Monthly Archives: June 2013

Episode 6 of The Adventures of Mike and SJ

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This thread started on a forum Mike and I shared, when we started playing off each other about this alternative/fantasy persona we each gave ourselves. Since then, we’ve started writing a novel together and Mike has had a number of books published as Michael D. Griffiths (The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part I, The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part II, Eternal Aftermath) while I’ve been busy rewriting several books and establishing my Creative Writing classes at Northbrook College. But though he writes horror and I write sci fi, when we get together, we write… differently! So I thought I’d put a slice of our combined madness on my blog…

Why did she have to mention Longshanks? That bastard killed Lwellyn Ap Griffiths and William Wallace, two of my favorite people in History. Did you hear about the time the English soldiers cut the tail off of Willaim Wallace’s horse, well he— Oh sorry Jack I forgot you were there. No, I don’t think we are in trouble. What are you talking about? We are just here on a holiday. Yes,we are in Chepstow.

chepstowShoot Jack told me to stay away from the castle and that he was heading to Wales. I better not tell SJ, she is barely holding it together as it is. Seeing Dahtoe sent her in a tizzy and now I feel bad. I wanted to come over here because I missed her so much, but I think our presence is bringing back some really bad memories for her. I hope she is okay.

Still, I’m a guy so I can’t tell her that… “Hurry up, we are going to be so late they will close the place down before we get there!”

—Typing on my phone now— This place is great! I love it here. Wales is the coolest. Hold on – Oh wow, this place has a dungeon!

“Come on SJ! It’s okay. I’m sure people come down here all the time – those DO NOT ENTER signs are probably for kids and… other folks, right?”

Wait, what is that light? It seems to be a glowing circle. It is right here on the wall. This is really strange!  My head feels all tingly. There’s the Orb! Where did that come from? I’m sure I didn’t pack it – did SJ go rootling around under those bin liners she’d stacked in the corner of the room and bring it along? Cos if she did, then she definitely could’ve afford somewhere better than that stinky old cupboard I’m sleeping in-

Hey… Look at that! Something is moving it, moving it towards the blinding light, like a key fits a lock.

Oh I feel faint. Maybe I should have listened to Jack, when he told me to come on back home…

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Mike? Mike – where are you? C’mon, this isn’t funny. You were the one who wanted to come down here in this smelly old dungeon. This hide and seek biz is just childish…

Ow! You’d think Health & Safety would do something about the height of these tunnels, wouldn’t you? I mean – I’m nearly bent double, augawip2 007creeping along in the gloom. Old Longshanks can’t spent much quality time down here, is all I can think…

Mike? Is that you? Oh… there you are- WHAT is going on with your hair? It’s whipping and thrashing around like a nest of snakes- and what is that? Floating just in front of you? It’s- oh no! It’s The Orb! One of the Crown Jewels. Hells teeth – Mike! This is no time to go all zoned out and waxy on me! Pull it together! If you’re found down here with THAT, they’ll fling the pair of us in a prison and throw away the key. Mike! Get your hair to do its thing and hide it, again… Please! Right. I don’t like doing this, but…

Ow! My hand! It’s like hitting a plank of wood, smacking your face… Please – you’ve got to make that Orb thing disappear back in your hair.

Oh no… it’s moving. Towards the swirling blue light in the far corner of this crypt. Mike? Hey, wait for me!

Ahh! My leg! Tripped over a boulder or something in the dark. Stupid lumps of stone and whatnot down here. You’d think they’d keep it tidy. Someone should sue…

Mike? Hey, I’m here. Got your hand, now. Maybe… we shouldn’t be going towards the light. It’s… very bright…

Mike – what’s that? What’re you whispering, buddy? Hey – what’s that – tears rolling down your face… and they’re wax! Leave? I’m not leaving – it’s ok… No – it’s not dark. It’s light, Mike. No, it’s not darken, Mike – it’s bright… too blinding… Mike – don’t let go! Don’t… Ahhhh!

