Sunday, August 14, 2011

Blog Moved

Due to not being able to reach this blog easily because it is blocked in China (Thank you Google for pissing off the Chinese government!) I have moved my blog to for easier access and because they have better tools and posting capabilities than Blogger. Please go there to keep up with my writing career, wife and child and well me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Labeling Genre Books

  Yesterday Eric Rosenfield wrote a terrific (and long) article for scifi/fantasy/spec-fic website called "Are book genres being replaced by tags?"  He touched on quite a number of points that I'd like to comment on...

  Indeed, the literary fiction writers who are ensconced in academic careers are the ones who refer to genre fiction—that fiction that supposedly  does not have mainstream acceptance-as "popular writing". So why are we so concerned, so obsessed, about what they think?

  In the past I've gotten rather upset about the way literary authors have looked down on genre authors, but recently I've moved past this and simply ignore them and their elitist attitudes. First and foremost I'm a geek, a fanboy, and dare I say it - nerd. I read predominatly fantasy these days but mix in more notable new sci-fi like John Scalzi or Peter Hamilton. Second, as a writer I write what I like without regard for what anyone really thinks. I suppose I'm like almost any writer, I want people to read and like my work. But I also realize that I am a genre writer and that means 'niche' so I'm looking at a potential market that is much smaller than say Dan Brown. That's fine by me.

One of Eric's most important points is the use of labels in publishing...

  I no longer believe we should stop using terms like science fiction and fantasy and so on; those terms can be useful in describing certain things, certain ways of reading. But their status as hard-and-fast slots into which we plug in all of our books is already starting to fade, as the once nebulous megacategory of science fiction and fantasy splinters into steampunk, urban fantasy, paranormal romance and so on, subcategories that once upon a time might have been merely commented on but which because of the 'Net have blossomed into subcultures all their own, distinct and often non-communicating with the groups reading the space opera or sword and sorcery that since Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings have dominated science fiction and fantasy respectively.

  I completely agree with his point. Books will increasingly be tagged with more than one label to try and appear on as many virutal bookshelves as possible. I plan to do this with my first series, it will be tagged #fantasy #military and probably one or two more. He goes on to lament how readers and writers "stay in genre"... 

  Which is the point: if we stay ensconced in our little bubbles we're going to miss out on amazing things going on outside of them. Because there's obviously nothing inherent about the tropes of the various genres that turns people off in general. Any set of tropes, from time travel to vampires to locked-door mystery to a star-crossed romance can be made palatable to just about anyone if presented in the right way.

  As a writer I intentionally read out my genre so I can learn "how other guys do it".  Recently my reading list included Matthew Reilly's Jack West series (7 Ancient Wonders, 6 Sacred Stones & 5 Greatest Warriors, all thrillers), Bernerd Cornwell's awesome Agincourt (historical fiction), and Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child's Pendergast series (supernatural thrillers).  One could argue that these are "crossover" or logically tied into scifi/fantasy and they'd be right, but the Pendergast and Jack West series are clearly marketed as thrillers and are never placed near the scifi/fantasy section. They also have never shown up on my Amazon recommendations. I think any writer who wants to improve their writing should do this. I hear this advice frequently from established authors such as Michael Stackpole and Brandon Sanderson.

Finally Eric ponders a new book culture...

  We need a new kind of book culture. We need to create a world in which genre labels are descriptors rather than lock-boxes and books can be valued and evaluated in ways that are meaningful to us as readers. Because the danger right now is that we'll get so fragmented and isolated that every category will descend into ever more incestuous, self-obsessed and oblivious quagmires. There's no easy fix, and no guarantee that the industry and the media, desperate to maintain the status quo, won't find a way to hijack the new technologies and continue to, on the one hand, relentlessly market to us as fragmented demographics and not as people, or on the other continue to maintain an outdated and classist value system concerning what's worth reading and reviewing.

  Certainly it will be intersting watching the publishing industry in the next few years grapple with the problems of virtual bookshelves and I think most of the bigger ones will understand it, eventually.  I'm rather conflicted on this point because I see the benefits of tagging and agree with his "descriptor based new world". But I find myself inveitably fall into the recommednation engine trap and/or I simply stay in genre for "fun reading" becuase I know it's safe. And maybe this is the entire point... readers will read what is "safe" because they know their basic need for satisfaction will come from their 139th fantasy novel.

  As my wonderful editor and friend Roscoe Mathieu pointed out "Technology changes first, practice comes second, ideology comes third."  But in this case maybe recommendation technology is standing in the way of practicing our "descriptor based new world"?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What I'm reading... The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

  Three men. One Battle. No heroes.

  And with that tagline Joe Abercrombie's latest book is upon us like an axe through a Union man! I am about a third of the way into the book and it is his best work thus far.  I'm a big fan of Joe's books having read each within days of release.  The man writes great characters that break through many of the traditional fantasy "hero" molds. 

