Monday, 30 September 2013

Whinging About Deadlines

This is how I feel about Sunday night writing deadlines:




Brought to you by the Institute of Procrastination.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

On to Number 2

Now that I am enlightened by Philip K. Dick's storytelling style, I'm moving onto fantasy in the form of #86 Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series.  Book one is called Furies of Calderon.  I haven't heard much about it ... apart from all the raving my friends have been doing over the series.


I have previously read Jim Butcher's Storm Front which was okay.  It's a kind of fantasy/hard boiled detective series which is apparently supposed to be amazing from the second book, Fool Moon, onwards.  I haven't got around to reading more from that series, known as the 'Dresden Files', despite my fiance frequently berating me over the issue.

Usually I like the fact that fantasy books come in multiples - it means the experience keeps going and going.  But for this Top 100 Challenge I'm a little less enthusiastic about it, looking at the long list.  So in terms of whether I'm going to read the whole 6 books in the series of Codex Alera, I'm going to wait and see how long it takes me to read the first one and whether I enjoy it.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Top 100 Review #1 - Book 21 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.

For the first book of my Top 100 Challenge I read Philip K. Dick's science-fiction novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?



It took me a while to get through since I've been so busy lately, but the book is actually quite short at under 200 pages in the version I read.  Although published in the 60's, the language is still very readable.  I imagine this is probably because it was published for the masses rather than as a literary work.  With some books I have encountered from that era, the narrative style can be a little jarring in comparison to modern writing.  I did not have that problem with this book at all.

The main plot of the book follows bounty hunter Rick Deckard's mission to 'retire' a number of androids - a total of 6 who have come to Earth from Mars illegally.  It is not fully explained to the reader why the androids must be killed, that is, why it is illegal for them to be on Earth, until quite late in the book.  I found this confusing at first, as I felt like I was missing important information.  I suppose I immediately felt sympathy for the androids and therefore wanted to know why they had to be put to death rather than just deported.  However the late reveal was probably done to mirror Deckard's initial nonchalance in terms of his task at hand -  the reasons aren't important, it is simply his job.  

Eventually Deckard does start to rethink his mission, and this reflects the major theme of the question - the value of life.  The way in which the author has made animals the most valuable commodity in a post-apocalyptic society where animals and the environment have barely survived, creates a good juxtaposition to the protagonist questioning the value of the androids' lives.  This is a particularly difficult thesis as the androids are almost identical to humans, except that they lack empathy.  It can be so difficult to tell an android apart from a human that it can only be verified 100% via certain methods, such as a bone marrow analysis.

I did feel that the androids were far too easy for Deckard to kill.  Perhaps this was done on purpose, to show that the androids really are very close to humans.  But I felt that, as this is fiction, I wanted a little more action.  A little more cat and mouse.  After all, the pop cultural understanding of robots is that they are generally very strong and faster than humans.  From memory, I think Blade Runner delivered a bit more of that, at least when Harrison Ford is trying to take out the final two androids.  So perhaps part of my expectations came from my memory of the movie.  This sense of action-deficiency was the basis for my first mini-challenge, being a rewrite of one of the scenes in which Deckard kills an android.

I was quite surprised by how effected I was by the scene where the android Pris cuts the legs off a spider.  I'm not a big fan of spiders.  I probably don't hate them as much as I hate cockroaches but I am scared of them nonetheless.  Therefore you would think that I wouldn't care about somebody 'dismembering' a spider.   I suppose it's the way in which it was done - Isidore, a human, is in anguish because spiders are very valuable and he feels bad for the spider.  Pris decides to cut its legs off because she doesn't understand why it has 8 legs.  Figuring it only needs 4, she casually snips the legs off with clippers.  Later when the spider just sits there after being disfigured, another android puts a flame near it to make it move.  It made me very uncomfortable to read.  I suppose this for me was one of the most memorable scenes of the book, because it reflects the themes of life and empathy.
 