Review of INDIE Book Ghost of the Gods by Kevin Bohacz

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Kevin Bohacz’s first book, Immortality, started this epic story when the nanotech plague ravaged humanity. He has now brought out the sequel and sent me a review copy – does Ghost of the Gods continue the momentum Bohacz created in his first novel?

Was it the accumulated wounds to the environment that had finally triggered the nanotech plague or was it simply one more step in a ghostofthegodsshrewdly crafted plan to replace us with humans 2.0? As I write this at least one pair of these transhumans breathe the same air as us, and there are likely many more. They may look like us, they may even be almost human, by they are also cybernetic and will live for an extraordinary length of time. Trust me, their goals are not the same as ours. It was not a natural plague that almost drove humankind to extinction but an attack from within, turning our own biology against us. Scientists discovered all too late an artificial entity, a sentient machine foolishly created in the image of god, had been studying us and genetically altering us for longer than we can imagine. What we do know that its work is not done…

Bohacz is a fluent, capable writer – but in these days of character-led action, his writing style is omniscient. This normally has me backing away from a book at a rate of knots – mostly because writers who use this particular POV these days often don’t know what they are doing. However, when Bohacz describes this book as a speculative fiction techno-thriller, he is only grazing the surface. In amongst the mayhem and chaos, some hefty issues are examined – the nature of existence and what happens after we die; humanity’s purpose; where Mankind originated and why… The engine that powers this book isn’t the character dilemmas – it is the techie stuff that is happening and these big questions that are raised. His scientific background majorly shows in the writing and I don’t think Bohacz could have written the book he wanted to if he’d stayed within his characters’ viewpoints. So, has he managed to get away with using omniscient viewpoint? Yes, I think he has.

I’m aware that I may have given the impression that this is an ambitious epic book that deals with some major issues – but it’s also a really entertaining read. Mark and Sarah, Bohacz’s main protagonists, are convincing and sympathetic. I was quickly drawn back into their story and wanted to know what would happen next – which was lots and lots… This fractured, paranoiac world is convincingly portrayed and the action scenes have pace and plenty of tension. Despite the fact that this book is nearly four hundred pages long and the text is reasonably tightly spaced, at no time did the story drag.

I managed to follow the science sufficiently to make sense of the story – but there were times when I skimmed over some of the explanations, which I do think could have benefitted from a bit more pruning. However, I’m aware that my dislike of lots of detailed exposition about world-building isn’t shared by many science fiction fans – particularly those who enjoy techno-thrillers.
Bohacz manages to provide a gripping plot with plenty of twists and turns that kept up the tension right to the very end.

But… my main niggle is that I would have preferred the book to have finished before the Epilogue, which has the feel of ‘tidying up’ the story and introduces a slice of sentimentality we don’t see anywhere else. I got the sense that Bohacz added it as an afterthought, maybe on the advice of an editor or beta reader. Personally, I would have preferred it if he hadn’t. However, it isn’t as big deal as it might have been if this had been a book with a smaller agenda. Bohacz has aimed very high with this techie yarn about why we are here and what might happen next – and even if techno-thrillers aren’t normally your favourite genre, give this book a go. I’m betting that you’ll still be thinking about it when some of your favourite authors have faded into the furniture.
8/10

Review of Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb – Book 4 of The Rain Wilds Chronicles

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If you have just picked up Blood of Dragons without reading at least the previous three novels in this fine series – don’t. Give yourself a real treat, go back to the first book, The Dragon Keeper and immerse yourself into this wonderful world so that you can properly appreciate Hobb’s creation.

blood of dragonsDragon blood and scales, dragon liver and eyes and teeth. All required ingredients for medicines with near-miraculous healing powers. The legendary blue dragon Tintaglia is dying of wounds inflicted by hunters sent by the Duke of Chalced. If Tintaglia perishes, her ancestral memories will die with her. And the dragons in the ancient city of Kelsingra will lose the secret knowledge they need to survive. Their keeprs immerse themselves in the dangerously additive memory-stone records of the city in the hope of recovering the Elderling magic that once allowed humans and dragons to co-exist. In doing so they risk losing their own identities, even their lives.
And danger threatens from beyond the city, too. For war is coming: war between dragonkind and those who would destroy them.

