Don’t Dismiss the Unknown

I, like many of you I suspect, have read a lot of books, and what I’d like to discuss is the way I discovered two of my favourite authors – chance.

I frequently will wander bookstores and book sections in department stores, looking for something new and interesting or sometimes just to pass the time. It was on two of these occasions I happened to discover authors that I have grown to adore. First of these two was Scott Westerfeld.

Scott Westerfeld is a Texan sci-fi writer, best known for his teen fiction and I must say some of the best teenage girl characters I have ever read. I was wandering around a bookstore when my eyes fell on the cover of Uglies. I did the usual, read the back, realised it was part of a series (I do so love series) and then when I saw it was $12.95 (this was several years ago) I grabbed it and went to the checkout. I read that first book that night. I inhaled it. The story was light enough to read without getting bogged down but was still full of action, intrigue and dealt with very real issues in a not so real future society. The next day I went and hunted down the other two books available at the time: Pretties and Specials then made my long suffering but luckily book-loving friends read them too.

I realised I had to read more. Next up I found the Midnighters trilogy. Set in modern day this time but still with the same mix of topics in an enthralling set of books that hopefully won’t get killed if they ever make the movie adaptation that gets whispered about. After that I was on a roll. I found every commercially available one of his books I could find (see list at the bottom) and the only ones I didn’t immediately fall into were his adult sci-fi; however I was glad to stick with them as the stories unfolded like opening flowers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Westerfeld at a book signing after the release of Leviathan (the first of a steampunk inspired series he is currently working on) at a little book store called Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. His odd combination of Texan drawl, New Yorker twang with a hint of Australian (he lives between New York and Sydney, and you can hear it in his accent) was rather soothing and he was friendly and as lively as his characters. It seems he was as awesome as his books. I really recommend checking his stuff out.

Next on my list is a fairly recent discovery of an author many people seem to have heard of that I apparently have never noticed before: Jim Butcher. Again on a ramble through a bookstore I fell upon a book that I actually picked up because of the cover. It looked like a dirty manila folder. It reminded me of brown paper. It was simple and interesting. The blood splatter across the cover’s corner helped pique my interest. I read the blurb and was a tad wary. A detective who was also a wizard – it would either be amazingly good or amazingly tacky and bad. But seeing that I wanted something new and my other options all appeared to be vampire love stories (guh) I grabbed the first two books of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and head home.

Again I did the inhale of words and read the first one that day, bringing Harry Dresden into my life. I am so glad I got the next one as well. Not only was it an urban fantasy done well but the style was something different. It had the flair of a first person, film noir, 40s detective series, but it was modern day, gritty and full of real life issues tangled up with werewolves, vampires (real ones), and a multitude of other creatures as the story continued.

And it still continues. So far there are twelve books, the next due out in July (which is WAY too long to go), and a book of short stories called Side Jobs. All awesome and they get even better as they go on. Seriously I yelled at the end of Changes (book twelve) because I couldn’t believe it was over.

Next I intend to read his Codex Alera series that so far seems to be more straight fantasy but that underlying sense of geeky humour remains even through the forests and elementals. The other thing that impresses me about Mr Butcher is his knowledge/research. When this man talks magic theory, he actually bases it on magic theory. Anyone with any occult interests will be impressed at his depth of terminology and history. He also encounters an epic bestiary of actual mythological creatures along with a  few made up for good measure.

A small word of warning though. If you love the Dresden Files as I do after reading them give the horrible tv adaptation by the sci-fi (or however they spell it now) channel a wide berth. Or if you have seen the show, don’t be put off by it. The books are a bajillion times better.

So if you’re hunting for new reads give these guys a go. Both are available in major bookstores and online.

Scott Westerfeld Bibliography

Novels

Polymorph (1997)

Fine Prey (1998)

Evolutions Darling (2000)

So Yesterday (2004)

Succession Series

The Risen Empire (2003)

The Killing Worlds (2003)

(both titles re-published in 2005 in one volume as The Risen Empire)

Midnighters Series

The Secret Hour (2004)

Touching Darkness (2005)

Blue Noon (2006)

Uglies Series

Uglies (2005)

Pretties (2005)

Specials (2006)

Extras (2007)

Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Uglies (2008)

Peeps Series

Peeps (2005) (also known as Parasite Positive in Britain and V-Virus in Canada)

The Last Days (2006)

Leviathan Series

Leviathan (2009)

Behemoth (2010)

Goliath (September 20, 2011)

