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Good Things: Dreamwalker

I recently had the pleasure of reading Dreamwalker, the first in a fantasy series by James Oswald. This post is part enthuse, part review, guaranteed spoiler free.

This book has many of the elements you would expect in a fantasy novel: feuding royals, political struggles between different orders, murder, magic, magic swords of light (yay!), dragons, love, villains, heroes and sinister forces moving in the background.

Two things set it apart for me. The first is how little fighting there is and I mean that in a good way. I’ve read a lot of books lately that rely on constant combat to provide the thrills but here it is the characters and the story that draw you in.

The second is the pace of the book. It felt gentle, giving time for me to get attached to the characters and their lives before messing with them. And once it had me, I read through to the end in one sitting.

It was also nice to see Welsh names making an appearance.

So if you fancy something a bit more enchanting and a little less grim, I’d recommend giving it a look.

Good things: Child of Light

Although Ubisoft have recently hit the headlines for failing to have a female lead in the latest Assassin’s Creed game, they also brought out an excellent RPG recently called Child of Light, which features amongst other things, a female protagonist. So here, in no particular order and with a minimum of spoilers are some reasons I love this game.

 

It’s beautiful!

The game looks a treat, I mean, go look at it! The whole thing is a treat for the eyes, from the main characters to the backdrops, to little animations in the scenery as you move through it, every detail appears to have been placed with care.

The music

I love the music. It’s haunting and sad in the main game and dramatic (and a bit earwormy) in the battle sections.

You can fly!

This makes travel fun. It’s really nice being able to zip around and over things and makes exploring effortless.

You have a firefly who helps you explore and fight and looks really cute when it gets tired.

Nuff said.

The battle system

It’s neat. It works on a time system where each action takes a different length of time to complete and that between starting an action and finishing it you are vulnerable to being interrupted. This means that if you play things right you can keep interrupting the enemy, and stopping them from attacking.

It also means that defending is worth doing, something that seems to rarely apply in RPG’s.

Although only two of your party can be on screen at any time, you can swap the party in and out mid battle (a bit like FF10) as often as you like. It’s one of my peeves that most games give you a roster of characters to travel with but only allow you to take a couple of party members into a fight.

It has lots of female characters who are not just love interests

And female villains too.

It’s child friendly

Though I’d advise grown-ups play the game on Expert setting as casual is a bit too easy.

Confessions of a Squee Killer

I came across a set of tweets from Jen Williams this morning…

Jen Williams @sennydreadful

I will never understand the urge to harsh a squee.

Jen Williams @sennydreadful

you see someone enthusing about something they love. You think, "I know, I'll tell them I think it's shit. They'll appreciate that."

Jen Williams @sennydreadful

Or, just don't. People love different things. It's okay.

 

I agree with completely with what’s being said here. I do. I’m not a monster or anything*. But… I think I can understand it. There have been times when I see people raving about a film or book, saying the exact opposite of what I feel, and the urge to kill their squee is powerful.

Just before I go on, when I’m talking about a ‘squee’ in this post, I’m referring to a demonstration of love and excitement about something, usually connected to science fiction or fantasy in some way.

I can’t speak for squee killers everywhere but for me, encountering a squee I don’t understand can be a painful experience, creating a sense of distance between me and person doing the squeeing.

I’m used to not fitting in. Superheroes and magic and giant robots are enjoying a time of relatively mainstream cool these days but it was not always so. Growing up, I learned to be careful with who I shared my passions with and those friends who also loved things like Star Wars, Babylon 5, Dungeons and Dragons, Amber, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and running around the woods in silly costumes were rare jewels indeed.

And with those friends and the wider geek community I have a feeling of belonging that I often don’t in the wider world.

I’m used to people not getting what I love but when those people are in circles that I consider to be ‘my community’ or ‘my tribe’ it can be almost unbearable.

Conversely, when people I respect squee about something I think is terrible, it’s also unbearable. I feel like maybe I don’t understand them after all, maybe they don’t understand me.

That’s when the Dark Side become tempting.

Perhaps, it whispers, if you were to point out to them why the thing they love is rubbish, they’ll realise their mistake and then unity will return.

Somehow, their squee makes me feel insecure. And I think that’s the point of all this. Squee killers are moving from a place of insecurity because it’s rare that they simply offer their opinion with a comment like:

“Yes, the effects in Prometheus were excellent, although I must admit I found the representation of the scientists hard to believe and that made it harder for me to suspend disbelief.”

