Monday Review: Illusion by Frank Peretti

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was Christian speculative fiction, and it’s name was Frank. Thankfully the Christian publishing world has moved on since then; and so, it seems, has Frank.

Illusion is not your typical Peretti novel. There are no angels and demons, no monsters lurking in the woods waiting to do something horribly symbolic, and no overtly Christian stuff getting in the way of the story. (That’s not to say it gets in the way in his other books, mind; it just might have done here.) No, what you get here is a good old fashioned love story. With a timey-wimey twist, which is of course why I liked it. And like it I did; it may lack the monsters of vintage Peretti, but it’s Peretti doing good writing and telling a good story, so what’s not to love?

If this was sanity, being crazy made a lot more sense.

It’s the story of Dane Collins, magician, recent widower and, coincidentally, Christian. It’s the story of Mandy, innocent victim of time-rift experiments gone awry, illusionist in training and, coincidentally, Christian. It’s the story of the unexpected bond that the two of them form, and of a love that refuses to die.

The author adds in a post-script that it also symbolises being lost in a world where we don’t really belong, seeking comfort from the Holy Spirit as we journey through that world, and the ultimate love of Christ for His church. And, yes, it does symbolise those things, if you look for them. But if you don’t… it still works. It’s a story about people… yes, they happen to be church going magicians, one of whom can actually do magic, as opposed to plain old illusions, but people nonetheless.

illusionAnd all the timey-wimey stuff, while fun for someone like me who enjoys a good bit of paradox-surfing of an evening, is really just a way to twist a love story into something new and… weird. The actual mechanism of the timey-wimey is not explored in minute scientific detail, but that’s ok; there’s enough there to give the idea that someone in the background of the story knows how it should work, but this is not their story.

Illusion is, basically, Frank Peretti back on form. Whether you like time travel, Frank Peretti stories, or wholesome romantic twaddle, this has something for you. Jump on board and hang on for a rollercoaster of a love story.




This week, I have been mostly…

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Editing.

Editing a NaNoWriMo draft is one of the most torturous exercises known to man – but at the same time, as I make my way through the first-and-a-half draft (I already cut away a lot of the most obvious padding shortly after writing it in NaNo 2012) I am pleasantly surprised by The Ballad of Matthew Smith so far. I even LOL’d a bit, which is terribly unprofessional when laughing at your own jokes, but a good sign as I was going for humourous writing.
In fact, the more I get into this story, and The Ambivalence Chronicles, the more I think I should just give up on writing ‘serious’ speculative fiction and just concentrate on the funner stuff. After all, it’s not like I’m going to make a living from writing, so I might as well at least have a good time while I’m at it.
 

Planning.

I’m hoping to draft another Bit of the Ambivalence Chronicles during Camp NaNoWriMo this summer – although admittedly I could yet change my mind and do something entirely different – so at the moment I’m trying to put together some sort of overarching multi-volume uberplot to work the existing bits into.
 

Website building.

Well, more tinkering really. I know I should be thinking about getting actual content added – and I will do that, sometime – but there are lots of little things changing here and there as and when I get time to tweak them. Most recent front-end tweak, getting share buttons that actually show up on the main blog page and not just individual posts. Linked with that is the ‘recommended posts’ feature that now appears at the end of each post, but I’m not happy with the way it looks or works at the moment; that may well be the next tweak!
 

Coming soon…

I told you last week, pay attention. The best I can hope for on top of that is continued regular blogging.

Tuesday Tunes: The Sultans of Ping FC

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So the digital revolution began, rather predictably, with whatever cassettes were lying around nearby when I started. And among the first to come to hand was Casual Sex in the Cineplex* by the Sultans of Ping FC. What do you mean ‘Sultans of Who?’ Where’s Me Jumper is one of the finest pop-punk tunes ever to come out of Ireland. Back in those days I would occasionally, when at some party or event with a DJ, ask if they had any Sultans of Ping.

‘Sultans of Who?’ they would say.
‘Sultans of Ping,’ I would explain. ‘You know, Where’s Me Jumper?’
‘How should I know? Did you have it on in the lavatory?’
And so on.