Jim Butcher Bibliography

The Dresden Files

Storm Front (2000)

Fool Moon (2001)

Grave Peril (2001)

Summer Knight (2002)

Death Masks (2003)

Blood Rites (2004)

Dead Beat (2005)

Proven Guilty (2006)

White Night (2007)

Small Favour (2008)

Turn Coat (2009)

Changes (2010)

Ghost Story (July 2011)

 

Other Dresden Stories

Side Jobs (2010)

 

Codex Alera Series

Furies of Calderon (2004)

Academ’s Fury (2005)

Cursor’s Fury (2006)

Captain’s Fury (2007)

Princep’s Fury (2008)

First Lord’s Fury (2009)

 

Other

Spiderman: The Darkest Hours (2006)

 

~Sabrina R G Raven

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 11:08 am  Comments (4)  

The Pen is Mightier than the Fang

There are three words that send shudders down my back. Teen. Vampire. Fiction. Oh, how I loathe what people have done to my beloved supernatural fiction. What loathsome characters they have created out of my beautiful vampires.

I’m an old-school girl. I grew up with vintage vampires, with proper fangs, who were properly blood-obsessed and who drew blood-curdling screams from people. I grew up and played with the big kids. I grew up with the Dracula mythos, Lestat, Selene the Death Dealer, Blade and Deacon Frost. And oh, how I love them.

Yes, I was a strange child. While all the other girls were talking about getting into teen mags, boys and whatever the hell 12 year old girls talk about, I was leafing through books about supernatural fiction. I was consuming ghost stories whole. I was sharing scary stories with all my friends (the majority of whom were guys, who, surprisingly enough, weren’t into teen mags or boys or whatever the hell 12 year old girls talk about).

One of my biggest hobbies is researching supernatural and mythological lore. I’ve done it since I was a kid. Ask any of my friends. If they need the low down on any supernatural or mythical creature, the first person they ask is me. And I love being asked about it. I love talking about it. I love revelling in it. I love lore.

And so, as an old-school girl who grew up with real vampires, I have to say, the new breed of vampires disappoints me to no end. When did my vampires become so weak? When did they stop being vampires and start being 14 year old girls? What the hell happened? And worse – how was I helpless to prevent it?

I love my vampires wicked. And by wicked, I don’t mean awful, I mean they have a dark streak. I like them as anti-heroes/oines. Maybe that’s just because I have a soft spot for anti-heroes/oines. And maybe it’s because I am over this emo trend. So the new vampires are soppy? We get it. They ‘hate what they’ve become.’ We get it. It’s been done to a slow and painful death. They all have a propensity to fall in love with teenage girls. WE GET IT!  If I have to walk past another teen romance fiction with hints of the supernatural I think I’m going to be sick. In the store. On the author in question.

Worse. It’s not just the vampires. This infection is taking werewolves, ghosts, fallen angels, the whole gambit! Argh! My precious angels!

So, what am I going to do about it? I’m going to write my dark friends back to their rightful glory. Yes, the pen is mightier than the fang and I will prove it. Currently, I’m working on a few works of supernatural fiction, and yes they involve vampires, and werewolves and the fallen (oh my). But you can bet your bottom dollar they’re not sitting around a campfire, feeling their feelings and singing Kumbayah. They’re not having slumber parties and watching romantic comedies. They’re going to be dark. They way they should be. They way they always have been.

 Yes, I do appreciate it, when a clever author comes along and does something clever with supernatural fiction. But the teen romance thing has been overdone in my opinion. And yes, I can see that this is a new trend, the new fashion. But I disagree. Stop this senseless attack on my home. Stop dumbing my world down! Enough, already! Enough of this intolerable cruelty! As newly appointed President of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Characters, I protest!

I cannot stand creatures of such exquisite dark beauty being reduced to nothing more than romance stories for children. I will not abide it. I’m claiming my supernatural friends back. Right now. I will pick up my pen and resurrect them and I call to all supernatural authors, who are tired of what their world has become to do the same. Rebel! Write! Create! Are you with me?

