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Books Fiction media Thailand

Thailand Trip – Postscript – Entertainment

I have another five hours in this tin can.

I have watched The Mechanic (Jason Statham plays Jason Statham in a Jason Statham movie), the same half an hour of the Green Hornet that I watched on the way out (Because it’s awful) and “I am number 4” a fantasy origin story for an interesting universe that is probably not quite good enough to get beyond the origin story. (I later discover that a) it was a book first, and b) I’m wrong)

Over the holiday, I’ve read:

The first three Felix Castor books by Mike Carey (Still good urban fantasy novels)

I haven’t really reviewed any of these in any opinionated depth. Most of them were chosen on recommendation from friends, and because my friends are all awesome I loved every one of them. So you can take it as read that if you like the sound of the summary, you will probably like the book.

Court of the Air (Stephen Hunt), an original and great fantasy universe hosting a stock chosen-one plot, which is a comment rather than a complaint. Elements of steampunkery and well-realised and *different* factions who all believe they are doing the right thing, rather than an obvious moustashe twirling villian tying the world to the railway tracks.

Naked (Audiobook, David Sedaris) is a series of autobiographical novellas, almost. I first heard of Sedaris on This Amercian Life and The Moth, basically applying weapons grade anecdotery, which is pretty much what you get here. Living as a somewhat obsessive-compulsive child, growing though the death of his mother, and finally how to survive a weekend as a naturist. I liked this a lot.

Singularity Sky & Iron Sunrise, (Charles Stross). I’m not much of a scifi reader, but I am a fan of Stross’s horror/spy/geekset Laundry series, and I enjoyed all of this. A somewhat whimsical universe with a rock solid base, it is Scifi as a platform to tell stories of how a new world works, rather than explaining a new world though stories.

13 Blue Envelopes is something I got free, and wasn’t expecting a lot from it. It’s a story of a shy american being given a box of said envelopes as her aunt dies, and the instructions within that take her out of her element and across europe. It’s well written and fluffy, even thoughout the occasionally dark subject matter.

Cryoburn (Lois M. Bujold). The most recent Miles book is mostly a swansong for the Miles The Imperial Investigator cycle within the grand sweeping arc of the Vorkosigan series. It follows the template – Miles is sent to investigate something. It’s bigger and more complicated than it looks. Hijinks ensue. It’s wrapped up, but not quite neatly enough. It’s still a very good story, and I’m not knocking the formula, but a lot of it appears there – especially a somewhat dechekoved special guest appearence towards the end of the main plot – to drive towards the massive kick in the balls that constitutes the last chapter, which spins the series into a new cycle, for which I can’t wait. Due to Bujold’s tendency towards non-chronological novels, it’s not even the last book with Miles in this position, but it spins up and resolves both itself, a few dangling universe threads, and several huge overhead arcs.

Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovich). Urban fantasy set in London. Absolutely wonderful from beginning to end. Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookshop or virtual equivelant.

Side Jobs – Stories from the Dresden Files. (Jim Butcher) A series of short stories set in the Dresdenverse, ranging from the standard formula condensed into fewer words to explorations of bits of the universe Dresden can never see. Plus, it has a never-published-before short story which is What Happens After The End of Changes, which is worth the price of admission on its own, although doesn’t resolve the important question. Though the title of the new book – Ghost Story, coming in July – might.

Four and a half hours left in the tin can. I think I need to go for a short walk.

Categories
Fiction stories

Fiction – Beeps

(This would be the opening of chapter two, had the main character not had second thoughts about who he was and become the protagonist of a completely different book instead. Since I have nothing better to post today, you get this. Sorry about that. I like it mostly because it contains the phrase “Some bastard had installed the sun in my living room” (Note: This text contains an amount of commas that would cause grown editors to wince. I know. Sorry.))

2 – Beep.

Fast forward a couple of hours.

