Tag Archives: read

Tangent Online Review of Nov/Dec 2010 Issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine

My review of the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine recently got published on the Tangent Online website if anyone’s interested in reading it.

I signed up to start reviewing for Tangent Online a couple of months ago and this is my first review for them. I enjoyed the challenge of doing this as it’s quite a different skill-set from say editing your own work or participating in a critique group. As well as expressing your opinion you also have to communicate that in a polished manner, and you can’t ignore certain stories just because you don’t like them.

Another interesting aspect is that doing a review of a whole issue also makes you think seriously about the current state of the genre. What type of stories are being published and why for instance. Sometimes you can read issues of current short story publications and in your own mind you get a sense of what you think of each stories, but sometimes you don’t really analyse your own thoughts until challenged to express them.

I am hoping to continue reviewing for Tangent in the future, perhaps having a look at Asimov’s or Analog next.

Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove: Book Review

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Image by gwydionwilliams via Flickr

Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove. I haven’t read any of Mr Turtledove’s stuff before, so I picked this up with some excitement and trepidation – you never quite know if you are going to like a new author or not!

I found it quite an unusual book in some ways.

The story is told from various viewpoints but all by someone on the front-line of the war – whether privates and NCOs fighting with the armies of the warring countries, or pilots and a U-boat captain, or civilians directly affected by the war. The action is largely away from the planning of the war and the grand view of the generals and politicians, and concentrates on the effects of war on the common soldier and civilian.

Although Turtledove does a good job of giving us a good feel of what war would be like for all his different characters, I do find it disconcerting that all his characters have an American tone of voice. The book has more the feel of a comic book strip sometimes because of this.

Also I was puzzled about where the book was going. You don’t actually get any resolution. The war doesn’t end, but just seems to be entering a new phase, one that is different from original history. I suspect that other books will follow, but this is not at all clear from anything printed in the front-matter or on the front and back covers. Wikipedia states that the novel is part of a series.

Overall I found the style engaging and readable, but ultimately I didn’t feel that I was any the wiser. Why did Turtledove see the events of WWII happening differently? The book doesn’t seem to answer that fundamental question. Also I found the structure of stringing together a series of vignettes to describe the experience of a large cast of characters ultimately unsatisfying. A lot of the episodes felt very similar, yet I never really had the feeling for what one character’s overall experience was like because the narrative never stayed with anyone for very long.

I think I would try another of Turtledove’s books, but probably not from this new series.

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Knowing When Your Own Writing is Just Too Boring

I know, you probably think it’s all boring don’t you!

Well I am working on a novel as well, which you can’t see any examples of on this blog yet, but I have blogged about in the past, called Hell has its Demons. So far I have written the first two chapters, and outlined in detail several more. I am planning to get the first couple of chapters out for critique soon, so read through them with a view to making edits etc. I liked chapter 2, I thought it was funny, had a lot of tension and conflict and captured the tone of the book and the character of one of my main protagonists quite well. Still needs a lot of editing, but it is in the right ball park.

But the first chapter is sadly lacking in anything very interesting. I had made some attempt to introduce tension and some inner conflict within the viewpoint, but not much in truth was really happening. So what to do about it? Well I decided that we really needed to know a lot more about this character and what drives him, as well as using conflict to make the scene come alive. Also there needs to be a connection to the plot as a whole. The need to make a major change was born out of the realisation that I had to be braver as a writer and create something that would get readers interested, rather than just relay facts. They want to know about the character, not just what the roads were like on his ride through the countryside. I am now looking forward to completely revamping this chapter, rather than going through the tedium of attempting to improve and tweak what I already had.

Review of Bisclavret (The Werewolf)

Steven Till, a fellow blogger and writer of historical fiction, has posted a very kind review of Bisclavret (The Werewolf) over at his blog.

Steven found the story “engaging and thrilling. As an eighteen page short story, it reads quickly: his pacing is good, the dialogue is tight, and the plot is absorbing. His style is clean and precise and executed extremely well.”

Although he “did feel that some of the characters could have used more fleshing out, Bertrand for one, and on some levels Edward.”

One of the pleasures of writing and getting published is to get a reaction from readers, and I am really pleased that I have been able to get this story out to a wider audience.

Steven has a wonderful website that is a must for anyone interested in history and historical fiction, particularly set in the Middle Ages. Steven also has some of his own stories posted on his site, all of which are well worth a read.

You can read a free preview of Bisclavret (The Werewolf) at Smashwords and then purchase a copy if you are interested in reading the whole thing for $0.99.

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Story feedback at Feedbooks and Smashwords

One of my reasons for publishing some short stories on Feedbooks and Smashwords was to get them out to a wider audience and hopefully to elicit some feedback. As a writer I want to write for an audience and not just myself. I confess that it gives me a real buzz when someone says they like something I’ve written.

And finally I’ve had some feedback! My most downloaded story, The Human Factor, with over 800 downloads on Feedbooks and 47 on Smashwords, has now had a comment left.  Diana Trees gave it three stars on Smashwords and commented: “Nice twist on an old subject. Good dialog speeds this along and makes it a decent read. I look forward to more.”

