Category Archives: Science-fiction!

Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End

Chuck Wendig’s books are a treasure trove of clever metaphors, snarky dialogue, and prose that conveys a sense of urgency and immediacy.

Reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s remarkable double-whammy of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, Wendig utilises a third person present tense to make something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away feel like it’s happening right now somewhere not so far away.

His nuanced characterisation presents readers with protagonists often-times at war with themselves as much as they are with their external environment. And it’s terrific stuff.

No less terrific is Wendig’s natural ease at presenting a same-sex relationship with the same obvious naturalness as between opposite-sex couples. This remains a curiously odd elephant-in-the-room for some readers, who find this to be a jarring disruption for reasons beyond this critic’s understanding.

Interspecies relationships between numerous (imagined) species are acceptable, but same-sex relationships between two human characters is not? There is an odd double-standard at play which may be as much a reflection of our changing times – and the pushback by the curious denizens unfathomably bothered by changes which in no way impact their day to day lives.

The Star Wars universe allows for a variety of stories about numerous characters, as well as a variety of approaches to telling those stories – be it Matt Stover’s Shatterpoint, which transitions between first and third person, to the Robin Hobb-like first person point of view of I, Jedi – to the exclusively third person omniscient approach utilised by Timothy Zahn in his contributions.

All are welcome. None are excluded. This open-armed and kind (Jedi-like, if you will) approach only enrichens the ever-expanding Star Wars universe.

None of us own it, but many of us play in it. To the universe’s benefit.

I doff my cap to Chuck Wendig for making the Star Wars galaxy a richer and more fascinating place to visit. May he someday return to further enrich this vast and diverse universe.

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Filed under Ruminating on fiction, Ruminations and Musings, Science-fiction!

On Matthew Woodring Stover

If you haven’t read the ‘Acts of Caine’ novels by Matthew Woodring Stover, do so now.

Publishers – if you’re out there and can see this: go and find copies of ‘Heroes Die’, ‘Blade of Tyshalle’, ‘Caine Black Knife’, and ‘Caine’s Law’. Go and find them, and for the love of any and all gods that might be out there listening: give the man a book deal, and savvy marketing department, and a staff of publicists who can market the ever-living shit out of this guy. Del Rey have never managed to properly market his books, and for years he has remained a cult author. The success he so rightly deserves has eluded him.

And that’s not right. And as Matilda said: “and if it’s not right, you’ve got to put it right!”

Each book in Matt’s Caine series is different, has a different tone, structure, and texture to it. Matt’s books are astonishing in their diverse narrative approaches, humbling in their clever narrative developments, contain complex, complicated, dynamic, three-dimensional characters. And prose and dialogue that sparkles and never, ever bores.

Don’t believe me? Then go listen to Stefan Rudnicki, the voice actor for ‘Heroes Die’:

Go and read the review Scott Lynch (of ‘Gentleman Bastards’ fame) wrote years before realising his own success as a writer:

How about John Scalzi’s ebullient and gushing praise for Stover’s books? Would that suffice?

Matt Stover is an author that deserves a bigger audience than he’s thus far received. His books predated the contemporary ‘grimdark’ movement and are frequently cited as a source of considerable inspiration by many contemporary authors who grew up reading his novels and did what any smart author does:

They stole from the best.

And if you want to steal from the best?

You steal from Matthew Woodring Stover.

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Filed under fantasy fiction, Matt Stover, Matthew Woodring Stover, Science-fiction!, The Acts of Caine

Requiem for Androids Dreaming of Electric Sheep

Well finally, I got around to reading Phillip K. Dick’s famous novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ And isn’t it great that there’s a classic novel that’s all about being wonderfully weird that also features a question-mark in the title? Something about that tickles my fancy.

After the crushing disappointment that was A Dance With Dragons, I turned to something smaller, less cumbersome. A co-worker had lent me Dick’s novel, knowing full well that I am an enormous Blade Runner fan. So there it lay, on my bed-side table, waiting to be read. And it didn’t take very long. Two, three days at most. It’s a fairly pacey novel, after all, and all of 193 pages long.

