30 May 2010

Doctor Who: "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood"

Moral of the story - joining the military equates to having a lobotomy. But idiocy is not limited to the armed forces. Interesting (and probably deliberate) that all the aggressors/transgressors in this story were female.

There were some strong Rory-related moments in this double episode, and we finally had an explanation for the season arc, but I was frankly bored halfway through "Cold Blood" and inclined to skip to the end.

Next episode is the Van Gogh one and it looks strong from the preview. [The Doctor pronounced Van Gogh "Van Goff" - I always thought it was "Van Go".]

29 May 2010

Elizabeth George - "This Body of Death"

The first Elizabeth George book I read was "Playing for the Ashes". A devastating story. I decided that, skilled as the book was, the Lynley books were not a series I would enjoy.

But being me, I eventually forgot the names, enough to pick up a different Elizabeth George, one not quite so bleak. Still, it's rare that a George book has a happy ending: these are grim tales of the worst of people.

Havers is my main reason for liking the books. They're well-written, engrossing, but I've never really warmed to Lynley and on the whole I don't like books that leave me feeling down. But Havers, almost impossibly shambolic, always taking two steps back for every step forward, keeps me hooked. I doubt that George will ever allow Havers to achieve anything more than fleeting moments of happiness, but I live in hope.

"This Body of Death" is a damn long book. Since I'd untangled most of the motives and explanations about halfway through, I suspect that it could have reached its conclusion a little more quickly, but it still held my attention far more than other things I've been reading lately (for some reason I'd bought some fluffy paranormal cosy murder mysteries, and they just haven't been working for me).

Not my favourite Lynley novel, but still worth reading.

25 May 2010

Click!

I love it when a plot comes together.

Sleeping Life has been giving me issues, thanks to Fallon, who is there for a reason, but wouldn't tell it to me. I debated removing him altogether, but he's important to the story. He just wouldn't let me know just what it was he wanted, and why. This has been giving me problems for months.

Then I wondered whether he'd be more communicative as a point of view character and everything fell into place. Of course Fallon wouldn't tell - he has secrets - a big secret which would cost him too much to share. Secrets which handily will let me have fun with magic, and fall nicely into the theme of the story.

It means I need to write a new chapter one, but I'm looking forward to it.

16 May 2010

Doctor Who: "Amy's Choice" (no spoilers)

Finally an episode that didn't come across as weak and contradictory! I liked the solution of who the mystery man was, I liked Rory and Amy's interaction, pace was good, humour was good. About time.

14 May 2010

The Readerly Text

This was a concept I was introduced to in university: a book is a construction between writer and reader, and is different to every person who experiences it.

Reader reaction to my work often surprises me, and today I had feedback on "Stained Glass Monsters" which completely floored me since it was not a description which I would ever have applied to the story.

When receiving 'surprising' feedback on a story, I find it always important to take a few steps back and weigh up what factors made the reader come up with that response. Then I generally debate adjusting the story to prevent anyone else having that response.

In this particular case, the feedback still feels very off the mark, and though there are a few word dinks I'll probably make, I think in this case it's a matter of someone with very different tastes - or using stronger words to get a point across.

I'm well aware that in writing something which appeals to my specific tastes, I am never going to approach 'high concept'. At what point do you sacrifice writing the story you want, to its highest possible quality, and start trying to write what's marketable? Urban or dark or whatever the current fashion is?

I think, when I was younger, I would be tempted to follow the trends, but I am fortunate to have come to understand that my reason for wanting to be published at all (outside of the very human desire to preen and join a semi-exclusive club) is to share my particular worlds and stories, to have other people love these tales which I enjoy.

It's possible this may make me unpublishable, of course. But I push on with making the stories the best that they can be, and attempt to place them with a publisher who shares my tastes. At least until my October deadline.

12 May 2010

Doctor Who: "The Vampires of Venice" (no spoilers)

Intended to be comedy, I think.

Another episode which had an interesting idea at its core, and _looked_ impressive, but fell down due to weak contrivances of plot (and sections which read like several pages of the script had been left out - the Doctor and the 'vampire queen' talked as if they'd built up a strong connection, but there was no basis for it).

So many of the episodes in this season include references/homages to major various movies. The next one appears to be Nightmare on Elm Street.

