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Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton, has been described as “Pride and Prejudice of the dragon world”, but I think this does the book a disservice.

Pride and Prejudice, in my opinion, dragged a little.  Tooth and Claw does not.  At all.  From the very first scene, I was dying to find out what happened next, and how the various intricacies of the plots would work themselves out.

The book does share some similarity of style with the classics, but it lacks the thing that irritates me most about those books.  Jane Austen, along with most of the other famous authors of the period, writes assuming a level of basic knowledge about the society in which the characters live.  That’s fair enough – and modern authors do it too – but now that society has changed, I can’t help but feel there are little nuances of meaning which escape me.  Little jokes, which, if only I knew more about the society they lived in, I would find hilarious.

Tooth and Claw is set in another world.  Jo Walton goes through the world-building process that readers of fantasy and science fiction will be familiar with.  Her dragon society is not just human society with dragon characters, but involves new rules for what is “normal” – such as eating the remains of your parents after they die, culling the weak, and so on.  Sure, there are some things which stay the same – like the distinction between the gentry and the poor folk – but it’s all explained.

One of the interesting things was the effect that biology has on their marriage practices.  Maiden dragons are gold.  If they get too close to an unmarried male dragon who loves them, then they blush pink (later to turn red when they’ve laid their first clutch of eggs).  This means that everyone can tell if you’ve been alone with a male.  A maiden who blushes before she has become betrothed is considered spoiled.  It leads to some fine predicaments for two of the characters.  If you wanted to, you could read all sorts of political messages into that.

Tooth and Claw doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It has a kind of dry wit spread throughout which made it very good reading.  For example, the scenes have headings, and throughout the book there are a great number which are called “A confession”, “A proposal”, “A second confession”, “Two deaths and a third proposal” and so on.  Near the end there is one which is titled “The narrator is forced to confess to having lost count of both proposals and confessions”.

I would recommend this book for people who like the style of classic novels, people who like dry wit, people who like dragons, and people who are any combination of the above.

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I was a little (all right, a lot) worried before I went to see this film.  I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and had hyped it up so much in my mind that I was afraid that it would be a massive disappointment.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong.

From almost the very first moments I was on the metaphorical edge of my seat.

Kal-El

We open on the birth of Kal-El.  The room is clearly alien – the floating machines and the clothes give that away.  After the birth, Jor-El holds his new son in his hands – and we cut to one of those scenes which, once you’ve seen it you can’t un-see it.  An impressive alien vista is shown, with a large beast in the foreground.  It raises its head and bellows towards the sky.

You’re more likely to understand what I’m saying if you have children, or were a child yourself around 1994.  If you need a hint, click here.

I really love what they’ve done with Krypton’s architecture.  Not for them the overly traditional ice palace motif.  Instead we have a truly advanced race, with flying cities and technology that can change shape at need.  The development of their tech followed logical lines, too – their designers had clearly been influenced by the natural world that was around them, four-winged creatures and all.

Once he’s been sent off into the void (and the story of how that happened was very exciting, with its high-speed chases, theft, treason, and attempted coups) we cut to 30-year-old Clark living on Earth.

His youth is told through flashbacks, but it doesn’t feel forced or out of place.  What I loved about his childhood was that he struggled.  He didn’t fit in, and he knew it.  From the terrified “what’s wrong with me?” to the plaintive “can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?”, this was a child who was desperately afraid of being different.  He couldn’t fight back when he was bullied, not because he was afraid of being hurt, but because he was afraid that everyone would find out that he couldn’t get hurt.

When he learns how to fly you can see the pure joy on his face.  Here at last is something that makes it all worth it.

Lois Lane

Finally, a Lois Lane who is not the most unobservant reporter ever.  Bravo!

 am not an expert at drawing on the computer.

A normal Lois response to situations.

Dru-Zod & Friends

General Zod was very much a victim of his upbringing, and I liked that he wasn’t just evil without reason.  The one problem with his reasoning that I had was not at all the fault of the film.  It was this line:

“Everything I have done, I did for the Greater Good of my people.”

Which is fine unless, on the way to the cinema, you have had a conversation about Hot Fuzz.  If you’ve seen it, you will see what I mean.  If you haven’t, I pity you.  Go see it.  And then try to listen to that line with a straight face.

This is not a picture of General Zod.

Zod’s friends, however, had some interesting ideas about how nature works.  Evolution always wins, does it?  Hmmm, and all of those extinct species which evolved and then died out?  Still, one dud line in a film of that length is a pretty good ratio.

What next?

There were no major loose ends that screamed “insert sequel here”, but there were a number of avenues that could be explored in future films.