Anyway, they were one of my favourite bands at the time, and although they were never quite the same after they dropped the FC, to say ‘they don’t make ’em like that any more’ may sound like a record review cliche, but it easily applies to Where’s Me Jumper. I don’t think anyone has made anything like it before or since. Not even the Sultans.

They did, however, write a lot of almost-as-good songs about about football, girls, football, sheepdog trials, football, vampires, girls, and bonkers footballers who thought they were God. Most of which didn’t make the album, but it makes them sound more exciting and eclectic to mention them anyway.

The album itself opens with a ‘prayer for the new century’, Back in a Tracksuit (aka the one about the bonkers footballer), then goes on to warn the listener of the potential upshot of ‘one night of mischieva in a yellow Vauxhall Viva’, before delivering the delightful love songs Veronica and 2 Pints of Rasa, and ending side one with shouty pop punk of Stupid Kid and You Talk Too Much.

Side two is less good, unless you happen to think football is the ultimate purpose of existence and that a man truly can have no greater love than to give 90 minutes to his friends, in which case Give Him a Ball (and a Yard of Grass) might appeal. Personally I think Let’s Go Shopping is far better, expressing the simple pleasures of doing mundane stuff with the person you love.

You also get songs about escaping reality through the medium of song (Karaoke Queen) and overcoming adversity (Clitus Clarke), and ‘man/womankind’s never-ending battle against the banal catastrophes of everyday living’ (Where’s Me jumper?).

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Stand-out tracks: I would have thought it goes without saying that Where’s Me Jumper? is far and away the funniest and most mosh-worthy song on this or any other album, and should be an anthem from that friend we all had in infant school who constantly mislaid his pullover.


*This blog does not condone any kind of sexual activity in movie theatres. Or casual sex in Vauxhall Vivas for that matter.

Listen along

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Linky goodness

sultansofping.com
Shimmy Shammy Sultans

Re-Dwarf: Backwards

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It’s all change aboard the good ship Red Dwarf for series 3: there’s a new ship in the now familiar Spacebug, a new crew member in the just as familiar Kryten, a more active crew position for the Cat, a new uniform for Rimmer, and a new face for Holly. And there are good reasons for most of these, explained in a Lucas-esque opening crawl. All of which, along with the improved production values that go along with being an established show, really saw Red Dwarf become the thing we all know and love.

It’s an orange whirly thing in space!

In Backwards, Kryten and Rimmer disappear while on Kryten’s flying test, and end up forming a novelty act on a planet which is, in fact, a version of Earth where time runs backwards. The way this works in practice is a little inconsistent and results in a few little plotholes, but it also lends itself to some fun philosophical musings about whether life makes more sense in reverse.

Rimmer, at least, seems in favour of a world without crime, where Hitler is a hero, having liberated Europe (presumably an event 50 years in the future at this time); it falls to Lister to point out that here St Francis of Assisi was (will be?) a petty minded sadist, and Santa Claus is an organised crime boss.

Which leads us to the theological thought of the week: the temporal mechanics of the backwards Earth shown in this episode would appear to show God as some kind of dictator who boots His friends out of paradise at the beginning of time, puts them through a lifetime on Earth, during which at some point they disown Him, and repeats this throughout history until ultimately speaking the entirety of existence into oblivion.

Or if you take the view that God exists outside of time, would He not see both versions of Earth at once? In which case, does cause and effect have any relevance to salvation?

The only conclusion I can come to before my brain melts and trickles out of my ears is that ‘time’ is a somewhat nebulous but hugely complex idea; God is much bigger, much more complex – but as clocks and calendars bring the vastness of time down to a level where any human can have a basic understanding of it, so Jesus brought the vastness of God down to a human scale so that we all could understand Him better.

Anyway… there’s a lot of visual humour throughout, not just from the reversing of eating and fighting and the crew’s reactions to them; Star Trek fans will probably notice a couple of gags taken straight out of The Voyage Home.

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It’s not one of my favourite episodes, but it has plenty of laughs – the bloke-ish banter between Lister and the Cat in the opening scene is one of the things that makes Red Dwarf for me – and the philosophical meanderings of good and evil and how they relate to the flow of time.