Yikes! Well if I've learned something from this book it's that I'm not an android because geez ... look how freaking terrifying this thing is.

There are a lot of other things that I could go into in terms of analysing the book, on which I'm sure there have been many essays written, but suffice it to say I would certainly recommend it to anybody who enjoys science fiction and/or possibly even detective fiction.  Overall I was quite satisfied with the book and it's a shame there aren't more Philip K. Dick novels on the list as I quite enjoyed his pulpy-yet-somewhat-literary style.  I think I will pick a fantasy novel next to mix it up.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Focused Writing

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Sadly, this was me yesterday on my day off.  Between writers group, working out, and falling asleep at the keyboard, I really felt like I had an unproductive writing day.  I also blame YouTube.  Curse you YouTube!!

Monday, 23 September 2013

50 Facts About Me -- Part II

Continued from Part I ...

11. My favourite sport to play is field hockey, although I haven't played since high school.

12. I am neither a cat nor a dog person - I love both equally.
Apparently the feeling is not mutual.

13. I really like painting my nails and have been experimenting lately with different nail art brushes.  After all, It doesn't matter what you look like, you can always have glamorous nails.

14. I've never broken a bone.

15. I get jealous of the people at my work who get paid to do creative things.

16. I never leave the house without a pen in my bag. 

17. I'm terrified of balloons popping, especially when they pippity-pop all over my vulnerable flesh.
Image (c) Tim Zim 2006
The guy popping a balloon in his own face is INSANE in my book.

18. I fantasise about driving different kinds of vehicles like giant trucks and space ships.  Must be the sci-fi fan in me.

19. Although I have worked in television for over 5 years, I rarely watch any TV.
Image (c) farlukar 2009
Ok, my TV doesn't look this bad, I still use it to watch DVDs.

20. I've read Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn about five times.

To be continued ...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Synopsis Woes

Today I am tackling the synopsis for my urban fantasy manuscript.  The process is much more difficult than one would expect.  Trying to decide what to put in and what to leave out while ensuring that it doesn't go over the one-page standard length is proving to be a difficult task.  This is particularly true when the story has many subplots and elements to keep track of.  

The way this story is constructed is very much like detective or crime fiction, in that the protagonist has to 'figure out' what's really going on.  Trying to remember what the main character is supposed to and is not supposed to know at any given point can be tricky when you are a non-sequential drafter like myself (i.e. I didn't write the story from start to finish).  

Similarly, how much of what's going on do I reveal in the synopsis?  Do I need to include the fact that someone put a dead bird in the protagonist's desk?  Do I need to describe her mother's illness, despite the fact that she only appears in the first two chapters?

We practiced doing a synopsis for my major project (the same manuscript actually) during final semester of university.  I am thankful for this, as I have something to work from, but the perfectionist in me is making life very difficult today.  

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Dog-Ears

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

I used to be very anal about the condition of my books.  I barely opened them all the way so as to maintain their 'newness'.  These days I am a bit more laid back as I realised that if a book gets very damaged, I can always go out and buy a new one (assuming it's not a special edition or signed copy, that is).

I imagine after November I will have more time to write than I do now.  I've decided I will have to seriously consider what extra-curricular activities I engage in next year so I don't get so overloaded like I am now, considering my two careers (writing, full time lawyering, musical rehearsals twice a week, writing group once a fortnight, plus other ad hoc writing projects).  My social life has definitely been suffering over the past few months.  

On the plus side, I've almost finished book 1 of my Top 100 Challenge.  Review to come!! 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

In the Night Garden

Things have been crazy busy lately.  I’ve had about 4 or 5 writing projects due within the space of about a week.  I even took the week off work as annual leave so that I could properly dedicate myself to my various projects.  I have noticed that this time of year is generally when a lot of writing competitions and awards are due for submission. One of my fears when my writing degree was coming to an end was that my writing would just taper off.  That’s one of the reasons I joined a writing group through the NSW Writers’ Centre, so at the very least I would be doing something writing-related once a fortnight.  Gladly there are no signs that anything is going to be tapering off in the near future.  The good news is, the busy period is already starting to pay off. 