Instead going for something like:

“Prometheus sucks in every way! The plot is rubbish, the characters laughable. And how did she run with that injury? And why didn’t she run sideways! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! And if you think otherwise you’re a ****weasel!”

Ahem.

I think this is because a squee comes from the heart. It’s a primal thing. And geeks don’t just like their fiction, they adore it. More than that I think we identify with it. For me, it is far more than just entertainment. I often hold fiction and the creators of said fiction up to my own moral standards and that can make me a tough audience.

But when I enjoy fiction, it feeds me in a deep way. Or it makes me feel warm and smile. Sometimes I actually feel it changing me as I read it and when that happens I want to share those good vibes.

I want to squee.

My name is Peter Newman and I’ve gone ten months since my last squee kill.

 

*Before alcohol only.

Good things: Everyday Sexism Project

I was reading a book a few months ago but didn’t manage to finish it. This is rare for me. I can be brutally impatient with TV shows, tough on films but I’m normally fairly forgiving with books.

This particular book was science fiction. It was well paced, had interesting concepts. It was in many ways a very good read. There was just one snag.

The female characters.

Or perhaps I should say the lack of female characters.

It’s not that there weren’t women in the book, there were quite a few, but every single one of them was a sex object, described primarily in terms of appearance and usually shacked up with one of the male characters within a scene or two. The exception to this was an older woman but even she was described in terms of how she would have been attractive in her day and there were suggestions about her previous liaisons.

Eventually* this facet of the writing became too much for me to ignore and I stopped reading.

And I realised that somewhere along the line, the way I consumed media had changed. You see, five years ago, I would probably have finished the book, just to see where the writer took the other concepts. Ten years ago I may not even have appreciated the problem.

Because that’s the thing: I don’t believe for a second that the writer was intentionally sexist. I think that side of the writing was coming from a place of ignorance, or at least a blind spot.

Sexist messages are all around us and as a parent I sometimes despair how gendered things are at an early age. Mainstream media bombards us with images and slogans that are, at best, outdated and at worst, damaging to our psyche.

Unless we have access to other messages, other ideas, it’s all too easy to mistake the unacceptable as normal.

For me, a number of things have been slowly raising my awareness. Getting together with and then marrying Emma was one of the biggest of those. Watching her get increasingly incensed by the (often lazy) portrayal of women in fiction and realising that when we went to the bank, or talked to a builder, they’d have a tendency to look only at me rather than her.** It made me start paying attention. Before then it wasn’t so much that I didn’t care before then, more that I hadn’t even noticed.

The other big eye opener was following @EverydaySexism on Twitter***. If you haven’t come across it before I’d recommend watching Laura Bates’ Ted talk. What shocked me most about it wasn’t so much the level of abuse or discrimination that women suffer (though that is certainly shocking) but the sheer volume and frequency of it.

I find those messages a useful reminder that things are not okay and there is still a lot more talking to be done.

There’s a clip doing the rounds where an Ohio State Legislator who is anti-abortion is being asked on Al-Jazzera why he thinks women might want to have one. He struggles to answer because he’d never even thought to ask the question before.

It’s easy to be a shitbag when you don’t have to think about the consequences.

 

*I made it about a third of the way through.

**They should have been talking to her. I’m about as practical as a porcelain hammer.

*** Or you can find them here.

 

 

Good things: Minecraft

MinecraftOn the run up to Christmas I was looking for games for my son and kept coming across this game called Minecraft. I’d heard of it and had a vague idea that you mined stuff and built stuff and that there were rpg elements to it. It hadn’t lit my fire and the graphics felt a little too retro for my tastes.

Anyway, I asked online if people had anything to recommend and Minecraft popped up again. I asked if it would be suitable for children and got a resounding yes. So I had another look.

A kind fellow sent me the link for this documentary and I was immediately won over by how down to earth the creator was.

So I’ve picked it up and played it for a few days and now I get the Minecraft thing.

I love it.

Why?

I think because the game gives so much freedom and because it makes me creative. In most games, the thing being tested is reflexes and the ability to push buttons in sequences but here I have to actively engage with the world.

And the world is big. Huge even. On the scale of Skyrim but with so much more depth.

I’m playing with Em at the moment* and so far we’ve built a physics defying house. At first we built it to have a shelter from the monsters but it soon became more than that. Like a virtual joint Lego project.

I didn't build this!

I didn't build this!

It now has three floors and growing out to the roof, my pride and joy, a tower, topped with an observation tower made of glass. It’s mad and it’s brilliant. Em’s been busy with perimeter walls, a chicken coup and wolf taming.

