Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's almost upon us....

So, NaNoWriMo is just a couple of hours away now... and I still have only a vague idea what's going to start appearing on my screen tomorrow.

It was nice to see a late surge of support for the Old Testament Space Opera in my little poll the other week, but The Ballad of Matthew Smith was the more popular choice wherever I asked the question. And although I never promised to be bound by the result, I like the idea too, so I'm going to roll with it.

Which leaves me with the dilemma of what happens to Matthew Smith anyway?

I originally envisaged the story as a sort of comic cyber-fantasy, about a computer programmer who is abducted and taken to the world he created for his best-selling game, for reasons as yet unknown....

The trouble is, I don't even know those reasons yet, and I think the reasons dictate whether the world he finds himself in is real, cyberspace, or some kind of dream... or indeed another part of the DragonQuest universe from a couple of years ago.

And until I figure out what kind of world Matthew Smith finds himself in, I don't know how to get him there... which is going to make Chapter One interesting in the morning!

No, I won't be starting at midnight - I need some sleep, and if I'm not asleep by 12 I will be compelled to start! - and I'm hoping to dream up the opening to the story overnight.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Entangled

So, if last week was the low point of Red Dwarf X so far, I think this must be the week we can safely say that yes, the boys from the Dwarf are back on form.

Basically it involves Lister losing a game of poker to some genetically engineered life forms, and relying on a decidedly stupid scientist to save the day. Admittedly, her stupidness did get a little tedious at times, but that's easy to overlook just by considering how awesome some of Cat's lines were.
We're all acutely sorry bud. Apart from me and him and him.
Yes, this was the episode where he really came into his own, partly by virtue of being quantum entangled with Kryten, meaning they delivered some of their lines in perfect synch, much to both characters' surprise.

Lister is at his slobbiest, Rimmer at his most officious (having just reinvented the ship's health and safety rulebook), and Kryten is doing a fine Hitchhikers' Guide homage. All in all, classic Dwarf, and right up there with the moose.

Not really much philosophical discussion to the episode; Kryten and Cat develop a new understanding of the nature of coincidence, and there's a whole space station set up to establish whether two wrongs do in fact make a right.

But we don't need that. Entangled is a high point of Red Dwarf X; let's just hope they can keep the momentum going for the last couple of episodes...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour: The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead

This week, as I think I have mentioned for those who have been paying attention, the CSFF Blog Tour has been looking at The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead.

As I mentioned on Monday, the Christian elements of the story were just beginnning to show up in The Bone House, and I was wondering what would be made of them in future novels in the series. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that point has been picked up on in a number of tour posts - having not read the book yet I won't get into how the subject is dealt with in The Spirit Well, but if you're interested, pay a visit to posts by Thomas Clayton Booher, Bruce Hennigan, Timothy Hicks, Jason Joyner and Becky Miller which look at this in varying amounts of detail.

If you'd rather just read a review of The Spirit Well and make your own mind up (or not) check out the reviews by Julie Bihn, and Jim Armstrong (who likens the quest to a story from Tom Baker vintage Doctor Who but with less jelly babies).

And your final essential stop should be Robert Treskillard's interview with Archaleus Burleigh.

The full list of tour participants is at the end of yesterday's post.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Tunes: The Spirit Well

As you may know, this week the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead.

So, naturally, today we present the Top Ten Tunes from the Spirit Well:

10. Amy Macdonald: Human Spirit
Yes, it is a bit too early for songs about Christmas, but this has only the fleetingest mention.

9. Lacuna Coil: My Spirit
Not as awesome as the gothic metal cover of REM's Losing My Religion which appears on the same album. You should totally go listen to that later.

8. Doctor & The Medics: Spirit In The Sky
Seriously, more churches should sing this on a Sunday morning.

7. Wave Machines: Punk Spirit
Nothing very punky about this track, apart from the fleetingest swear in the first verse. You wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't warned you, but hey, it's a family show.