This room is a more expensive version of the previous one. That is, the ceilings are lower, but the flats are purpose built and people have their own mailboxes. It is furnished stylishly, yet effectively. A bookshelf dominates one wall, a bed another, and there’s a desk and doors to the kitchen and other handy places. Every single surface is stacked with clothes, books, DVDs and/or tea cups. You may call it chaos, or entropy, or just a mess. I call it Home, because I sleep here. Temporarily.

I have, in fact, quit my job. Exceptionally so, in fact. I am more quitted from that job than any man has a right to be.

You may consider that printing my resignation letter on enough A3 sheets to wallpaper my bosses office is overkill, but I would counter with the fact that it leaves nothing left to describe the action of neatly papering not only his desk, but also all its contents individually in further copies of my notice.

I gave him a full twenty seconds to appreciate this yesterday morning before a postman – my brother, as a matter of fact – asked him to sign for a special delivery version of the self same letter. This didn’t go down well, as you may imagine, and I spent the rest of the day wavering between drunk and sober as different people came to congratulate me. And now, terribly hungover, I was being woken up at some gods unfair time of the morning by beeping.

In this digital world, it is occasionally difficult to identify precise sources of beepery. It could be a lorry reversing somewhere outside, or a bread machine, possibly an expiring smoke alarm battery. My computer, for example, beeps when it gets mail about other computers being unhappy, this being a major part of my job. It is difficult to precisely determine the differing frequencies of these with your head under a duvet, so I carefully let down this barrier between myself and the outside world.

Some bastard had installed the sun in my living room.

Careful reconsideration a little while later brought me to the realisation that it was not, in fact, the sun. Or rather, it was merely the rays of the sun coming from its usual position somewhere a way away. Adjusting my eyes to daylight took a little while, as did finding my glasses, but I eventually got up and into the process of making tea in preparation for my first day of jobhunting. Kettle, Tap, Beeps, Water, Boil, Beeps, Mug, Teabag, Water, Wait, Beeps. Hmm. Beeps.

It wasn’t the bread maker, or lorries reversing. The smoke alarm was silent, and the computer didn’t need to tell me about things I was no longer being paid for. What the hell was that beeping noise?

In the corner, plugged into the wall as it had been for almost two years now, was the mobile phone I’d bought a week before starting the job I’d just left, who had given me a work issued phone which I had been using pretty exclusively ever since. I recognised the phones insistent “You have missed calls” beep at almost exactly the same time I remembered the one person who had its number. My dive for the phone would have been more impressive had I not tripped on a box and stabbed myself with a coffee table on the way.

Categories
Fiction Imported From Epistula

Stephen Benatar – Recovery

Gosh, Five days in and I’m already a day behind. I suck.

A book review, today. Or, rather, the circumstances behind the book review.

Every so often, I do something that I can foresee is going to be a bad idea, and yet do it anyway for some things just must be done. Kiss the girl, quit the job, drink the shot, fail the exam. All these things are important.

So, on the 5th of October I walked into a bookshop in Islington. I’m really bad at timely reviews.

I’m really bad at bookshops, too. I’m equally bad at art shops, which is the shop I’d just walked out of before I walked into Waterstones, but mostly I don’t have a reason to go into art shops. However, in this case Neal Stephenson had a book out, and so did Terry Pratchett, so I had to buy them. And I was pretty good, in that I only came out with twice as many books as I went in for. It would have been just one over, but I ran into an author.

If you do a web search for Stephen Benatar you will find this is something he does quite often, taking a stock of books into a local Waterstones and approaching random shoppers with his very polite, very English “I’m signing copies of my book here today, and wondered if you might take a look”, at which point I was pretty much doomed to buy it. Putting a book down requires finding out where it came from (librarian training in action), and besides, it’s a book. You don’t put down books you haven’t read. It would be wrong. The book in question is Recovery, and it’s a collection of two novellas about memory, complete with unreliable narrators and other such things. I found the book to be tremendously readable – of the two stories, I prefer the first, where a recent amnesiac attempts to track down his identity with the help of a local private detective, increasingly finding it linked back to the period in 1948 that the narrative keeps flipping back to. A well crafted plot with a finale that teeters on the edge of explanation – this is not a story for people who like their narrative to end complete and with a pretty pink bow – wonderfully smooth flowing. I’d recommend that if you like this kind of thing, you should buy this kind of thing. I’ll be tracking down more of the author’s works.

