Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won't do…

May 2, 2016

Review – Misfortune by A C Fellows

Filed under: books of 2016,reviewage — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 11:42 am

Doctor Clam, I believe I owed you a review!

Misfortune (The Rainier Fields Series Book 1) follows the adventures of the itinerant fantasist Rainier Fields, who first appears as a homeless tinkerer making small robots from scrap to get by. An unfortunate run-in with the local authorities leads to Fields making the acquaintance of an emphatically young woman named Mercery Pockles. Fields discovers, by way of never-fully-explained precognitive abilities, that Mercery has a mysterious and potent destiny, and determines to ensure that it will come out in her favour.

Told in episodic flashbacks, sometimes in interviews with other characters in the narrative and some from the perspective of many years after the events of the story, Misfortune is an unusual story. Fields is a self-admitted cypher, a fantasist running away from both a miserable childhood and a self-sabotaging personality, both in the literal sense of being a wanderer and by creating a personal backstory of heroic adventures and noble deeds off in space.

The reality he is escaping is rather more grubby and sad, and yet Fields is for the most part an optimist whose determination to live up to his own fantasy is somewhat admirable. He decides that his alter ego would do everything in his power to rescue Mercery from her plight, and so he goes to extraordinary lengths to do so. And yet he’s a rather uncomfortable character to live with; a middle aged man, his relationship with Mercery is barely platonic and borderline obsessive. When Mercery’s wellbeing is not at stake, he is often passive and uninquisitive, and there are parts of the story that plumb the depths of his psychology at the cost of forward momentum.

The story itself is a series of increasingly unfortunate events that bounce Fields, Mercery and a cast of supporting characters up against weird aliens, sinister conspiracies and cruel experiments. The main characters suffer through a cycle of escapes, separations, captures, torture of one sort or another and fresh escapes, all revealing more about their dark pasts, their strange sort-of-magic-sort-of-psychic powers and their odd relationships as they draw closer to Mercery’s great and terrible destiny.

Misfortune has the feel of a small, human struggle told against the backdrop of an epic adventure that could emerge at any moment. The stakes never move far beyond the personal fortunes of Fields and Mercery – Fields frequently displays a lack of interest in the wider universe in his narrative – and yet the sense that great events are in motion is constant. I certainly look forward to the further adventures of Rainier Fields, in the hopes that future stories might pull the camera back and show us more of the strange setting.

April 25, 2016

Prince and the Canberra Heater Rule

Filed under: news of the day — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:58 am

Canberra has a bizarre cultural tradition you might have heard about. This is it: you invite social censure if you switch on your household heating before Anzac Day. Ask anyone who lives here for more than a year or two – if they don’t say it themselves, they will still be well aware of having heard it.

The specific consequences of infringing this oft-recounted social directive are never made clear. After a bit over seventeen years living here, I’m not yet sufficiently local to speak with any authority. But I infer that breakers of the Anzac Day rule are considered to be a bit on the soft side. They lack, I understand, the intestinal fire that will see them through the bitter winter.

Me, I’m just cheap. The longer we can put off cranking up the ducted heating the better. Our September gas bill is a shocker.

Still the “rule” has undeniable power. No matter how cold it gets in early April, you can’t help but hesitate before throwing the switch. Eleven on days when there’s frost outside and the car windscreens are all iced over.

You question yourself. “Do I really need to warm up?”

You ask yourself, “Couldn’t I just put on a jumper?”

You find yourself actively considering whether to just tough out the cold when the switch for the heater is right in front of you.

It’s astonishing how small, seemingly insignificant social pressures can influence our behaviour.

A few days ago as I write this, Prince died in what are still mysterious circumstances. Despite being in the right age group – my teen years were in the eighties – I never really got into Prince. I liked all the same songs that everyone else liked, but I never dug any deeper than listening to ‘Purple Rain’ a few times and digging about half of the Batman ‘89 soundtrack.

But this week’s massive outpouring of shock and grief at the untimely death of a celebrity – a state that 2016 appears to be conditioning us to never leave – has got me reconsidering my mildly indifferent stance. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious when you actually pay attention that Prince was a prodigious talent – singing, dancing, playing All the Instruments and etc.

More to the point, the sheer abundance of opinion on social media (and in traditional media, for that matter) exerts a quiet strength. I don’t think I even registered the moment this week where I went from being somewhat indifferent to strongly pro-Prince. It definitely happened. Unless something terrible comes out in the wake of investigations into his passing, that’s probably going to be my opinion for good.

It was a seismic shift affecting one small corner of my mind, but it happened without my even noticing it until after the fact.

