to heal. Each of the three books follows a different main character, something that I am not usually fond of, but which works very well for this series.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The first book in the trilogy follows Yeine, a young woman from the north who is also related to the royal family, the Arameri, that rules over the empire. Yeine is summoned to court to be a pawn in a dangerous political game that will lead to the throne for one of her cousins, but certain death for herself. Instead of playing the part of the poor pawn, Yeine becomes enmeshed in the affairs of the captive God and Godlings held in the palace, and their bid to finally win their freedom.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a great introduction to the trilogy, and quickly demonstrates Jemisin's writing strength – getting into the minds of her characters and dealing with the psychological implications of the events in the book in a convincing manner. Her weakness is also quickly apparent; Jemisin is not as good at describing the physicality of the world her characters move in as she is at describing the internal landscapes of their minds. This particular combination of strength and weakness leads to a writing style very different from the bulk of epic fantasy fare. I found the change refreshing.

The Broken Kingdoms

Ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a blind painter called Oree Shoth, who can see magic even though she can't see the world around her, finds a God in her rubbish heap. Oree is plagued by Gods, so doesn't think too much of her find. She simply takes him in and feeds him. But this particular God is nothing but trouble for those who know him, and Oree is soon caught up in a plot that she doesn't understand but which only she can stop.

As I mentioned above, Jemisin is better at describing her characters' inner lives than the external world they live in. This writing style is exceptionally well-suited to telling the story of a blind person. For this reason, The Broken Kingdoms was my favorite of the trilogy. All the elements of the story and the overall feel of the trilogy came together most harmoniously in this book.

The Kingdom of Gods

Many years after The Broken Kingdoms, the trickster child Godling Sieh has a bit of a problem: he's growing up. Sieh must learn how to be mature despite his own nature, and how to accept the responsibilities that have been dealt him. In the process, he uncovers truths that will shake the world of the Gods to its very core.

This book ends the trilogy with a bang, one that will linger with you as you ponder over its philosophical implications for days after you finish the book. It draws the plot threads of the series together, and although it does not tie them all neatly, it leaves the story in a place where we can be sure that the resolution we want will happen at some stage in the future. This book also introduces a fascinating internal conflict for the main character, Sieh, one that is beautiful and thought-provoking in its simplicity and poignancy.

Jemisin has an individual writing style. I liken it to a sketch by a master artist; although the scenery is indicated by the barest of lines, the face of the subject is worked in such exquisite and realistic detail that the viewer finds the breath caught in her throat as she looks at it. The characters' motivations and psychology are so well crafted that any writer will want to study these books to try to figure out how she did it.

Because of the lightness of the scenery descriptions (as mentioned above) and the complexity of the character Oree Shoth, The Broken Kingdoms is by far the best book of the series. It does not matter that the world is hazy; Oree is blind and cannot see it anyway. I think this was an elegant matching of character and writer, and it is something that has made me think: what kind of character would suit my writing style? I'm not sure.

Learn more about N.K. Jemisin:
Visit her webpage
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Friday, 6 July 2012

First draft of my novel complete!

Today I finished the first draft of my novel Symmetry Breaking (tentative title).

I started the draft on 6 March, so it took me 4 months and 1 day to write. I had an initial estimated word count of 100,000 words, but in the end it came in at 77,975 words. Whatever. The story knows better than me how long it should be, right? And it may get longer (or shorter) in revisions.

Ugh! Revisions! I am a bit petrified of them. I know that the book is far from finished yet. I didn't revise as I wrote, and so the book is currently filled with plot holes, cardboard characters, and unconvincing motivations. So. Much. Work! I've got a list of changes I've already realised I've got to make, waiting for me to implement. Some of these are going to be huge. For example:

  • Introduce [minor character] and [minor character] earlier. (Um, where?)
  • Chapter 15 is boring. Fix.

Seriously, I copy-pasted that second note exactly.

But at least I have that lump of clay on the wheel now, ready to be shaped.

I will start the revisions on 1 September. Until then, I will be leaving the novel to sit, so that I have some distance from it, and catching up with all the other things I have procrastinated while I have been in Writer Mode. Which is a whole other reason to panic.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

'The Wrong Camera' available on Kindle!

My story in Tales from the Archives, 'The Wrong Camera', is now available in eBook version through the Kindle store. At the moment it doesn't seem to be available for people in the Asia/Pacific region, but even so, I'm really, really excited to see my name on Amazon. I'm searchable, peoples!

And, oops, it seems there is already an author going by my name (I don't have a Dallas perm, BTW). Good thing I am getting married at the end of the year and my name will be changing.

Friday, 29 June 2012

My story 'The Wrong Camera' has gone live!

Awesome news! My short story, 'The Wrong Camera', has gone live on the Tales from the Archives podcast! Listen to the audio on the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences website. The 99c eBook version of the story will be available shortly, but in the mean time, you can listen to the audio for free.

I'm really excited about this publication, not least because it is my first publication ever! Also, I am a big fan of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, and it is a great honour to have the opportunity to contribute to the world, even if in a small way.

Thank you, Pip and Tee, for this opportunity. You guys are amazing!

Friday, 22 June 2012

New poll: What is your favourite book medium?

I've put a poll over in the right-hand column, titled 'What is your favourite book medium?' I'm interested to know how people are sourcing and consuming books at the moment, because I've heard a lot about how many people are putatively turning to eBooks, and I'd like to have a go at confirming or denying that for myself. (I work with scientists, OK?)