6. The Waterboys: Spirit
Celtic folk rockers, wannabe sailors and fans of C S Lewis, apparently.

5. Blackmill: Spirit of Life
Because every Top Ten needs six minutes of gloriously obscure chilled-out electronica that I wouldn't have experienced had I not been exploring Spotify in putting this together.

4. Brian Eno & David Byrne: The Jezebel Spirit
Completely insane, sampled exorcism and all. From the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which is well worth a listen if you like this kind of weirdness.

3. Rush: The Spirit of Radio
Canadian prog rock. And why not?

2. Hawkwind: Spirit of the Age
OK, it might take a couple of minutes to get going, but it's worth it for the sci-fi lyrics worthy of Jonathon Coulton. If it weren't so long, it might have squeaked the top spot...

1. Tori Amos: Smells Like Teen Spirit
But I do love a weird cover version, and this pairing is about as odd as it gets... phenomenal result though.

Here they all are for your enjoyment:

While that's playing, let's not forget there's a blog tour going on. Follow it here:

Jim Armstrong Julie Bihn Red Bissell Jennifer Bogart Thomas Clayton Booher Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Brenda Castro Jeff Chapman Christine Karri Compton Theresa Dunlap Emmalyn Edwards April Erwin Victor Gentile Jeremy Harder Bruce Hennigan Timothy Hicks Janeen Ippolito Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Rebekah Loper Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Joan Nienhuis Lyn Perry Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Rachel Starr Thomson Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Dona Watson Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Review: The Bone House by Stephen Lawhead

This month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is looking at the third volume in Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series, The Spirit Well - which I haven't read yet.

I have read the previous volume, The Bone House, but haven't posted a full review yet, so this seems like as good a time as any to do so.

As a prelude, I should say that the first book in the series, The Skin Map, ticked a lot of my personal boxes - mainly by virtue of travelling through time and parallel universes by means of ley-lines - and so the sequel had a lot to live up to.

It did seem to start off quite slowly, but the main plot soon kicked in and wouldn't let me go. Alongside the main storyline, which continues the adventures of Kit Livingstone as he continues his quest for the skin map, we get some unobtrusive back story, of Mina's hitherto unexplained transformation from annoying girlfriend to dimesnion-hopping Lara Croft, of Kit and Mina's nemesis Burleigh, and of Flinders-Petrie, the man who was map. While Mina's story fills the gaping hole that left her looking like a Deus ex machina at the end of The Skin Map, the others start to add a greater depth to the multiverse Lawhead has created here.

Sometimes such epic, multi-threaded stories can get a little hard to keep track of, but The Bone House manages to stay interesting and managable for most of the various plot threads. I say most, because some of the later sections with stone age Kit seemed a little longer than necessary, but it didn't stop me enjoying the story.

This volume also introduced some elements of faith and Christianity into the story; presumably there will be some kind of spiritual message in the story as it goes forward, and the steady introduction of various Christian characters is easing us into whatever this may be.

I'm liking the Bright Empires series so far, and if you like the sound of it and want to dip into The Spirit Well, follow some of these links to see what the rest of the tour has to say:

Jim Armstrong Julie Bihn Red Bissell Jennifer Bogart Thomas Clayton Booher Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Brenda Castro Jeff Chapman Christine Karri Compton Theresa Dunlap Emmalyn Edwards April Erwin Victor Gentile Jeremy Harder Bruce Hennigan Timothy Hicks Janeen Ippolito Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Rebekah Loper Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Joan Nienhuis Lyn Perry Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Rachel Starr Thomson Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Dona Watson Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler

Other linky goodness: 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Lemons

Another Friday, another spoilerific Red Dwarf review.... look away now if you don't want to know the result.

Red Dwarf does 'Life of Brian', and ends up with, well, the lemon of the series so far. Now, I'm not the sort to get offended by light-hearted digs at Christianity. I figure Jesus is man enough to take a joke, but I guess there may be those who disagree, and might find the episode in bad taste. (Actually, some of it was in quite bad taste, irrespective of the subject.)