A couple of the women I graduated with have launched their own website called Tabula Rasa which publishes a variety of prose and poetry.  It’s looking quite good and I’m very proud of them – it’s great to see peers having success they’ve worked hard for.  They recently curated an art installation as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival for the In the Night Garden event.  It essentially looked like a writer’s desk and on a blank, open book was projected a number of works.  It was great to see one of my flash fiction pieces projected, lighting up the pages.  The illumination gave the works an almost three-dimensional, powerful effect in the darkness, the light spilling onto the desk as well.

The In the Night Garden is a surreal-feeling event, with most of the artworks being somehow lit in creative ways.  I expected it to be in one building but was surprised to find it spilling into the backstreets.  It was very popular and having the event at night just adds an extra excitement to the air.  I really enjoyed going and will definitely go again next year.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Synopsis



Something to look forward to this week - trying to wrangle my full synopsis into an acceptable one page document.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Mini-Challenge #1 - Rewrite

I read the following passage (from the first book of my Top 100 Challenge) and felt that something was missing.  The fight seemed to instigate to quickly.  I also didn't feel there was enough of a logical sequence of the main character (Rick Deckard) realising that Kadalyi was in fact the android he'd been hunting, Polokov.  I also couldn't find a reference to Deckard activating the sine wave.  Possibly I missed it, but I guess I felt there was a pacing issue.

So just for fun, I decided to rewrite the section (my attempt is in blue font below), trying to retain similar prose. I’ve repeated the original text beneath my version for comparison. 

Looking at my rewrite, I'm not sure if I accomplished what I intended.  What do you think?
Rewrite
‘Mr Deckard?’ the man asked with a Slavic accent.  ‘The bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department?’  The empty taxi rose, and the Russian watched it go, absently.  ‘I’m Sandor Kadalyi,’ the man said, and opened the car door to squeeze in beside Rick.
As he shook hands with Kadalyi, Rick noticed that the WPO representative carried an unusual type of laser tube, a subform which he had never seen before.
‘Oh, this?’ Kadalyi said.  ‘Interesting, isn’t it?’  He tugged it from his belt holster.  ‘I got this on Mars.’
‘I thought I knew every handgun made,’ Rick said.  ‘Even those manufactured at and for use in the colonies.’
‘We made this ourselves,’ Kadalayi said, beaming like a Slavic Santa, his ruddy face inscribed with pride.  ‘You like it?  What is different about it, functionally, is – here, take it.’  He passed the gun over to Rick, who inspected it expertly, by way of years of experience.
‘How does it differ functionally?’ Rick asked.  He couldn’t tell.
‘Press the trigger.’
Aiming upward, out the window of the car, Rick squeezed the trigger of the weapon.  Nothing happened; no beam emerged.  Puzzled, he turned to Kadalyi.
‘The triggering circuit,’ Kadalyi said cheerfully, ‘isn’t attached.  It remains with me.  You see?’ He opened his hands, revealed a tiny unit.  ‘And I can also direct it, within certain limits.  Irrespective of where it’s aimed.’
Rick returned the man’s smile, but felt somewhat uncomfortable.  There was something about Kadalyi’s accent that seemed odd.
‘Ingenious, no?’ Kadalyi said, then held his hand out to take the gun back.  Rick leaned forward to pass him the weapon, and as he did he slipped his left hand into his coat pocket, triggering the device inside.
The Russian smiled down at the gun in his hand, slotted the circuit back in, then pointed it at Rick’s face. 
‘I don’t even have to aim it like this to kill you, but old habits die hard.’
Rick shook his head slowly.
‘You’re not Kadalyi.  You’re Polokov,’ he said without humour.  ‘Why didn’t you just shoot me the moment you got in?’
Polokov shrugged with his eyebrows.
‘There’s nobody around now.  I can easily make my escape.  Again.’  He laughed.  ‘You bounty hunters are all the same.  Stupid and slow.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure about that,’ Rick said.
‘Oh really?’ Polokov said and pulled the trigger.
The gun failed to go off.   Polokov fired again with no response.  He frowned down at the weapon. 
‘What …?’
Rick punched Polokov.
‘Sine wave, genius.  Phases out laser emanation into harmless light.’
Polokov swung, latching onto Rick’s neck before he could even blink.
‘Looks like I’ll just have to break your pencil neck instead,’ he said.
The android’s hands felt like an industrial clamp, crushing his throat so hard his eyes began watering.  Rick tried to yank Polokov’s arms downwards and away from his neck, but Polokov's grip held firm.  Rick could feel his head swimming, a blackness beginning to creep around the edge of his vision.
Struggling, Rick reached into his jacket pocket, felt the cool metal of the gun in his shoulder holster, and pulled the trigger.  The android’s face exploded inwards as the bullet tore itself through the circuitry and out the other end, shattering the car window.  
Lucky shot.
The death grip loosened, but was still firmly clamped around his throat.  It took Rick a good five minutes to peel the hands away, finger by finger, leaving him coughing and gasping for air.

