Writer Interrupted: The next poetry book

It has been about a year since ‘The All or the Nothing’, my first book of poetry, was published as an ebook. It’s now available in print, as well.

I guess it’s time for the follow up. I’ve been working hard, compiling and editing, designing and laying out the book in Adobe Indesign and Photoshop, and it’s only a few weeks away from release. This will be a book release to start, with an ebook to follow.

It’s called ‘Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelesly Endangered‘, and it’s a collection of poems for readers in various states of mind: happy, sad, mildly infuriated, dogmatic, dramatic, fizzled, cranky, spanky, smiley, wiley, overwrought, overworked and dizzy.

If you like my poetry, you’ll like this book, because it’s…more of my poetry.

Out soon.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Save the Poet!

via Save the Poet!

Like my poetry? For poems you haven’t seen before, try The All or the Nothing, my first book. It’s available now, in print and e-book formats.

Click on the link above to find out how to get your copy, and help save this poor poet from extinction.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The Real Book. A tale of two formats.

Remember that poetry e-book I released a year ago? Yeah, I thought not. The All or the Nothing is a book I’m very proud of, but it’s only sold a few copies so it’s safe to say my grand dream of being recognised for my poetic talents (real or illusionary) has fizzled somewhat.

Then I realised, as a book reader I still prefer hard copies. Maybe my readers (or at least my Mum) would want an actual book?

Being a redoubtable (yet depressingly down) fellow, I decided I would get a print copy together. So, after labouring hard in Adobe Indesign, I’ve put together a 96-page book version of The All or the Nothing on Lulu, which can be printed on demand.

I’m a bit proud of it. So much so, I’m preparing my second book of poetry for release in hard copy before Christmas.

Want a ‘real’ copy? Get it here. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Looking for Alaska. A book review.

I promised to review the last of John Green’s books left for me to read (ironically, his first). I finally finished Looking for Alaska, yesterday. You can find the other reviews at the links below this one.

Looking for Alaska, like many of John Green’s books, is a young adult book featuring a number of quirky high-school characters, a love story (unrequited love, in this case), a tragedy and a mystery. Telling you any more would ruin the story, and I want to steer clear of spoilers.

Looking for Alaska

Pudge is a socially-isolated boy who is sent to boarding school in Alabama, where he meets his short but smart roommate ‘the Colonel’, part-time rapper Takumi and the love of his life: sexy, enigmatic, adorable and frustratingly annoying Alaska Young. They get up to all sorts of antics that expand Pudge’s horizons and broaden his understanding of friendship and existence.

Green likes to write from life, and most of these characters appear to be based on himself and his school classmates (right down to Green’s love of famous last words). There are a number of glaring similarities to characters from his other books, and after reading every book he’s written in a short time frame, I find that they suffer from ‘too much of a good thing’ syndrome: while I loved the book overall, the characters were a little passé. Having said all that, if I’d read this book before his others, I might not have felt this way. The ‘mystery’ of the third act was also incredibly obvious and left me wondering how bright these supposedly smart kids actually were.

If you’re a John Green fan you’ll love Looking for Alaska. Or you’ll find it a bit too similar to his other works. Either way, I love Green’s writing and look forward to his next effort.

 

* For reviews of Green’s other books, click on The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down, An Abundance of Katherines

Save the Poet!

via Save the Poet!

The All or the Nothing is my ebook of poetry. Click on the link above to find where you can download it.

For poetry lovers and endangered poets everywhere!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

An Abundance of Katherines. A Book Review.

John Green has rapidly become one of my favourite authors. I’ve now read four* of his young adult (YA) novels, the latest being An Abundance of Katherines (AoK).

AoK is about Colin Singleton, a young prodigy who finds himself at loose ends after being dumped by his 19th girlfriend, all of whom have been called Katherine. His best and only friend, Hassan, a less than devout Muslim who likes nothing more than sitting around the house watching Judge Judy, suggests a road trip to cheer Colin up. An-Abundance-of-KatherinesThey arrive in a Tennessee town called Gutshot, where they meet local nerd turned popular girl Lindsey Lee Wells (with her Football hero boyfriend, Colin, or The Other Colin–TOC, as Hassan refers to him). After meeting Lindsey’s rich mother, who owns the local tampon string-making factory (the only business keeping the town alive), they gain employment conducting interviews with the town’s people for an oral history project. Colin is writing  a mathematical formula to accurately predict how long relationships will last, based on his nineteen dumpings. I won’t spoil any more of this clever and imaginative book. Aside from being a story about finding true love, AoK is also about finding and being your true self.

Green has a knack for writing interesting, humorous characters and snappy dialogue. Colin, with his genius IQ, quirky anagrams and stolid bookish ways, is no exception. Hassan is his slacker comic relief, constantly supporting Colin and putting him down at the same time. Lindsey (who you just know is perfect for Colin, no spoiler there) is smartly confined within herself, wrapped up in her handsome boyfriend and a façade of happiness.

AoK is one of Green’s funniest novels. Liberally sprinkled within are smart and amusing footnotes, which add to the experience. The math behind the relationship formula is by brilliant mathematician Daniel Bliss, and can be found in an appendix at the end of the book (the math is real).

I thoroughly recommend AoK to anyone who likes quirky, romantic novels. It’s Green’s shortest book, so you’ll finish it in no time. And be better for the experience.

* For reviews of some of Green’s other books, click on The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down

Child of God. A book review.

Cormac McCarthy is a damn fine writer. He’s also a very disturbing one.

Child of God is one of his older books (1973), and tells the story of Lester Ballard, a lonely and erstwhile Tennessee hick who loses his home to live a vagrant life in the mountains. Lester comes across a dead couple in a car. It’s at this point he realises, for the first time in his life, that he can have a woman. After this, Lester satisfies his perverse lust by becoming a serial killer.Child of God

This is not a comfortable book to read (but then, most of McCarthy’s books aren’t). He eloquently describes Ballard’s dark decline with humour, compassion and a frightening edge that makes for gripping reading.

Child of God is well worth a look for anyone who enjoys exemplary writing; it’s a chilling and almost apocalyptic tale of the American South.

Upstart Photographer#4. Book Shelves.

I am, and always will be, a lover of books.

I currently live in a back room of my parent’s house (no job, no money; lonely but creative), surrounded by their bookshelves and my own.

So, what better topic than photos of shelves? In gorgeous black and white, of course.

I’ve included a friend’s bookshelves, as well.