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The quality of the original was better for series 3 than in previous episodes, so improvements are becoming fewer; some obvious improvements were needed though, like the visual effects of Rimmer getting ejected from Starbug and the time hole that takes them to backwards Earth.

So, watch this for cakes being un-eaten and other thinkings on the nature of time.

 




The obligatory New Year post

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So, this is the first New Year at my new home in cyberspace, so it seems like I should welcome it in the traditional way, looking back at all the goodness 2013 brought with it, and forward to all the betterness that is to come in 2014. Nothing like an optimistic start, eh?

Obviously 2013 saw me upgrade my webspace from a mere .co.uk to a more important sounding .com address, with a fresh new look and vague, unfulfilled promises of a store full of yummy ebooks written by me. Ok, so still some work to do there in the next year.

On the subject of writing, however, it was a good year, with not one but two (count ’em) crappy NaNo grade first drafts cluttering up my hard disc. In a dramatic twist, one of them even has a cover sketched out by my tame artist, the lovely and talented Becky Trower.

All of which seems to point to bigger and more exciting things to come in 2014, and obviously has me regretting ever putting finger to keyboard and committing those thoughts to the blogiverse. Oh well, it’s done now, we’ll just have to see where it goes…

So, what can we expect to see here on the blog in the coming months? Well, firstly I plan to settle into the bi-weekly rhythm that mostly worked last year, which should keep things fresh and fun around here. There are a few reviews still waiting backstage, among them a smorgasbord of classic Doctor Who DVDs and an eclectic selection of novels; and Re-Dwarf will be relaunching any time now, as the great Red Dwarf Re-watch starts Series 3.

This year is also, remarkably, the tenth anniversary of the original publication of Countless as the Stars. Whether not having written anything decent in a decade is something to celebrate is debatable, but I hope the ebook edits will finish some time soon so I can get an anniversary edition released into the wild.

In other writing plans, first is editing The Ballad of Matthew Smith and getting that out as an ebook; I will also be joining in at least one session of Camp NaNoWriMo as well as the main event in November, probably to further develop The Ambivalence Chronicles.

And as a way to relax after all that blogging, writing and editing, I’ve accepted the challenge of digitising my cassette-based music collection, so expect the Tuesday Tunes segment to be over-run with 80s & 90s music of varying quality.

Happy New Year?

CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Shadow

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Serious faces now. No more getting sidetracked by memories of kids TV in the 80s or quoting Monty Python ad nauseum. I’m not even going to pretend, as I was tempted to yesterday, that Merlin is in fact a bloke called Roy from Birmingham who’s only wish is that it could be Christmas every day.
No, now it is time to be serious, and take a moment to ponder what this season is really all about:
Merlin’s Shadow, Book Two of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard.

Here’s what the All-Knowing Blurb has to say on the subject:

After destroying the sinister Druid Stone and freeing his people from its dark control, Merlin finds himself to be a royal advisor without a king. Along with his friend Garth and Natalenya, his betrothed, Merlin treks north with the orphaned Arthur in hopes of keeping the young ruler safe from soldiers misled by their turncoat captain. Relentlessly pursued by his nemesis Vortigern, Merlin and his band make for the fortress of Dintaga.
But dangers multiply when Merlin realizes that Vortigern is not his only enemy. Even his own sister appears bent on Merlin’s destruction. As the threat on all their lives increases, Merlin discovers their only hope is sailing to the lands of eternal darkness and once again cleansing the world from an ancient and powerful evil.

After my little blip last month, I am back in my customary role of ‘tour member who didn’t read the book’, but in the hope of sneaking some interested readers onto the tour in a kind of bloggy Trojan Rabbit, here are a few highlights:
Jojo Sutis has a giveaway and (and! AND!) video review goodness.
Jennette Mbewe has an interview with Arthur. No, wait, with the author.
And the author (fairly sure I got that one right) asks the question Where is God in The Merlin Spiral? (He also answers it, because otherwise that would just be weird).
And of course there are plenty of reviews by those who read the book instead of copying their homework from Michael Palin:
Here, here and here for starters.

As ever, there’s plenty more on the tour, get clicky with the sidebar or stop off at Becky Miller’s blog for direct links to every post on the tour.