I still haven’t started the mammoth task of the new Stephenson book, though.

Categories
comics Fiction Imported From Epistula media

A useless post

This post is entirely useless.

I mean, you already know that Warren Ellis is writing a free webcomic, issues released every friday, called FreakAngels, don’t you?

And you already know he wrote Transmet, and various other important things like the novel Crooked Little Vein which you should also read if you haven’t.

You know all this, so there is no point in mentioning it.

Is there?

Categories
Fiction Imported From Epistula

Potting read

It is half past three in the morning. Insomnia sucks.

(This week’s AqCom banner brought to you by raindrops and blurred photos)

This post does not contain any major spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, though comments might.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Harry Potter books. I read the first one 7 years ago (OW OW OW SEVEN YEARS OF ARCHIVES OW OW OW) and was impressed. Slightly, reading back now, overly so. The books are very, very easy to read, a testament to both Rowling’s writing and the fact they are kids books are are meant to be, although successively less “kids books” as they go on. Each time one is released I end up finishing it within 24 hours of starting it (This time being no exception, mostly because I had plenty of reading time today.

Like the last few, it’s a bit bulky. I do like the year per book format, but it doesn’t lend itself to snappy books, really. I’m not entirely convinced it’s in as desperate need of editing as Prince was, but it’s still a bit long. She did do the thing I didn’t think she could, which was fit the tying up of all the loose ends into one book, even if some of it was a bit stretched. She also didn’t back out of the thing I thought she’d back out of, and redemption is always nice.

The big problem I have right now is that I now own one Harry Potter book.

See, up until now I’d borrowed my parents (First few), or waited for House mate/Girlfriend to buy it (Next few), but this time neither worked out, so I have a copy of the last HP book, and No Others. Either I keep it, and my nagging obsessive-compulsive whines at the back of my head. Or I buy the rest and never read them. Or I break with the habit of a lifetime and Give Away a book, which is so far against the natural order of things that bubble-sorts across the country would break in sympathy.

Categories
Current Affairs Fiction Imported From Epistula weblog

Words and Pictures and Freedom

Creative Commons.

So, in summery, then. The SFWA, who are a guild of writers, saw that the annoying-yet-apparently-popular site Scribd was hosting a large number of eBooks of works by its members which are still under copyright.

They compiled a list of offending articles, constructed – by looking at the list – by searching for famous authors – Asimov, as an example – and listing all of those.

Unsurprisingly, this took out some innocent texts, like various lists such as “These authors write good scifi, read them”.one of which was Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, which he released under a Creative Commons Licence and is therefore miffed it’s been shot down, and is kicking up a major fuss about the entire thing.

The problem is that there are two worlds.

In Doctorow’s world, which I share to a large extent, you give away your wares for free, and if people like it they will give you money. Also, they will give you money for better quality versions, like a real book. You make money over the long term because the people who can’t afford to pay lots are balanced out by the people who can, and therefore do.

In the SFWA world, if you give something away for free, you don’t get any money for it. Also, that person won’t need to buy the physical copy, and so you actually lose a sale. This position assumes that any “honour” style payment system is flawed, because most people don’t demonstrate any.

The BoingBoing article is entirely factually correct. It misses out the bit that the takedown list is of thousands, but only three innocent books have been positively identified so far. The major problem is that the DMCA is a blunt instrument, designed so that corporations can get actual pirate material off the net ASAP without faffing around with lawyers. The major downside of this is that it means there isn’t any incentive to be very careful any blanket notices, as there isn’t any legal penalty for doing so. The only way to convince the corporations – which the SFWA count as in this instance – is by making sure that mistakes on the lists result in a PR disaster.

