Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour - Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm easing myself back into the internet by way of the CSFFBT, just in time for a Christmas break. Yes, there is a madness in my method, honest.

Anyway, Starflower. It's a fairy tale, which, if I'm not mistaken, is not a genre well known for its use of aliens and time travel. I'm not averse to an occasional episode of Grimm, but otherwise this is not something that would ordinarily show up on my reading list. Which begs the obvious question: why am I here?

Well, basically, to give yesterday's music post a context. But while I'm here, lets point you to some of the highlights of the tour, for any passing visitors with a little more interest in the featured book:

The chance to win a copy courtesy of Gillian Adams
Shannon McSomething looks at the importance of names
There's an interview with the author at Blooming with Books
A mixture of reviews, good and not quite so good, including one by a younger reader (interesting as Starflower is a young adult book)

And don't forget you can visit the author's own blog, or facebook her.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

After all the frantic novelling of November, and the returning to real life (interrupted by all the Christmas stuff), internetting has sort of tailed off a little this month. But do not fear, for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is back this week, featuring Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Starflower is the fourth in the young adult fairytale series, The Tales of Goldstone Wood, which seems like a good excuse to send the Spotify elves off to choose this weeks soundtrack: The Top Ten Fairytale Songs.

10. Wob – Rapunzel
Look, I just wanted an excuse to say 'Wob'. Try it, it's oddly saisfying. Wob.

9. John Otway – Rumplestiltskin
Angry Cockney-punk version of the Grimm tale... Give us the baby!

8. Outlandish - The Emperor's New Beat
Today's obscure foreign entry: Danish hip-hop. Slightly sweary.

7. Rush – Cinderella Man
Because we love a bit of prog rock around these parts.

6. Green Jelly – Three Little Pigs
Is this so bad it's good, or is it just bad? I'm honestly not sure...

5. A-ha – Cry Wolf
There's something about listening to a-ha that takes me back to my youth, growing up in the little country town of Morten Harket...

4. Grass Widow – Goldilocks Zone
This is one of those tracks that is just better listened to than described.

3. David Bowie – Beauty and the Beast
I don't even know why I do this bit since you can just listen if you're interested...

2. Spin Doctors – Two Princes
I have no idea if there's actually a fairy tale called Two Princes, but there must at least be one about two princes.

1. Evanescence – Snow White Queen

And you can listen to all this with the gadget below, and while you enjoy that, pay a visit to some of these bloggers, also discussing Starflower: Gillian Adams Beckie Burnham Nikole Hahn Bruce Hennigan Janeen Ippolito Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Rachel Starr Thomson Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Dona Watson Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler

Friday, November 30, 2012


Time for one last progress report...

Day Twenty Two

Tired, I have cheated the word count a bit – there is no room for the apostrophe in NaNoLand. Also went back to a secondary character for a different perspective on things.

Day Twenty Three 

Managed to drag myself up to 38k by 2am. Most of it was decent story, although I am a bit concerned now that Matthew Smith, my eponymous hero, is the most completely two dimensional of all my characters.

Day Twenty Four 

The Travelling Shovel of Death turned up today, which was nice. So did Yosemite Sam, which was odd. Still, somehow managed to power through and get back on track by about 1.30am.

Day Twenty Five 

Powered through 2000 words today, getting myself ahead of the curve for the first time. Still lots of ideas coming, and still just as many things that are going to have to be taken out in the edit…

Day Twenty Six 

Another 2000 word day, creeping ahead now in the hope of finishing a bit early. The home stretch is always easiest, although I still have no idea how to get to the climax, and there’s a whole bunch of good stuff that hasn’t been used properly!

Day Twenty Seven 

Almost a day ahead at the close of today; did a good bit a Shovel of Death carnage during today’s write, and brought the heroes together in preparation for the final battle…

Day Twenty Eight 

Deliberately a short day today, because I knew if I started the final approach to the climax I would just want to finish it…. Wrote about 1100 words and left the rest for a final charge tomorrow night.

Day Twenty Nine

So far 2200 words written tonight, the big final showdown is about to commence…. Aiming to get past the 50,000 words mark tonight, whether that means ending the story or not remains to be seen…

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Tunes - The Ballad of Matthew Smith: First Draft Soundtrack

The soundtrack to the book has been slowly developing as I’ve been writing; some of the tracks are things I've listened to while writing, others tracks that just sprung into mind at particular points.