Original
‘Mr Deckard?’ the man asked with a Slavic accent.  ‘The bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department?’  The empty taxi rose, and the Russian watched it go, absently.  ‘I’m Sandor Kadalyi,’ the man said, and opened the car door to squeeze in beside Rick.
As he shook hands with Kadalyi, Rick noticed that the WPO representative carried an unusual type of laser tube, a subform which he had never seen before.
‘Oh, this?’ Kadalyi said.  ‘Interesting, isn’t it?’  He tugged it from his belt holster.  ‘I got this on Mars.’
‘I thought I knew every handgun made,’ Rick said.  ‘Even those manufactured at and for use in the colonies.’
‘We made this ourselves,’ Kadalayi said, beaming like a Slavic Santa, his ruddy face inscribed with pride.  ‘You like it?  What is different about it, functionally, is – here, take it.’  He passed the gun over to Rick, who inspected it expertly, by way of years of experience.
‘How does it differ functionally?’ Rick asked.  He couldn’t tell.
‘Press the trigger.’
Aiming upward, out the window of the car, Rick squeezed the trigger of the weapon.  Nothing happened; no beam emerged.  Puzzled, he turned to Kadalyi.
‘The triggering circuit,’ Kadalyi said cheerfully, ‘isn’t attached.  It remains with me.  You see?’ He opened his hands, revealed a tiny unit.  ‘And I can also direct it, within certain limits.  Irrespective of where it’s aimed.’
‘You’re not Polokov, you’re Kadalyi,’ Rick said.
‘Don’t you mean that the other way around?  You’re a bit confused.’
‘I mean you’re Polokov, the android; you’re not from the Soviet police.’ Rick, with his toe, pressed the emergency button on the floor of his car.
‘Why won’t my laser tube fire?’ Kadalyi-Polokov said, switching on and off the miniaturized triggering and aiming device which he held in the palm of his hand.
‘A sine wave,’ Rick said.  ‘That phases out laser emanation and spreads the beam into ordinary light.’
‘Then I’ll have to break your pencil neck.’  The android dropped the device and, with a snarl, grabbed with both hands for Rick’s throat.
As the android’s hands sank into his throat Rick fired his regulation issue old-style pistol from its shoulder holster; the .38 magnum slug struck the android in the head and its brain box burst.  The Nexus-6 unit which operated it blew into pieces, a raging, mad wind which carried throughout the car.  Bits of it, like the radioactive dust itself, whirled down on Rick.  The retired remains of the android rocked back, collided with the car door, bounced off and struck heavily against him; he found himself struggling to shove the twitching remnants of the android away.
Shakily, he at last reached for the car phone, called in to the Hall of Justice.  ‘Shall I make my report?’ he said.  ‘Tell Harry Bryant that I got Polokov.’