Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1 #review

Title: Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1
Introductions by Mike Laidlaw and David Gaider
Publisher: Dark Horse Books, 2013

Every once in a while there’s a book I simply must have a physical copy of in the house, and this is one of them. Hardcover, full colour printing throughout and devastatingly beautiful art – enough to make me want to purr, caress its cover and breathe sweet nothings into its pages.

This is one for the fans of BioWare’s Dragon Age game franchise, and it’s well worth the clams forked out and the effort of importing. (And rushing down to the postbox every time the postman whizzes by on his bicycle.)

{And yes, I’m still smarting from the import duties SARS gifted me with for the privilege of buying this book.}

What’s clear from the three games brought out so far is that the fantasy world of Thedas is chock full of lore – so much so that I’d hazard to say that given a few years the peeps at BioWare are going to give Tolkien a run for his money. As it is, they’re snapping at his heels.

Volume 1 pretty much reads like a traveller’s guide to Thedas, not only giving a timeline for events – starting with the rise and fall of the elves’ Arlathan, to the expansion of the sprawling Tevinter Empire and the subsequent blights, but also giving an overview of the races, nations, magic, religion, the fade, the blight and assorted wildlife. This volume is by no means exhaustive, but serves as a good introduction to the setting without giving away too many spoilers for those who’ve yet to play the games.

Even my husband – who’s patiently still waiting for me to get over my fascination with the game – had to admit that the book’s layout and art are pretty darn impressive. This is a pretty book – there’s no denying that. It will cause the fans to make grabby fingers. It’s also useful as reference for those who’re addicted to unpicking canon and who may wish to create fanfiction. And volume 2 arrived recently in the mail too. Like my centenary edition of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that also graces my permanent book collection, this one’s a keeper.

As a storyteller, I’m envious of those writers who’ve had the chance to contribute to the creation of this world, and as the map suggests, the games, books and comics have only scratched the surface of all the possible future tales yet to be told. Yes, this is standard high fantasy involving elves, dragons, mages and brave warriors, but it’s what the content creators say with these stories and their art that is important – touching on many important issues. The world of Thedas matters, because in many ways those existing, familiar tropes resonate on a deeper level. The fact that so many of the heroes are tragic, and are faced with impossible choices that turn out badly no matter what, attests to the fact that the BioWare writers are basically horrible, evil people who love to torment gamers. But we love them anyway and keep returning for second helpings. And the great thing about the games is that for a while we can tune out the real world where we have little agency, and plunge ourselves into a world where we are the heroes who can and do make a difference.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bloody Parchment's Icy Sedgwick

Today another Bloody Parchment veteran, Icy Sedgwick, stops by to chat a little more about herself and her writing. Welcome, Icy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm a Geordie born and bred, and I live and work in Newcastle. By day I teach graphic design, and by night I'm either working on fiction, or working on my PhD, which looks at set design in contemporary haunted house films. If I'm not doing that I'm knitting or crocheting. People laugh at me but hey, can their hobbies turn string into clothing using just two sticks?

What gives in your story? 

I've got a lifelong fascination with mummies, and I wanted an excuse to work one into a story! I'd had the title in mind for ages, and I never really knew what to do with it, so I just sat down and started writing. It ended up turning into a story about an evacuee, sent to an isolated country house (because it has to be isolated, or it's not Gothic) to stay with her aunt, but all is not as it seems, especially since she's acquired a mummy in a case, and something keeps talking to her when it's quiet...

What do you love about reading and writing speculative fiction?

I love the ease with which you can just dive into the unknown. It's the 'what if?' nature of speculative fiction. But then it's not just plot-driven, or escapist - speculative fiction can deal with huge themes and really important issues, but it does so in such a way that you actually find yourself invested in them, while more literary forms can sometimes make you feel patronised or preached at.

Is there a novel or movie that you feel has been the most influential on you, that you keep coming back to? 

I can't think of a specific singular book or film, it's more been about genres or authors, but I do think Neverwhere would be an influence. I love the way Neil Gaiman used real parts of London, and I won't lie, I did used to hope I'd stumble across the entrance to London Below when I lived in the capital. As far as I know, I never did.

How do you approach the writing process?