The tracklist is more or less in the order events happen in the current draft, which is to say not even close to the final order. It’s a fairly electic mix too: there’s some Blur, Blondie, the Beastie Boys and the B-52s, and a bunch of artists who don’t begin with a B, as well as several versions of the Blue Danube Waltz, Moonlight Sonata and If I Were A Rich Man.

And by this point, you’ve either got the idea, or you never will.

Either way, here's the Official Soundtrack in all its first draft glory:

Friday, November 23, 2012


Time for a progress report:

Day Fifteen
Terribly slow day today, really was not in the zone.  

Day Sixteen

Managed somehow to get back into the swing of things and almost got back up to target. Decided to adopt a character (Grandfather Adamantly Normal) from the NaNo boards because he was not doing anything else at the time, so working my way towards meeting him.  

Day Seventeen
Powered through some serious wordage today, starting to make up for lost time.  

Day Eighteen
Put some time into reordering some chapters (yes, I know that probably counts as editing, but the whole thing was such a mess before!) in order to get a proper feel for where the story had been so far, where the main characters were, and what they should do next. It obviously worked too, as I had another power day.

Day Nineteen
The introduction of Grandfather Adamantly Normal today led to a very strange – but fortuitous – occurrence: Matthew Smith turned out to be his own grandfather. How this has come about, and what philosophical meanderings the story can go on as they figure it out, I have no idea. But it was one of those things that came out of the blue, and knocked the story off onto a whole new direction.  

Day Twenty
Not quite in the mood still… got the daily words down, but not feeling most of them. Quite a bit was cheating quoting from external sources, if I am honest.  

Day Twenty One
Got to a good bit today, a bit that I have been playing with in my mind for a while, and finally reached the right point in the story to share it. Wrote 1940 words – still behind target, but gaining ground again now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Time for a progress report:

Day Eight

Think I'm out of the slump; some good story bits today but I did cheat a little and paste a recipe for rabbit stew into the text.

Day Nine

Hard going again, partly because I was half asleep writing.... another 1667 day, by sheer fluke.

Day Ten

Did not get the chance to make good use of Saturday (unless you count catching up on ten days of washing up). Really need to get a good amount of time to put the various scenes I have written into a sensible order, and those I've subsequently retconned out of the timline need end with 'And then he woke up to find it was all a dream and he was still back where we left him at the end of Chapter Two'.

Day Eleven

A quick visit to the adoptables thread and discovering the NaNoWriMo tradition of including a Mr Ian Woon in the story made this evening's session a breeze - I actually wrote some good stuff that probably won't be deleted in the re-writes.

Day Twelve

I have resigned myself to the fact that this story is determined to be a Jet Set Willy fanfic. I had originally planned something a little more in the way of a subtle homage, but the story has lent itself better to being more full-on. So today I embraced that, and gave Willy some more back story, because that was easy word count and I was under the weather.

Day Thirteen

After a little light plundering of the adoptables threads on the NaNo forums, I got inspired again today, and got some good writing and some solid story down. Word count still not quite as epic as it could be, but keeping in line with the curve.

Day Fourteen

Mostly continuing on from yesterday, and some notes for a good scene with a boat and lots of cookers that came out of a real life conversation... I may be writing that next :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Red Dwarf X: The Beginning

You know the drill by now... this will be spoilerific, so go away if you haven't seen it yet.

And I'll keep it brief, because there's important novelling to be done. I think the most important thing to be said here is that if they never make another episode of Red Dwarf (although all concerned have amply proven they can still do just as good a job as the beeb ever did), at least now it will have ended on a good note.

'The Beginning' was not the non-stop gag fest that 'Trojan' was, although it had more than a few laughs, but it was a superb bit of science fiction in its own way, what with simulant Death Ships looking all 'deathy' and some nice little nods to Star Wars and to earlier Red Dwarf - the first oblique reference to the ending of series eight, and right back to episode one, 'The End'.

Anyway, while all this Death Ship malarky is going on, Rimmer finally decides to play a holographic message from his father, who (massive spoiler) turns out not to be.

And that's when everything changes. Rimmer stops feeling like he has failed his father, stops trying to impress his father by being someone he obviously wasn't meant to be. He realises his father was somebody else, somebody who had entirely different expectations of him and would have been proud of who Arnold Rimmer actually was.