(There’s probably some kind of book marketing lesson to be learned in that, but who cares?)

Instead I’m going to link to my favourite Prince moment from a few years ago, at a memorial concert for George Harrison. He’s not playing one of his own songs, but he plays with such effortless virtuosity that it might as well be his.

Listen to the whole thing (or start at 3:25 to skip listening to Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty singing, if you must). If you didn’t have an opinion about Prince before, this might change your mind.

 

April 18, 2016

Back to the Island 3.7 – Not in Portland

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:58 pm

Quote: “You haven’t thought this through, Jack. Your plan’s not going to work.” – Juliet Burke

Summary: Everyone argues about the dangling plot threads from the previous episode: Will Jack let Ben die in surgery (and will it be deliberate or another screw-up)? Will Kate and Sawyer escape and or will Danny finally get to kill someone in revenge for Sun shooting Colleen? Drama!

The Best Bit: The reckless desperation of Kate and Sawyer’s escape is exciting and features a very unexpected diversion down one of the series’ weirder rabbit holes. But nothing quite tops the fact that Ben wakes up during his own surgery and successfully negotiates for his own life despite the fact that virtually everyone involved would be happier with him dead.

The Worst Bit: Jack does a lot of treading water in this episode, loudly and angrily restating his previous positions while other things happen. He manages to outdo himself in the final scene by arrogantly browbeating Juliet into telling him what Ben said to convince her to save him. It’s aggressive and arguably bullying, though Juliet’s weary but calculated response – “I’ve been on this Island for three years, Jack. Three years, two months and twenty-eight days. He said that if I let him live and helped you that he would finally let me go home” – is delivered with real emotional punch.

The Literature: There’s no time for anyone to pick up a book in this classic run-through-the-jungle shoutfest. The closest thing to a literary allusion is the A Clockwork Orange scene, about which more in a moment.

The Mythology: Well. Doesn’t “Not in Portland” open up a can of worms? First of all, in the Juliet flashback we get our first introduction to Richard Alpert, played with slightly-goofy-terribly-sinister charm by the wonderful Nestor Carbonell. He’s pretending to be a recruiter for a Portland biotech startup, but he’s really one of the Others and also a bus murderer. It’s not everyone who gets to write that on their resume. Oh, and Ethan’s there too, but more or less only so that we know straight away that Alpert’s up to no good.

The other key new element is Room 23, where Alex’s boyfriend whatsisnamewhocares (aka Karl) is being torture-programmed by weird visual images and a genuinely unendurable industrial metal soundtrack. This is apparently where recruits go to get indoctrinated into the gun-toting jungle fetishist cult of the Others. The blipverts on Carl’s giant TV screen announce “God loves you as he loved Jacob”. They also make pronouncements like “Everything changes!” and “We are the causes of our own suffering”, which sounds like the take-home messages from a particularly vacuous TED talk.

The Episode: So. This is the first episode of Lost after a long hiatus caused by the infamous 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike. During their down-tools, the senior writer-producers of the show are alleged to have got together to map out the rest of the series. Everything after this point, we are told, is driving the series towards its climactic episode. I’ll have stuff to say about that when we get to Season Six, but for the moment it’s fair enough to take it at face value.

In terms of moving forward, they come off the blocks pretty hard with “Not in Portland”, laying plenty of pipe for the rest of the series in between the gun fights, tense negotiations and sudden betrayals. Juliette’s back story is sad – Elizabeth Mitchell performs crushing, unbearable sadness as well as anyone in the business – but feels artificially manipulative to me. It’s mainly constructed to make the Others looks ruthless (we knew that) and to establish that she has good reason to hate Ben.

It’s good, but except for the bit where Juliet’s ex is bus-murdered, it’s not that memorable. Call it seven botched spinal surgeries out of ten.

April 15, 2016

Zine crazy

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 3:17 pm

I sent a newsletter out last night, to my teeming list of six (count ’em all!) mailing list subscribers. It was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience, which lines up with my general experience of self-promotion. In other news, I sometimes vomit before or after interviews.

The point of doing the newsletter, even though I don’t really have a lot of writing career to promote at the moment, is to get some practise at the marketing side of the business. It’s an interesting aspect of a professional writing career that I’ve never given any real consideration, for the very sensible reason that why would I? But on the off chance I ever stumble into some modicum of success as a writer, I’d rather have built up some of the basic non-writing skills that prop up the career.

