Thursday, September 20, 2007

Phursday Photos: Criccieth Castle

One of my favourite things to photograph is ruined castles. These shots were taken at Criccieth Castle in North Wales this summer.

Unfortunately the local flora wasn't up to much, or that last would have been a much better pic.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The CSFF Blog Tour of The Return

CSSF Blog Tour

And we now reach the point in the tour where I completely break with tradition, by actually talking about the book in question, during the tour, rather than six months later.

Some reviewers have commented that The Return works as a stand-alone novel, but I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive about trilogies and can't cope with starting anywhere but the beginning, so this might turn into more a mini-review of the Mars Hill series.

When I first started reading the series, there seemed to be a lot of words - a lot of technical jargon and explanation. Once the story got running, the techno-babble mostly just blended into the background, secondary to the story. And what a story: Action, suspense, the colonization of Mars, wierd fertility cults, cloning... there's a lot going on in the last part of the series, with John Wells back on Mars, and Raines and his growing cult forming the backbone of the Earth-bound story.

The faith of the Christian characters is tested here by the possible existence of not only aliens, but also clones. I think, incidentally, I've worked out what's wrong with Christian characters in CBA novels. If they have cause to speak about their faith, they can come across as either preachy or just plain forced. I don't know about you, but I always find it awkward trying to talk about it with colleagues, and often wish for the benefit of countless revisions and a sympathetic editor before committing to a final version of whatever I might want to say. I think it is fair to say that John and Amy Wells suffer a little less from this than many Christian characters, and in fact the whole Christian element seems surprisingly natural for a techno-thriller/sf hybrid story.

The main characters develop quite nicely over the series; even Malcolm Raines improves with age. In The Evidence I thought he was a bit of a Carpathia clone - generic CBA villain A - but by the final part of the series he has turned into Hugh Hefner's evil twin.

There is at least one fairly significant plot thread left untied at the end, but hey, that shouldn't be enough to spoil the book, much less the trilogy. If you like realistically imagined sf, Clancy-esque techno-thrillers, or a good story with a spiritual dimension, you should read some Austin Boyd.

Other highlights of the tour:

Jim Black asks what stories about Mars we like, and nobody answers.
Valerie is reading the trilogy backwards. Let us know how that works out, won't you.
Deena has an interview with the author.

And there are various other reviews scattered among these blogs:
Trish Anderson - Brandon Barr - Jim Black - Justin Boyer - Grace Bridges - Amy Browning - Jackie Castle - Valerie Comer - Karri Compton - Lisa Cromwell - CSFF Blog Tour - Gene Curtis - D. G. D. Davidson - Janey DeMeo - Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream - Jeff Draper - April Erwin - Beth Goddard - Marcus Goodyear - Jill Hart - Katie Hart - Sherrie Hibbs - Christopher Hopper - Becca Johnson - Jason Joyner - Kait - Karen - Dawn King - Tina Kulesa - Rachel Marks - Karen McSpadden - Rebecca LuElla Miller - Eve Nielsen - John W. Otte - Lyn Perry - Deena Peterson - Rachelle - Cheryl Russel - Chawna Schroeder - Mirtika Schultz - James Somers - Speculative Faith - Laura Williams - Timothy Wise

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

In honour of the CSFF Blog Tour, this week's Tuesday Tunes will present... the Top Ten Mars Tunes!

10. Bon Jovi - Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen from Mars
Horrible Bon Jovi naffness. Cool title.

9. Mylo - Mars Needs Women
He doesn't specify what they're needed for, so apply with caution.

8. The Undertones - Mars Bars
Purveyors of Teenage Kicks raid the Spar.

7. T. Rex - Ballrooms of Mars
Look, it's that guy Bolan again, not satisfied with having the inaugural Tuesday Tunes all to himself...

6. Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Death of a Martian
There are better Chilli Peppers songs, but not about Martians.

5. Hawkwind - Uncle Sam's on Mars
I suspect these psychadelic space rock pioneers may show up here again in the future...

4. Alice Cooper - Might as well be on Mars
Seven whole minutes of gloriously moody rock greatness! And apparently he's a Christian too.

3. MARRS - Pump up the Volume
What? You want to make up the rules, do it on your own blog!

2. The Misfits - Teenagers from Mars
Horror punk lunacy, not for the faint-hearted (and some sweary lyrics). Less good is I Turned into a Martian.

The absolute all-time best ever song ever with Mars in the title. And the B-side was a fantastically jangly indie-guitar instrumental number by the name of Cantina Band. Credited to someone called John Williams. I'm not sure where I've heard it before, but it rocks! :)

Honorable mention for Blondie's Rapture, for the mental rap about the man from Mars who 'stopped eatin' cars and eatin' bars / And now he only eats guitars'.

Yes, alright, I know I missed one. But it was the first song you all thought of, so I hardly needed to bring it to your attention did I?