Hope you like them.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Edgar Allan Poe and the First Exegesis

Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the foremost exponents of the Gothic horror genre and is also well known for his poetry. His poem The Raven, published in 1845, was his most famous and successful work, and his short stories include The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Despite his years of success as a writer, poet, critic and editor, he died broke and was buried in a pauper’s grave, the location unknown to this day.poe

Poe’s essay The Philosophy of Composition, published in 1846, is considered the first literary-oriented exegesis. Poe uses the exposed rear of a theatre stage as a cogent metaphor to allow readers to glance into the workings of a writer’s mind. Poe’s variegating theatrical metaphors about a piece’s personal literary history are valid: “the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.”

The exegesis is a way for writers to explain their process, to intuitively describe the spark of personal creation, to enlighten readers regarding the meanderings of draft and re-draft. As Poe puts it, a look “at the true purposes seized only at the last moment, at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view, at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable”.

Poe was a dedicated and brilliant writer, and his work continues to yield treasures to both those familiar with his work and the uninitiated. I am a fan, as this post will no doubt attest.

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe

Cheers

Steve 😊

Another post from a uni subject I completed many months ago. I thought it was a useful, if brief, introduction to the concept of the exegesis, which new and aspiring writers might find interesting.

A Poor Poet’s Cause

I’m putting together a book of poetry to self-publish, hopefully before Christmas. I’m working on whittling the two hundred plus poems I’ve written over the last nine months down to about fifty, as that’s the general size of most poetry books. The book will include some poems I’ve published on this site and new work not yet seen.

Why self-publishing? Whilst self-publishing your own novel can negatively impact your chances of getting signed to a publisher (unless you’re a particularly high selling self-published author a la E L James or Amanda Hocking), self-publishing a book of poetry should have no negative impact at all. But, why, I hear you say? Let’s face it, poetry, even when it does sell, generally only has small print runs. In other words, it’s probably not going to make or break your career unless you’ve already won a Pulitzer for poetry or something.

I know Amazon allows you to self-publish for free, but that means you’re restricted to the Kindle platform, and I want broader distribution on multiple platforms, so I’ll be going with either Bookbaby.com or ebookit.com. I just need to check out the reciprocal tax agreement between Australia and the US, to make sure I don’t get additional tax withheld by these American-based companies.

Because I’ve left this all a bit late (as usual), my book of poetry may not see the (blue) light until early next year. Either way, at least it’ll be out there at a low and reasonable price, available to all.

I’ll keep you up to date on how it’s progressing. I hope that you will support this poor poet on his journey to further obscurity.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Two John Green Books. A review.

I recently read two John Green books, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down. For those of you who don’t know, Green is a top-selling writer of literate young adult (YA) novels with a flair for smart, sassy characters and quirky humour.

Paper Towns features straight-laced Quentin Jacobsen (Q), who has lived most of his teenaged life next door to the high spirited and unreachable wild child Margo Roth Spiegelman. When they were nine they discovered a dead body, and although they run in different social circles now, they share a bond over that event. Margo decides to let Q to be her driver on an amazing night of payback, then promptly disappears. Whilst her parents are unconcerned, Q and his friends follow a trail of deliberate clues (including a Walt Whitman poem) attempting to find out what happened to Margo.

Paper Towns is a fast-paced mystery and road trip that touches on the reality and unreality of suburban life, the facade of personality and the lengths people go to find their real selves.

img_0653

Turtles All The Way Down is Green’s latest novel. It features terminally anxious Aza and overwhelmingly exuberant Star Wars fan fic writer Daisy as two teens who decide to pursue a missing businessman on the run from police, in the hope of claiming the reward. Aza used to be friends with the businessman’s son, Davis, and reuniting with him ignites a love complicated by her anxiety issues.

Turtles All The Way Down is about friendship, loyalty, first love, the incredible difficulty of living with mental illness and coming to terms with profound loss.

Green’s books are always humorous, well written and paced. He’s a smart writer, utilising his precocious teen characters to tell love stories with deeper meanings than most average YA lit. Often (at least in the three novels I’ve read so far) his leads tend to be very similar—unusually smart, funny, quirky, well-read middle class teens with a significant issue and loving parent/s—but his stories are so engaging I can overlook it.

I love that Green’s books are short. I can knock them over quickly in between uni texts and other, more weighty tomes. He is not an ‘overwriter’ (yes, Stephen King—I love your writing but your books can drag at times) by any means.

I have another couple of Green’s books on order. I guess that makes me a fan.

What do you want to write?

What are the issues that you especially want to talk about / celebrate / examine in your stories?

There are a lot of stories in the world. There are many more hovering in the random threads and wings of my head. They long to burst forth from their cocoons, bright and beautiful butterflies ready to shake mountains, half a world away.

I’ve led a very interesting life, but by some measures it may not be very interesting at all (I have never run away from ravenous cannibals, for instance). I have many personally-affecting issues that I’d like to examine in my stories, yet when I think of what I really want to read in one of my tales, issues are not the first thing that come to mind.

As a burgeoning writer, I first and foremost want to entertain. I want to write stories that are emotionally engaging, that are exciting and that surprise with their twists and turns. I want my readers to feel that they connect with me as an author, that they “get” me in ways they didn’t think were possible except with perhaps a well-known friend or loving partner.

I may not be the best writer in the world, but if I can achieve this in at least some basic way (whether that be a reader’s fleeting smile or a tightness in their chest), I will have succeeded in what I set out to do.

Okay, so that didn’t really answer the question. In short, I love all genres of writing.

Like Iain M. Banks, I want to write speculative fiction and current-day serious fiction. Like Patrick Ness, I intend to write kinetic young adult novels. Like Nam Le, I want to write short stories of every type, that bring a tear to my eye and that provide a fascinating juxtaposition to life. Like Justin Cronin, I want to mix literate writing with the horror thriller. Like George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien I want to write fantasy fiction that astounds.

But I don’t want to write like any of them. I want to write like me.

Cheers

Steve 😊

This was my response a number of months ago to a question posed to me in one of my writing subjects. My answer still holds true, now. (It also contains links to some of my favourite authors’ websites.)

So, what would your answer be?

Go wild in the comments, if you dare 😉

The Fault in Our Stars. A book review.

It seems I can’t stop reading profoundly affecting books.

A friend of mine loaned me John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the mega-selling young adult novel about two teenagers in cancer remission who fall in love. “You’ll need some tissues,” she said, and she wasn’t wrong. This book brought me close to tears on a number of occasions.The fault in our stars

The Fault in Our Stars is about 16-year old Hazel, a far too smart and interminably sassy girl permanently attached to an oxygen tank since her thyroid and lungs were attacked by cancer. She’s on an experimental drug which prevents her tumours from growing, but like many victims of the disease, she is somewhat cynical about life and her place in the world. Augustus Walters is a 17-year old interminably good looking ex-basketball jock who also happens to be smart and sassy, who lost his leg to cancer. The two meet at the local support group, hit it off and gradually Augustus’s positive world view starts to rub off on Hazel. They have a shared love for An Imperial Affliction, a book about a teenage cancer victim who dies abruptly leaving the ending up in the air. It was written by a retired author now living in Amsterdam and a big part of the story sees the two teens travelling to meet him to learn what happened to the book’s characters (An Imperial Affliction is a metaphor for The Fault in Our Stars’ protagonists and their yearning for something meaningful in a world that seems and often ends uncaringly).