Having a well-maintained mailing list is one of the things every discussion of book marketing mentions sooner or later, whether the author in question is traditional or self-published. Members of a mailing list are self-selecting volunteers who want to be there (if they didn’t, they’d unsubscribe), which makes them more likely to be receptive to your personal news than all your cousins on Facebook or all the random fashion bots that follow you on Twitter.

Besides which, I’ve missed writing wacky amateurish ‘zines, which I’ve hardly done at all since high school.

Another reason included the first episode of what I currently plan to be long-running serial adventure. I figure if I’m going to have a mailing list, I want to make it worth clicking on. It doesn’t hurt that having an outside obligation means I’m much more likely to finish a piece of work than if I leave it to my own devices.

The big reason to put out a newsletter, if I’m being much too blunt for my own comfort [1], is that I crave an audience. I want people to hear what I have to say. Or no, not even that, because the existence of blogs and social media more than adequately provides a soapbox sounding off about whatever. What I really hope for is confirmation, however transitory and slight, that I possess the minor super-power of being entertaining or at least amusing through the medium of storytelling.

I’m like that kid (i.e. me) who ties the towel around his neck, climbs up on the shed and jumps off in the hope that this time he’ll fly. And then does it again, and again, and again. [2]

That sounds self-deprecating and defeatist, but it’s not intended that way. It’s painfully apparent to me, from observation of my own habits as a consumer of art, that it’s very difficult for writers, musicians and artists of every other stripe [2] to capture the attention of an audience, or to hold it for more than a moment. The world is too busy, too loud, too crowded with distractions. It’s hard to stand out. And like all things that are hard, it takes time and work (and probably a lot of mistakes) before you can get better at it.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely subscribe to the notion that creating art is a worthwhile pursuit in its own right. But that doesn’t mean I want to or should have to create in a vacuum. Art is much more interesting and compelling to me as a conversation between unique voices than as the isolated mutterings of a lonely madman. Even if the conversation is barely about a murmur at the moment, I’d still prefer to be having it with other people.

Anyway, if you’re reading this and you missed out, you can still go over to my author website and subscribe. I’ll resend the April newsletter in a week or two to any late signups, so you won’t miss out on the first part of Orphans’ Moon.

 

[1] As I typed this I was very, very uncomfortable and maybe a little bit nauseated

[2] And each time, assuming this isn’t the time he breaks his damn fool leg or worse, he gets a little bit better at tucking and rolling on impact.

[3] Poets are especially fucked. I’m glad I’m not trying to be a poet.

March 30, 2016

Home again

Filed under: family,fitter/happier,news of the day — lexifab @ 8:33 pm

We’re back home after four days’ break in the Hunter Valley. The highlights were probably spending an hour have a leisurely wine tasting while the kids played with Leo the resident winery dog at Pokolbin Estate and taking a camel ride across the dunes in Anna Bay on our way home this morning (was a bit out of our way, but worth the detour).

It was very pleasant to have a solid few days of real break time. We had next to no internet or mobile coverage (thanks Vodafone) so about the most wired thing I managed to do was play a few rounds of Words with Friends. Other than that, it was all about chilling with the kids playing tennis or splashing about in the pool, drinking wine and reading.

I did mean to write. Honestly I did. I took my notebook and everything. But in the end I decided I was better off just trying to get some distance from my creeping anxiety about procrastination and just relax. It seems to have worked (a few choice bottles of plonk may not have hurt either). I’m back in a much more positive frame of mind. There’s still an enormous amount of stuff to do, but it feels less unmanageable than it did last week.

Right. Things to do. Let’s get to it.

March 22, 2016

That did not work

Filed under: administraviata,geekery,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 8:42 pm

Boring technical note. I just tried to export this entire blog across to its own page at davidversace.com. It didn’t work.

Or rather, it did work, perfectly – but it merged with the blog that was already there, creating what we might technically refer to as a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I surmise at this point that my best bet is to create a separate website to host this blog, but that will probably take some concerted effort that won’t happen before I head away north for the Easter weekend.

Had another disappointment today, about which I’ll say nothing here, except to note that it means going back to the drawing board for a New Plan.

I now propose to turn my back on the disappointments and go proofread my story in preparation for its publication in At the Edge (details on the Other Site). And then watch an unhealthy amount of Daredevil.

March 17, 2016

Back to the Island 3.6 – I Do

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:06 pm

Quote: “Tell you what. If you can really stay put, really settle down, then I’ll stop chasing you. But you and I both know that’s not going to happen.” – Agent Edward Mars

Summary: After initially telling Ben he’s going to let his spinal tumour kill him, Jack finally agrees to perform the surgery when he discovers that Kate and Sawyer have slept together (and if there was ever any doubt that, at its heart, Lost is a soap opera, then I trust that sentence killed it off).