So while I wasn't offended by it, I was disappointed by the lack of originality at times - like resorting to how many wars Christianity has caused. There were some nice one-liners, but on the whole the humour was forced, and I'm not sure setting the thing in India worked in historical terms.

As far as Red Dwarf is concerned, the whole episode had pretty much been done before, often better, in earlier seasons. It does raise some interesting questions though: how many of the ten commandments did God break, and what would Jesus have done if he had known what would later be done in his name, just off the top of my head.

There is, of course, a lot more theological discussion that could be had riffing off this episode, and if anyone cares to comment on any of them, please do. I'm not going to go into any more detail now - maybe once I have the DVD and a chance to watch it more thoughtfully!

One point it did raise, however, and that is worthy of comment, is that Jesus is obviously still fair game for comedy; presumably Doug Naylor wouldn't have risked offending the Muslim population in a similar way...

Final word goes to Lister though, as he said to Jesus:
So some stupid people did some stupid things in your name. It's not your fault. You make a lot of people happy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012 Auditions

Don't ask me how this happened, but somehow it's the middle of October already. It was proper coat weather yesterday and everything. But more importantly: NaNoWriMo approaches!

And I still have no idea what to write...

Thankfully, that's not because I have no ideas. I have lots. I just haven't picked one to plummet head first into come November 1st. So, just for fun and with the disclaimer that none of this is in any way binding on my part, here are the possible contenders, and your chance to influence my decision.

  • An Old Testament Space Opera. Think 'Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Spacesuit'. Has the advantage of a ready outlined plot; but by the same token it's a plot that has already been reworked a few times.
  • A DragonQuest prequel. DragonQuest being NaNo 2009's comic fantasy retro-cyberpunk road trip. No plot ideas, but being silly always comes easier during NaNo than being sensible.
  • The Ballad of Matthew Smith. Another comic cyber-fantasy which may or may not be related to DragonQuest, but relates the story of a computer programmer who is abducted and taken to the world he created for his best-selling game, for reasons as yet unknown...
  • The Nazarene Sect. Not sure if this is a time travel story or an alternate history, but it's something timey-wimey and Christ's life on Earth forms a critical point.
  • A collection of short stories which may or may not be connected to each other or any of the ideas above. This would give me the chance to start any or all of these ideas, and more, and see which have the legs for a novel and give me plenty of raw material to work on over the next year.
  • The wild card option. Just pluck some characters, a plot and maybe a few other things at random from the adoptables threads, mix them all together and create something entirely new... 
That's the shortlist, go ahead and have your say :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Fathers and Suns

OK, maybe Red Dwarf is going to become something of a recurring theme here over the next few weeks, but, well, why not? This review will contain spoilers.

Way back in series VII, thanks to some 'time-travelly, paradoxy, sci-fi smeg', Lister became his own father. In this episode, he realises he hasn't been a great father to himself, and tries to put things right.

It's not up there with the funniest Dwarf episodes ever, but every episode can't be a comedy classic, so that's all fine. A couple of lines could have got in much more obvious directions, which is good. Unfortunately the running gag about Chinese whispers was lame, although I could see something of a nod towards Arthur Dent getting the Nutrimatic Drink Dispensers side-tracked - again, not followed through to the same conclusion as in Hitchhikers. Nothing close to last week's moose gag though.

What we do have is some great science fiction - Lister plays father and son brilliantly, aided by a computer straight out of A Space Odyssey. And those two plot elements combine to give plenty of food for thought, if you want to drag seriousness out of the show. Like: is the mess we made of our lives our own fault, or can we blame our dad? Or to extend that into a Christian worldview, can we blame our heavenly father? And if our Dad is a total bum (or as he might have it, a bum, but not a total bum) how does that affect our view of God as a Father? Does he want to exercise tough love and throw our beloved guitar out of the airlock? Or will he, indeed, throw us out of the airlock if necessary?