I won’t spoil any more of this wonderfully written novel. John Green deserves the praise—this is a literary achievement, something much more than the average YA contemporary romance. It seethes with pathos. It’s sad, fast and funny. The characters are well developed and incredibly engaging. It’s a celebration of living for the here and now, because you never know how long it’s going to last. I found it hard to put down.

I guessed two of the major plot points—they weren’t telegraphed at all, but I knew they would happen (and no, I hadn’t seen the movie or read any spoilers), so I guess in some way perhaps those two elements bordered on cliché (or perhaps I’m just good at prediction). But other than that, this book was like a breath of fresh air (and that’s not a pun about Hazel’s lungs).

If you like tragic romance, you’ll love this. To paraphrase a line from the book: reading The Fault in Our Stars is “a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

In The Winter Dark. A book review.

I read a lot of books, but don’t often get the chance to post a book review. Then along comes a book that stuns me into submission, like a two-by-four wielded by some grinning, dream-fisted maniac.

“If only we hadn’t had so many things to hide, so many opportunities for fear to get us.” Tim Winton’s In the Winter Dark is a short (132 pages) suspense novel. It’s about an aging couple and two strangers, who live in a country valley where their farm animals are being mutilated by an unknown agency. All four are brought together by circumstance for the first time; all four hold dark secrets that are played out slowly and succinctly, a tragedy in the making.In the Winter Dark

As with Winton’s other books, it is superbly written and paced (for more about Breath, click here). His prose is like liqueur: it’s smooth and warm and something to be experienced patiently and magnanimously. There is no rushing a Tim Winton book, even when the suspense is building and you can’t put it down. Unlike some novels, which can be overbearing to the point you skip sections parsimoniously to move the story along, Winton’s stories make you savour every moment. Every turn of phrase and piece of imagery is like dark chocolate, melting insipiently on the tongue and in the brain.

The theme of cats as a symbol of our darkest secrets and fears plays a big part in this book. I’m not going to spoil the story, especially one that demands so doggedly to be experienced.

Beg, borrow, steal (or better still, purchase) a copy of In The Winter Dark. If you love a thriller and love masterful writing, this is the book for you.

Cheers

Steve 😊

Breath. A book review.

Tim Winton’s Breath is the kind of book that challenges your thinking about what it means to be a writer.

Winton’s prose flows like poetry, with immaculate meter and dialectal mastery. Breath makes me ashamed to say I’m a writer, because Winton is so good: I am not worthy. I have never been so profoundly affected by a book as I have by this one.Breath-Tim-Winton

Bruce Pike is a paramedic who witnesses the aftermath of a boy who has suffocated. It brings back memories of his past, and he ruminates on his solitary life, his parents, his love of surfing and the sea, his friendships, his jealousies, his role models, his sexual coming of age, his breakdowns and how he finds himself again. Breath is a journey into a man’s scarred psyche: it’s about facing fear, the addictive adrenalin rush of near death experience, and the profound cost left in its wake when it fails. Breath is poignant, disturbing, and uplifting, all at the same time.

Breath is not for everyone. But I dare you to read it and not come away marveling at the writing. I will read Breath again; multiple times, no doubt.

And I’ll repeatedly wish I had one iota of Tim Winton’s talent.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

PS I’m not giving up writing. This book sets a worthy benchmark to aim for. “Damn you, Tim Winton and your glorious writing!” Steve cried.

Bad Reader, Bad!

I’m a bad reader. Not a bad reader, as in slow or illiterate, but bad as in I read 10-12 books at a time and as a result often find myself returning to a book, months after I started it, wondering what happened previously. I think this has something to do with my short attention span…hey! Look, a pretty butterfly…

What was I saying? Oh, right, books. One of the books I recently returned to after a four month absence was Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, sequel to The Passage and the middle book of his super-cool post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy. If you haven’t read this yet I urge you to stop doing what you are doing RIGHT NOW, jump on a bus/train/plane/teleporter, get to your local bookshop, find they don’t stock it, argue with the shop assistant about why they don’t have the quality literary works you want in their store with them saying “look I just work here”, go back home in a bad mood, order it on the internet, wait two weeks for it to arrive waterlogged after the postal worker drops it off in a rainstorm and it’s  too big for the mailbox, dry it out in front of your old heater which sparks and nearly burns your house down, peel the pages apart, ring up the internet book seller and explain why you want another copy, they tell you they can’t as it was the postal service’s fault, you tell them huffily “that’s the last time I buy anything from you” (as you make another online purchase on their site), then read it. It’s freaking awesome and worth the hassle.books

It’s a bit easier trying to remember what you read months ago with fiction then with non-fiction. With non-fiction I may as well start the book again as I can’t remember what it was about after being away from it for a week, let alone a month (aaah, A History of the Renaissance. That was something to do with…the three musketeers? Stealing art. Lasagne. Wormholes. Or something).

I know what you’re thinking. ”Steve, why don’t you just read one book at a time?” Oh come on! That’s like saying only eat one colour m&m (and as obsessive compulsive as I am, I like all the colours. Wait a minute–maybe if I only eat all of the same colour at a time, the packet will last longer…). I like variety in my reading. And despite my claims that I do nothing all the time*, I actually have a lot going on** with my uni courses, music, gaming, TV watching, workouts, eating…okay now that I read that back, it sounds like I’m a bit of a layabout with time on my hands.

New leaf! Even though I have a lot of books on the boil, I will endeavour to finish this one before going back to another! Wow. Who would have thought reading a book from start to finish would require so much work…

Cheers

Steve 🙂

*This claim is completely unsubstantiated. Or would be, if I had the time to substantiate it. Or unsubstantiate it. One of the two. 

**The term, ‘lot going on’ is completely unsubstantiated.

Novel Daze

My novel is back on track!

Rather than follow the advice of one of my previous blogs, and do it in bite-sized chunks (read about it here), I decided to devote myself to writing as a full-time job. As I’m a full-time student, I ironically have some time on my hands. I’ve shuffled my schedule (it’s not hard to shuffle nothing) and arranged my time so that I work on my novel every week day, for about 4-5 hours. Today was my first foray, and things are going swimmingly (that’s an old-fashioned expression, noobs).

