CSFF Blog Tour: A Draw Of Kings by Patrick Carr

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It’s that time of year again when we randomly honour people named Patrick, and accordingly the blog tour finds its way back to the shadowy medieval doorstep of St Patrick of Carr, hoping for a few snippets from his most recent offering A Draw Of Kings.


It is an important and popular fact that my opinion on any serious fantasy novel is not going to be of any use or relevance to the sort of person who might otherwise read such a thing; I will therefore be skipping the review section of the tour (I know, it’s not like me to do that) and hand over to the back cover for the next part of this post.

Dark Forces Have Gathered and the Final Battle for Illustra Has Begun

Their journey to Merakh should have made Errol and his companions heroes of the realm. Instead, they’ve been branded enemies of the kingdom.

In the wake of the king’s death, Duke Weir is ruling the country–and he intends to marry Adora to bring an heir from the royal line. With Errol and the others imprisoned and the identity of the rightful heir to the throne still hidden in secrecy, Illustra is on the verge of civil war–and threatened by hostile forces gathering on every side.

A dangerous mission to free Errol is attempted, but the dangers facing the kingdom mount with every passing moment. The barrier has fallen, ferrals are swarming toward the land, and their enemies draw ever closer. Will the discovery of the true heir turn back the tide of Illustra’s destruction?

This month’s tour looks like something of an epic fantasy quest in itself, so grab a potion from Gandalf, roll a D20, mix in a few other random fantasy related metaphors and make your way over to St Patrick’s website where your fellowship of truthseekers are waiting to begin their journey. Then click some of the links in the sidebar, or maybe buy a copy of the book.

Re-Dwarf: Bodyswap

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Bodyswap starts, slightly irrelevantly, with Lister inadvertantly trying to destroy Red Dwarf with a milk shake and a Toffee Crisp in a plot element that never got resolved.

The crew’s attempt to not get blown up lead them to upload a dead senior officer’s mind into Lister’s body to shut down the auto destruct; which leads Rimmer to realise he and Lister can likewise trade minds, effectively giving Rimmer a body for a fortnight.

Oh smeg! What the smeggin’ smeg’s he smeggin’ done? He’s smeggin’ killed me!

There follows some Scooby-Doo style personality and voice swapping (yes, we’ll throw the science away for now and remember this is a sitcom as well), Rimmer welching on his promise to get Lister’s body back into shape, and in the end abducting it and doing a runner in Starbug.

Bodyswap does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a body-swapping romp in space. In terms of quality, I think this episode is the mid-season slump.

There are, perhaps, still lessons to be brought out of the episode, some theological crumbs dropped under the table of silliness. For instance, take the analogy of the Church as the body of Christ, and Rimmer’s (or was it Lister’s?) line:

You’ve no respect, that’s what. You’ve shown my body no respect whatsoever. You’ve treated it like smeg.

The same could be said of our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit, or the simple fact that people have always abused the good things God has given us temporary custody over.

We could also comment on Kryten’s role in all of this; despite knowing it is wrong, he follows Rimmer’s orders to chloroform first Lister and later the Cat. Why? For no other reason than it is in his nature to obey, even when it’s is illogical and plainly wrong to do so.

But for me the best lesson to draw from all this, is that which Rimmer fails to learn.

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In the first half of the story, he is given a chance at a better life – a full life – thanks to Lister’s inexplicable generosity. But, being Rimmer, he welches on his side of the deal. He could have had life, in its fullness (at least for a fortnight every summer), but by lying, cheating, and general selfishness, he manages to screw it up.

The offer open to us is for more than a couple of weeks; it’s for life in all its fullness, starting now and lasting forever. All we have to do is accept it graciously, and not be a smeghead.

Re-mastered

Apart from the Starbug/Midget chase sequence, which is revamped in obvious CGI and is another example of what they just should have left alone, there’s not a lot changed in the re-master; this is another one probably best watched in the original cut.

Watch this episode for Rimmer in Lister’s leather jacket, and Lister in a girdle. Oh, wait, I may not have sold that too well…

 




Monday Review: The Shadow And Night by Chris Walley

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As I was talking about space opera last week, it seemed semi-topical to continue that topic here; and we shall begin by reviewing Christian space opera The Lamb Among The Stars trilogy.

