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Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Gender bias in fantasy characters

A couple of months ago, I highlighted a list of “the best fantasy series”. As always, such lists are personal opinions. However, a writer friend from the SFF Online Writers Workshop, Kathryn Jankowski, wrote a comment on how ” very male-protagonist oriented” the list was and offered another list to balance this.

I have to be honest here that I had not noticed how skewed the original list was when I wrote the post (but then I am an elderly while male which does not excuse me but perhaps explains the omission!). However, it set me thinking and I have kept my eye open for more on this topic.

I have just come across a blog post that explores this bias by Freda Warrington, an excellent British fantasy writer I have admired since I read her first novel, “A Blackbird in Silver” in the mid-’80s.

If you are interested in this topic, check out the rest of Sarah Ash’s blog on Women Who Write Excellent SFF under the heading of Nobody Knew She Was There.

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Refuting Lee Child’s take on Amazon’s book-selling

My thanks to Kathryn Jankowski for pointing out Joe Konrath’s refutation of Lee Child’s opinion piece on Amazon that I posted about recently.

Rather than leave the link in a comment, I am posting it separately as Konrath’s article, titled Fisking Lee Child, makes some excellent points. I particularly liked how he highlights the differences between the few bestseller category authors like Child and the thousands of other writers.

Well worth reading for a balance to Child’s arguments.

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An author’s perspective on Amazon’s book stores

Since my previous post on the implications of Amazon opening physical book shops, the Guardian has published an opinion piece by thriller writer Lee Child on why he thinks this is a bad idea: Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried.

Apart from the implications for publishers and print books, he also weighs in on the terms and conditions Amazon imposes (and subsequently adversely changes) for writers following the indie publishing route.

Some good and interesting arguments against an Amazon monopoly.

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Susan Sontag on Storytelling

Another article on writing and reading. This time Susan Sontag on Storytelling which has some very useful insights from one of her last public appearances — a lecture on South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer delivered shortly before Sontag’s death in 2004.

As well as looking at the difference between telling a story and imparting information or the writer’s role in deciding whhich of many stories to tell, the part of the article that really spoke to me was a quote of Sontag’s definition of what a writer does and is:

Every writer of fiction wants to tell many stories, but we know that we can’t tell all the stories — certainly not simultaneously. We know we must pick one story, well, one central story; we have to be selective. The art of the writer is to find as much as one can in that story, in that sequence … in that time (the timeline of the story), in that space (the concrete geography of the story).
[…]
A novelist, then, is someone who takes you on a journey. Through space. Through time. A novelist leads the reader over a gap, makes something go where it was not.
[…]
Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once … and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.
[…]
The work of the novelist is to enliven time, as it is to animate space.

Thought-provoking and well worth taking the time to read and absorb.

Hat-tip to Jan Whitaker on OWW SFF Writing Forum for drawing my attention to it.

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So now we have ‘book trailers’

I never thought I would see a book trailer but this one – brought to my attention courtesy of the OWW Forum – is a hoot. It publicises a collection of short stories by B J Novak, the American actor and comedian who co-produced and acted in the US version of “The Office”.

I love the way this short video pokes fun at the French literary scene. Living in France a lot of the time I have felt embarrassed by the looks I have have received when I have been asked what I do and have responded “I write science fiction”. (Imagine a somewhat similar stare to the look one might receive in the UK to saying “I write hardcore pornography”.)



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Review: “Snuff Tag 9” by Jude Hardin

This crime / thriller is the third in a series about an ex-musician turned private eye / security consultant called Nicholas Colt. I picked it up through a Kindle offer as I thought the idea intriguing: someone turns a computer survival game called “Snuff Tag 9” into a real-life challenge to survive. However, I was sadly disappointed by the end result. I am reviewing more as an analysis of why it did not work.

The story set-up is straight-forward. Nicholas Colt, the protagonist, dismisses the threat in a letter brought to him by a new client but, for the money, checks out the invitation to participate in the game (with dire threats if not accepted). He finds his client killed and himself substituted to participate. The main problem with this is that the story is told in first person from his point of view so the reader knows he will survive, dampening a lot of the effect, and being about how, not if, he will survive.

The antagonist is a bored billionaire who refers to himself as Freeze, the ultimate control character in the game. However, rather than interesting he is just a two-dimensional selfish psychopath with too much money and who never comes alive as a character, instead wavering between stereotype and caricature.

The late-entering ninth character in the game, we are told, is someone significant to at least one of the players. Given Colt is a late substitute and the weakest player in the line-up, not expected by Freeze to survive the first day, why are both candidates for the role people close to him? Because the plot needs it, I guess and strikes as lazy writing.

While Colt’s back story is well brought in for readers like me entering part-way through the series, the same points about his past are brought up several times in the story. This is another irritant with the story: the repetition is not just back story either. As one reads this novel whole paragraphs are rephrased and re-used sometimes back-to-back. To repeat the point as laboriously as the author, he says the same thing a different way without adding new information. Why? It is more lazy writing, as if Hardin is padding the story to reach a word count. Given this is professionally published novel, what happened to the editor? Given the repetition is worse and more noticeable the further one gets through the story, it is as if the editor was under time pressure and skipped or got fed up at eliminating it.