Isn't that what we all need sometimes, to realise who our Father really is, and to think about what He wants and expects from us, how He feels about us even when those around us seem to think we are worthless? Once we know who our Father is, we can begin to get a sense of who we are - and once we start trying to be that person, instead of whoever we think other people want us to be, that's when we can make a difference to the world around us.

And so, armed with a new found sense of self-worth, Arnold Rimmer finally sucks it up, grows a pair and acts like the senior officer on board, managing to save the day in what I at least thought was quite a fun sci-fi way.

And since fun sci-fi is what Red Dwarf has always been about, there could hardly be a better way to end the series. A very satisfying climax to what has, overall, been a return to form for Red Dwarf.

Friday, November 09, 2012


In case anyone's interested, this is how the progress has been so far:

Day One

Had no idea where to start. I knew I had to get Matthew Smith into the world of my story, but I didn't even know whether that world was real, virtual, a dream, or something else, so how to do that? I picked a good openeing line and went from there... I'll figure the opening out one I know what the story is about. Got to exactly 1667, but straddled midnight so my tracker showed yellow.

Day Two

Struggling on, still no idea where the story is going, and really wishing I hadn't decided to wing it like this! Pantsing is not for me. Squeaked over the 1667 in the early hours again.

Day Three

A bad wordcount day, the first day I didn't make the magic number (unless you count the end of day two's writing). Horrible day all round.

Day Four

A few mini word wars helped get the word count up again, and somewhere along the line I started to figure out who my characters were, what the story was... and felt good about it again! Put some serious retcon in, but that can be fixed later.

Day Five

Wrote from the bad guy's point of view today, to give the muse something new to play with. Seemed to work, got some good back story and some funny bits, and more pieces falling into place.

Day Six

Bit of a slump, didn't do much beyond some elaborated character profile and back story. Slave to the word count at the moment.

Day Seven

Would like to be able to slow down and write some of these bits better, but if I slip behind on the word count I'll get disheartened and give up entirely. Todays wordcount was mainly describing the setting a little more, stuff I can work into a context later.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Tuesday Tunes: Red Dwarf Top Ten

As this blog has been on something of a Red Dwarf theme lately, it was kind of inevitable, wasn’t it, that we would get here: The Top Ten Red Dwarf Songs.

10. Vincent Gene – Cat Man
Who knew it was going to start off all rockabilly?

9. Psychonaut – Starbug
I couldn’t not have a tune about Starbug, even if this one is rather longer than strictly necessary. It does change a little in the second half, but you know, just skip ahead when you get the idea.

8. Marc Gunn - The Mining Ship The Red Dwarf
OK, they get the name of the ship slightly wrong, but its an Irish drinking song about the Cat. How can you not love that?

7: Born to Hula – Red Dwarf
Actually has nothing to do with Red Dwarf, but sounds very cool.

6: Disasterpeace – Kitty Cat and Spacey Man
Sounds like it should be the tune from the Mega Drive game of Red Dwarf. Heck, it might be, for all the research I did!

5: Republica – Holly
Indie dance rock tribute to Norman Lovett. Probably.

4: Altered Images – I Could Be Happy
The relevance of this song will not need explaining to Red Dwarf fans, of course.

3: Missing Andy – Dave
We haven’t had a song about Lister yet, so he can have this one. It’s kinda fun, but messes with his backstory a bit…

2: Tom Songs – A Rimmer
This one actually is about that A Rimmer. And it’s pretty good too!

1: Ccada Luge – Red Dwarf
Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun. The coolest version of the theme tune I could Spotify at short notice.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Red Dwarf X: Dear Dave

I'm briefly interrupting my NaNo writing to continue the mini-series of Red Dwarf reviews, mainly because this isn't going to take very long.

Dear Dave was not a bad episode, but it didn't have a lot of structure or depth to it. It had a few nice comedy moments, and had the feel of a much earlier episode, Lister being all melancholy about being the last human, Kryten and Cat failing epically to console him while Rimmer is just... Rimmer.

But the trouble was, all the various plot points (such as it could be called a plot) were things that had been done before in earlier episodes. To give realism its due, in 20-odd years with the same three smegheads, conversations are going to be repeated occasionally. Still, taking bits of old storyline and gluing them together with some new jokes didn't really work; the episode needed something a little more meaty than a letter from Lister's ex to hang all the other bits on.