While on Feedbooks Jaydenwoods commented: “Nice twist ending!” for my story The Honor of Rome.

Only a couple of comments, but it’s really good to have them. If anyone else has read the stories and would like to leave feedback, negative or positive, then please do.

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The Original Bisclavret

Marie de France, from an illuminated manuscript
Image via Wikipedia

I have recently published a short story called Bisclavret (The Werewolf) on Smashwords and at the Kindle Store. My story is a retelling of Marie de France‘s Bisclavret, one of her 12 lais (a French syllabic verse form used for narrative poems)  based on lais sung by Breton minstrels. Marie was writing in the late 12th and it is likely that her works were based on Breton/Celtic stories of an earlier origin.

My version of Bisclavret takes the story to the second half of the fourteenth century and makes the protagonists an English knight and his Breton wife, living in her ancestral castle in Brittany, surrounded by forests and decaying estates ravaged into poverty by the hundred years war.

I would encourage anyone interested in werewolves, fantasy and medieval literature to read all of Marie’s work. I personally find it very instructive to go back to the core myths and legends that act as the source material for today’s fantasy fiction.

If you want to read the original Bisclavret I would recommend the following sites:

A good verse translation at a University of Florida site

The Project Gutenberg version taken from a 1911 edition.

Or a cheap and good quality eBook version of the lais of Marie de France based on the 1911 edition.

You can get a sample of my short story Bisclavret (The Werewolf) at Smashwords, or at the Kindle Store.

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The development of court fashion during the reign of Edward III

14th century manuscript initial depicting Edwa...
Image via Wikipedia

Edward III pursued a deliberate policy of drawing the nobility closer to the royal court and so make them more reliant on royal patronage. This was a reaction to the chaos of his Edward II’s reign, which had seen the country devastated by rebellion and civil war.

The nobility, and to an extent the gentry who relied on the magnates for access to royal patronage, needed such links to the court as their own incomes from land fell and as wealth became more concentrated in the central authority, as a result of the increased use of taxation and customs duties. In effect the only way for the nobility and gentry to improve their station and counteract the decline of their traditional income was to connect themselves more closely to the court.  Thus they lost a degree of independence and relied more upon their influence at court. Given-Wilson in The Royal Household and the King’s Affinity points out that this was particularly the case in England: ‘The highly centralised nature of English government placed a vast store of patronage in the hands of the king, and there were very few checks on the way he dispensed of it.’  This, coupled with attempts to control feudal violence, meant that, in order to gain influence, the nobility tended to express itself less through warfare than through lifestyle, that is clothing, building, and feasting. Indeed during the fourteenth century the court became more and more a model for the lifestyle of the nobility, dictating the latest fashions. For the nobility to enjoy the patronage of the crown they too had to adopt such fashions.

This process might have been more or less important at certain stages of the period, depending on the nature of the king, but it was an important factor throughout the later Middle Ages. The nobility, if they desired to be successful, were drawn more and more into the court sphere as the crown established itself as the central authority of the state. The court, as Juliet Vale points out in Edward III and Chivalry, ‘was perhaps the area of greatest social mobility outside the church.’

Ultimately this lead to the even more sophisticated court fashions during the reign of Richard II (who invented the handkerchief!). You can read more about how aspiration of court fashions was mirrored in the literature of the period in my book The Court in English Alliterative Poetry, 1350-1450.

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Stupor Mundi Reborn

If you read my blog on a regular basis you might have noticed a number of posts about Frederick II appearing. What does it mean? Well a while ago I was working on a project about Frederick II called Stupor Mundi. I recently decided that I would have another go at this novel, but not worry too much about conducting exhaustive research. Instead my plan is to just keep writing and go back at a later date to check facts and add in any nuggets from my research. I have also taken on Stephen King‘s advice in On Writing to just see where the story takes me. I had already come up with an interesting situation and enough plot ideas to get going, so starting wasn’t really a problem, but I didn’t know where the journey was going to take me.

So far I have about 10,000 words written and I am aiming to do about 500 words a day. Each day is exciting and new and I have surprised myself. I find that when I don’t write for a day or two it’s much more difficult to get started again though. Whereas I suppose if you have everything planned out you can pick up the torch more easily as you have a firmer idea of what comes next.

I’ll keep you posted on how I get on, but if you want to read any early chapters they are over at OWW now and also will be coming up on the queue at Critters at the end of March. If I have time I’ll put them on Critique Circle too!

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Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker – Further Thoughts

Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy)

Still enjoying this book! About 250 pages out of 800+ so far, and it’s still a good read. There’s something about his style that I can’t quite put my finger on that I really like. I think it’s because it’s not dumbed down at all. There’s quite a lot of detail and the settings feel real. The more evil character is not over the top, but realistic and you sort of like him in a way.

My one gripe would be that there are three or four male characters who act as POV characters that are all a bit samey. I would like to have some sort of clearer difference between them. Apart from the engineer character, the other three are all nobles and there’s something about them that makes them all generally sympathetic and likable, perhaps a bit too likable?