And as for Pree, the predicitve computer, well, you could get an essay on free will and predestination out of her, but it's getting late, so I won't.

In summary: Fathers and Suns was a great bit of sci-fi TV, with more laughs than the average Star Trek.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Resentment Drain

First, your obligatory spoiler warning: This will be the spoilerific discussion following Red Dwarf X: Trojan. Stop reading now and go watch the episode first!

In Trojan, a Quantum Rod causes Arnold Rimmer to come into contact with his brother Howard (also now a hologram), a prospect which stirs up the millenia-old resentment Rimmer feels for his better looking, more successful brothers. This resentment manifests itself in the form of self-created malware which overloads his brain and crashes his light bee.

In order to reinstate Rimmer, Kryten performs a resentment drain, after which we get a momentary glimpse of a more pleasant Rimmer, when he realises that competing with his brother won't make him happy.

This better Rimmer is, of course, expanded upon in the character of Ace Rimmer elsewhere in the Red Dwarf multiverse, but for the sake of the plot the old, bitter Arnold Rimmer soon returns. For a moment though, we (and Arnold) see what he could be if he would just man up and forgive his brothers for the perceived wrong they have done toward him; and a perceived wrong is exactly what it turns out to be, when Howard is also affected by a resentment overload, caused by his jealousy of Arnold's (albeit faked) success.

Unlike his brother, however, Howard's change seems to go deeper, to the extent that he willingly takes a bullet for Arnold, and then makes a deathbed confession that he is, in fact, just a vending machine repair man.

And when it comes right down to it, isn't that all any of us are? We are all flawed, imperfect human beings; and we should all be open to the possibility that we are somebody's Howard. We may not be able to do anything about our Arnold, but we can make a start by letting go of our own resentments. By forgiving our Howards, and being honest about our own faults, we can receive a resentment drain and be released from the burden of bitterness.

And who knows, we may even discover our inner Ace. Smoke me a kipper...

Friday, October 05, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Trojan

Ah, Red Dwarf. I’ve always been a bit of a Red Dwarf geek. I won’t go into the whole back-story right now, you’ve got google for that, but I will share a few thoughts about the first episode, Trojan.

Following Dave’s resurrection of the show in the rather disappointing Back to Earth mini-series a few years ago, they have returned to the show’s sitcom roots, studio audience and all, and in doing so some of the old magic that was missing in BTE was back.

Rimmer was back to his snivelling best (and gurning like a pro), there was some great random banter between Lister and the Cat, and Kryten was… a bit fatter than he used to be, but basically the same old Krytie. No sign of Kochanski, thankfully; a woman’s touch about the Dwarf was ok as a one-off joke, but the chemistry between the four guys was always at the heart of the show. Also no sign of Holly so far, but we’ll see what comes of that later in the series.

One of the great things about Red Dwarf was that it was always a science fiction series rather than just a sitcom set in space. It used proper sci-fi ideas, and those were back here too.

In the past the boys from the dwarf were often off exploring some long abandoned spaceship, and this week’s example, the Trojan, was powered by a quantum rod, which used the power of quantum entanglement to effectively contract space-time.

It was, in some ways, an episode of two halves, I thought: the first half was the funny half, moose jokes and the like, while the second half dealt with the serious stuff, the science and the philosophy. Yes, you could even get a meaningful conversation started out of this episode if you wanted to - as long as you could stop making moose jokes.

Sure, there were plot-holes if you were that bothered, the continuity from series 8 still remains a total mystery (possibly best to just pretend Red Dwarf X follows straight on from series 6 or 7 anyway), and I'm not sure what I make of the new Red Dwarf set yet...

But, based on the first episode, I think Red Dwarf X looks like being a return to form in terms of humour, chemistry, and science-fiction. And, naturally, the DVD set is on my Christmas list already.