The first is, of course, Lex Luthor.  He wasn’t mentioned at all in the film, but there were several occasions where buildings and vehicles with “LexCorp” splashed all over them were seen (and often destroyed by the fighting).  Whether this was a taste of things to come or simply good background remains to be seen.  I for one wouldn’t say no to a film in which Lex was irritated at all the property damage.

The other idea I’d like explored is the question of Clark’s children.  For reasons which I won’t go into for fear of spoiling things, this would be very interesting.  And with his clear interest in Lois already demonstrated, we just need to discover whether Humans and Kryptonians are compatible in order for it to be a perfectly valid plot.

Conclusion

Five Stars.  If you haven’t already seen it, go as soon as you can.

Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days is unashamedly and firmly in the category of Christian Fiction.  

The book begins with the sudden, unexplainable disappearance of hundreds of thousands of seemingly random people across the globe.  People disappear from their beds, from their cars (moving or otherwise), from planes flying at 40,000 feet.  They leave behind only their clothes.

Everyone has a theory.  Space aliens, technological problems, nuclear accident, sun spots.  As time goes by it becomes clear that the correct answer, though most refuse to accept it, is the Rapture.  God has come and taken his people away, and everyone else has been Left Behind.

Since all of the “proper” Christians have been taken, the characters are all atheist, agnostic, or “Sunday” Christians.  During the course of the book they move through various stages of their spiritual journey – some end up accepting God into their lives and some don’t.  I won’t tell you which are which.  I felt that the non-Christian portions of their personalities could have been developed a little more.

The book is, if you can read past the blatant attempts to convert people, an entertaining read.  The Antichrist makes an appearance and the stage is set for many disasters on the world stage.

However, it is very obvious that it was written as the first in a series, rather than the series coming later when the first book was successful.  The story ends quite abruptly, leaving me with a vague sense of disquiet and a lot of loose ends.

Despite the unfinished nature of the tale, I don’t feel any great rush to read the next one.

I went to see the film adaptation of The Host, by Stephanie Meyer, at the weekend.

All in all, it was a remarkably accurate adaptation, considering what the film industry normally do to books.  I did spot a few places where the action was subtly different to the way it was described in the book, but the main plot items were all there, and all in the right order.  There were no characters missing, or extra characters, as sometimes happens.

For those who don’t know, the Earth has been invaded by body-snatching alien “Souls”, who have turned it into a paradise with no war, hunger, disease, or rude people.  The down side, of course, is that you lose control of your body, causing most people to just give up and fade away.  Melanie, one of a small group of human survivors, is captured and infested, but she resists, causing her alien companion no end of problems.  And, incidentally, being involved in a complex love-polygon in which the Soul and the Host are in love with different people.

It must be tricky to make a film adaptation of something where a large portion of the action occurs inside someone’s head, but they did very well.  The person in control of Melanie’s body always speaks out loud, with the passenger doing voice over, so you can tell who is speaking.  Their arguments are some of the best things about the film.

The characterisation worked well in both book and film, although in the film the relationship between some of the humans was not as clear as it could have been, and you don’t get to know some of the supporting characters as well.  There’s only so much you can do within a sensible film time-limit, I suppose.

I enjoyed the book more than the film; whether this is because of how the action translated to the screen or because I already knew what was going to happen when I watched the film I don’t know.  However, while I would happily read the book again (in a few years time), I’m not sure that I would bother watching the film again.

 

Think you know fairy tales?  Think again.

Marissa Meyer is back with book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles, the story of Scarlet Benoit.  Scarlet is on a mission to find her grandmother, kidnapped from their farm several weeks ago.  The police have given up, convinced she left on her own, but Scarlet’s not alone – a street fighter nicknamed “Wolf” is helping her.  Those with any recollection of childhood stories will be a little suspicious of his motives, but Meyer manages to keep you guessing for a long time.

And then there’s the little matter of why Grandma was kidnapped.  Scarlet’s grandma was in the military, but that was decades ago.  Surely she couldn’t know anything worth kidnapping her over?

Meanwhile, a dangerous fugitive has broken out of prison.  Cinder, the cyborg from book 1 who lost her foot while running away from the ball, is on the loose!   All she wants is to be left alone, but she knows that’s not an option.  So she’s determined to find out more about her past.  Why does she have no memories before the age of 11?  Is there anyone who knows her story?

And, as the two women strive to find out the truth, the Lunar Queen makes her preparations for an invasion of Earth.

I loved this book.  The characterisation is impressive, the plot moves along at a pace that had me glued to the sofa, and there were enough little twists that knowing your fairy tales doesn’t help you predict what’s going to happen in anything more than a general sense.

In fact, only one thing annoys me – we’re expected to wait until 2014 for book 3!

On Silver Wings is a fairly traditional space adventure story.  There are colonists on a far flung world, alien invaders, and a rescue attempt from Earth’s space fleet.