I’m feeling a bit better about myself, I have a direction (one could almost say a purpose, but I’m not ready to believe that yet), and I have a better excuse not to work for a living (whereas before I had no excuse at all). My creative muse is flowing. I’m enjoying writing and I still have time to update my blog (yay!).

Now I just have to see how long it lasts (nooooo! The first wave of cynicism…).

In other exciting news (or average news, take your pick), I’ve nearly finished Madeleine St John’s novel The Women in Black, an Australian classic about five women who work in the ladies frock section of a department store in 1950’s Sydney. It’s required reading for one of my uni subjects, and it’s a riot. I’ve never read any chick lit before, but it’s fun. Check it out, it’s available through Text Classics from book shops, The Book Depository, or Amazon.

Fun fact: My mother remembered attending the same Sydney boarding school as St John and her sister. Yes, at the same time.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Books. A poem.

Pages on my shelf
Motes of dust floating
Crazily translucent
In dawn’s early light
Each story on my shelf
Each moment in time
Reflected in its space
The words on my shelf
Thoughts, history, dreams
Treasures immemorial
Make a poor man wealthy

Mindjammer – SF role playing that’ll bring you back for more

I guess you can tell by the title of this post that I love this game. I included it in my recent Top 10 Tabletop Role Playing Games.

Mindjammer is far future space opera role playing, a la the stories of Iain M. Banks and Peter F. Hamilton. It’s a world of exploration, political intrigue, cultural conflict, post-humanity, virtual existence and rediscovery. The name of the game is taken from the sentient starships that carry communications and information between the stars.

Mindjammer uses the excellent Fate Core System as its engine. I wrote about this system recently, so to find out more about how it works, click here. The Fate Core System is about cinematic storytelling and making your players look and feel awesome. It empowers players and Gamemasters (GMs) to stretch the envelope. This means that Mindjammer adventures can be…flexible, and as such, the game probably requires a reasonably experienced GM.

The New Commonality of Mankind is the setting, 10 000 years in the future. And what a huge setting it is. The Mindjammer hardcover rule book is almost 500 pages long, and it contains literally everything you can think of for a sci-fi campaign–-technology, equipment, weapons, armour, starships (including sentient spaceships), constructs, vehicles, cultures, history, synthetics, races, divergent evolution, environments, life forms–and more.

Although characters can be New Commonality humans, there are also hominids (humans who have evolved to suit their new environments, like the genurgically-enhanced Chembu, low gravity Javawayn, symbiotic Hydragand-Dezimeer, and the artistic Viri), xenomorphs (uplifted animals, like canids, cetaceans, felines, pithecines, ursoids), synthetics (intelligent starships with humanoid avatars, mechanicals, organics, installations, etc.), Aliens (the warlike Hooyow, the mysterious Lowhigh) and post-humans (Evanescents, Evolvers, Extenders, and Longevitors). And the rules are flexible enough to allow creation of your own genotypes so the sky is, quite literally, without limit. There are multiple occupations, with suggested aspects, skills, stunts, enhancements and equipment for quick builds, but players have the freedom to create builds from scratch.

In the far future, nearly everyone has Mindscape implants that enable them to connect with everyone else via a virtual network, enabling technopsi powers. The Mindscape stores memories and personalities of the dead, and can provide additional skills. It’s another environment for players to adventure in, or can be used as an adjunct to their ‘physical’ adventures.

The New Commonality itself stretches over 3000 light years from Old Earth, and contains so many systems that only a small number are in the book (The included Darradine Rim is a great introductory setting, nestled on the edge of the New Commonality and bordering the Venu Empire–lots of intrigue and cultural stresses to fuel adventures). Full rules are included for creating your own systems and sectors.

Adventure seeds are peppered throughout the Mindjammer rule book, to give GMs ideas. There are extensive sections on creating adventures and campaigns, which can be any type of sci-fi the GM and players want. There is so much contained within that it’s a bit overwhelming at times, and impossible for me to cover here. The rule book is impeccably written and edited by author Sarah Newton (who also put together the great retro-fantasy Monsters and Magic RPG, which I’ll also get around to reviewing sometime…).

There are various adventures and supplements available, including The Far Havens, Blue, The City People, Hearts and Minds, and the quickstart PDF (introductory rules and adventure) Dominion, which is only $4.00 (Australian).

Mindjammer has a Traveller-version of the game, for grognards old and new (I have many fond memories of Traveller campaigns from my way-distant past).

Mindjammer is a fantastic game and setting. The Fate rules engine is flexible and easy to use, the sci-fi setting is suitably vast, fascinating and challenging, and the options for style of play are many. You can’t go wrong with this game. Even if you already have a preferred ruleset, you can just adopt the setting.

Try Mindjammer out with your gaming group. I guarantee they’ll be coming back for more.

 

Mindjammer is available via Modiphius Games at https://www.modiphius.net/collections/mindjammer-press

Fate Core System – Story telling table top role playing at its finest

I’ve been threatening to do a Fate Core review for some time now (it’s one of my Top 10 Favourite Role Playing Games), but you know how it is, so much to do and so little time… But today’s the day!

So, what is Fate Core? It’s a table top role playing game*, or TRPG**, which focuses on dramatic story telling. In the last decade or so, a number of games have entered the TRPG market that emphasise player engagement and involvement via storytelling and role playing***, including Apocalypse World, Mouse Guard, 13th Age, etc.

I believe Fate Core is one of the best cinematic story telling games around. It has some crunchy dice rolling mechanics and emphasises player awesomeness. It encourages players and Gamemaster (GM) to work together to create the story proactively as you play the game. And it enables you to play any type of game imaginable.

Here’s a few things about Fate Core:

  • Fate Core uses fudge dice. The player rolls four of these to determine if they pass or fail tests. Fudge dice have two pluses (+), two blanks ( ) and two minuses (-), and when rolled together show an outcome, where pluses are positive (obviously), blanks mean nothing (again, obviously) and minuses subtract from the pluses and blanks (you can use standard dice to simulate these if you don’t have fudge dice). When a player wants to do something cool (for example, running across the backs of crocodiles to get to the other side of the stream), the GM sets the opposition (the previous example might be considered great, or +4 opposition). The player rolls the dice and has the opportunity to invoke an Aspect (see below), or use stunts (see further below) or skills (see even further below) to add to the roll, or use Fate points (see even further down below) to influence the outcome. Once rolled, the player describes what happened and the game moves forward.
  • Players and environments have Aspects, which are phrases that describe some interesting and individual detail about the character or place e.g. “Tempted by Shiny Things”. These aspects are used in the game during Scenes, which are dramatic devices used to describe action and events. If you can describe how your aspect can add to an action, then you can get a bonus on your roll. This is called invoking, and usually costs a Fate Point. Alternatively, the negative component of an aspect can be compelled – that is, used to make things more difficult for the player. This earns them a Fate point they can use later.
  • Fate Points are the currency of the game. Players start the game with 1-3 Fate points (depending on how they build their character), and you can spend them to invoke aspects. You gain them for compelling aspects (see earlier).
  • Skills are used to do complicated or interesting actions with the dice, and are added either when you build the character or during the game – they range from +1 to +4, and you are limited in how many you have. For example, Rapport is a skill for social interaction.
  • Stunts are special tricks a player can use to get an extra benefit out of a skill or alter some rule in your character’s favour e.g. “Another Round?” Is a stunt a character with rapport can use to give a bonus to gain information when drinking in a tavern.
  • Damage is done to characters via physical stress or mental stress – a bit like hit points from D&D, but not. Physical and mental stress is recovered after each scene. A player or GM can also opt to take consequences from actions – these are longer lasting impacts that play into the story telling elements of the game, and in some cases, can affect your rolls.