~Sandy Sharma

Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 4:14 am  Comments (8)  

Quality (Art) Vs Quality (Story)


When I started reading comics, I only really knew of the Phantom in the newspaper. A three panel snippet with no action and barely any dialogue. So when my friend asked me if I drew comics, I said ‘sure’ and drew a three panelled comic. He looked at it perplexed, ‘no,’ he said, ‘like this,’ and he handed me a Conan comic. So started my comic collecting years. I started just in time to see Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and others break from Marvel and start Image comics. It was an exciting time with intense, brilliant drawings with new computer colouring. Because of the break, there was a rival between Image and Marvel and that made things more interesting. Image had all the ‘known’ artists at the time, doing things how they wanted it to be done. It was a fast and furious time for the graphic novel industry – cross-overs, alternative covers, interweaving story lines, amazing art and what I thought was great plots. Spawn was my comic of choice, written and drawn by Todd McFarlane. It had a creepy, burnt hero that was struggling with losing his wife and daughter, his life and dealing with the conspiracy around who killed him. Every month I would ride my bike to the comic store and buy it, read it once and slide it into a plastic sleeve.

Then I went to high school and got a car and starting drinking and comics really fell to the side. They were expensive and you had to drive to the city to visit the comic book store, so for many years I stopped reading them, until recently.

About three years ago I walked into a comic book store and saw ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore. I knew of him. I knew he was a well respected writer and he had done a lot of popular titles that were now classics in the graphic novel arena. But I hesitated buying ‘V for Vendetta’ graphic novel because I didn’t like the art. I thought it was really old school and boring and the colours really didn’t pop. I remembered the days of Image Comics where each page shone and the colours were incredible, this comic didn’t have any of that. The paper was almost like normal newspaper and the colours looked awful. I put it back on the shelf and didn’t think much more of it.

Early last year I started reading some other things Alan Moore had written such as ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,’ and found his writing astounding. Never had I been glued to a comic before, it was like my favourite books – I just couldn’t put them down. So, I became interested in ‘V for Vendetta’ again and finally bought it. Now, being much older, I could appreciate the old school art. The way it was set out and the panels that were used, in fact, I liked the art and saw comics in a slightly different view – it didn’t overshadow the writing. The writing – especially the writing – could now be  seen as it should be, a driving factor in the graphic novel. It wasn’t so much the art that brought me into the comic, but the writing. It  was a change of heart from the old days of collecting and graphic novels took on a whole new light.

Later in the year Spawn #200 was released. Being a milestone in the comic series, and being as I had collected it from the beginning, I thought I should buy it. I’ve been following Todd McFarlane on twitter ever since I joined and he had been talking about it for a long time, putting sneak peak pencil drawings up, telling people how it was going over its page limit and was going to be a mega issue. I couldn’t wait to get it. Todd was coming back to draw it, instead of someone else, it was like going back to high school again and rediscovering that era. When it arrived it was sealed in plastic with a backing board for protection. I treated it like gold, being very careful when I handled it, not opening the pages too wide so I don’t crack the ‘spine’ and I started reading. Almost halfway through, I stopped. I couldn’t bare the thought of reading such overhyped, lame, story line anymore. I was utterly shocked at the dialogue. I just could not fathom that I used to read it so long ago. Maybe it was still the same, and I had just got older. Maybe it was because I had read more comics and books that went deeper, had more layers and profound characters. The dialogue in Spawn #200 was amazingly bad. One character was disclosing all his plans to an unconscious hero. For start, why would you do that?  – ‘…and after that I will kidnap the demon spawn and make him give me his power! And after that I’m going to…’ It was all just awful, so I closed the comic, slipped it into the plastic and put it on the shelf. Was I being too much of a snob? Something I used to idolize and adore was now mundane and somewhat childish.

In 2009, Todd McFarlane appeared at Supernova Pop Culture Expo and I got to meet him, getting him to sign my Spawn comic. I had to re-buy an early issue (as all my comics are stored at my parents house still) and flipping through it I remember the story used to be fresh and new and amazing to me. It was original and well thought out. When Todd did his Question and Answer, he went through a slide show of how Spawn had progressed and what he had become. I think now, looking back at the endless Spawn mini-stories and cross-overs and guest appearances – Spawn may have always been written like that. I didn’t know any better, and being a young kid, reading that was the best thing I’d ever read. I guess my expectations were just too high when I brought Spawn # 200. I had grown up and read a lot of books and great comics and the dialogue in Spawn just didn’t do it for me anymore. I think there should always be a fine balance between quality art and quality story. You don’t want the art to outshine the story and vice versa. For now, Spawn will rest on my shelf with the other comics from my heyday that I want to keep, and all the new graphic novels that I buy for the story can get pride and place on my book shelf. Call me a snob, I probably deserve it.

Mitchell Tierney

 

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 2:07 am  Comments (4)