So you have it – the scenario that awaits the cast of characters we have been following. Does Hobb manage to successfully wrap up the multiple character arcs and sub-plots that her readers have avidly followed since the start of this story – and in some cases, from before that? Even for a writer of Hobb’s experience and talent, this is a big ask.

As far as I am concerned, the answer has to be – absolutely. I am a sucker for character-led books and Hobb’s books always tick that box. Her strength as a writer is to give her readers a ringside seat while her characters battle against a slew of misfortunes and character traits that hamper them, providing plenty of tension. Mostly because I find that really care, as she shows her protagonists in three-dimensional detail. Although, for once there was one character who was in danger of sliding into the realms of pantomime villain – not normally Hobb’s style. Her depiction of Hest did slightly jar, while set amongst so many other nuanced, well depicted characters.

I particularly enjoyed the unflinching arrogance and self-absorption of the dragons and the sense of loss experienced by those who devoted themselves to looking after them – some of the keepers would be forever slightly adrift. Hobb provides satisfying conclusions to most of the individual stories running through this series, but that does not guarantee happiness for everyone. However, this book held me throughout and when it finally finished, I put it down with a bittersweet sense of loss that I had finally reached the end of this particular journey that started with The Dragon Keeper – and a rush of thankfulness that I had found such a wonderful world in which to lose myself. And in the unlikely event of finally getting a summer worth the name this year, I’ve already made a promise to myself – to stretch out on the garden swing with the four books in this series and reread the lot, while basking in the heat…
9/10

Review of INDIE KINDLE story The Scent of Freedom by Mhairi Simpson

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Mhairi Simpson is a pal and fellow writer – we knock about writing ideas together, but this was the first time I’d read any of her completed work. Would I find this 8,000 word story as compelling as the idea she had outlined to me?

scent of freedomAfter thirty years hunting demons, the Hunter needs just two more. Two more dead demons and the family debt will be repaid. But when an old friend gets in the way, she must make a choice: to save him or her honour.

Written in first person POV, the inhuman protagonist is tracking a vicious murderer and Simpson immediately pulled me into her world. Her snappy writing style and vivid depiction of the crime scene, along with the dilemma facing the Hunter had me turning the pages, wanting to discover what would happen next. It takes a great deal more skill to write a successful short story than it does to write a novel – many bestselling, readable novels can get away with thin characterisation, or clunky dialogue, so long as the author provides a sufficiently compelling storyline. However, in a short story if the character isn’t convincing; or the backdrop sufficiently developed; or the dialogue sharp and realistic; or the storyline strong with a satisfying ending – then it fails. There simply isn’t time to compensate for such shortfalls in writing technique in a short story.

Simpson manages to fully deliver – the Hunter’s reliance on her sense of smell gave the story an intriguing feeling of ‘other’ that is always important when creating an alien character. The increasing tension as Hunter struggles to track down the perpetrator of a gory murder, with the frozen park providing an excellent backdrop to the action, provides narrative tension in spades.

I’m not going to discuss the ending, other than to say that it worked and left me wanting a lot more from this world. A superb slice of writing.
9/10

Episode 5 of The Adventures of Mike and SJ

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This thread started on a forum Mike and I shared, when we started playing off each other about this alternative/fantasy persona we each gave ourselves. Since then, we’ve started writing a novel together and Mike has had a number of books published as Michael D. Griffiths (The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part I, The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part II, Eternal Aftermath) while I’ve been busy rewriting several books and establishing my Creative Writing classes at Northbrook College. But though he writes horror and I write sci fi, when we get together, we write… differently! So I thought I’d put a slice of our combined madness on my blog…

Why is SJ all mad?