Oh yes, and don't forget to buy The Return, or another book by Austin Boyd.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Return of the CSFF Blog Tour

CSSF Blog Tour

When I started this blog, some 18 months ago, it was partly intended to record my hunt for good Christian science fiction. Along the way I discovered - among others - the blogger now known as 'the Claw Man', and his expanding list of mainstream sf with religious characters or themes. Those books I have read from his list are undoubtedly good sf, but not quite what I was after. I wanted proper, in-yer-face Biblical themes or in-yer-face Christianity. What they refer to in the USA (where there's an association for everything) as CBA fiction. With spaceships.

And thanks in no small part to this very blog tour, I've found out that there is actually quite a lot of it around. You just can't buy it in the UK. (Which is, of course, why God created amazon.)

All of which pre-amble is to say that this month's featured author, Austin Boyd, has created just what I've been looking for: The Mars Hill Classified trilogy, the final instalment of which, The Return, was released earlier this year and is the focus of the tour.

Before we get to that though, let's have a little recap of the story so far - skip to the list of participants if you don't want to find out too much...

In book 1, The Evidence, we meet our hero, Navy pilot turned astronaut John Wells, who finds himself embroiled in two seemingly unrelated plots - a series of terrorist attacks across the USA, and the discovery of mysterious images being transmitted from the surface of Mars. The Martians, apparently, decide to communicate via wacko televangelist Malcolm Raines, who does all he can to prevent anyone who may threaten his World Inclusive Faith, such as Christian John Wells, going to Mars. But fails.

Book 2, The Proof, sees John Wells reach the pinnacle of his career, as he forms part of the first manned mission to Mars, looking for proof of alien intelligent. Of course, Murphy's Law states that as soon as such a mission launches, alien intelligence will be discovered right here on Earth, which is indeed what happens. While Wells is off meeting Martians, his wife Amy takes a stand against Raines and his alien prophecies (despite the fact that they keep coming true). And, this being part two of a trilogy, some loose ends are tied up, while more important ones are loosened in preparation for the big finish.

Also dropping by the Mars Bar this week:

Trish Anderson - Brandon Barr - Jim Black - Justin Boyer - Grace Bridges - Amy Browning - Jackie Castle - Valerie Comer - Karri Compton - Lisa Cromwell - CSFF Blog Tour - Gene Curtis - D. G. D. Davidson - Janey DeMeo - Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream - Jeff Draper - April Erwin - Beth Goddard - Marcus Goodyear - Jill Hart - Katie Hart - Sherrie Hibbs - Christopher Hopper - Becca Johnson - Jason Joyner - Kait - Karen - Dawn King - Tina Kulesa - Rachel Marks - Karen McSpadden - Rebecca LuElla Miller - Eve Nielsen - John W. Otte - Lyn Perry - Deena Peterson - Rachelle - Cheryl Russel - Chawna Schroeder - Mirtika Schultz - James Somers - Speculative Faith - Laura Williams - Timothy Wise

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Phursday Photos: Yoda

Don't worry, it's just September, and the car show season going out with a flourish - next week's photos will be altogether different. In the meantime, here's Yoda at the National Mini Day last weekend.

Yoda and friends

Reflections (again)

Yoda again

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm a proper writer, me.

Well, sort of. For amid the blog posts of varying quality, miscellaneous unfinished works of fiction, and a novel that nobody wants to read, there are occasional moments of quite-good-ness.

One of these, I thought anyway, I wrote about seven years ago, an interesting (if you're interested in that sort of thing) piece on how some of the characters in the ancient Ladybird book Tootles the Taxi and other rhymes were based on Dinky Toys. This article, some admittedly average accompanying photos, and a spare copy of the book in question were bundled up and sent off to Model Collector magazine, never to be seen again.

Until today, when part of my original work, spliced together with another piece submitted coincidentally on the same subject, appeared in the November 2007 issue (IPC Media still use the Roman calendar, apparently). It goes without saying that I thought it was far better before all this dicing and splicing went on, but one or two (yes, I think it's two) of my sentences are still recognisable, and hey, I'm not proud, so I'll take a credit where I can get one.

Maybe someday I'll post the original version up here. Or possibly somewhere else where it won't be quite so off-topic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Introducing... Tuesday Tunes

What's this, I hear you say, another new semi-regular feature?

Well, possibly. If you would like to occasionally hear what I think about the last CD I bought, and perhaps be introduced to some of the more obscure acts in my music collection.

I'm going to start off gently though, by banging a gong for T.Rex.
T.Rex never really made it across the Atlantic (probably too sophisticated) so, for the uninitiated, they were part of the vanguard of the glam rock movement in the early 70s, which later gave us the likes of Slade and, um, The Wombles. T.Rex were around before it all got too silly, and the early hits - songs like Get It On, Telegram Sam, Metal Guru and Children of the Revolution, were actually good, if rather similar. And 20th Century Boy, like many other classic tunes, had something of a revival in the early 90s thanks to a certain purveyor of denimwear.