I'll be honest here, and give you my answer:
While I'll always love physical books, and always want to collect the books most special to me, I like reading on my Kindle. It is light, portable, and convenient (unlike some books I could name *coughTowersofMidnightcough*); the books are cheaper and so it is less of a risk to try new authors; and I can change the font size at will.

Please vote in the poll to let me know your favourite way (now, in 2012) of acquiring and reading books.

Monday, 18 June 2012

iPad = useful

So, the other week I bought an iPad. I was somewhat afraid that it would be a frivolous purchase, something to gather dust, but I am glad to say that is not the case at all. Some highlights of my time so far with my iPad:

  • Checking Twitter and my RSS feeds before getting out of bed on frosty weekend mornings.
  • 'Quickly looking something up' actually being a quick process (my computer is a few years old and so takes a few minutes to start up).
  • Curling up on the sofa to read the publishing world news.
  • Best of all, writing in Simplenote on the bus to and from work, and then synching my words to my Scrivener project file when I get home. A few times I have met my daily word target before getting home.

So, in summary, tablet computers are great for people like me. In a matter of days, my iPad has made my life more efficient and comfortable, and has unshackled me from my hours of sitting at my computer desk every night. Brilliant.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Obligatory Prometheus post

A lot of people are giving their opinions on the movie Prometheus at the moment, so I don't feel like I need to give a full review. Others have already said it better than I could. But I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the movie. In no particular order:

  • OMG why are the scientists in this movie so stupid? They don't act like real scientists at all. For example: they come across their first alien carcass. Biologist guy: 'It's creepy in here; I'm going back to the ship.' Er, excuse me? A real biologist's reaction would be 'Woohoo!' *Take ALL the samples*
  • Idris Elba? You, sir, are awesome, and I love your work. The captain was the only smart character in the movie, and therefore my favourite.
  • Why is everyone going on about Charlise Theron's arse? Am I the only one who thought Noomi Rappace had a nicer figure? That woman is fit as a fiddle, and yet not a stick insect. I envy her thighs. Also, she wields an axe like a pro.
  • I keep mulling over the character David's obsession with TE Lawrence, and the implications of that and why he did what he did. Also, creepy Michael Fassbender is creepy.
  • Charlise Theron's character was utterly pointless to the movie. Which was a shame, because I think the character could have been interesting in a different story.

Have you seen Prometheus? What did you think of it?

Friday, 8 June 2012

Book review: The Janus Affair

The Janus Affair (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #2)The Janus Affair by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have quickly become a huge fan of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. I first heard about the series through – I followed a link to the first story in the Tales from the Archives podcast series that supplements the books, loved it, and pre-ordered book 1, Phoenix Rising.

Oh, how I enjoyed Phoenix Rising. The LOLing, and the squeeing, and the re-reading of favourite scenes. I’ve spent the last year dying to get my hands on book 2, The Janus Affair. When I finally had a chance to read it the other day, I read it all in one gulp, staying up until 3.30am on a work night to finish it – 3.30!

The Janus Affair is somewhat different in tone from Phoenix Rising – now that we are familiar with the world, the scope opens out and more characters are drawn in. We get a better sense of the day-to-day life at the Ministry, and for agents Books and Braun. Stakes are raised, secrets are revealed faster than I was expecting, and Ballantine and Morris demonstrate that they are brave enough to put their characters through the metaphorical meat grinder.

There are a few little plot niggles that caught my attention – dropped plot threads (the children!), improbable leaps of logic, and mis-matches between spoken words and thoughts (unless certain characters were lying about certain things). But these problems did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. It is so much fun to read, I was able (despite being a pedant) to overlook those problems for the sake of the story.

What I most enjoyed about the book is that the authors have proven that they are not going to make the same mistake that TV police procedural writers often do – you know, that mistake where they seem to think that the “will they, won’t they?” question is the only possible tension that could be added to a budding romance storyline. Instead, Ballantine and Morris have gathered a whole collection of other tensions not directly related to that question and thrown them into the mix. I can see the complexity these myriad tensions create paying off well in the long run, and coming together to form a most satisfying and iconic relationship arc.

If you are a fan of steampunk, historical fiction, X-Files, spy stories, romance, explosions or, most particularly, all of the above, then I’ll wager that you will love this series as much as I do.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Christchurch City Centre

I went in to the Christchurch CBD today to run an errand. I bussed into the temporary bus terminal, and then walked a few blocks.

It was . . . weird.

When I first got there I thought 'Damn! I should have brought my camera!' But as I walked, I realised that I didn't need it after all. There's not much point in taking pictures of empty lots.

The part of town that you can walk through is the part of town that, apart from insurance issues, has been cleared already. On one block along Colombo Street there is nothing at all standing on one side of the road. I couldn't remember what used to be there. On the other side of the road, two buildings of about twelve are left.

To the north of where I was is the extant Red Zone. Partially deconstructed high-rises are draped in shielding cloth, keeping debris from falling too far from the buildings. Cranes rear into the air, like witches fingers or the legs of dead insects. You can hear the deconstruction – booms, and bangs, and things falling. The noises echo through the crumbling canyons of the city.

And then you walk into a shop, and inside everything is as it was, and you forget for a few minutes about the graveyard around you.