  I really enjoy Curnden Craw and his band of Named Men. The dialogue between the band is great and funny at times. This being an Abercrombie book it only happens between bloody, vicious battles!  Curnden is the broken down warrior who missed the life that could have been and just carries on because he knows nothing better. He cares for the average man and it shows in his first encounter with a scouting party from the Union Army led by Hardbread...

"I try not to jump at all these days," said Hardbread. "Heard you was fighting for Black Dow. You and your dozen."
"Trying to keep the fighting to a minimum, but as far as who I’m doing it for, you’re right. Dow buys my porridge."
"...Thought you’d have company from the first moment I saw you, Craw. But since you’re still jawing and I’m still breathing, I reckon you're set on giving us a chance to talk
this out."
"Then you’ve reckoned the shit out o’ me," said Craw.
"That’s exactly the plan."
"Well, my old arse if I’m fighting my way out o’ this," said Hardbread, brightly. 'Any chance you’d let us clear out?"
"I’ve a mind to insist on it," said Craw.
"We can take our gear?"
"I’m not looking to embarrass you. I just want your hill."

  However my favorite POV character in the book is Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman. Here he returns after appearing in The First Law trilogy to redeem his honor, at any and often bloody cost. I can't say I identify with Gorst but his thoughts ring true if you are someone who ever single mindedly sought to attain some goal, no matter what the personal cost might be.

  Lookout for the chapter titled Casualties, it's the best in the book up to where I'm currently reading.

  Again great stuff from Joe Abercrombie.  I noticed he blogged on his site recently showing a photo of some cowboy and western materials which are research for his next stand alone book in this universe. I'm looking forward to it!

  Here is a lengthy extract. Enjoy

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Tourist - Paul's Review

The Tourist - Paul's Review

  I’m not much of an Angelina Jolie fan though I did think Mr and Mrs Smith was a lot of brainless fun. I am a bit of a Johnny Depp fan so I make an effort to see everything that he makes.  I had seen previews of The Tourist and figured I would see it but I wasn’t frothing at the mouth to get to the theater. My wife and I recently watched this and I was quite letdown by it.

  Let’s start with the bad –
  Parts of the movie, specifically some of the stunts were filmed on a soundstage. A cheap soundstage.  The quality difference is
glaringly obvious to anyone with a brain. 

  The blue screen backgrounds of Venice just don’t work. I think they spent all the money on Jolie and Depp and used a cheap FX company for these shots.

  The movie just feels cheap all the way through. 

  Paul Bettany, who is usually quite good can’t seem to pull off the Inspector Acheson character
well.  He underplays the characters obsession with catching the villain. I think this is more the direction Bettany was taking than his ability.

  On with the good –
  The gangster Reginald Shaw had some great scenes and dialogue and was well played by Steven Berkoff.

  Timothy Dalton’s appearance as Inspector Jones was pretty good.  I didn’t care for him as James Bond but in these smaller roles he really shines.

  The slow motion climax scene was well done.  This is about the only really great scene in the whole film. Berkoff steals the scene with his great portrayal and dialogue from Jolie and Depp which sets up a slow motion action scene with snipers. 

 Final Words

I think the director really just missed the mark with the material and actors.  The film just falls
flat all over the place and never really gets going from the beginning. It’s like the director was trying to invent a new European-Romance-Crime-Noir genre.  It’s more of a train wreck than noir film of any kind.

1 out of 5 stars – Paul’s Scale

The wife's verdict - "It was ok."

Monday, February 28, 2011

Freakonomics DVD Review

Freakonomics DVD Review

  I've had insomnia for the past week so I've been able to watch quite a few movies and TV programs the past week or so as my wife snoozes happily.
  If anyone is familiar with the book then this is simply a DVD with some different material hosted by the authors of the book. They also managed to snag some documentary filmakers into making the segments for them and this is where the film really shines.
  My favorite segment on people's names by Spurlock of Supersize Me fame although I did enjoy every segment in particular the one on corruption in sumo wrestling in Japan and the US crime rate drop resulting from the legalization of abortion. 
  I don't know if I could recommend buying this DVD because I don't think it will hold up well to repeat viewings but it's definetly worth the download, streaming, or rental.  I'll be keeping my copy but I know I won't pull it out as much as say a History Channel documentary. 

Paul's Rating - 3 of 5 stars. (cool star graphics coming later...)

First Post!!!!!!!

Wait, can I first post my own blog? 

Anyway, welcome to my blog!  I'm Paul and I live in Shenzhen, China (more on this later) and I am an author.  For my "normal people job" I'm the Director of Studies for an English school here in China.  In the following weeks, months and years I'll be blogging about speculative fiction books and writing, authors, and assorted cool things about living in China.