There wasn't much Cat in the episode, but he did, once again, get all the best lines for his trouble. The random reference to the JMC on-board computer (don't they remember Holly?) was a bit odd and disrupted the sense of continuity from earlier Dwarf that the episode otherwise maintained.

Oh, and I quite like the way Red Dwarf has taken Douglas Adams' vending machine nightmares off to a completely different extreme, especially in this episode (although I'm sure nobody in the known multiverse would really try and lift up a vending machine by lying on it and jumping up and down).

On the plus side, the cast are all well in their stride now, so combine that with the (presumably) minimal budget spent on Dear Dave, and given the overall goodness of Red Dwarf X, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a decent finale next week...

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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour: The Telling by Mike Duran

Ok. Enough with the tangents. Let's actually get to the point of the tour shall we? The point, of course, being Mike Duran's supernatural thriller The Telling.

Until such time as I have read it (look out for a review next spring), here's the blurb:
A prophet never loses his calling, only his way.
Disfigured with a hideous scar from his stepmother, Zeph Walker lives his life in seclusion, cloistering himself in a ramshackle bookstore on the outskirts of town. But Zeph is also blessed with a gift—an uncanny ability to foresee the future,to know peoples’ deepest sins and secrets. He calls it the Telling, but he has abandoned this gift to a life of solitude, unbelief, and despair—until two detectives escort him to the county morgue where he finds his own body lying on the gurney.
On the northern fringes of Death Valley, the city of Endurance is home to llama ranches, abandoned mines, roadside attractions...and the mythical ninth gate of hell. Now, forced to investigate his own murder, Zeph discovers something even more insidious behind the urban legends and small-town eccentricities. Early miners unearthed a megalitha sacred site where spiritual and physical forces converge and where an ancient subterranean presence broods. And only Zeph can stop it.
But the scar on Zeph’s face is nothing compared to the wound on his soul. For not only has he abandoned his gift and renounced heaven, but it was his own silence that spawned the evil. Can he overcome his own despair in time to seal the ninth gate of hell? 
His words unlocked something deadly,
 And now the silence is killing them.
I'm not quite sure where to start with all that, other than to say that this is going on my Christmas list. And I'm not sure if it's the llama ranches or the ninth gate of hell that swings it, but I think Endurance sounds worth a visit too.

Linky goodness:
Reviews of the book by Becky Jesse (who got missed off the list I posted yesterday), Nikole Hahn, and Kathleen Smith among others.
Bruce Hennigan reads a map
Jessica Thomas reviews it in three parts
Becky Miller talks demons and lost prophets
The author's website
My review of The Resurrection by Mike Duran

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

Contrary to whatever impression this blog has given you so far, this week the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring The Telling by Mike Duran.

The 'Telling' of the title is what the book's protagonist calls his uncanny ability to foresee the future and know peoples’ deepest sins and secrets, and so, it being Tuesday and me not giving a fig if this might seem controversial on an ostensibly Christian blog....

It's the Top Ten Psychic Tunes!

10. Jah Wobble: Psychic Life
Apparently Mr Wobble took his name from the way Sid Vicious said John Wardle (his real name) when he was drunk.

9. Men Without Hats: Telepathy
A Canadian bloke singing over the top of a Commodore 64 playing The Buggles. Probably.

8. Crash Test Dummies: The Psychic
It's basically that Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm one from 1993, with words. About a girl with psychic powers.

7. The Killers: Read My Mind
The 57th Greatest Song of All Time, yet somehow only the 7th greatest Psychic Song. I bet XFM never saw that coming.

6. Ned's Atomic Dustbin: Premonition
We had some great bands in the English Mid-west back in the 90s. This is no Kill Your Television, but the sound of Ned and his indie rock bandmates takes me back to my mis-spent youth.

5. Cud: Take The Time And Read My Mind
Another band straight out of my Sixth Form days, and this is really quite a pleasant listen... which probably means it's a song about dying horribly or something.

4. Hawkwind: PSI Power
The original cosmic rockers tell us about the downside of being psychic.

3. Ozric Tentacles: Psychic Chasm
I don't listen to enough Ozric Tentacles. That's going straight on my to-do list: listen to more Ozric Tentacles. Followed by: say Ozric Tentacles in the course of normal conversation.

2. Kenickie: Psychic Defence
Yes, we're back in the 90s again, this time for an insanely hummable little brit-pop number.