11 May 2010

Doctor Who: "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" (No Spoilers)

Nice pacing, fun story to watch, better than most of the season, but undercut by changing the rules on which the Angels are based. But "Bob" was fantastically creepy. And Amy is a hoot.

I held off on watching these episodes because of River Song, who I am trying so hard to like, but it's an uphill slog. She improved marginally toward the end of the second episode, but she unfortunately falls into one of my most-hated literary devices: making a woman appear strong by undercutting a man, instead of just being strong.

River's exchanges with the Doctor (unlike Amy's, which work considerably better) revolve around making the Doctor less competent, by having someone know more than him about the things he should know most about. Exchanges with River make the Doctor less than who he usually is. I should love River - she's strong, she has a sense of fun, she's competent, she's complex. But she's annoying as hell, and it's because of her belittling interactions with the Doctor.

My litmus test for whether these exchanges 'work' is whether, if the Doctor was female, I would accept that behaviour from some unknown new male character who knew how to fly the TARDIS better than she does, who can work her other devices better than she does, who calls her by a pet name she doesn't like, who knows all this stuff about her future, and as Amy points out, treats the Doctor like a dog that can be called to heel.

I think River's characterisation is a little inconsistent, and I am hoping that if we meet a 'young', pre-smug River I might find her a good deal more likeable. [And, to be slightly spoilerific, I'm starting to wonder if River is not destined to be the Doctor's wife, but rather his death.]

The story arc for the season sounds like one which could be fantastically annoying. Foreshadowing retcons? Seriously?

My immediate thought was "what does that mean for Donna?".

08 May 2010

Hard Yakka

Phew! This garden project took weeks, and it will be a while yet before I've planted the new garden and cleaned up completely. But the hardest part's over.

06 May 2010

Amiable Self-Deprecation

My reading taste revolves primarily around fantasy, science fiction, manga and mysteries. Although I was a wider reader when younger, it's a rare thing now for me to stray outside my genres. One exception is Saki, whose short stories simply work for me - particulaly 'Sredni Vashtar'.

Another is Bill Bryson, who came to me via my sister. Travelogues. I have almost all his books now, but have not branched out to other travelogues.

So why does Bryson work? No doubt the mixture of sharp dissection and affection, but I think there's also something Andy Warhol-ish about Bryson's writing - a celebration of the things we see every day and take for granted, which we see anew through his eyes.

He does make me want to write science fiction, to produce a Bill Bryson of the Thirtieth Century, returning to his home planet after a few decades away, and marvelling at the Thirtieth Century version of cup-holders. A near-plotless ramble complaining about how no-one drives any more, but merely teleports everywhere.

I have too many ideas.

03 May 2010

A Brief Departure

I'm not a short story writer. Most everything I write wants to be at least twenty chapters long. Very occasionally an idea will fall into my lap, such as when I bought a sledgehammer and wondered what an Australian urban fantasy would look like, but that's no reason for me to want to write a short.

And then I noticed AussieCon 4 was running a short story competition.

Entry mailed today, clocking in a whole 14 words under the 1500 limit. Word limits are hard, though I think the exercise of cutting improved the story. Working in the required phrase, "make ready", was almost as hard, since it's very odd wording, and kept making me think of Captain Picard: "Make it so".

I think I'm most likely to win if no-one else enters, but it was fun to do this once. And who can resist a story with characters called Ru and Blue?

02 May 2010

Garth Nix - "The Keys to the Kingdom: Lord Sunday"

The last of seven, culmination of a thoroughly enjoyable YA of a boy declared heir to what I only belatedly realised would count as Heaven.

Nix's House is not a happy Heaven. The Archangels refused the commands of their absent God, its society is rigidly stratified and its denizens grind away at interminable jobs, pointlessly and without pleasure. The heir, of course, changes all that, and the story is well worth reading.

I was reminded strongly of two other novels as "Lord Sunday" ground to a close. Diana Wynne Jones' "Howeward Bounders" and Meredith Ann Pierce's "Darkangel" trilogy. Both those stories touch on a quester seeking only home or happiness, and finding themselves succeeding only to, in a manner, lose. [Particularly "Darkangel", which is a most unhappy ending in my opinion.]

Why do we so often write stories where to win is to lose? And why are immortals never happy? Is ennui inevitable?