Addendum: As Cory points out in the comments, and as is further explained in something I linked to in the next article, the number of ‘Overenthusiastic’ items on the list is far greater than 3. As Ben points out, lying in the DMCA takedown notice is perjury, although there hasn’t been a complete legal stand for that quite yet.

But the writers – some of whom authorised the SFWA to do this – deserve to make their own decision on the whole “Giving my stuff away for free” issue, and for those who want people to have to buy the books to read the stories – which is 99.9% of them – it is entirely justified for them to want places like Scribd to come down like a ton of bricks on people who blatantly abuse the copyright.

We’ve just got to make sure innocent people don’t get caught in the crossfire.

Categories
Fiction Imported From Epistula

Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks by Christopher Brookmyre

I like this book.

This book is a book where one of the main characters is a geeky Browncoat – tautology, yes – it has a Duke Nukem Forever reference (A game now in production for ten years). And it’s about unsinkable rubber ducks. Well, kind of. It’s about mysticism and science and geekery and provability and people and research and jam and history and woo. Also, it’s funny in traditional Brookmyre style, it’s scottish in tone and language, and it will make you want to kill the author – but in a good way – on no less than three occasions, possibly more.

I like Brookmyre’s books, you should try one to see if you like them too. This is a good one for that purpose. All the characters save one are new – the narrator is a reoccurring from previous books – but you don’t need to know his history, so that’s fine.

Categories
Fiction Imported From Epistula Larp

Hallo Death

The next Maelstrom event happens at the same time as the next Harry Potter book.

From the head ref, Matt Pennington:

(GOD is the Games Operations Desk)

Just as a teensy-weensy small point to bear in mind. If anyone so much as mentions this book or one word of the contents in my earshot in GOD I will throw you off site and ban you for life. But on the plus side I will only attempt violence against you if you are smaller than me or a girl. Try not to see this as a threat, I like to think of it more as a sort of public-service broadcast….

I’m not allowed to read the book until after the event on the incredibly flimsy basis that I will simply stay up all night until I have read it. Therefore I have to wait until later. The last time I had to “wait until later” the most moronic girl in the universe just happened to mention that Qui Gon Jin gets a bit unwell before the end of the film. I have one regret to this day. I regret that that woman is still alive somewhere….

Obviously you’re fine discussing any part of the book in GOD unless you happen to be overheard by my other half. She is much more sensible and mature about this than me. She will use the database to find out where you live, drive round your house that night and burn it to the ground. I am told this leaves less witnesses. She has checked with the DPA and apparently this does not constitute an infringement of the act as she is not passing your data to a third party. However I think these things are best handled by face-to-face interaction with the criminal and that it is why I will be bringing a real machete to the event.

Categories
Fiction Imported From Epistula

Ouija Typewriters

J.R.R Tolkien has a new book out

(Yes, it’s a new novel based on the same unfinished notes that were used to create The Simarillion. Still)

Categories
comics Fiction Imported From Epistula Movies

Resolution

This Wednesday I’m having the windows in my flat replaced with unixes. Er, double glazing. Since my flat customarily looks like some kind of laundry-bomb-wielding country has decided my carpet is harbouring terrorism, and has started a campaign of rescue having first sent in inspectors looking for teaspoons of mass destruction; this weekend was going to be dedicated to tidying it up.

So, on Saturday I went to London to an AFP meet that spanned three pubs, a curry house and a large stretch of London before almost missing my last train home (Which leaves from – of all places – West Hampstead at twenty to midnight. Futureme take note). Then on Sunday watched ?Pirates of the Caribbean 2?:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0383574/, ?Superman Returns?:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0348150/ and then retired to an evening of playing City of Heroes.

Because of this, I’m going to talk about Resolution.