1. Blue Oyster Cult: Veteran of the Psychic Wars
So, you take a Hawkwind lyric, get Michael Moorcock to write a story about it, and set it to music for a hard rock band. How was that ever not going to top the list?

And with any luck, you should have no excuse whatsoever for delving into the weirdness that is my musical taste:
While that's playing, let's not forget there's a blog tour going on. Follow it here: Jim Armstrong Noah Arsenault Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Brenda Castro Jeff Chapman Christine Theresa Dunlap Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Bruce Hennigan Jason Joyner Julie Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Jessica Thomas Steve Trower Dona Watson Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Review: The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publishers for review. Admittedly, that was about eight months ago, and the tour has moved on to The Telling by Mike Duran now, but despite having a good excuse for delaying, I should really meet my end of the deal and provide a proper review.

Before we begin, for those who don't know, I don't do fantasy. It just doesn't work for me. However, most of the books we see on the Tour are written and/or set in the USA, so when I got the chance to read something set this side of the pond I decided to put that aside and give it a go. Besides, Lawhead told us this wasn't about a fantasy world, it was the world which exists beneath the one we see (hence the title). So, great, a fantasy England, with English folklore woven into it. Could be good.

But, I have to say, although the underground world our young heroes Daniel and Freya explore with a couple of Saxon knights could be considered 'not a fantasy world' in the traditional sense, older Daniel's adventures in the book primarily took place in, and trying to return from, Elfland (the faerie realms, to be precise). Riiiight. Given that I was hoping for the story world to be a little more Rowlingesque, I did feel I'd been somewhat mis-sold as I waded through the faerie realms.

The book is made up of two sets of stories - young Daniel and Freya's experiences in Nidergeard (the underground world) as teenagers, and their individual exploits some years later, Daniel in Elfland, and Freya... well, therein hangs the wossname.

Back in February, I wanted to share my unique British perspective on this with the tour as a whole, but having not finished the book, didn't know whether it would later become apparent - or indeed serve a purpose to the plot - that Freya was kidnapped by an Atlas of Britain.

It didn't take me a second thought to realise that Professor Felix Stowe was named after the largest freight port in the UK, and when he introduced us to First Lieutenant Gerrards Cross, Brent Wood et al, I was wondering whether this was deliberate, or whether the author was just rubbish at making up names and hoped his American publisher wouldn't notice. But when Freya started quoting from books by Cookham Dean and Dudley Port, I'd about had enough and wanted to throw the book off the cliffs at Rosslaw Head.

Never fear though, for Freya - being an educated woman who can probably even spell Abbingdon correctly - did eventually work out that all was not as it seemed and that she was being held captive by an A to Z. But we never found out what their agenda was, or why they had such outrageously silly names. Which was a shame, because although many of Freya's actual pages were largely pointless, save for hypnotising both Freya and the reader, hers was the only part of the story I actually wanted to follow.

So, in summary, maybe my expectations of the story and setting were off, and it says something that despite being set in Fairyland and not England after all, I still finished the book. But ultimately, as much as I wanted to like this book, I just didn't. And those bits that I did like were treated as so insignificant in the overall story that they are not enough to sell me on the rest of the series.

Linky Goodness:
My initial thoughts on The Realms Thereunder

But that's enough about that, I think I would much rather have read The Telling by Mike Duran, like these bloggers have:
Jim Armstrong Noah Arsenault Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Brenda Castro Jeff Chapman Christine Theresa Dunlap Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Bruce Hennigan Jason Joyner Julie Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Jessica Thomas Steve Trower Dona Watson Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Yes, it's September, or to give it its proper name, National Novel Writing Anticipation Month, those thirty days in which writers and crazy people the world over start to get all twitchy at the thought of starting another 30 day novelathon (in about seven weeks time).

And more often than not, start to panic when they realise they haven't got a clue where they are going to start on November 1st.