The Shadow And Night starts in the year 13851 on the Made World of Farholme, which lies at the edge of the Assembly of Worlds, an organisation which has ruled the galaxy in perfect peace since the early 22nd Century. Early on we are treated to seeding ships and terraforming, Below-Space Gates and Inter-System Liners, laser guns and- no, hang on, the universe is too peaceful to need those.

Indeed, the whole galaxy seems to be a kind of Christian Utopia, based on a view of eschatology that would have those nice Left Behind people very confused. And which, at the outset, doesn’t promise much in the way of conflict – unless it is about to be disrupted by something strange and probably unpleasant, anyway.

So it won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that that is precisely what does happen, and much of the first half of this book is dedicated to figuring out whether the strange and unpleasant thing is demonic, alien, or some mutated form of humanity.

The perfection of the world at the start of the story takes quite a suspension of disbelief – that even the concept of lying is completely alien to these people – but it does make the white lies, the need to keep watch while camping in the forest, all the little ways in which ‘evil’ starts to creep back, seem more significant, as if they are building up to something.

This is the tale of how, at last, evil returned to the Assembly of Worlds, and how one man, Merral Stefan D’Avanos, became caught up in the fight against it.

I did kind of get the feeling that not very much happened for half the book, but even so it introduced some intriguing ideas and set the stage for the rest of the series, wherein our hero, Merral D’Avanos, is somewhat reluctantly conscripted to the newly formed military, to fight an unknown enemy with untested weapons. Now we have a story!

En route to the adrenalin pumping evil fighting bits, we see evil subtly pervading Farholme society; I did find some of the ‘naughty’ things a bit extreme – as if Utopia were really some kind of crypto-fascist regime where snogging was a capital offence – but maybe that just highlights how far short of Utopia our world falls. And, of course, highlights the effect of said evil on the good people of Farholme, while reflecting the way evil so often works in real life…

The story claims to be ‘a fantasy in the tradition of C S Lewis and Tolkien’ – a bold claim, maybe, but there are certain parallels to the worlds of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, it’s an epic tale (albeit one set in space rather than a traditional fantasy world) and it has at its heart the big issues of good and bad, and at its front a big map of the land of Farholme.

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I do have one little criticism (and in the grand scheme of things, it is little), and that is that the characters seem to feel the need to talk in italics quite a lot. Overused italics lose any sense of importance they may have otherwise had. It just annoyed me after a while.

That aside, however, The Shadow And Night is an epic sci-fi adventure you could almost see Han Solo in, but with a Christian backbone. Definitely worth getting through the somewhat slow beginning and into the series as a whole.




This week, I have been mostly…

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Working on the day job, eating birthday cake, and unleashing my inner computer geek -he’s been quiet since I mothballed my Amiga many years ago, but is now busy plotting things to do with a Raspberry Pi. But that’s another blog post. I have also been…

Editing.

The typo edit for Countless as the Stars is almost done! Thought I’d found a total blooper, but it turns out I’d just forgotten when one of the characters died. (Spoilers!) Now I just want to get to the end and get the ebook finished. Should probably have words with my cover artist soon then…
 

Planning.

Apparently the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo is next month. How the heck did that happen? Well, I’ve tentatively signed up, in the hope of getting the next bit of the Ambivalence Chronicles drafted (not that I’ve polished the last bit yet).
 

Website building.

Fixed a few broken pages here and there; added a Red Dwarf menu page as that series is getting rather long already.tweak them. Also taking the ‘recommended posts’ away again, because I didn’t like them.

Unfortunately, I seem to be having irreconcilable differences with my shop page; anybody wishing to acquire a copy of Countless as the Stars should email sales@stevetrower.com – still at giveaway prices until I fix the shop.
 

Coming soon…

Well, I’m planning to get back into a regular blogging routine – at least for the rest of this month – and then dive into Camp NaNo. You have been warned.

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes: Ten Realms Beyond

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This week the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring One Realm Beyond, the first book in the Realm Walkers series by dragon fancier Donita K Paul.