What I’ve explained is very brief and doesn’t capture how cool all these elements work together when playing a game (I’m sure the authors, if they ever read this, will roll their eyes and say “But he’s just scratched the surface!”). Trust me, the rules are well written and play tested, and work really well in a live setting, allowing you to play any type of situation.

Fate Core also has an easy version called Fate Accelerated, which is quicker to learn.

One of the fantastic aspects of Fate Core is that the GM and players can make up any sort of background/setting they want to play in. There are also a number of pre-made Fate Core settings, that you can use for quick or extended games, such as Morts (zombie apocalypse), Red Planet (Soviet pulp sci-fi), Save Game (set inside a video game world), and Romance in the Air (political intrigue/steampunk), to name a few. These can be downloaded from DrivethruRPG.com, for as much as you want to pay for them.

Fate Core is also the system used in a number of other games, such as the totally cool far future transhuman Mindjammer (one of my top 10!), The Dresden Files, Spirit of the Century, Atomic Robo, Eclipse Phase (Transhumanity’s Fate), War of Ashes, and even an indie Fate Core version of Mass Effect.

If you haven’t played this game before, get some fudge dice (or regular six-sided dice), grab the rules from EvilHat.com or DrivethruRPG.com and start playing! You won’t be disappointed.

 

* Don’t know what a TRPG? You don’t know what you’ve been missing! Click here for an explanation

** Or just RPG for all the old school grognards out there who don’t get computer RPGs and table top RPGs mixed up

*** Despite what RPG implies, some RPGs are so crunchy and combat focussed that they are almost not RPGs at all, rather board games with character and skill building

Touch, by Elmore Leonard. A book review.

I just finished reading Touch, a book by Elmore Leonard. I’d read Mr Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing (which I discussed in an earlier post you can find here), but hadn’t had the opportunity to sample his actual writing. Now, I’m glad I did.touch book

Touch is set in 1977. Juvenal, a young, ex-Franciscan Missionary, heals a woman’s blindness in an apartment after she is beaten up by her abusive husband. Bill Hill, former minister and salesman, witnesses the aftermath and believes he’s onto his next big score. Lynn Faulkner, an ex-cheerleader who used to work with Bill is called in to find out if Juvenal is for real, and so pretends to be an alcoholic to get into the alcohol rehab centre he works at. Juvenal reveals he suffers the stigmata, blood weeping from the five wounds Christ received at crucifixion (hands, feet and side).

So, is Juvenal the real deal? Does he heal people? Is his stigmata real?

I’m not going to answer any of those questions, because you really should read this book. Not only is it well written (I sort of expected that, given I’d raved about his Ten Rules of Writing earlier), it pokes fun at religious extremists, schlock media shows and con-men.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It’s a mystery, a love story and an expose, all in one.

But you should read it and make up your own mind.

Patrick Ness is an awesome writer. But don’t take my word for it…

Patrick Ness is a great author. He writes books for young adults – teen fiction, I guess you call it. The big difference between him and many other writers of that genre, is that his books carry a weight, a gravitas, that raises them above the mob.

I read a lot of books. I’m not trying to brag, or make out that I’m better than other people who read, just pointing out that my tastes are very eclectic. I read classics, science fiction, crime, history, autobiographies, blah, blah, blah. And I think that the eminent Mr Ness is one of the finest writers I’ve read. And that’s a pretty big call.Ness

My introduction to Ness was The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first part of his Chaos Walking trilogy. I was intrigued by the title, so I picked it up. It is one of the few books I’ve read where a scene made me cry, and I’m pretty soppy. I picked up the rest of the trilogy and was astounded that young adult fiction could be so good. It’s fast-paced, riveting and emotionally draining stuff, that explores themes of misogyny, terrorism and xenophobia. Not your average kid’s book.

I’ve gone on to read A Monster Calls, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and More Than This. Ness is brilliant. Check him out.

 

Here’s another piece I wrote for Uni, that I can publish now as that course is over.

The Boat. A book review.

This is a book review I did for a Uni assignment. I got 20 out of 20 for it.  Yeah, I’m a bit proud of that.

The Boat: A book review

By Nam Le
Published by Penguin Group (Australia)
9780143009610 (pbk)
$16.95, 315 pages

I’m not big on reading short stories. I’ve always been a long-form novel kind of guy. It wasn’t until I read Nam Le’s The Boat that my opinion of short stories changed.

For those who don’t know, The Boat is the first collection of short stories from Nam Le, a Vietnamese-born Australian who now lives in the United States and edits fiction for the Harvard Review. He has won numerous awards for short fiction and The Boat has been translated into multiple languages. The eponymous title story is used in some classrooms to teach students about the plight of refugees.the-boat-by-nam-le

The Boat is an extraordinary piece of work. It reads like a text book on how to write good short stories – any student would benefit from reading it. Every story is told from the perspective of vastly different protagonists, who vary wildly in age, maturity, and experience, and each of the stories is markedly different. Whether it’s a 14-year old gang banger/would-be assassin in Columbia in ‘Cartagena’, an aging New York artist dying of cancer in ‘Meeting Elise’, or a fiercely patriotic, Japanese girl in the third-grade in 1945 Hiroshima, Le writes each of his characters with an incredible level of nuance that genuinely engages the reader. Each story is longer than a conventional short story, giving his characters the time they need to percolate emotionally. This doesn’t diminish them in any way – I challenge anyone to put one of these tales down without finishing it.

The stories that bookend the collection are set in New York (‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’) and on a Vietnamese refugee boat (‘The Boat’) respectively. The first tells of a well-educated writer seeking his Vietnamese veteran father’s approval and their inevitable cultural and emotional distance; the last is a tale of a traumatic refugee boat journey interspersed with flashbacks to life under the Viet Cong. I suspect these are both deeply personal, however it wouldn’t matter if they weren’t – Le demonstrates an ability to realise worlds and characters with astounding detail and pragmatism.