By comparison to Martin’s opus-without-end, Dick’s novel was quite thin on plot, and equally so on character development. Of the main character, Rick Deckard, readers are given at least some details. Appearance. Vague estimation of height. Body type. Psychological make-up. Likewise, Deckard’s wife and Rachel, an android that Deckard becomes involved with, are given time-enough to feel like somewhat fleshed out characters. Everyone else that is introduced throughout the duration of the story makes me think that Dick was approaching this novel with the kind of technique popularised by Hemingway – namely: provide the vaguest of outlines of the characters, and what they vaguely look like, and let the readers fill in the blanks for themselves.

And oh boy is Rick Deckard one philosophical motherfucker. Consistently. Interspersed between all the travel between locations are thoughts on what life must be like as an andy (android), why it’s dangerous to be empathic towards androids, what it means to be a man who hunts androids, and so on. It’s amazing just how much he pontificates in the novel, which is a stark contrast from the movie character, who’s a consummate man of action and few words.

And then there’s the matter of the religious faith that’s brought up in the novel, called Mercerism, which seems to be a faith in which people, via electronic empathy machines, share their feelings with others. And it’s something the andy’s don’t quite seem to know what to do with. And there’s also the matter of strange mood-changing boxes, much like radio-stations, can alter one’s moods. And all of this makes a certain level of sense within the context of the novel, until the leader of Mercerism suddenly just shows up. I’m still not entirely clear on what happened there, as the novel suddenly dips into a somewhat psychedelic state, and focuses on the validity of a religious order. It’s very sudden, and very unexpected, and very certainly strange. Trademark Philip K. Dick, in that regard.

The themes of the book seem to interweave and relate nicely, and because the book doesn’t suffer from an excess amount of padding, it’s possible to see why readers accustomed to large tomes might think “but wait – tell us more, so we can better understand some of these things!”. But Dick wasn’t that kind of guy. One can only wonder what PKD’s fiction would have been like if published during the era when Big Fat Fantasy (BFF) started taking off, in the mid-90’s. Would he have given in to the curse of needing to show more, to world-build to even greater lengths than normal, and to then start pumping out sequels? One can only but wonder.

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Filed under Ruminating on fiction, Science-fiction!

Barsoom Like No Other

I listen to a lot of soundtracks. And I mean a lot. Alongside speculative fiction, soundtracks (for movies, games, television shows, etc) are my drug of choice. It’s hard to imagine a world without those two things. When I read, I have a score playing in the background. When I write fiction, invariably, I’ll have my headphones plugged into my computer, obscuring the world around me, enveloping me in the world that my brain has built around the sound. And at work, it’s what helps me get through the entirety of the day.

I love me soundtracks. And I love thinking about them. And one of the things that’s caught my attention over the past few years is the move away from any sort of recognisable usage of leitmotifs or even hummable melodies. I could list any number of soundtracks (for major movies and shows) that eschew identifiable cues in favour of music that compliments the action on screen but never quite enhances it.

As a result, I was dreadfully worried about what was going to happen to John Carter of Mars, upon its arrival in cinemas. Here was a score that demanded the composer take it seriously, and give it the treatment it deserves. And when it was announced that Michael Giacchino would be composing the score, my trepidation increased. Whilst his work on Star Trek was passably acceptable, his previous work (Medal of Honour aside) felt unfocused and dissonant.

And yet with John Carter of Mars, somehow he managed to surprise the hell out of me. Here is a score that doesn’t just feature sweeping, grand themes, reminiscent of John Williams filtered through Maurice-Alexis Jarre, oh no. It also features moments of tenderness, wonder, even – dare I say? – tranquility. And of course, a fair amount of his famous love of shivering violins.

And yet, 20 seconds into track 2 (‘Get Carter’) there is comes: a sweeping, majestic theme that hasn’t been heard in popular film scores since David Arnold’s Stargate. Or consider track 8: ‘The Blue Light Special’. A haunting choir, featured as an ever-so-slight counter-point to the strings, before fading out and letting Giacchino unleash a melody that takes a highly unexpected cue romantic cue that could have come from Mussorgsky himself, had he been at the helm of the orchestra.

From beginning to end, this is an excellent score. It accomplishes most if not all of what it set out to do. Of all the film scores I’ve heard in the last year, this is the one that’s stood out the most thus far. And not many popular filmscores are content to do that anymore. Here’s one that does.

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Filed under Listen to some music, Science-fiction!