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Wool – Hugh Howey – [Book Review]

If Plato was still around today, it’s likely he would have been a big fan of science fiction. After all, he used fantastical constructs to explore the human condition, pioneering a unique exploration of individuals’ perception. That’s pretty sci-fi.

Plato Cave
Plato’s Cave

We can assume, too, his favourite sub-genre would have been dystopian sci-fi, if his Allegory of the Cave is anything to go by. In it, he imagines the plight of chained captives, held in position underground, their reality controlled by restricting their vision to view nothing but shadow puppets cast upon a wall by the light of an unseen fire behind them.

With no frame of reference or experience of the outside world, the shadows on the wall would constitute reality for those hapless captives. The sounds of the captors’ footsteps and voices would reverberate in the cave, Plato thought, and thus the illusion would be formed that the sounds were made by those very shadows. This was Plato’s dystopian vision – a populace imprisoned and manipulated by their overlords to such a degree that they knew nothing of it.

It is perception and the revelation of truth that drives dystopian fiction. At its best, it represents a functional, albeit oppressed, society, unaware of the shackles that bind its citizens: take for instance the controlled happiness of Brave New World; the Papa John’s clones in Cloud Atlas; the history-incinerating regime of Fahrenheit 451. Drama is drawn from characters finally noticing their prison, and rebelling against it.

Continue reading Wool – Hugh Howey – [Book Review]

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – [Book Review]

Authors! Remember all those writing tips you trawled through, hoping to find some secret formula to producing winning fiction? Remember all those RULES?

Rules like:

A killer first page – punch your reader square in the chops with an attention-grabbing, scene-setting, character-revealing, action masterpiece that straps their eyes open like a Clockwork Orange civilising machine.

The hero’s journey – have your protagonist endure a change, struggle against adversity, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and at the last, prevail!

Deep POV – write from inside the character’s head, so the reader feels what the character feels; but don’t jump around from mind to mind or you’ll confuse your audience – whose thoughts are these?!

Dialogue tags?! Kindly remove all your naïve instances of “bemoaned” or “murmured” or “whispered” or “specified” or “enquired” or whatever other word you found in the Thesaurus under “said”. Dear oh dear…

AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT

Drag your adverbs from your writing and burn them in the street, thank you very much; and apologise to the Gods for your sacrilegious blasphemy. You may find it polite to flog your back with barb wire in penance, you fucking heathen.

Apologies. You read a lot of writing tips when you can’t bring yourself to actually write anything, because it makes you feel better. It almost feels like working – like you’re building up your power bar before re-entering the fray.

Continue reading Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – [Book Review]

Why your manuscript sucks – (and how to fix it)

A reader reclines, opens your book:

Harry kissed his kids goodbye at the breakfast table and rushed out the door, still pulling his jacket on as he stepped into the brisk morning air of leafy, peaceful Highgate. “See you later darling,” he called to his wife.

Another day to survive this lie.

His guilt tinted the world, made his shame sharper. The cigarette butt he’d discarded – smoking to obfuscate Patricia’s perfume – shone like a beacon in the grass. His car tyres twinkled with the white gravel of her Surrey driveway. Must get it cleaned.

As he unlocked the vehicle, his greatest fear rounded the street and confidently strode towards him: Patricia, out walking her Irish terrier, was in his fucking neighbourhood.

“Harry? But, what are you doing here? I thought you lived in Shoreditch?”

“I do, I was just, I left my car here, my friend, we had a poker game last night, here, I’m just picking up the car… what are you doing here?”

Sally came out of the house with the boys. His throat constricted. He couldn’t breathe. He desperately tugged the knot of his tie and…

Wait wait WAIT WAIT STOP

Continue reading Why your manuscript sucks – (and how to fix it)