Every story in this collection is poignant; there are no happy endings. Le writes believable stories that strive to explore the humanity of the characters and events from multiple points of view, with realistic consequences. Le changes his writing style with each piece, never allowing you to pigeon-hole him. It’s almost as if he is flexing his writing muscles for the sake of it, but each story moves with its own rhythm, textures and emotions, the like of which amateurs such as I can only marvel.

As soon as I finished The Boat I immediately gave it away to a friend – not because I hated the book, but because I was desperate for someone else to read it and experience the level of enthusiasm I had. The Boat is a truly profound piece of writing, one that affected me greatly, and I believe that it will be regarded as a classic of the 21st century.

Top Ten Tabletop Role Playing Games

Without further ado, my current favourites:

  1. Symbaroum – awesomely evocative Swedish fantasy TRPG. It’s all in the atmosphere. Cool systems, too. Check out my review here.
  2. Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition) – my old favourite. 5th edition is miles ahead of previous D&D versions. To find out why I love the game, click here.
  3. Fate – possibly the best ‘story-based’ TPRG around. Players and Game Master create the stories together – any genre, any type of game. Read my review of Fate’s epic awesomeness here.
  4. 13th Age – great combination of crunchy D20 mechanics and story-telling. Read my review here.
  5. Coriolis – The Third Horizon – those Swedes just keep pumping out great games. This Sci- Fi TPRG uses the cool mechanics from Mutant: Year Zero. The setting is Arabian Nights in space. Very cool. I’ll review it as soon as I finish reading it (it’s a big rule book, y’know).
  6. Mindjammer – fantastic, far future, Transhuman Sci-Fi, using the excellent Fate system. One of the best written rulebooks I’ve ever read. NO typos or grammatical errors! The spelling nazi in me was overjoyed. Reviewed here.
  7. Mouse Guard – it’s a joy to play as a mouse in a fantasy setting, where mice have towns and cities and the Mouse Guard protect them from wild animals and other threats. Uses the excellent Burning Wheel system. Must find time to review…
  8. Mutant: Year Zero – post-apocalyptic mutant mania! Another amazing Swedish game with  great sand-box play and cool D6 mechanics. My review is here.
  9. Stars Without Number – Cool old school D&D-system Sci-Fi game, with lots of sand-box tables that can be used across other games. Lots of supplements. A second edition is on the way. Where will I find the time to review all these games?
  10. Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks – Charming English Steam Punk TRPG, with possibly the simplest games mechanics I’ve ever seen. Great game to play over tea and crumpets. I am determined to review this! Sometime.

There are LOTS of TPRGs available. My list could go on and on. But ten’s the limit. For now…

13th Age – Storytelling and innovation set this Fantasy RPG apart from other D&D-derivatives

13th Age is a fun and interesting fantasy role playing game (RPG). It’s meat and potatoes RPG elements are very much in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons, but it differentiates with a number of innovative mechanics, some of which are transferrable to other D20 systems. 13th Age is a game created on the back of the Open Game License, or OGL* for short.

The designers of 13th Age, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathon Tweet, are veterans of the RPG industry, having worked on previous incarnations of the D&D game. In 13th Age they have taken the best elements of their D&D design experiences, and added a focus on role playing and storytelling, with individual character backgrounds and relationships helping to drive the plot.

13th Age is set in the Dragon Empire, during that world’s tumultuous 13th Age. Players take on traditional D&D-style character roles (e.g. Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Rogue, Paladin, Ranger, etc.), create a ‘unique thing’ (which can be any type of story element the player wishes), and chooses one of thirteen ‘Icons’ to have a positive or negative relationship with.

The icons are extremely powerful entities which can influence the characters and their adventures. They include such figures as the Archmage, Dwarf King, Emperor, Lich King, Great Gold Wyrm and Prince of Shadows. At the start of each adventure the players roll their icon relationship dice to see what part (if any) their icon will play in the game.

There is an emphasis on character backstories shaping character skills. Adventures tend to be more character-centric than traditional D20 games, and are more flexible as a result – Game Masters (GMs) will need to do more thinking on their feet. It suits ‘sand box’-style play (where players make the choices as to where they go and what they do). For this reason, the system is oriented to more experienced referees.

Characters are customised via class and background feats. I like that starting characters have three times as many hit points as in regular D20 games. I’m not a fan of dying in my first adventure, and having more hit points allows players to focus on the epic nature of combat.

There are 10 levels for characters to advance, and within those levels are three tiers – Adventurer, Champion and Epic. The tiers aid GMs in balancing encounters – a lot of balancing has gone into this game to ensure fairness and to enable GMs to generate adventures and monsters quickly.

Hit Points and damage modifiers accrue exponentially as each character levels up – they get powerful quickly. This helps to further establish the player-centric nature of the game.

Spells are handled well – instead of hundreds of spells as in most D20 systems, there are a core of spells for each spell-using class, with effects that vary/accrue based on level or tier. I don’t like massive spell lists, they tend to be unnecessarily repetitious and slow down the game as players look up their effects. It’s one of my major criticisms of D&D’s spell system. The system in 13th Age is manageable and has enough variation to keep things interesting.

Combat is similar to other D20 games, with initiative, D20 to hit, Hit Points, Armour Class, specific combat actions, etc. A standout innovation is the Escalation Die, a 1D6 that increases players chances to hit from the second round onwards. The die reflects the characters building up momentum and strategy as the battle progresses, thus making it easier for them to hit their opponents. The bonus goes from +1 in the second round to +6 by the seventh round, but can reduce if the players actively avoid combat. The physical die is a handy reminder of the bonus.

Characters recover hit points via quick rests or Full Heal Ups. Combat is fast and furious, but with enough crunch to keep grognards happy.

Rather than keeping track of multiple monster abilities during combat, certain attacks are activated based on the monster’s D20 to hit roll. Another great innovation that saves the GM time and keeps battles moving, and possibly my favourite aspect of the game (being a long-term GM who dislikes having to remember cumbersome monster abilities).

I like that Heinsoo and Tweet provide intimate little asides about how they play and referee the game. I also like the fact that the rule book is printed on heavy stock paper and is perfect bound (no chance of this rule book falling apart with use, unlike some other games. Yes, Wizards of the Coast, I’m referring to your D&D books).

The artwork in 13th Age is stylish, and the artists Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell received cover credit along with the authors. It’s not the breathtakingly evocative work found in Symbaroum, my current yardstick for fantasy RPG art, but it’s still good.

13th Age is a fun game for both GMs and players. It focuses on player stories and spectacular, fast-moving battles. If you like D20 systems but want something that emphasises player stories and fast, innovative gameplay, this could be the game for you.