But, as I’m not sure how big a part the dragons actually play, and because I expect the wretched things will turn up again sometime soon, here instead are the Top Ten Musical Realms To Walk To:

10. Clannad – Atlantic Realm
I’m not the biggest fan of Clannad’s celtic pop tunery, but I’m sure there’s a place for relaxing instrumentals in every top ten.

9. Ravi Coltrane – Angular Realms
Who would have thought Hagrid was a jazz saxophonist on the quiet?

8. Voolfga – Different Realms
This week’s electronic instalment, included mainly because I like the weird voice at the beginning. It’s the simple pleasures, eh?

7. Priscilla Hernandez – The Realms of Twilight
You’re traveling to another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. There’s the signpost up ahead – next stop, the Realms of Twilight…

6. Belle & Sebastian – Women’s Realm
I’m pretty sure my mum used to read this magazine. This must be the musical equivalent of knitting patterns, short stories and coffee break puzzles.

5. Mad Professor – Beyond The Realms Of Dub
The search for eclecticism leads us – literally – into new realms with this dub reggae number.

4. Hopewell – Realms of Gold
A fairly pleasant piece of psychadelic rock fun from Hopewell Junction,New York. And in the best tradition of psychadelic rock, the band forget to stop playing until about 40 seconds after the end of the song.

3. Belladonna – Beyond The Realms Of Reason
A band so original they had to invent a sub-genre of their own (rock noir, fact fans). You wouldn’t catch writers behaving like that now, would you….?

2. Widowspeak – Harsh Realm
They lie, this is not harsh at all, but jangly indie pop of the most sublime order.

1. Madness – One Realm Beyond
I don’t even care that the song isn’t called that, it has just sprung instantly to mind every time I saw the title of this week’s book. Plus, it’s totally awesome.

As ever, the playlist is there for your aural pleasure while you visit the other bloggers on the tour. And don’t forget that all this jolliness is part of the CSFF Blog Tour for One Realm Beyond, which continues in the sidebar.

CSFF Blog Tour: One Realm Beyond by Donita K Paul

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Once again, regular posting has failed to be a feature of this blog, but we’ll try and put aside those bad habits for now, for the sake of Donita K Paul and One Realm Beyond, first book in the Realm Walkers series.

Annoyingly, I was going to (instead of, you know, actually reading the book in question) tell you all about the awesome stuff going on at the author’s website, but it seems most of the tour has thought of that and the thing seems to have just gone down.

So, um… the author does have a website. There are things on it, some of them about the book we are touring this week, some about writing in general, and some about dragons.

Tell you what, I’ll just skip to the blurb and hit Spotify. The rest of the tour (linkies to your right) can tell you more.

Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms. But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone. With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies.

It’s at this point that I realise I should have done an Italian Job homage, with Mr Bridger as an inept dragon. Well, couldn’t be any worse than that Hollywood remake…

Join us here tomorrow for day two of the tour, when we continue to laugh in the face of relevance.

DVD Review: Minority Report

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I like Philip K Dick, but, oddly, have never read any of his stories that have been turned into movies, so I have no idea how faithful the movie is to PKD’s original vision.

Minority Report is set in the dystopic, Blade Runner-esque Washington DC of 2054, where murder has been eliminated by the use of three Precogs – genetically engineered humans with the ability to predict future murders.

On the surface, it’s a typical Spielberg/Cruise sci-fi action thriller about a cop who finds himself accused of committing murder in a couple of days time, and with all the cool futuristic gadgets on display, it is fun to watch on that level (especially now, some 12 years after its release, many of those gadgets actually exist or are in development). The future of personalised advertising and paranoia-driven security devices is nicely (if somewhat worryingly) extrapolated from the early 21st Century, too.

minority-report-uiBut, PKD was always an ideas man, and underlying all the action is a story about the genetic manipulation of humans, the treatment of those with ‘super-human’ abilities, and the concepts of free will versus determinism.

There is also a sense of moral ambiguity about the pre-emptive arrest system; it’s all well and good to start with, but then when our hero, detective John Anderton, finds the finger of predictive accusation pointed his way, suddenly it’s not such a clever system.