From an angle ;-) In all seriousness, I try to approach it with a sense of whimsy because when you look at it, the whole process is slightly silly. You're essentially making things up - there are few other times in life with doing that is acceptable, unless you're a politician. So I have my idea, which either comes from something I've (often) misheard, or a 'what if?', and then it's a question of following the rabbit hole to see how far it goes.

Blog, FacebookTwitterInstagram, The Guns of RetributionThe Necromancer's Apprentice.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bloody Parchment's Chris Limb #interview

The SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment anthologies have a few veterans who've appeared among the finalists regularly, and one of these is Chris Limb, who needs very little by way of introduction here on my blog. His tale appears in the most recent Bloody Parchment anthology: Beachfront Start Home, Good Bones and Other Stories, and without any further ado, I hand over my blog to him.

Welcome, Chris, and for those readers who haven't met you before, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live by the sea in the UK. I left my day job and have been working as a freelance web developer and graphic designer for the past year or so which has been simultaneously liberating and isolating. Luckily I have my twin passions of writing and music to keep me busy and entertained.

I'm the bass player in a band called Das Flüff who play "sexistential electro post-punk twisted disco cyber filth"! The only thing better than going to a gig is playing one, although I still love both.
I've been writing on a more regular basis since 2007 but my first break came when my story Alibi was published in the Bloody Parchment 2012 anthology. Since then I've had a few more stories published in anthologies and online magazines.

I also have two complete novels I am continuing to try and find homes for...

What gives in your story?

I am a social media junkie and find the way it all works and add an extra dimension to human existence fascinating. Twitter is my medium of choice so I suppose it was only a matter of time before I decided to explore it in fiction.

The seed of the story itself came from an article I read on cyber-bullying the details of which I won't share here for fear of spoiling the story. I was also inspired by the discovery of a Twitter account that I imagined looked as if it had been set up just to follow me. Just like the account in the story, it followed me plus a selection of celebrities and information services. Plus one other account I suspected of being the primary account of the person who had set it up. Its timeline consisted entirely of retweets.

All in all it was a very strange set-up. Why not just follow me from the primary account? Twitter is by its very nature a bit stalkery.

In reality I was probably imagining the more sinister implications and it was all a coincidence. The human brain is very good at looking for patterns and worrying about any potential danger they may present.

Either way, the idea for the story came to me fairly quickly after that.

Why do you love about reading and writing speculative fiction?

I love the sense that anything can happen. Things can genuinely surprise the reader because normal rules don't apply. I love the "what-if" of speculative fiction, stepping outside the mundane.

As I get older it seems as if the world is becoming increasingly unimaginative in what is permitted. Reality is being reduced to the lowest common denominator.  For example, back in the early nineties I was certain that by 2016 space travel would be commonplace, that we'd have already established a Moon base and have landed on Mars. Instead these fantastical dreams are retreating before us like desert mirages.

When I was growing up there were often documentaries on TV about the paranormal and the strange; as a child these indicated to me that the world could be exciting and unknown. Now the discussion of such things in the respectable media is almost taboo.

For me, writing and reading speculative fiction captures the excitement of when the world was a more interesting place full of potential and mystery. A way of returning to youth, however temporarily.

Is there a novel or movie that you feel has been the most influential on you, that you keep coming back to?

I can't think of any one novel or movie that looms large enough to say is the most influential.
However, there are a number of writers I really enjoy and find inspiring in that after I finish reading one of their novels I want to write something of my own.

Michael Marshall Smith is one of them – when I read his first novel I was astonished that there was someone out there who seemed to be writing in what up until that point I had assumed was my own inner voice...

William Gibson is another. He seems to be able to get ideas and emotions across with a surprising economy of words. Mona Lisa Overdrive is one of my favourite novels and yet despite its scope and how embedded its world I felt, it's only just over 80 000 words long.

In general though I find discovering new novels more exciting and inspiring than revisiting old favourites - over the past couple of years I have enjoyed and been inspired by novels by Claire North, Ramez Naam, Emmi Itäranta, Sarah Pinborough and Ben Aaronovitch.

How do you approach the writing process?

With short stories what tends to happen is that I will get the germ of an idea that I will make a note of on my phone (it's usually when I am out and about). Occasionally these are a bit too cryptic and I forget what the idea was!