 

13th Age is published by Pelgrane Press, and is available via their website.

 

* The OGL was introduced by Wizards of the Coast, owners of the D&D game, to promote usage and enable creators and contributors to create content (and other versions of the game) without the need to worry about copyright infringement. The official OGL statement must be included in every derivative product.

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

 

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to exercise my imagination – ideal for any would-be writer. (What’s an RPG? You can find out more here.)

A while back I bought a tabletop RPG called Symbaroum. It’s a dark-edged fantasy set in a kingdom on the edge of Davokar, a massive forest consumed with corruption, wherein lies ruins of the ancient kingdom of Symbaroum. Adventurers based in border towns like Thistle Hold, venture warily into the dark forest to loot the ancient ruins, battle elves, trolls and blight beasts. This often ends in madness and hideous death. Yeah! Sounds like good times all round.

Symbaroum is the brainchild of Mattias Johnson and Mattias Lilja, of the Swedish games company Jarnringen. Symbaroum is big in Sweden, and is slowly breaking ground around the rest of the world. Modiphius Games distribute the English-translation of the game.

The game uses some interesting RPG mechanics, a few of which I’ve listed below:

  • Whilst there are archetypes to create base characters (Warrior, Mystic, Rogue, each with multiple occupations), and five races, players can elect to build their characters from scratch, selecting abilities (skills) they believe relevant, up to the limit of the build.
  • The eight attribute values that underscore each character range between 5 and 15. To succeed at an action, the player rolls a D20, with success below the tested attribute value. Traits, abilities, weapons and conditions provide positive or negative modifiers. Tests compare one of your character’s attributes against another character’s/monster’s attributes.
  • Players roll all the dice in the game. This includes defending against attacks. The Games Master (GM) never rolls at all.
  • Magic and artifacts can cause corruption in characters, turning them into blight-stricken abominations, if they’re not careful.
  • Battles are hard. More often than not, players may run from conflict. That doesn’t mean they don’t fight at all, but battles can be deadly.

An adventure, The Promised Land, is included in the rule book to introduce players to the systems used.

The campaign background is very detailed, focussing on the country of Ambria and the nearby Forest of Davokar – a small section of the overall game world. The location and background establishes the flavour of the setting – it’s very dark, dank and mysterious, full of horror, manipulative factions, layered history and deep secrets.

The art in this game is by Martin Bergstrom, and it is phenomenal (see the image above for a teaser). Never before have I seen such evocative, haunting and awe-inspiring artwork in an RPG. It really helps to set the scene and emphasise the dark nature of the game.

There are a number of supplements that have been released, with the latest being Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden, the first in a grand campaign called Throne of Thorns.

Symbaroum is a great role playing game. It’s well worth your attention. Even if you’ve never played a role playing game before.

 

(“Hah!” cries Alpha Girl. “I killed you! You’re dead! DEAD!” She’s dancing in her seat.

Beta Max and I look at each other bemusedly. Beta Max whispers in my ear: “I think she’s getting into this game a little too much.”)

 

* Disclaimer: I never said playing RPGs would give you ‘magical math powers’. For more on that, click here.

 

You can order Symbaroum online from the Modiphius Games website at http://www.modiphius.com

Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden is available in print/PDF from Modiphius, or PDF from DriveThruRPG at  http://www.drivethrurpg.com

To find out more about Jarnringen, visit their site at http://www.jarnringen.com (in Swedish, Google will translate the page for you)

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)

 

I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.

 

(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)

 

Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

What the Frack? (“Battlestar Galactica” frack, not the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks)

I had a few things on my mind today.

Firstly, the good news:

I’ve been watching The Newsroom, a quality HBO television show created and written by Aaron Sorkin, creator of the series The West Wing and writer of the movie The Social Network. If you’ve ever seen anything written by Mr Sorkin, you will know that he writes intelligent, complex, nuanced, and eminently watchable television. His writing always has something important and relevant to say about politics, public policy, legal rights, advocacy, ethics and morality. If only the show was still on the air to comment on the antics of the current American administration.

The Newsroom is brilliant. Watch it on DVD or stream it.

And now, the bad news:

I’ve been reading a book by Josephine Cox, called Midnight, which I downloaded for free from iTunes. I’d never read one of Miss Cox’s books before, and I have to say I’m very glad I didn’t pay for it.

This is one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen. This is an author who has written over 50 high selling books, yet writes like an amateur.

One of the great rules of writing is “show, don’t tell” – this is because writers should (and rightly so) assume readers are intelligent people, who can understand plot and character motivation based on scene, dialogue and context. Ms Cox likes to re-state what has happened or what the character is thinking, even though it has previously played out in the scene. She writes overly melodramatic, soap opera-style dialogue. Her characters are two dimensional and clichéd, and often change personality from one chapter to the next. Ms Cox loves the overuse of adverbs, and telegraphs the plot such that there is no need to actually finish the book (which I will, because I don’t like starting something without finishing it). The story is packed with filler; it’s drawn out, tedious and boring.

I’m not sure what I expected from Midnight, certainly not writing and editing that makes me fume every time I sit down with it.

To the weather:

Australia is in the grip of a heat wave and we’ve just been informed that New South Wales will suffer power outages tomorrow because the grid can’t handle (or more correctly, the energy companies have not planned for) increased energy use across the country. I guess they forgot that people like to stay cool. And run things like refrigerators.

So, climate change isn’t real, huh? I guess it will solve my employment woes. I can help build sea walls – I hear they’ll be in demand, soon.

And in human interest news, today:

I’m feeling needlessly sorry for myself, with self-esteem hitting an all-time low. I guess life isn’t working out the way I want it to and as a result my brain is having a hissy fit.

As a privileged white male, protected by his country’s social security and Medicare safety net, I have no right to complain or feel bad about my particular position. There are people all over the world with circumstances far worse than mine, both mentally and physically,  ravaged by war, famine, disease, starvation, natural and man-made disasters, and political agendas.

But I’m selfish, so there. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

So, what the frack was on your mind today?

Free-Wrench. A book review.

I recently finished Free-Wrench, an e-book self-published by Joseph R. Lallo. The book is available on Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/439135), iTunes, Amazon and other digital book stores. You can download it for free on most sites, to your tablet, e-book reader or mobile phone.free-wrench

Free-Wrench is a swashbuckling, steampunk fantasy set in a world of islands, where airships are the primary form of travel between them. The island of Caldera is isolated, by choice, from the rest of the world. Nita is a “free-wrench”, one who works the steam power plants in Caldera’s volcano. Her mother has a fatal disease, and a chance encounter with a black market skyship sees Nita taking off to become part of their crew. She plans to trade the incredibly rare “Trith”, only found on Caldera, with the Fugs, a technologically advanced race that lives in the poisonous purple fug cloud on another island, for the medicine that will save her mother’s life. The Fug limit access to technology and the steam-powered skyships, ensuring their power over the surrounding islands.

