To Nano or Not?

Next month is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which should now really be called InNoWriMo because the movement is now an international one. I’ve participated in the last two Novembers, each one successfully writing the requisite 50,000 words leading up to what exists as an unfinished over 100,000 word novel on my hard-drive. This year I’m busier than ever and in the throes of a fascinating course on Shakespeare and his world alongside all the usual pressures of family and work as Christmas rapidly approaches. Leaves me with a question to answer in the next two days – do I go for it again? If so, what do I do? Do I continue my previous story, ‘The Roar of the Lion‘ and see if I can finally finish it, or do I do something new – I have the beginnings of a sci-fi novel rumbling about in my head all of a sudden. I really shouldn’t do it, but I’ve got this nagging suspicion I’m going to dive into the heady waters of the NaNoWriMo sea and see what comes out at the other end…


Review: The Wyld Hunt

The Wyld Hunt
The Wyld Hunt by Gunnar Roxen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Disclaimer – I was provided a comp. copy of this ebook for review purposes. I do not have any connection with the author.)

We first meet Agent John Aries, Echo Agent, and his partner, Tarus Arken Karazhja, better known by his nickname ‘Lovelace’, in this the first of the ‘Agency Case Files’, as they investigate the apparent suicide of Massey de Sargon. Set in a future Earth, this sci-fi thriller quickly grows in complication leading to an ever more desperate and far-reaching investigation which takes John and Lovelace to and beyond the limits of their skill and endurance. This is a fast paced and gripping read, one which I am happy to recommend.

In many ways this book reminded me of the highly popular Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, but with a sci-fi setting rather than urban fantasy. The pace, tone and language is very similar, but instead of vampires and werewolves we have Echos and Pures. It feels more pulp than hard sci-fi in its action and the inclusion of supernatural elements and religious backdrop, although the seeing itself is complex and well thought out. Much is left hinted at in this book in both the present and the past and I’ll look forward to this being further developed in later volumes.

The Echos are humans with psychic powers, the ability to call upon the power of The Wyld to manipulate in some way the world around them, each having their own specific area of expertise. This power comes with a sinister twist, the Wyld is carcinogenic, each time they call upon it, they take one step nearer to their death. There is also the risk that they lose their self-control and unleash a devastating blast of power upon the world around them. Despite these drawbacks, use of the Wyld is a constant lure to it’s channellers.

Pures are a human subspecies. Lovelace is enhanced with a massive, toughened build, a mouth full of sharp teeth evolved for tearing and all black eyes, devoid of white. They too have their weaknesses; in Lovelace’s case a sensitivity to bright light and religious compulsion.

The activity in the book is balanced between fast and furious action scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster and political intrigue as the partners find that the case ruins deeper and wider in their society than at first believed with severe ramifications for both of them. The interplay between these two is fun as they are both forced to discover who the other is and if they can trust them.

One of the main issues in the book is that of class. In this futuristic setting, the higher your class the higher you live, literally, with the wealthiest and most successful enjoying better air, space and views, whereas the poorer and lower classes live far below in squalor and darkness; a criminal haven.

This is a very enjoyable read, a fascinating setting with humour, action and interesting characters. It’s not deep hard-core sci-fi, but explores some interesting questions about the forces that drive us, our relationships and commitments. I’m pleased to see a book of this style adopting sci-fi, makes a pleasant change. I’ll be reading more!

As well as reading, one of my hobbies is playing rpg games. As I read this I couldn’t help but feel this would make an excellent setting and often found myself thinking how I would stat up characters and utilise the rich setting. Naturally I was thrilled to discover son after finishing that Chronicle City have produced a such a game, the Broken Shield RPG ( I will be checking that out before too long as well.

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Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what to expect from this book when I picked it up; the enigmatic title giving away little. Having read a number of Philip K. Dick books before I knew it would be worth the effort. So how was it? Compelling? Certainly. Confusing? Most definitely! Worth the effort? Yes, without a doubt. What happened? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure! This book of future life under the influence of perception changing drugs and virtual realities whilst in a frontier setting is the kind of story I hoped that the film Inception might be, if only it could have explored the ideas further without resorting to dramatically shot violence to hold the audience. Often you find yourself asking if what you’re reading is the truth or an illusion and pondering what is the essential nature of reality anyway. There emerges an theological aspect to about the nature of ‘god’ and the nature of humanity; I’ll have to think further about what he’s trying to say here. All in all, it’s either brilliant or simply confusing. I think I’ll plumb for brilliant.