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes: Merlin’s Shadow

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This week the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring a sequel – hence my re-hashing an already dubious visual gag yesterday. But because we had the Top Ten Wizardy Songs about six months ago I will spare you a further re-hash and do something different. A bit.

So here, lobbed ashore by some watery tart, I present the Top Ten Loosely Arthurian Songs:

10. The Kinks – Arthur
Arthur was born just a plain simple man, in a plain simple working class position.

9. Minmae – Sword/Stone
Pulling a sword from a stone is the defacto method of proving yourself king of the Portland, Oregon indie rock scene.

8. Grave Digger – Excalibur
Title track of the German shout-rock concept album version of the Arthurian legend. What, you didn’t think such a think would exist?

7. Rainbow – Lady of the Lake
This is from the old days, when Zippy and Bungle really used to rock. It all went a bit wrong when they hooked up with that camp hippo.

6. Hey Champ – Steampunk Camelot
And if you didn’t get that last reference, you really need to read up on your British legends.

5. Rod, Jane and Freddy – Merlin White Magic Air
Of course I’m kidding, it’s Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

4. Hunters & Collectors – Holy Grail
He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the holy grail in the Castle of Aaauuuggghhh. Not sure whether that includes members of Australian rock bands or not.

3. K.Flay – Guinevere
The hip-hop version of Arthur’s complicated love triangle with Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere. Probably includes swears and/or least dubious morals, but it’s kinda fun.

2. Blind Guardian – Mordred’s Song
More German fantasy rockers, but less shouty than the last lot. Probably had a glass of milk and watched some Rainbow before performing.

1. Professor Green – Avalon
And so, after a final showdown with Mordred and his Blind Guardian, Arthur retires to Avalon to recuperate, and is never seen again.

As ever, the playlist is there for your aural pleasure while you visit the other bloggers on the tour. Oh, if you haven’t already, ask Santa to bring you a copy of Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard next time he’s passing your way.

CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard

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Tuesday Tunes Christmas Special

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It’s nearly Christmas, which means I’m going to treat you to my favourite sci-fi related Christmas tunes to get us all into the festive spirit, and not because NaNoWriMo & Whovember have drained all my creativity, oh no.

And on the subject of Doctor Who, I’m sure I know some people who would quite like this particular Alien for Christmas…

The next one has become almost as traditional as White Christmas or Santa Claus is Black in my family since I first heard it played by the late, great John Peel some 20-odd Christmases ago. The classic combination of pop-punk guitar music with girly vocals and an accent (this time Japanese) – it’s Space Christmas by Shonen Knife.

And finally, it just isn’t Christmas until you’ve heard this one:

Monday Review: The Nazarene Sect

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This author has been turning out novella-length works at the rate of at least one a year since 2008, in varying genres and of varying quality. The Nazarene Sect is by no means the worst of these; it is, however, the most disappointing.
 
Disappointing because the premise – a time-traveller with amnesia teams up with a girl who can see demons and they try to put the world to rights – has potential for greatness. Unfortunately it fails to deliver in an epic way.
 
First off, there are the three unnecessary prologues, all of which ultimately turn out to be completely unrelated to the rest of the story; then, somewhere in the middle, the author seems to have lost the plot (literally) and gone to Africa for absolutely no reason whatsoever, before coming back to Europe for a hurried and unsatisfying finale.
 
The author does seem to have put some effort into world-building, but rather than integrate it into the story, it is gratuitously info-dumped anywhere and everywhere, to the point where I’m sure the phrase ‘As you know, Bob,’ is actually used despite there not having been a Bob in the narrative before then.
 
In fact, for all the initial promise of fascinating world-building, that section set in Uganda could just as easily have taken place in Nuneaton, or better yet left out entirely, because it adds nothing to the story.
 
It perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if I could work out whether the author was trying to make a serious point about the state of the world, or was playing the whole thing for laughs, as the style drifts from one extreme to the other almost as erratically as the story itself, which starts out as Buffy meets Doctor Who, and after it’s little safari turns into a crime caper, but in the final chapter turns out to have been a love story after all.
 
Basically, a good idea wasted by not knowing what it wanted to be, and as a result ending up about 30,000 words too long.