In reality, I suppose, the wisdom of such a system would really depend on the type of punishment handed out for a crime that was never committed; anger management or forced removal from a situation would seem somewhat fairer in general than putting an almost-criminal in an enforced coma, but a good story needs high stakes.

Confronting the bad guy towards the end of the film, Anderton says that once you know your future, you can change it if you want to. Yes, we’re back at the weird intersection of free will and predestination, always a fun topic for debate among Christians – although trying to reconcile Pre-Crime with either side of the debate is likely to result in brain-melting.

Theological debates about predestination aside, I found the different attitudes towards the Precogs interesting.

We don’t choose the things we believe in; they choose us.

To most, they were a tool, simply another way to catch criminals. Less than human, their ‘normal’ characteristics having been suppressed to ensure they were always able to perform their function.

Yet they were cared for in a room known affectionately as ‘the temple’, where few were allowed to enter, and almost worshipped as super-human entities by those responsible for their well-being.

Of course, our hero, detective John Anderton, comes to see them as equals – as three-dimensional human beings – and brings about a rather pointless Hollywood happy ending.

As a final thought, can anyone else relate to having been prevented from doing something really stupid by something outside your control? Has God ever stepped in like a Pre-Crime cop and pre-emptively arrested you?

On the other hand, have you ever made a decision that, had you known how it would play out, you would have made differently? Is God predictive or reactive when it comes to our mistakes?

Re-Dwarf: Polymorph

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Polymorph is my favourite episode from season 3 of Red Dwarf. It looks as if the effects budget for this episode was bigger than for the whole of the previous two seasons, with the shape-shifting emotion-eating Giger-esque monster, and suitably scary sounding bazookoids with which to see the thing off.

The polymorph – which isn’t an alien, it’s a genetic experiment gone wrong – pushes each crew member to the limit of his worst emotion and then sucks it right out of his forehead; even a mechanoid with no emotions and a hologram with no forehead, but we’re not here to go plot-holing.

Never tangle with anything that’s got more teeth than the entire Osmond family

That gives our heroes an opportunity to play different versions of themselves, just for a few minutes: Lister becomes fearless and just wants to rip out the monster’s windpipe and beat it to death with the tonsil end, while Rimmer turns into a goatee wearing hippy and sets himself up as some sort of peace envoy. Cat just gets finds a gutter somewhere and falls over drunk, and Kryten is quite happy to just hand the others over and do a runner while the monster is busy eating them alive.

On the one hand, Polymorph is an Alien homage with jokes. On the other, it’s a lesson in how the negative aspects of our personality – our fear, anger, guilt, vanity, *insert negative emotion here* – shape who we are, for better or worse.

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I’m sure there’s a better message to be pulled from this, but it’s getting late and I can’t do it justice if there is, so I’m going to leave you with this thought:

Maybe God makes us fearful so we won’t end up sacrificing our lives in some stupid pointless way. Maybe he allows us to be vain because the opposite – a complete lack of self-worth – would be more damaging. Maybe he lets us get angry because there are some things in life that can’t be reasoned with, and we just need to face them head on. Maybe He makes us feel guilt because, at some point in our lives, we put a bazookoid to his back and fed him to the mutant.

(Actually, that didn’t turn out bad in the end.)

Re-mastered

A whole bunch of stuff is updated, moved, shortened and improved in the remix, mostly to make the scenes in the cargo deck that bit more spooky and atmospheric.

Most noticeably though, the final scene, in which a second Lister follows the crew away from the cargo decks, was binned and replaced by a somewhat naff epilogue explaining what happened to the second polymorph. Obviously by the time the remastering was done, there had been no sign of it, so someone decided to tie up the loose end. It was better in the original version.

Watch this episode for peacenik Rimmer and an even more motley crew than usual .

 




Re-Dwarf: Marooned

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Red Dwarf has been ambushed by five black holes, and Holly, in her near infinite wisdom, has decided the crew would have a better chance of surviving if they take Starbug and Blue Midget while she tries to manouvre Red Dwarf around the black holes. So it is that we join Lister and Rimmer aboard Starbug, while Kryten and Cat take Blue Midget.