The Best Bit: The final scene cuts between the surgical ward where Jack and Juliette are operating to remove Ben’s tumour and the polar bear cages where Sawyer and Kate profess their kind-of-mutual love before Danny arrives to kill Sawyer. It’s one of the most effective dramatic scenes in the entire series to date. Everything works – the direction, the editing, the score and the performances all crank the tension up until it’s basically impossible to watch the scene without being 100% convinced that Sawyer is going to get shot in the head and dumped in the mud at Kate’s feet. And *then* Jack pulls his own murderous power-move and turns the whole scene around. Everything feels completely earned and completely convincing. It’s a great piece of television drama.

The Worst Bit: It’s just a shame that the rest of the episode is pretty dull. The flashback scene shows us a snippet of Kate’s life from when she was briefly married to the nicest cop ever portrayed on television (played by effortlessly charming goofball Nathan Fillion, he’s conscientious, doting, and he even does all his paperwork!) Naturally Kate sabotages everything by drugging him and fleeing as soon as he suggests she gets a passport, which to be fair would be quite tricky for a federal fugitive. There’s nothing really wrong with the plot – and it does afford another chance to see the ill-fated Agents Mars, who’s great – but it doesn’t add anything new to what we already knew about Kate, which is that she runs instead of solving problems. The back story exists for no other reason but to lend ironic weight to Jack’s bellowed command in the final scene: “Kate, damn it, run!”

The Literature: The Bible gets a brief look-in, during Eko’s funeral scene. Locke, using a rock to hammer Eko’s walking stick into the grave, pauses significantly at the words carved into it: “Let up your eyes and look north.” It’s a paraphrase of Genesis 13:14 “And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward” (I just picked the King James version by the way. None of the various texts agree on the wording, so I can forgive the fake-preacher Eko for getting the quote a bit wrong). There’s also a reference to John 3.5 “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (King James again. I have no idea what denomination Eko was supposed to be). Anyway, all very significant, I’m sure.

The Mythology: Angsty teenager Alex reappears, searching for her missing boyfriend, and we learn that she is not only one of the Others but also has some connection to Ben that makes her influential (albeit rather patronised by the older Others like Juliette and Danny). To be fair, Alex appears naive and has poor planning skills, so it’s not really surprising the ultra-serious grownup Others look down on her.

Rather more mysteriously, when Danny’s murderous blood-vengeance is finally let off its leash and he storms off to execute Sawyer, he cryptically remarks that “Shepherd wasn’t even on Jacob’s list.”  This may not quite be the first direct reference to someone called Jacob; it’s certainly the first mention of his list. (Spoiler: it’s going to come up again).

The Episode: Despite my very great fondness for performances by Nathan Fillion, “I Do” is an episode that I rewatched expecting to be mostly bored. For about the first thirty-eight minutes, that’s not an unfair expectation- the scenes between Ben, Jack and Juliette are more of the same tense posturing from previous episodes, the culmination of Kate and Sawyer’s caged-heat tension is perfectly watchable but not all that thrilling, and the flashback is a collection of nice moments with no surprises.

But that last scene elevates the episode in every way, and finishes on as solid a dramatic moment as any cliffhanger in the series to date. Not enough to win me over completely, but enough to rate seven charming goofball guest stars.

March 15, 2016

Sunday Monday Tuesday Reset

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 9:30 pm

I originally thought that I would run a weekly “keep myself honest” column over at PretentiousAuthor.com. In retrospect I think it would clutter the site up for no particular value for the readers.

It has some value for me, though, so I’m going to do it here instead. I’ll try to keep it short.

What I worked on: I revised the ending of ‘Silver the Moon in Ascension’ (aka ‘Magic robots vs Werewolves: Dawn of Justice’), I hand-wrote a few pages of my story about a monster hunting magistrate, I began researching my story idea for an ecopunk anthology, I wrote a drabble and I sent out my first pretentious-author newsletter to a whopping four subscribers!

I’ve been experimenting in the last few months with doing longhand first drafts. I used to do it, once upon a very long time ago, but I lost the habit somewhere. Early results seem to indicate that I write fast with longhand (not as fast as I type, but also with far fewer pauses for thought), that my writing sprints tend to last no more than about forty minutes at the most, and that I can generally crank out about 300 words (or two-ish pages of my notebook) in ten minutes or so. The prose tends to be a bit overwritten, but not much more than my regular prose. I expect the process of transcription will help me cut the text back to a lean flow. We’ll see.