The problem, of course, is the aliens have some pretty impressive technology.  Impressive enough that they manage to destroy all but one of the special operations unit sent in to assess the situation before they reach the ground, despite being heavily stealthed.

Enter Sergeant Sorilla Aida, sole survivor, well equipped, well trained and willing to stop at almost nothing to protect the remaining colonists and chase the aliens off the planet.  She’s got battle armour and military rifles, she’s got local help to show her around, she’s even got some AI-augmented battle robots courtesy of the Solari Fleet Task Force.

What she doesn’t have is any aliens to fight.

Since the day the colony was all but obliterated and the colonists sent running to the jungle to hide, there have been no sightings of the aliens.  How do you fight an enemy you can’t find?

I enjoyed this book immensely.  Evan Currie started life as a (very very prolific) fanfiction author, and when he made the transition to original works I immediately added his work to my to read list.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The action is fast paced, the balance between the action on the ground and the maneuvers of the space fleet was well maintained.  The science was believable (though physics is not my strong suit, so I have no idea whether it was right or not).  The only thing that bothered me was that I didn’t really care about whether the military spacecraft lived or died, except in a roundabout way because of their impact on Sorilla and her band of plucky colonists.  I cared about them quite a lot.

All in all, a good read for those who enjoy adventure stories, space stories, or both.

The threads of five seemingly unrelated lives are woven together to create a story which hangs together in the end. I found my enjoyment increased once I reached the point where I could start to see some of the connections between the different people.

A university professor, making ends meet by singing backing music for resonance advertising and the occassional high-class soiree; an honest senator trying to get re-elected and run his district well; the crooked head of a multinational family-run corporation; a police detective investigating a series of suicides (or are they murders?); and a researcher working for a news corporation looking for the next big story.

Each of the characters percieves beauty in a different way, from the traditional music/art to the beauty inherent in politics, police work, and data analysis.  That explains the “beauty” in the title, although I had to look up “archform” to find out what it meant.  This is what Wikipedia says:

In music, arch form is a sectional structure for a piece of music based on repetition, in reverse order, of all or most musical sections such that the overall form is symmetric, most often around a central movement. The sections need not be repeated verbatim but must at least share thematic material.

This does describe the book quite well, in fact.  One theme in several sections, all revolving around a central mystery.

At various points in the book it is pointed out that what is technically beautiful might not appeal to everyone – and this is the case here.  The book was quite slow to get started. I found the constant jumping from one character to the next to be irritating, as it took much longer to find out anything about the characters. However, overall it was a good read.

I’ve been reading the Sookie Stackhouse books, by Charlaine Harris.  A friend leant me the first nine as a box set, so I had plenty of reading to be going on with.

For those who don’t know, Sookie is a human barmaid living in Louisiana.  She has been blessed (cursed?) with the gift of telepathy, and finds it hard to get along with people when she knows what they’re thinking.  A few years ago, after the invention of a synthetic blood called TrueBlood, vampires came “out of the coffin” and announced their existence to the world.  When Sookie meets one, she is delighted to find that she can’t read his mind, and thus begins her adventures in the world of the supernatural.

The books are a fun romp, for the most part – chick lit with vampires as it were.  No heavy thinking required.  Each one is a self-contained adventure, unlike some other series I’ve come across, so it’s possible to stop any time you want.

And yet, there is always some nagging question at the end, something to make you wonder if the explanation will be forthcoming in the next book.  And in the next book, your question is answered, but you’re left with another question.  It’s a brilliant example of teasing the reader just enough to keep them reading.

Having said that, it’s getting a bit frustrating now.  I want closure.  I want to be able to put the series away and say “that was really good, and now I’ll read something completely different for a while”.

So my question is this:  when is enough enough?  When should an author give up on a series?  Is it when they run out of fresh ideas for problems their characters can have?  Is it when the readers get bored and stop buying the books?  Is it when they run out of sensible titles with the word “dead” in them?

What do you think?

A survey which was released recently has discovered that “middle age” is now later than we previously thought.  Almost 20% of people said that middle age is a state of mind, but of those who specified an age, the average was 55.  Previous estimates have been around 36.

The thinking is that people are living longer, so the boundaries are having to be redrawn.  One statistic in the article sprang out at me: there are more people over 65 than there are under 16.

I have a habit of taking trends to their extremes to see what would happen, so naturally this statistic reminded me of Children of Men, a film in which no children have been born for 18 years.

The film is a loose adaptation of a PD James novel by the same name.  I’ve seen the film but not read the book, so I decided some research was in order and hunted up a copy to read.

(Warning: this post contains spoilers for major plot points).

The Film

It’s been a while since I saw it, which means this section is mostly focussed on the points which are easy to remember.  The UK is one of the last remaining functioning governments in the world, partly due to their extreme stance on immigration.  The chaos is immense.