Lallo has created an interesting story and setting, that hits its stride during the third act; the skyship crew undertakes a daring robbery of one of the Fug’s warehouses. With the exception of Nita, most of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, but later books in the series may address that shortfall. There are a few editing issues here and there, but nothing too irksome.

For a free book, Free-Wrench was an enjoyable read. It has two sequels, which I am considering buying. If you like the steampunk genre and are looking for something a little different, try it out.

You can find out more about Joseph R. Lallo and his other books, at his website http://www.bookofdeacon.com/.

Proud to be a Bookworm (or Books Make My World Go Around)

(Alpha Girl is reading a magazine on the lounge; she flicks the pages back and forth cursorily, uninterested in the content.

“Bored?” I say.

“I am now that you’re here,” she says.

“How about reading a book?”

“I don’t want to turn into a book-loving nerd like you.”

“At least I don’t get bored.”)

 

Don’t you love the smell of a new book? I do.

I am a big user of The Book Depository (henceforth referred to as TBD), an online book service based in England (this is not a paid endorsement). I love the fact that they have free postage. I resent the postage charges overseas online companies charge. It’s just my thing.

I just received a few books in the mail today (delivered to the doorstep, so that I don’t have to leave the comfort of my home – I’m so lazy). I’ve only had books go missing once in the ten years or so of buying books from TBD, a quick email and new copies were delivered. Did I mention great customer service? (Okay, now I’m starting to sound like an advertisement.)

Back to the books. I am an avid reader. I read about 50-60 books a year – novels, Uni textbooks, short stories, autobiographies, histories; all sorts of stuff. I also love graphic novels. For those of you unfamiliar with the graphic novel: it is a complex and adult-oriented story told using sequential art. Okay, a comic strip. But not the type read by kids. Graphic novels cover a gamut of themes and genres and can be amazing pieces of visual storytelling. Check out Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen or Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, if you don’t believe me.

I recently finished a great book by Justin Cronin – The Passage. It’s a best seller, so it’s possible you’ve read it too. It’s an unconventional post-apocalyptic vampire thriller. If you haven’t read it I suggest you try it out – it’s very well written, and full of character and intensity. I just received the sequel, The Twelve, through TBD.

A favourite writer of mine is Patrick Ness. He writes young adult fiction, but his kinetic stories are incredibly emotional and surprisingly deep. Try out his Chaos Walking trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters and Men), which is a commentary on racism, misogyny, genocide and terrorism, all disguised as a teenager’s book. Gripping stuff. I was so taken with these books, I immediately gave them to a friend because I wanted someone else to experience how I felt about them.

I love books, and I’m proud to be a bookworm. No doubt I’ll chat some more about them in future.

What’s your favourite book?

 

(“You are such a nerd,” says Alpha Girl.

“Because I love books?” I say. “If that’s the case, I’ll be a nerd, any day.”)

Real Men Play D&D (when their girlfriends aren’t looking)

So, I’m a nerd from way back (you wouldn’t know it now, I’m fit, healthy and a wee bit trendy). I have, however, accepted my nerdism and embraced it (to those still struggling with coming out as a nerd, I strongly suggest you take a good look at yourself and get over it. Don’t you know that geeks are in?).

Like many young nerds, I played Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop fantasy role playing game and glowing beacon for nerdity everywhere. Now some of you reading this blog (if there are actually any of you), may be wondering just what this D&D thing is.

(Alpha Girl smirks as she sees me reading a copy of the D&D Player’s Handbook. “You are such a geek”, she says.

“But a well built one,” I reply.

“No amount of weight lifting is going to change the fact that you are lame.”

“And no amount of nastiness is going to change the fact that you can’t get a rise out of me.”)

A role playing game allows the players, gently guided (read: slaughtered) by a “Dungeon Master” (yes, it’s a stupid name), to take on the role of a character living in a sword and sorcery fantasy world. They fight monsters, grab treasure and generally live an impossible existence far more exciting than their real lives. The game doesn’t require a board, as it takes place in the imagination of the players. There are, however, large numbers of accessories to visualise the game (including miniatures, for the less imaginative).

D&D was the first fantasy role playing game. Created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, it became the template for a plethora of RPGs that followed, both tabletop and electronic. Since the original incarnation there have been multiple versions/updates – the latest is Fifth Edition, called “5E” by its fans, for short. 5E was released two years ago and has been responsible for a resurgence in D&D’s popularity. Indeed, tabletop RPGs have entered a new renaissance, with electronic PDFs of old and new games and supporting materials sold online via sites like www.drivethrurpg.com.

But what does the game mean to me? I’m glad you asked. Let me take you back to 1981, when a skinny young kid came across a copy of Basic D&D in his local games shop. He took home the strange pink box (yes, a horrible colour, even then). “This game hasn’t got a board,” he said to his mum, feeling he’d been ripped off in some way.

I was the first guy in my school to own a copy. I played it with my friends, who had never heard of a game like this before. They were all slaughtered in the first room of my first dungeon (I had yet to learn that it’s was a good idea to have some players survive so that they might want to play again).

A year later I moved on to Advanced D&D, a more complicated, definitely more expensive, version of the game. By this stage I had tempered my Dungeon Mastering lust for player character doom with some compassion, so some of them managed to level-up – that is, advance in rank so that they could take on bigger, better and more dangerous monsters and dungeons. And possibly die a more horrible death.

AD&D was responsible for a vast improvement in my mathematical ability, due to ridiculous experience point calculations. AD&D, along with other nerd-like things, such as comics and Star Wars, helped forge in me a fevered imagination and creative bent. And a joy of writing.

(“Wait a minute,” says Beta Max. “Are you saying that this game makes you magically good at maths?”

“Not magically, but with a bit of work, yeah,” I reply.

“Oh,” says Beta Max. “For a minute there I was interested.”)

Even my son (a padawan nerd-in-training) has started playing. I harped on about the game for years and he finally created his first character the other week (a Half Orc Paladin who communicates in grunts and gestures and has a penchant for physically throwing his protesting Halfling Rogue comrade into battle). Needless to say he loved his first game. (Told ya so, son!)

Nowadays, I play D&D every week or two. It’s surprising how many “gamers” are out there. You probably know one. They may even outwardly look like a “cool” person. But don’t be mistaken: they are a nerdist in disguise.

I say embrace your inner geek. Don’t you know we will inherit the Earth?

Play on, fellow gamers.

(P.S. Lots of women play D&D as well. Ignore that stupid title, it’s supposed to be a joke. English spelling as well, haters!) 

 

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