What I’ve added to my work plan: More longhand drafting on the magistrate story, a knuckle-down redraft of Silver the Moon, writing a short-short submission for a CSFG horror flash fiction contest, more research for the ecopunk story, and outlining my serial fiction project that I plan to start soon.

For reference, the anthology I am aiming at is Ticonderoga’s Ecopunk – speculative tales of radical futures.  I’m inspired to have a go for a few reasons – one, because getting a story accepted into a Ticonderoga anthology has evolved from mere writing goal to authorial white whale; two, because I don’t write enough science fiction and I consider it a real gap in my repertoire; and three, because as I admitted on Leife Shallcross’ blog a few weeks ago, I am a lazy-arsed researcher, which borders on the disgraceful.

(So far the hard part has not been developing a workable SF concept. It’s finding the right story to attach to it).

Taking my shot at a scientifically-plausible short fiction piece is a real personal challenge. Honestly, it’s not a target I expect to hit, knowing the standard that the editors are expecting. But I won’t shore up my weaknesses by avoiding them.

 

 

March 8, 2016

Back to the Island 3.5 – The Cost of Living

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:45 pm

Quote – “What about Eko?” – Charlie Pace
“We’ll catch up. We’re all going to the same place.” – John Locke

Summary: A feverish Eko wanders into the jungle to confess his sins to the ghost of his brother, pursued by Locke and company. Ben and Juliet appeal to Jack to help them but to very different ends.

The Best Bit: The flashbacks to Eko’s Nigerian childhood and his brief, blood-soaked term as Brother Yemi’s successor is riddled with African clichés of murderous gangsters, pious villagers and poorly-managed Red Cross medical shipments, but it is beautifully crafted, acted and shot.

The Worst Bit: It seems mean to pick on Nikki and Paulo again, but for the most part there are no weak scenes here, so I’m going with the inexplicably weak gag of Paulo using a toilet when everyone else is being deadly serious.

Books: Nobody is reading, but Juliet name checks To Kill a Mockingbird in a scene where she pitches to jack that he murder Ben with surgery while ostensibly singing his praises. It’s a pretty tight scene, but it doesn’t have too much in common with Mockingbird. Neither does the rest of the plot – unlike Boo Radley, Mr Eko is neither innocent of his many crimes nor does he regret committing them.

The mythology: The Smoke Monster straight-up murders Eko here, immediately after his declaration that he does not repent his many sins. This is the first time we get a clear sense that there’s a link between the Island’s ghosts and the Smoke Monster, though the nature of their connection is not yet apparent. The killing also hints that the Smoke Monster is operating according to a moral framework – despite several opportunities, it does not kill Eko until he after asserts that he is proud of his decisions. Even the machete murder decisions. Or rather, especially those ones.

The episode: Another one bites the dust. Literally, this time, with Eko face-planted to death by the Smoke Monster. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje decided he didn’t like living in Hawaii, which is a way better reason to get killed off from a TV show than being busted for DUI like some actors we could mention.

The A plot of “The Cost of Living” is thin, with Eko wandering about until he meets his brother, and the flashbacks to his violent past are arresting. But it’s Ben and Juliet’s silent war to control the Others through Jack that is the episode’s best material in retrospect, showing both Others to their best effect. Ben manipulates by telling the truth, while Juliet plots bloody treachery with fierce declarations of loyalty. It’s kind of beautiful, in a pre-Game of Thrones kind of way.

I give it eight daggers in Caesar’s back.

February 19, 2016

Blogging is dead, so I started another website

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 8:22 pm

Hot on the heels of a great panel discussion at Wednesday night’s CSFG meeting – summarised neatly by panelist Alis Franklin here at her website – and coinciding with the appearance of my first new piece of published fiction over at EGM Shorts, I have launched my “professional” writing site.

The stunningly original name: davidversace.com (I know, I can’t believe the domain wasn’t taken either!)

Anyway, everyone here already knows this because I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. From this point on I will begin the not-entirely-thought-out process of separating what I want to write about as a “published professional” [1] as opposed to the more personal, everyday stuff. The Lost recaps and occasional book reviews will probably stay here, though.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to migrate the archives here to a semi-hidden spot on my own domain, but that’s still the plan. I’m still not sure if I need some kind of tech support for that.

Anyhow, I’ll be using that site to make any public announcements about upcoming stories or whatever but since I’ll cross-post here as well, you can take your pick which one to look at.

 

[1] Definition to be consumed with salt; your dosage may vary but I would start at a couple of pinches and work up from there.

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