In the midst of all this a man, Theo, is kidnapped by activists and asked to accompany a young woman on a journey, as protection for her.  He agrees, and it’s not until after quite a few shenanigans that he discovers why she is so important: she is pregnant.  The activists are planning to use the child as propaganda, so the two of them run away with the intention of delivering her to a group of scientists who are trying to cure the infertility crisis.

The baby is born on route, and Theo is gravely injured in some fighting.  The pair are last seen in a small row-boat, Theo slipping into unconsciousness as the scientist’s ship approaches through the fog.

There was one scene in the film which I think will stay with me for many years to come.  The baby is born during a battle between the activists, immigration prisoners in a prison camp, and government forces.  The building in which they are trapped is surrounded and under heavy gunfire.  Suddenly the sound of a baby’s wail fills the air.  Nobody has heard this sound for two decades.  The fighting stops as people look at each other in bewildered awe.  The young mother carries her child out of the building, through the surrounding army to the relative safety of the rest of the battle.

And then the fighting recommences.

The transition from awed silence to deafening gunfire is instantaneous, as if someone has thrown a switch and recalled all of the soldiers to their duty.  It is a stark reminder of something – something which I am having trouble putting into words, and which is perhaps best left as an unstated feeling.

The Book

The book, as I was warned, is much more cerebral than the film.  The film was, for the most part, strict action-adventure.  The book, in comparison, gives detail on the political structure of the country, and even hints of the way the rest of the world is coping.

The book is written partially as a third person narrative, and partially as a series of diary entries by Theo, who in the book is the cousin of the Warden of England and therefore slightly more immune to punishments than the average person.

The differences were not limited to the amount of background detail that was included.  There were differences in plot, both major and minor.  The ending, in particular, was radically different, with Theo killing his cousin and taking on the role of Warden to protect the newborn child and his mother.

One of the minor differences was the way the infertility presented.  In the film, the women are barren; in the book it is the men who suffer.  The book also came up with both a sensible response from the government (compulsory sperm testing of all healthy males in an attempt to find someone who could father a child) and a way that the pregnancy could have occurred without them knowing (the father had epilepsy as a child and was exempt from the testing).

I was impressed with the way the details were doled out at just the correct pace, interspersed with enough action to keep me interested.  Some of the details of social response to the situation were fascinating just from a psychological viewpoint, though they added very little to the plot.

All in all, I would recommend both the book and the film, for different reasons.  I may have to investigate and see if other books by PD James are equally enthralling. 

I read this article on the BBC today.  It sounds like fiction (very much so, as we will discover later), but predictive analytics technology – the ability to predict where and when crime will occur – already exists.

The computer program does it by analysing past crime stats, police activities, and various other things.  It will tell you things like “a violent assault will occur in such-and-such a neighbourhood in the next few hours”.  Not very specific, but enough to get increased police patrols in that area and hopefully stop the crime before it starts.

It was towards the end of the article that I started to get flashes of déjà vu.  They began discussing CCTV and how it could be used to fight crime (though opinions, of course, vary on how effective it is).  And then they suggested that combining CCTV footage with predictive analytics might give good results.  A small scale version is already in operation in the US, run by a company called Trapwire.

And then I read this:

The firm collects data from CCTV cameras and number plate readers in an attempt to forecast acts of terrorism.

And I began to think that all of this sounded very very familiar.  As in:

“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up…we’ll find you.”

Which is the voice-over from the title sequences of “Person of Interest”.

The concept is simple: when Harold Finch (not his real name) worked for the government, he built a machine which uses CCTV footage, government databases, and so on, to predict violent crime.  It was only supposed to predict terrorist plots, but he made it too well.  The government just ignores all of the other crimes the machine predicts, but Harold had a crisis of conscience and wanted to do something about them.  He built a back-door into the machine, and every day it provides him with the social security numbers of people who will soon be involved in violent crime.

He and his partner, John Reese (former Green Beret, may or may not be his real name) then spend the episode trying to save the person involved.  Or stop them.  Sometimes the machine gives them the number of the bad guys, and they don’t have any way of knowing which they have until they start investigating.

The show is a fun romp – crime drama with a little something extra.  They so far (and I’ve only watched half the first season) have managed to throw enough twists in that each episode is different.  I particularly enjoy the slightly adversarial relationship the pair have with the local cops.  One dirty cop, who they’re blackmailing to help them, and one clean cop, who is determined to catch the vigilantes and arrest them.  And when the clean cop’s number comes out of the machine, well, that episode was highly entertaining.

I have a horrible feeling that the hints of meta-plot that keep appearing are going to get in the way of the fun, but maybe I’ll be wrong.  Only time will tell.  On the whole, though, definitely one to watch. 

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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