And you know how these things go, while avoiding a massive black hole, Starbug manages to hit a tiny meteor and Lister and Rimmer end up crash landed on blizzard world. As they wait, possibly in vain, for Kryten and Cat to find them in visibility of less than ten feet, Lister is reduced to eating gum ointment and forced to burn his guitar for warmth…

Awooga, awooga. Abandon ship…

It’s a very intimate episode, we learn things about Rimmer we would probably rather forget, and what happened with Michelle Fisher on the ninth hole of the Bootle Municipal golf course; we also learn that Rimmer, at some point, underwent past life regression therapy and now firmly believes that he was once Alexander the Great’s chief eunuch. Which is sort of interesting, that he believes this while elsewhere in the show’s run he mocks other religious or spiritual beliefs. Maybe it’s some sort of spiritual journey that Rimmer is on during the course of the show, or maybe it simply suited him to believe the Alexander the Great thing.

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Above all this, however, and we learn what makes real wealth: Decency. Self-sacrifice. And it is the sacrifices that Lister and Rimmer both (apparently) have to make which are the theme of the story; although Lister sacrifices nothing but what decency he actually did possess, and Rimmer’s sacrifice is just out of duty, to repay what he perceives to be a much greater sacrifice already made by Lister. Whatever ‘decency’ this might have afforded Rimmer is wiped out by his cry for vengeance at the end of the episode…

Elsewhere, there is gratuitous book burning – mostly books about Patton and Ceasar and various other gits, or books about food, but that’s just so we can laugh at things other than Lister getting so hungry he tucks into a tin of dog food (well, it was either that or a Pot Noodle).

Re-mastered

The ice-scapes are new and improved, and some dodgy jokes about Cliff Richard and a planet toupee are removed, otherwise, it’s very much business as usual.

Watch this episode to learn new things about Lister and Rimmer. And dog food.

 




Tuesday Tunes: MCMXC a.D.

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It must be time for something different in the writing music reviews… and it don’t come much differenter than this. With its weird combination of new agey instrumentals, Gregorian chants and thumping bassy beats, Enigma’s debut album is still unique in my music collection, even alongside the band’s later output.

MCMXC a.D. opens with what would later become Enigma’s signature sound, the Enigma horn, a relaxing opening that leads straight into the raving monk stylings that exploded the group to the top of the charts: Sadeness (Part I). It was a great track in 1990, and it is still a great track, especially on a bass-heavy stereo.

And while the beats come back for The Voice & The Snake and Hallelujah, there are plenty of more ambient sounds on the CD too, like the birdsong that opens Callas Went Away, the Close Encounters homage that is Rivers Of Belief, and those chanting monks again in Mea Culpa and The Voice & The Snake.

You may get the idea from some of the titles – not to mention those monks – that there is a bit of a religious theme going on here. And you would be right, of course; The Voice & The Snake and Rivers Of Belief both play with imagery from the book of Revelation (although I’ve never bothered to check whether there are any actual Biblical quotes – lazy reviewer!)

On the other hand, there are also tracks called Principles Of Lust and Knocking On Forbidden Doors, and I’m pretty sure Find Love isn’t just about romance. In fact, you only have to look at Sadeness, which juxtaposes the Marquis de Sade with the religious overtones of the Gregorian chant, to see the whole album encapsulated in four minutes and 21 seconds. (I can do it quicker: sex and religion.)

And in a weird way, that’s what makes it good writing music for me. Yes, it’s unobtrusive played on a laptop with no bass to speak of; yes it’s weird new age-y; and yes, what words it does have are mostly in foreign (and therefore also unobtrusive) – all good things when trying to concentrate on some writing. But some of my writing takes in themes of sex and religion; on those occasions, MCMXC a.D. is just about as perfect as it gets.

MCMXC aDStand-out tracks: Sadeness, of course; depending which issue of the CD you listen to, there are a few versions floating around, but the original version has just the right balance of monks and beats for me.

Sex and religion aside though, this is a classic album that thumbs its nose at the very idea of genre, and works just as well for background music while writing or for blasting down the lanes in a Mini.

Listen along

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