It wasn’t like I asked her to take me to Chepstow, I thought it was her idea, but then she keeps belly aching about it. Sure she doesn’t have a lot of money, but at least the guy in the pub let me drink all night when I gave him one of those rings I found.

So anyway what is it with this country and their bed and breakfasts? I go out to have me a few pints and then try to get back into out room and find the place all locked up. It was only 2am – sheesh! I tried to bang on SJ’s window to get her to let me in, but would she… no. You would think that she was the one drinking.

As I headed back into the dark wet streets a light fog began. Everything was oddly deserted and the fog grew thicker. Surrounded by the ancient buildings, my mind almost felt like I had gone back in time or entered some creepy horror movie, so naturally I thought that was super cool.

download-arabian-horses-wallpaper-arab-horseThen I heard it. Clip, clop, clip clop. That was that, I wondered? Clip, clop, clip clop. It was growing closer. Clip, clop, clip clop. I looked around; there was no one on the street. Clip, clop, clip clop.
Then I saw it. Out of the mists, coming straight at me, was a wild-eyed black horse. I could see the whites of his rolling eyes as it gazed at me. The blood froze in my veins and I couldn’t move. The black beast stared at me as it drew nearer. It was only then that I saw that it had a saddle on, but no rider!
What had happened to its master? Was this a ghost horse? Had it killed it rider? I took a step back and the thing passed slowly by, the echoing of its hooves fading into the distance. This was enough for me and I fled back to the bar, but it had already closed.

So after this unnerving event and a night of sleeping under a few soggy newspapers in the alley, SJ has the nerve to tell me, “I look a fright.”

I was about to tell her what’s for when I heard a familar squawk overhead. It was Dahtoe! I was pleased as punch, as the English would say, but SJ started weaving a string of curses that would have made one of those tank drivers she loves so much, blush.

Strangely enough Dahtoe didn’t land and instead began to fly towards Chepstow castle. Before long I lost him in the fog. It looked like a storm could be brewing, but with all the fog around these parts who could tell?

We were about to head to the castle,when my cell rang. It is Jack Primus of all people. Sorry… I need to take this – he doesn’t sound happy…

WHAT was I thinking, inviting Mike over to England???

Well I’m up to my elbows in, now!! I’ve had NIGHTMARES about that seagull, I’ll have you know! And there’s Mike – who looks like something a stray cat sicked up – crooning and calling to the psychotic bag of feathers like it’s some pet! Doesn’t he know it’s related to dinosaurs? It’s certainly got the cuteness factor of a velociraptor.

I wouldn’t mind – but it’s only Dahtoe that gets to see the softer side of Mike this morning, that’s for sure. He’s in FOUL mood. seagullsApparently I’m the hag from Hell for not opening my bedroom window at 2 am and letting him in. It’s all very well for him – he gets to go back home after this car crash of a holiday. But there’s my REPUTATION to consider. Aunt Gertrude’s first cousin’s husband’s niece and her family live in Chepstow. What if word got back to Aunt G. that a man was seen climbing through my window at night? I’m in enough trouble with the Family as it is. It was one of the reasons I didn’t want to come to Chepstow, by the way. Although Mr I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about is squirming out from taking any responsibility for THAT dreadful decision…

Anyway – onwards and upwards, as Aunt G would say. Well, before she got buried by the books in my spare room, anyhow. These days she’s rather grumpy…

We’ll go and see the castle – and I’m going to ignore Mike’s groaning about the weather. You’d think he was made of sugar the way he’s moaning about the drizzle. It’s only a bit of misty rain, for goodness sake. We’ll have a nice time tramping around the ruins and – maybe – I can cheer him up by getting him to imagine what it was like when Edward Longshanks had it built… The knights clumping around… the peasants toiling… the women embroidering…

C’mon, Mike. I’ve got my National Trust card and we’ve travelled all this way. Put away your phone – you can chatter away to Jack any old time. Let’s go and see us a castle…