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Review: Non-Stop

Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this novel by Brain Aldiss. Hard to say much without giving the plot away, but the story itself was enjoyable as was the ‘game’ of spotting what was going on through the clues scattered around the book. Some interesting ideas explored here about the relationship between science and faith and what it means to be human. I’ve read a number of the SF Masterworks series yet (a collection of ‘classic’ science fiction works) and so far not a dud amongst them.

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Review: The World Jones Made

The World Jones Made
The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read (a long weekend) by the sci-fi master Philip K. Dick.

Set on a post war earth, the government has adopted and enforces the policy of Relativism to maintain stability. This is never really defined, but seems to be something along the lines of either there is no absolute truth, or truth is flexible, dependent on the viewpoint of the individual. In light of this, it is forbidden to express judgement as this goes against the truth of others. There is a clear resonance with Postmodernism with its suspicion of meta-narrative and encouragement of tolerance and anything goes (‘if it feels good do it’). Dick explores what the world look like if this way of thinking was taken to its politically logical conclusion, and concludes that the lack of expressed conflict and truth would lead to blandness and stagnation – rather than encouraging variety and multi-culturism, uniformity and conformity dominate. This is echoed in the sub-plot, the life of a group of genetic mutants kept alive in the Refuge and introduced in the first pages of the novel. Their lives are marked by frustration and purposelessness, with them not knowing who they are and why they exist (more I can’t say here without spoilers).

Into this world comes Floyd Jones of the title of the book. He is a mutant who, it appears, has the ability to see one year into the future. This in itself is a fascinating concept which Dick explores – who hasn’t wanted to see into the future, but would this be a beneficial or good thing for the person with that gift? Who is better off, the person with this talent or the one who remains ignorant?

The existence of Jones causes a crisis. How can Relativism exist alongside someone who is able to see into the future and so actually know Truth? The main character of the book, Cussick, is forced to confront this question as part of his work for the state as his life and Jones’ intertwine.

I’ve read a number of Philip K. Dick’s books, and always found them entertaining and provocative. This was no exception. More straightforward than some of his latter works, it was still stimulating and worthwhile reading and reflecting on, particularly in light of some of the current trends in the West today as it grapples with exposure to other world-views and the clashes when they come together.

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Review: diaspora

diasporadiaspora by B. Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a brilliant scf-fate rpg. Haven’t the time to do a full review just now, but had to sing its praise. A simple implementation of the FATE system, it does what it sets out to do efficiently and effectively. This is one game I intend to use lots. I think in FATE I have finally found my rpg alongside Pendragon

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Review: Ringworld

RingworldRingworld by Larry Niven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I liked this book a lot.

What did I like? I loved some of the ideas and concepts that were explored, the employment of natural selection, the Ringworld and the implications of its scale and design, and the exploration of how the different species think and relate to each other rather than their simply being humans that look different. The central concept of how Teela’s luck affected the others was also intriguing. I enjoyed Niven’s style, I found it easy to read and engaging.

So why only I think I liked it? I found the second half of the book meandered a bit – not so much of a climax but a setting up of a sequel. I found I closed it a bit frustrated that I didn’t have more answers. The treatment of women was a touch dated too, they were certainly less rounded than the male characters.

Frustrations aside, if the sequel does turn up in our library, I’ll certainly pick it up.

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Life the Universe and Everything

At the moment Rowan and I are working on our times tables. My favourite sum is 6 x 7 because the answer takes me back to a favourite radio play/book/film of mine, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

According to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, some time ago a group of hyper-intelligent pan dimensional beings decided to finally answer the great question of Life, The Universe and Everything. To this end they built an incredibly powerful computer, Deep Thought. After the great computer programme had run (a very quick seven and a half million years) the answer was announced.

The Ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is…

(You’re not going to like it…)



Which suggests that what you really need to know is ‘What was the Question?’

The tagline to the Alpha Course publicity at the moment is ‘The Meaning of Life Is_______ .’ As Christians we have an answer to this question (and the answer is?) and we’re keen to share it. Of course just as the great philosophers who stood in front of Deep Thought that fateful day, we have to be mindful of the question as well. Sometimes we can be too slow and too shy to share the answer we’ve discovered with others, but sometimes we can also be too fast. Of key importance in communicating our faith is to listen to what others are saying, and answering their questions – not the ones we hope they’re asking, but the ones they’re actually asking. Of course, this may be the same question, and when it is, are we ready? If it’s not, rather than twisting the answer to give our preferred answer (no, the answer to all questions really isn’t Jesus!), it’s better to respond to what is being asked. If people can see that we’re taking them seriously, they’re more likely to take what we have to say seriously.

Incidentally, what do you think the answer is?…

Church Newsletter article for Sunday 3rd October 2010