As for me, apart from a couple of vague attempts at short stories, I have hardly written anything this year, and as a result have my spare ideas from last NaNo plus one or two others rattling around inside my head, competing for my attention over the next couple of months. So, mainly for my own easy reference, here's my current WIPlist (or rather, ideas list, as most of these are insufficently developed to qualify as 'in progress'):
  • An Old Testament Space Opera. I think I can put an original enough slant on the story of Joseph and his brothers for it to work. 
  • A comic fantasy. I think DragonQuest (NaNo 2009) needs a prequel.
  • A paranormal/slipstream/ weird novel which sort of exists in my head but whose plot I haven't been able to distill into a sentence or two yet.
  • A collection of short stories which may or may not be interconnected. 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.
  • A memoir. Also not strictly within the rules of NaNoWriMo, but if NaNo isn't about breaking the rules, what is it about?
  • Some sort of timey-wimey story, either time travel or alternate history, in which Christ's life on Earth forms a critical point. 
  • 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 rubbish...
And left over from NaNo 2011:
  • An alternate history of WW2. I have sort of an idea for this, but I’m not sure I can make it stand out from the squillions of alternate WW2 scenarios already played out in fiction. Unless….
  • An alternate version of Left Behind – in which the rapture occurred during WW2, the Cold War, or the 1990s...Has the minor drawback that everything I know about the rapture and what comes thereafter I learnt from reading the Left Behind series years ago - and I've no wish to revisit them now.
I may put a poll up in the near future, just out of interest, to see what my reader would like to see. Unless I can make up my own mind, I may even go with the result...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Review: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I know what you're all thinking, and yes, it is true - I am about to review a *ahem* fantasy novel. A fantasy novel for the young adult market, no less.

But fear not, I have not yet taken leave of my senses, for it is a fantasy novel for the young adult market by Jasper Fforde, and as eagle-eyed readers may have spotted, that qualifier was enough to sell me on the YA fantasy novel bit.

Being for the younger market, it's shorter than your average Thursday Next novel, and a much fluffier affair than Shades of Grey, but definitely retains the flavour of a Ffordian world.

It also has as its protagonist a wise-cracking teenage girl who unexpectedly discovers that she is the last in a long line of slayers, so, you know, comparisons are bound to be come to mind - except, possibly, to the teenage target audience who might only know Buffy as some obscure old skool vampire show that knocks around on the daytime TV schedules.

But I digress. The Last Dragonslayer is set in the unUnited Kingdom, a dystopian land of faded magic, agency Wizards and Fizzy Pop, where the last dragon still lives safely in the no-mans land between the kingdoms of Hereford and Brecon - until, that is, the Last Dragonslayer is summoned...

You get the picture. Essentially this is the origin story of Jennifer Strange, Dragonslayer; but it is also the origin story of a world which, in the rest of the trilogy, will be changed because of her actions. Whether that world turns out just to be Hogwarts with jokes remains to be seen (at least by me). It certainly could go that way, were it not for that qualifier again: 'by Jasper Fforde', which of course means it is far more likely to turn into Buffy meets Monty Python, and what's not to love there?

So, yes, it's a YA novel, so it's not as deep or as dark as Shades of Grey, the characters are not as well formed as Thursday Next (at least not yet), and there is of course a coming of age theme (none of which are bad things, unless you really dislike YA novels or a quick, easy read). Yes, it's a fantasy novel, with magic, dragons, quarkbeasts and so on. But above all, it is a Jasper Fforde novel, with the brilliantly imagined world, surreal Ffordian humour, and those special features tucked away in the dusty corners of the author's website. Definitely one to add to any comic fantasy bookshelf.


Linky goodness:

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Phursday Photos at the Paralympics

I can hardly believe I got up at 5am to go and watch sport once, never mind twice, but it seems I must have done, because there is photographic evidence.

Having said that, before last weekend if you had asked me what the minimum requirement for competetive cycling was, I'd have said two legs - either natural or prosthetic.

Turns out I was wrong. Didn't get any photos of the German team sprint - too busy watching as 3 guys with 10 limbs between them broke the Paralympic record - but they were a definite highlight of the day.

Even so, no apologies for the obvious team bias in the photo selection...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

This month the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley, which sounds to me a lot like the kind of fantasy novel I don't read. I am, however, reliably informed that it has angels in it, so, obviously, it being Tuesday and all....

It's the Top Ten Angel Tunes!

10. Shaggy: Angel
I'm sure he didn't sound like that in What's New Scooby Doo....

9. Belly: Angel
And we open on some good old-fashioned jangly indie pop like they had in the 90s.

8. Space: Avenging Angels
In the top ten purely for its use of the phrase 'kick-ass angels'. Which, as of this moment, I've bagged as a title of a forthcoming story.