Part of my daily routine for the past six years has been writing every morning using the online service at 750 Words. If one of the story ideas I've made a note of is nagging at me I will start it during this session and then keep writing approximately seven hundred and fifty words or more a day until a very rough draft is finished.

I then leave it a few days and go back and start severely editing it. After a while - and often it can now be half the length of the rough draft - I am satisfied and so I look for somewhere to submit it on Duotrope. With the last novel it was more or less the same process but much longer; a case of keeping going until I'd finished and only then going back and editing it.

Web pageDas FluffTwitter, International kindle links for non fiction 80s pop memoir.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Technological Determinism (basically a bunch of academic waffle so skip this if it bores you)

Basically, what's going to follow here is a bunch of semi-masticated academic musings, so bear with me if this topic interests you. Feel free to jump in with waffle of your own in the comments section. Shoot my thoughts down in flame if need be. The point is to think about whether technology determines the nature of mass communication (as per my media studies this semester). Basically, what the fat green textbook (Media Studies: Media History, Media and Society edited by Pieter J Fourie) tells us is that technological determinism is the belief that technology drives social change, culture, economics and politics.

Media is a core function of society, especially if we look at *how* exactly we've shared information throughout the ages. We've gone from verbal/oral cultural tradition, to mixing pigments and smearing them on rock ... or even carving little pictograms of animals. And we've progressed to making sculptures on rock or writing on paper, to make a more binding mark. Mostly, our ways of employing media, initially by a select few who were educated (priests, scribes, merchants) had the power to tell their particular stories or share their versions of events, and lay them down for future generations.

We cannot remember everything that we discuss, so it makes sense to somehow find a way to record it, and the next step is naturally how we disseminate this information. Libraries, in old times, were the vast repositories of knowledge, the stacks haunted by librarians and scribes with the specialised skills and training to discern which knowledge is useful and to share it with those who have the privilege to enter those hallowed halls.

Schools, universities and other centres of learning have had, historically, an degree of exclusivity in many cases. Even today, many do not have the benefit of decent education, but our access to knowledge isn't curtailed as it was before.

Radio, TV, film ... these are all ways in which a select group of communicators can reach out to many hundreds of thousands of people who are now consumers of media.

Ever sat around at a table where a bunch of folks have all seen a movie? (Here's a somewhat silly example – you either like Star Wars, or you don't, and this immediately divides people into two camps, perhaps even somewhat vocally.) But I'm sure you get my picture.

Yet there's still a degree of exclusivity – you have a film production company or broadcaster who has a particular set of values, that they communicate. They have a vetting process, with the power to decide which information they're going to share. What is news? What is important? What do they feel people should know?

We've had, in the past, the written word to bind, to be contractual. Now we've got "I saw it on TV" which offers visual and aural aspects to make things real, to solidify events in people's minds. This is the story. This is the preferred narrative. A skilled editor understands the power of shaping people's emotions and thoughts by choosing which narrative to portray. What is the underlining meaning?

Yet media have changed yet again during the past decade – dramatically so with the rise of social networks and the near-instantaneous communication. News breaks online as fast as people can type or share videos of images. These can be shared by the simple touch of a button. It's now not so much a fact of jealously hoarded and carefully disseminated information, but rather how we wade through and choose *which* information we'll take in.

We are drowning in news feeds. We also now, more than ever before, have the power to create our personal echo chamber to cut out the noise we don't want. How do we know which stories to put stock in? Without a (yes, ultimately biased) vetting process, how does one discern bullshit from authentic value?

There are definite benefits to this shrinking of communication – the fact that geological separation at the end of the day really doesn't matter, not when we are a Skype call away or can email a letter in the space of half a minute and know the recipient will have it appear in their inbox a minute later, if not sooner.

We can access the greatest libraries in the world that have no physical shelves in the space of minutes. We can share their information. The real mad skills we need now is deciding which information we're going to use. It's not so much how much knowledge we have, but how and when we choose to access it. The rule book for social interaction has changed as we document our lives in minute detail. The emphasis is on the individual, and perhaps best expressed in the odious notion of leaving our hashtagged #selfie – our own stab at immortality perhaps in an ephemeral world. To close, we have the power at our own fingertips; we are our own gatekeepers, and notions of privacy have shifted dramatically. You are not as alone as you sometimes think you feel.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.