Tag Archives: Sci-fi

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]

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Third Life – Flash Fiction

Outside, thumping relentlessly on my windowpane, the ruptured Chiba sky pours its thick, sticky summer rain. I take a long drag on a knock-off Marlboro, synth-tobacco clinging to my throat with a taste like ozone.

The sky is a cold slab of television-grey, lit by the humming neon of the Shinjuku district as it slices through the smog from over a mile away. Sixty-five stories up and I can feel it – the Biz – far below on the streets, in the alleyways. The eternal hustle; a grey lawless economy, both sustained and frowned upon by the Zaibatsus who feed off its live-or-die vitality. In the bustle, amongst these thousands of hustlers, pimps, dealers, fixers, runners and marks, a hired door punk like me can feel God-damn alone. I need to get out, just for a few hours.

Continue reading Third Life – Flash Fiction

My book craving has been Kindled

It was my birthday on Monday and, aside from the delicious ninja omelettes my wonderful fiancée made me for breakfast (did I mention I’m THIRTY-FOUR YEARS OF AGE?), she also bought me a Kindle Paperwight.

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That’s right, I have finally joined the ranks of the e-reading cyberpunk revolution, jacking in to my favourite synth-novels with all the other sub-commuting fiction-hackers.

And what a joy it is! A brief gander reveals quirks like the ingeniously simple integrated dictionary, enabling instant vocab expansion as you read; a handy quote-saving mechanic that will prove useful for reviews; and a backlit display that will last for months without recharging.

That’s pretty special – not to mention its lightweight and slender build, particularly in relation to the hulking Medieval tree-mulch we know of as “books”.

Continue reading My book craving has been Kindled

Cliffhangers: are they for your characters, or your readers?

I’m currently reading dystopian sci-fi page-turner Wool by Hugh Howey. I’ll post the review once I’m through, but one aspect of its narrative structure struck me and I wanted to discuss it; namely, its cliffhangers.

My own work, Citadel, is written in third-person deep point-of-view, which means I refer to the character I’m following in the third person, but the narration stays in her head, describes the events she sees and notices the things only she would notice.

But like many writers, I move the perspective around between my characters, staying with one for a full chapter, then moving to another for the next, just as Howey does in Wool.

The problem is, sometimes there can be AN EVENT that affects everyone, or A TRUTH that people discover separately, at different times. This creates a dilemma: by the time your second character becomes aware of something, the reader already knows it. You cannot elicit the same reader response (surprise) more than once.

Continue reading Cliffhangers: are they for your characters, or your readers?

Within written erotica, I remain a veritable virgin

I’m currently writing a short story unlike anything I’ve tackled before. It’s called The Narcissists (a working title) and, whittled down, it’s essentially a body-swap story, à la Big or Vice Versa, but concerning a married couple – and minus Tom Hanks dancing on a giant keyboard.

The husband is shallow, the wife pretentious, each with their own unique brand of vanity, and their marriage is in tatters. But, one morning, they wake to find themselves in each other’s body.

Initially, there’s plenty of room for hilarity, with anatomical exploration and bewilderment, and gender-based high jinx. But the point of the story was to show how these two people separately find themselves intensely attractive – indeed, as soon as they see themselves as a separate person, they want to screw that person. So they do – they have this bizarre, twisted sex from inside the body of their erstwhile partner, but with themselves.

It’s weird and freaky and as likely to spark arousal as it is a spine-tingling cringe. It’s also a bit odd to write on the tube on my commute – I’ve bought a case for my phone to limit the potential viewing angles of my little, filth-filled screen (you dirty old man).

Continue reading Within written erotica, I remain a veritable virgin

The Martian – Andy Weir – [Book Review]

So I finished reading The Martian – yay!

But now I have to write a review – bummer.

Why am I bummed out? Well, I could focus on the childish prose inherent in the protagonist’s epistolary narration, but detractors would argue his persistent wise-cracking is a character-building defence mechanism.

Instead, I could laud the compelling science behind stranded Mark Watney’s struggle to survive on Mars – and be shouted down by the literary brigade for valuing detail over drama; equations over emotion.

If I talk about the adolescent dialogue among Nasa’s supposed brightest, I’ll be derided…

If I admit the science got dull, I’ll be scorned…

And, if I try to parody the writing style in my review, I’ll just kind of explode…

So, yeah… I’m pretty fucked.

 

Continue reading The Martian – Andy Weir – [Book Review]

Rewriting Return of the Jedi

[UPDATE – I have tried my hand at rewriting Rogue One‘s most irksome scene]

I recently read this post by Albert Burneko about how Return of the Jedi spoiled the original Star Wars trilogy by seeking to legitimise Vader’s actions and make him out to be a redeemable, conflicted and ultimately loving estranged father figure.

The article is in equal measure funny and analytically astute, and well worth a read.

Indeed, hidden amongst the comments, Burneko argues that Vader’s transition from heel to hero should never have been the climax of Return of the Jedi at all. And when someone asks him “How do you wrap up the saga? What’s your rewrite?” he responds with an elegant and rather more satisfying ending to the original trilogy.

I include that comment here, because I wanted to share it, and it was too long to tweet an image of it, and too obscured below the line to simply leave a reply commending it.

And so, imagine Jedi if it ended thusly:

Continue reading Rewriting Return of the Jedi

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton – [Book Review]

Science!

We’ve all dabbled in it, haven’t we? Whether we’re burning magnesium in the chemistry lab because ooh shiny, or enjoying metabolic energy conversion while eating a Mars bar; science is great.

But science gets a bad rap in fiction, variously denounced for being arduously exhaustive or irresponsibly lazy. Rarely does “the science” catch a break.

Exciting premise, boring book
The AndromeDULL Stain

Nor will I throw it one here, in this review of The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton’s breakthrough novel back in 1969.

Continue reading The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton – [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]

The Songs My Destination – how music can supercharge our stories

If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to start playing this tune as you read this post (headphones recommended):

Has it started? – Then I’ll begin…

The music

The pace of this song is slow. It’s a sombre track, concealing a brooding baseline that thumps quietly in the background, like the rhythmic beating heart of a gigantic whale.

Do you hear that? 

Echoes and reverberation give a glimpse of vast spaces, through which you begin to drift, floating on its waves, as high-pitched piano keys tease a simple melody from the spaces in between.

Continue reading The Songs My Destination – how music can supercharge our stories