7. Nightwish: Wish I Had An Angel
Finnish symphonic rock, just because we can.

6. Spiritualized: Angel Sigh
Followed by more early 90s indie weirdness, this time with more of a prog-rock edge.

5. Madonna: Angel
Ah, happy days, when she wasn't just too darned old to be doing this stuff.

4. Ash: Angel Interceptor
That should be the title of a story too.

3. Moby: Homeward Angel
And on to the now traditional electronic offering... We should get Moby on here more often, shouldn't we?

2. U2: Angel of Harlem
Some cracking tunes this week, if I do say so myself! Classic U2 is often hard to beat though...

1. Eurythmics: There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)
But this song, which will forever be linked to a wet family holiday in Cornwall when I was eleven, was always a shoe-in for the top spot.

Now Spotify the Top Ten to check out what aural delights you're missing out on - oh, and why not browse some of these links, because I'm sure there was a reason for all this self-indulgent Spotifying...

Julie Bihn Thomas Fletcher Booher Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Jackie Castle Brenda Castro Jeff Chapman Christine Theresa Dunlap Cynthia Dyer Victor Gentile Ryan Heart Janeen Ippolito Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emileigh Latham Rebekah Loper Shannon McDermott Karen McSpadden Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Anna Mittower Mirriam Neal Nissa Faye Oygard Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Jessica Thomas Steve Trower Shane Werlinger Phyllis Wheeler

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Phursday Photos at the Olympics

I'm not normally the sort of person to be interested in sport of any flavour, but the Olympics dropping on your doorstep is kind of a once in a lifetime occasion, so we kinda had to go...

Unfortunately the organisers'  plan to allocate tickets to people who didn't actually want them means the closest I could get was to camp out at the side of the road for the cycling road race... but at least I got a good snap of Team GB's cyclists to show for it, as well as getting to soak up some of the Olympic atmosphere...


Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Review: The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

This weeks review is a slight detour from the usual intersection of sci-fi and Christianity, in as much as it isn't science fiction, but it is written by one of the genre's big hitters, Philip K Dick.

It is, in fact, his last novel, and quite a diversion from his usual fare; not only is it not the science fiction he was known for, it was written from the viewpoint of a single, female narrator, both aspects which suggest that he could have broken into mainstream literature, had he not died shortly after completing this novel.

Also because of PKD's premature death, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer has unofficially taken the place of the final volume in the 'Valis Trilogy', Valis and The Divine Invasion (more of which at some point in the future).It is, however, only thematically linked, and very much a stand-alone story.

The initial premise of the novelis that some newly-discovered scroll frgaments cast doubt on the authenticity of the gospels. Already controversial bishop Timothy Archer (based on Dick's friend, outspoken bishop James Pike) subsequently goes on a journey of questioning his faith, risking his job and livelihood, and having a romantic subplot along the way.

While it does make for an interesting look at the nature of faith, the overall tone of the story is pretty depressing. It definitely isn't a sales pitch for any kind of religion, so one to avoid if that's likely to bother you. Various story events are also loosely based on the life of James Pike too, but that won't detract from Dick's story unles you are already familiar with the life and work of Bishop Pike.

On the other hand, if you like the storytelling and/or philosophising of Philip K Dick, it's an interesting deviation from his usual fare and shows another side to his talent.

Linky goodness:
PKD on amazon

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday Tunes: Top Ten Shades of Grey

Don't misunderstand this as milking the tenuous link. Oh no. What's happened is I've realised that this Top Ten malarky is actually quite fun, so why only do it once a month? You never know what you might stumple upon while exploring Spotify.

And while I probably could have created a Top Fifty Shades of Grey, that would have been rather hard work so I've settled for the usual ten.

10. Taproot: A Golden Grey
Taproot were discovered by that Fred Dibnah from Limp Bizkit. What more do you need to know?

9. Question: Earl Grey
A mellow little jazz number that Captain Picard would have liked. Jazz, Earl Grey, smooth. Engage!

8. Karen Matheson: Early Morning Grey
Are there any Gaelic speakers in the house? I really hope she's not swearing....

7. Trivium: A Grey So Dark
Sorry, your volume control is going all over the place today isn't it? We're going all thrash metal for a few minutes now.

6. Deerhunter: Fluorescent Grey
It's a slow starter, but once it gets into its indie-prog-rock groove (apparently they prefer the term 'ambient punk') it's actually pretty good.

5. Haywyre: Grey
Every top ten needs at least... well, at least one piece of electronica, so, um, here you go.

4. Kreidler: European Grey
More electronica, this time from Germany.

3. Spirit Caravan: Melancholy Grey
Low tempo, high noise doom rock... melancholy with teeth. Turn it up to eleven, and let the street know you're feeling blue.

2. Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician: Berlin Grey
Seriously, that should be the name of a book, not a hip-hop producer. And as for the music, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be smooth jazz or some kind of trip-hop... Catchy tune though.

1. Kirsty Hawkshaw: Battleship Grey
This is exactly what I'm talking about: I've never heard of Kirsty Hawkshaw, but the combination of her vocals and the knob-twiddling of Tiesto that give this track a slightly Portishead-esque sound, and I'm hooked. (Turns out Kirsty was the voice of Opus III about 20 years ago, if anyone's interested.)

Now Spotify the Top Ten to check out what aural delights you're missing out on - and who knows, maybe I'll find another 40 to add to the playlist at some point...

Monday, July 02, 2012

Monday Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

I knew there was a reason for picking up an old copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four around Christmas time. And it was this: to make sense of Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

Shades of Grey is the story of an ordinary young man, Eddie Russet, a largely unremarkable drone of the Colourtocracy, whose lot in life at the opening of the book is to undertake a chair census in the Outer Fringes.

And Eddie's adventures, for it is possible to have adventures in chair-counting, and his will they/won't they romance with the cute but feisty Jane Grey, lead us on a voyage of discovery about the world of Chromatacia, and the Rules by which its residents live.

Existing several centuries after the apocalyptic 'Something That Happened', Chromatacia is ruled by a hierarchy based on perception of colour, the monochromatic Greys being the working classes; Eddie, a Red, being fairly lowly; and the Purples being at the top of the pecking order. The technology is a strange mix of what had gone before: Model A Fords driving on self-healing organoplastoid roads, for instance; and life is lived under the ever watchful eye of Head Office - a name which, for certain sections of society, will instil rather more fear than that of Big Brother.

All of which is to say that this is a very Orwellian dystopia, but one with a dash of Ffordian madness. Shades of Grey is not as laugh out loud funny as some of Fforde's Thursday Next books, but it's a fun read if you like that kind of absurd humour, and definitely an original look at the dystopian genre, once you get your head around the premise of the Colourtocracy.

It could be said that Shades is a little light on plot; however, as the first book in a trilogy it does a good job of introducing the reader to a well-rounded world with plenty of hinted-at mystery, and sets the players up for the rest of the series. The supporting characters, too, seem to have taken a back seat to world-building, although I did find myself caring what happened to Eddie and Jane. But all that aside, the world itself is so much fun that who cares if the characters are only there to explore it and the plot doesn't kick in until book two.

From a Christian perspective, I have to mention the Word of Munsell, from which Chromatacia has derived its all-encompassing (but often nonsensical) Rulebook. The Rules start with a Golden Rule of sorts:
Everyone is expected to act with due regard for the well-being of others.
Then there are more potentially useful rules for the wellbeing of the state and its residents:
Marriage is an honourable estate, and should not be used simply as an excuse for legal intercourse.
A unanimous verdict by all the primes will countermand the Head Prefect.
But then the rules start to wander into the 'serving no useful purpose' territory:
Ovaltine may not be drunk at any time except before bed.
And of course, some are deliberately silly:
The cucumber and the tomato are both fruit; the avocado is a nut. To assist with the dietary requirements of vegetarians, on the first Tuesday of the month a chicken is officially a vegetable.
But the story makes the point that some of the rules are mind-bogglingly stupid. The number that lay between 72 and 74 was banned for reasons lost in history, as was counting sheep and making spoons. It also makes note that some rules were followed mindlessly for centuries, despite being obviously flawed:
Children under ten are to be given a glass of milk and a smack at 11 a.m.
Conversely, of course, such variations have also been abused by those seeking to take advantage of any tenuous loophole they could find; both approaches point out the potential for flaws in interpreting any ancient text, whether by mindless legalism or liberal loopholery.

Hopefully as the series progresses we will find out more about Munsell and his wisdom,but either way, I suspect this is going to be a series that gets better as it continues.


Oh, and let me just reassure my reader that there is absolutely no bandwagon-jumping intended here. Jasper Fforde does not specify how many shades of grey the title refers to. There may be fifty shades of grey, or there may only be three. It's probably not important. What's important is that this book will be a far better way to spend a few hours than certain other books you may have seen reviewed elsewhere on the interwebs.