Quick capsule review of the films, btw: Pirates 2 is a series of interesting set pieces randomly scattered around a vast and intertwining plot where each of the strands occasionally swaps characters. It’s worth seeing but doesn’t end properly. Superman Returns is an interesting series of set pieces linearly scattered along a short plot where the Goodies and Baddies go for two hours without paying any attention to each other. Conflict happens when one character gets stuck in the wrong plot line. Kevin Spacey is good but not really there, Superman good, Lois good, Jimmy less good, Perry not good, Small precocious child bad. It finishes the story. City of Heroes is a series of occasionally interesting missions randomly intertwined along a series of linear plot lines which you can ignore and just hit things if you like. Because other people have to do the plot lines after you do (It’s a massively multiplayer game) nothing ever really ends properly.

The remainder of this article contains mild – but not plot detail – spoilers for Pirates 2, Superman Returns, Batman movies and X-Men III. Caveat Lecter: Reader beware of being served with fava beans and a nice chianti.

So, I’m frustrated and unresolved, because having a franchise and story that theoretically doesn’t have to end until people get bored of watching it is not compatible with actually finishing things off.

This is, incidentally, bullshit. Novels though the ages have proven you can end a story properly without closing off the world. Buffy – on occasion – managed to finish a plot arc without killing off its main characters or sending them off to (un)live (un)happily ever after. Comics have been doing this stuff for decades, finish the story but let the heroes come back next week for another adventure and, every so often, shake up their worlds when maybe they won’t.

Pirates 2 just doesn’t end, the final scene is no more conclusive than any one of twelve things in the story that are just scene changes, and it falls into the LOTR trap of “And then it ended. But wait! This is what happened to these people: And then it ended. But wait! These people ended their story like this. But wait! These people are unhappy. 🙁 But then they realised they could be happy 🙂 and then it ended! But wait! we have a final ending for this person!” with the exception that none of them actually ended anything and they all started a new plot thread.

The opposite, though, has its own problems. Batman did the resolution thing. He killed the Joker, then the Penguin, Two-Face, The Riddler. By the fourth movie he was running out of Batman villains people had actually heard of. The latest Batman movie has him fighting the Scarecrow (one of my favourite Batman villains, as it happens, but I am not a typical movie goer) though I can’t actually remember if he kills him or just turns the tables and puts him in Arkham in the movie, I suspect the latter.

So there is an advantage to merely defeating your enemies (Quite apart from their ability to come back with a more interesting plan, it sidesteps the whole “So, if you kill people to stop them killing people, is that Right” moral angle.) in continuing the franchise, at the expense of a more satisfying ending.

Upon this scale you have X-Men III, a film which revelled in killing off – or destroying – large parts of the cast of the first two movies, but then spoilt it all with the single scene of hope that negated all the emotional feedback of the initial killing (Add up the final body count, counting the pre- and post-credits sequences).

The film that did it best, I think, was Spiderman and its sequel. (And, comic fans, have you noticed the similarities between bits of the X-Men movie overplot, the Spiderman movies and the new Civil War series?). Stuff happens, the bad guy is defeated (but not gone) and we return to a non-resolved but more advanced form of life for the main characters, set up for the next adventure to push it along a bit. What I would like to see – although I doubt this will ever happen and has been specifically denied from some sides – is continuity between the movies in the same universe. I want Christian Bale’s Batman to provide technical support for Brandon Routh’s Superman, for there to be a Green Lantern film, or the JLA (A movie of JLA:Classified, for example, would be fun) and for some acknowledgement that these people work in the same worlds. Whilst they don’t fight the same people (Superman would just melt Doc Ock’s extra arms, for example) it would be nice for the world to be a bit better defined.

The big hole for this is money, really. Getting a large star from another movie to cameo in your film is probably one of those things that is really complicated in practice, but it would be nice if the movies took on some of the better traits of their less respected originals, and wove a better world around their stories.