All in all, a disappointing read but it must give hope to new writers that if this can get published professionally the barriers to entry are not as high as one expected!



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October the First is Too Late

Today I find myself recalling that I enjoyed Sir Fred Hoyle’s novel, “October the First Is Too Late” – a classic, if flawed, story about time and the nature of reality. I had the hardback SF Book Club edition, obtained after I had read and enjoyed his novels “The Black Cloud”, “A for Andromeda” and “Andromeda Breakthrough”.

Nowhere near his best novel, the story is more a vehicle for some of his more controversial scientific views. In the preface, Hoyle says,

To the Reader:
The ‘science’ in this book is mostly scaffolding for the story, story-telling in the traditional sense. However, the discussions of the significance of time and of the meaning of consciousness are intended to be quite serious…
Fred Hoyle, 14 July 1965

Seems like an appropriate day to acknowledge a scientist and SF writer who had a significant influence on me as a teenager.

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David Langford’s “Ansible” – an essential SF news resource

I have always had a soft spot for David Langford’s “Ansible”, which I receive by email and read avidly at the start of each month. It combines SF news, some market information and convention details with a bundle of useful links and plenty of good humour.

While produced in and focused on the UK SF scene, it also holds its own internationally. If you have not checked it out, look at the Ansible web site or take a look at the latest issue (February 2013) number 307

It was through reading the awards section of an Ansible in 2006, I found out the Britsh Fantasy Society had given a “founders award” to the the four of us who set up the BFS back in 1971. A very pleasant surprise for me, sitting as I was in rural France. It led also to my reestablishing contact with the BFS.

That reminds me, I still owe Dave a beer for that!

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eReader snoopers: Is Big Brother on your Kindle or iPad?

Every now and again, I come across a website I just keep wanting to revisit. Dennis Baron’s The Web of Language is one, full of fascinating information on the use of language and technology.

One particular article has caught my eye: the e-reader over your shoulder.

I dislike the idea that my reading habits are monitored, assessed and sold. Yet that is the trade-off I entered into when I started using a Kindle (and the same goes for Apple products too). As Baron comments:

Kindles and iPads track what we read and when, record our bookmarks and annotations, remind us what we searched for last, and suggest other titles we may like. They collect our personal reading data in the name of improving… our digital reading experience, and along the way they may sell the metric of how and what and when we read and use it to improve the company’s bottom line as well. … CCTV may monitor our comings and goings from the outside, but e-readers have spyware that actually looks inside our heads. And e-books provide the ultimate interactive experience: they read us while we are reading them.

The whole article is well worth a read, running from teachers being able to monitor student study patterns, through Amazon and Apple selling your reading habits through to the implications of DRM and the fact that one never “buys” but “rents” through their stores.

It makes uncomfortable reading.

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SF review: “To Die A Stranger” by Jilly Paddock

Jilly Paddock’s novel-length story has been on my “to read” list ever since I read her excellent “The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone”. The “spook” of that off-world crime thriller is a creepy “agent-pair”, an intriguing concept of a Terran spy with super-human psi powers. I wanted to know exactly what is an “agent-pair”?

“To Die A Stranger” provides the answer by taking us to near the start of the development on Earth of “agent-pairs” – the linking of humans with strong psi capabilities with AI units – at the Delany Computer Corporation, a manufacturer of advanced computers which is working on a secret programme for the Terran government.

All this is not really a spoiler, since this information comes out relatively early in following the life of Anna-Marie Delany, daughter of the owner of the Delany corporation, and who also lives a pretend life as Amaranth, a holo-drama actress. There is a nice teaser in the intro to Part 1: “…and this is the story of her death.” We then go into Anna-Marie’s first person narrative.

Based on “The Spook” and the intro I had been expecting another crime thriller but, while the story has some of these elements, this story is more an entertaining “space opera”. Following a horrific air-car crash, Anna-Marie, disfigured and with her acting alter-ego killed off, becomes linked to a recalcitrant AI manufactured by her father’s firm and the story becomes a chase thriller, with our protagonists hassled by a shadowy Earth Intelligence unit, full of dirty tricks. The pursuit then takes up most of the rest of the story, moving swiftly from Earth to planets in other parts of the galaxy.

The way the psi powers work and the easy interstellar travel combined with the whole traditional SF tone of the story reminds me of some of the SF romps from the 1950s and 1960s. Its style feels to me not as if written by Isaac Asimov but rather as in the tradition of stories by Eric Frank Russell, who had a light touch and more humour in his tales. This is not a criticism, I thoroughly enjoyed Russell’s work, which I consider to have been under-rated.

In conclusion, recommended as a light but good traditional escapist SF story. It is available for download through Amazon UK:
Jilly Paddock – To Die A Stranger
Or, in Amazon USA:
Jilly Paddock – To Die A Stranger

So now, having found out about Agent-Pairs, I’m waiting for the next Afton and Jerome story!

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