The reason for starting the feature and this somewhat random point in musical history is that it is 30 years this week since T.Rex frontman Marc Bolan died. In a Mini 1275GT, which is the main reason I know that fact. Apparently his girlfriend got the heel of her platform shoe stuck under the pedals - an unfortunate but very glam rock way to go.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Review - Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr

Readers of Christian-themed sf will no doubt know Walter M. Miller Jr as the author of A Canticle for Leibowitz, but since it has been short story week here, I'll take a quick look at this collection of his shorter works.

This collection includes a dozen or so stories, including the novellas Blood Bank, The Darfstellar, and Dark Benediction (wasn't he in The A-Team?). Many of the stories reflect Miller's interest in religion, and particularly the Catholic faith he followed, with priests, prayer and religious imagery appearing in several stories.

Many of the stories have little in the way of characterisation or plot, but do what short sf does best - present an idea, then leave the reader to worry about its possible implications. Miller's ideas often deal with moral or ethical problems - which has the advantage of not dating the work as tends to happen with technocentric sf (is that a word?).

Interestingly, some of Miller's technology has - sort of - come about. The idea of actors being replaced by robots as in The Darfstellar seemed, at first, a bit outdated in these days of movies on demand and reality TV. But the men in white coats have recently reanimated Bob Monkhouse, and before that there was Gene Kelly's VW ad.

Among the other ideas presented for your consideration are a distant future world regressed to a pre-industrial state, and then presented with a supercomputer and its robot gurdian (Big Joe and the Nth Generation); the social implications of alien abduction (You Triflin' Skunk) and telepathy (Anybody Else Like Me?); and various treaments of what it means to be human in Dark Benediction, the eerily current Conditionally Human, and the more technocentric, but quite disturbing, I, Dreamer.

I could go on - I've barely scratched the surface. Not all the stories hit the spot for me, but there is plenty of variety, plenty of good, intelligent stories and thought-provoking ideas, and a Christian worldview underlying most of it. If I had to pick a favourite story, today it would probably be Blood Bank, a somewhat dark vision of mankinds evolutionary future, but there's probably a story to suit every mood...

Dark Benediction is published in the UK as part of the SF Masterworks series. In the US you'll have to settle for The Best of Walter M Miller Jr, which was published around 1980 but seems to include the same stories.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Introducing.... Phursday Photos

Which could be a new, semi-regular feature, or it could just be an excuse for me to post some of the more arty pics I took at last weekend's British Mini day. This collection would be called something like 'Reflections of an Icon', but I'm not feeling cheesy enough.




Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More short stuff

For those who may be wondering, I do intend to give writing short fiction a bit more of an effort. There are, after all, markets, especially for short genre fiction. (Interestingly, I hear that Fantasy & Science Fiction is short of science fiction and humour...) And there are always plenty of short story competitions to enter. Most are not spec-fic related, but I've been playing with some of the themes, and twisting them into a speculative story seems like it could be fun. I suspect it will frighten or at least bemuse the judges, but when that happens, there's always this blog to post it on.

Now, the reason for my sudden interest in the short story is partly that, while plundering the extensive back-catalogue of Escape Pod, my current source of short sf, I have come across a number of stories with some kind of religious content or theme. And I'm getting a taste for how some of these things might be dealth with in a more overtly Christian story.

I've said this before, but for those of a podcasty nature, I recommend Escape Pod. I like the amusing way the stories are all rated: 'Contains profanity, sexual situations, and the undead, in various combinations' or 'Contains battle scenes, Imperial propaganda, overenthusastic chemistry, and bad poetry.'

And I like some of the readers: host Steve Eley's female character voices always make me smile, and Mur Lafferty - well, she hasn't read one for a while, but something about her voice would make me hang on every word of the phone book. Actually, perhaps that's not the best thing to listen to while driving...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Short stuff

I think we're probably overdue a post about science fiction. This post, or something like it, has been in a holding pattern for almost a month waiting for me to finish it off and post it. It's probably not as polished as it should be for all that revision time, but you get what you pay for at this blog.

Way back in the mists of time, a blogger with the unlikey moniker of 'slushmaster' made this post. Which, in turn, solicited replies like this one, and this. And, eventually, this one.

I haven't made a subscription yet, but the whole discussion has made me take another glance in the direction of short sf. As a rule I don't read short stories. I have a collection of Stephen King's shorter works, and I've read a number of sf anthologies over the years, but generally I'm a novel reader.

And, because I like the whole world-building exercise, and find bringing characters to life and telling a story in about 1600 words waaaaay too challenging, so far I have remained a novel writer too.

But sf and short fiction are old pals. A short story can be just enough to bring an idea to life, without flogging it to death the way an over-long novel sometimes can. Science fiction is the fiction of ideas, and the more I think about it, the more I am persuaded that short stories are often the best way of conveying a single idea.

And ideas are one thing I have in plentiful supply. So maybe I should get a bit more practice in. And maybe, just maybe, when I find myself with a few quid spare in my current account, I will get that subscription too.