Some cool moments in the game so far:

–          The first night when the monsters come out to get you. We hadn’t made any weapons by that stage and had to listen to a zombie trying to smash down our front door.

–          Realising that with the right objects in your hand, you can get animals to follow you.

–          Watching the Bean become obsessed with building a giant pathway from his front door.

Another thing I like is how you can solve problems in different ways. For example, we’d sometimes go exploring but get caught out after dark. One of us** had a habit of falling down holes and needing to be rescued. So we dealt with this in two ways. First, we fenced off the major holes and second, we built pathways between the islands, with beacon towers along the way to guide us home at night. Alternatively, we could have built tunnels, or filled in the holes with dirt, or laid down track and rode carts from one pace to another.

We found a giant set of catacombs running under one of the islands, where rivers run through the rock in some places, lava in others. If we mine the wrong blocks, or if one of the monsters destroys one, it can alter the course of these rivers, trapping us inside or changing the layout of the caves.

There’s a genuine sense of exploration that I haven’t felt in a game for a long time.

Or this!

I didn't build this either.

When we finish with this current world, I might treat myself to the Mass Effect version of the game, or the Skyrim one. Oh and I’m going to build an epically stupid castle with huge paths going across the sky so that I don’t have to worry about the monsters down below.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’m off to see what I can make with the gold ore I just mined.

 

*This is another reason the game is so fun, I doubt I’d enjoy it as much on my own.

**Em.

2013: It was the best of years, it was the worst of years

2013 has literally been the best and worst year of my life. It started innocently enough* and chugged on that way until the summer where a series of work, life and other stresses hit like a triple whammy of terror.

I’m not going to dwell too much on the bad things here, except to say that I spent several months in a state of high anxiety which really took its toll. People deal with stress in different ways and I retreated inwards, posting less and less and generally being less creative. This became a nasty spiral where I was spending my time dealing with stressful things and feeling too exhausted to do the things that made me feel good.

The one thing that I do want to talk about here is that we moved house. At first this went incredibly smoothly. We got the house ready over an intensive two weeks and (with the superheroic help of family) worked a pretty magical transformation.

We went to Nine Worlds that weekend, and in between bouts of pretending to be a character from Em’s books (and trying to kidnap Paul Cornell**), I got a call from our estate agent saying that we’d sold.

Hurray!

But woe was to follow. Our lender was being incredibly slow processing our mortgage and in the end our mortgage promise turned out to be no such thing and we were let down by them at the eleventh hour, nearly breaking the chain.

Even though I’d banked with this particular lender for over twenty five years, even though I had a perfect credit rating, never missed a payment, already had a bigger mortgage with them than the one I was asking for, they still let us down.

Why?

I’m still a bit mystified about this to be honest. But as far as I can tell the answer is that it’s because we’re self-employed and therefore not to be trusted.

I’m a bit of a loyalist at heart and it really upset me that my history with them seemed to count for nothing. It also upset me that the mortgage promise (which we’d got before making any offers on new houses), seemed to count for nothing. I was left feeling judged, undervalued and generally shat upon.

Eventually we found a solution and moved in early November. Things ever since have passed in a blur of decorating, work, and getting ready for Christmas.

A month and a half later life couldn’t be more different. My other stresses appear to have resolved themselves. I’m in a new house, which I love and I have an agent. I still struggle to articulate what that means to me***.

I don’t believe in karma but it was a bit like the universe noticed there’d been a serious imbalance and then threw good things at me all through December to make up for the previous six months.

I'm not a fan of Moshi Monsters but I quite like these Christmas Moshlings.

I'm not a fan of Moshi Monsters but I quite like these Christmas Moshlings.

We hosted Christmas this year. Em put the last licks of paint on the dining room on the 23rd of December and then we were cooking like mad things until Christmas lunchtime. But it was one of the best Christmases ever. The Bean was wonderful, a true delight and it was great to be able to thank family who have been incredible all through the moving process. I liked having it at my house too. It already feels like home.

So I look back not sure how I feel about the year. I met some great people, did some cool things, and learnt a lot, worried a lot, probably shaved a few years of my life.

I can’t quite believe it’s all happened in the same year.

Still, right now, things are good. Better than they’ve been in a long time, actually, and life seems full of promise. I’m really looking forward to taking the good bits of 2013 and taking them with me into 2014. But more on that in another post!

San-Ta, the ever living! (He's been with us for over 4 years now and still going strong. Not bad for a balloon)

San-Ta, the ever living! (He's been with us for over 4 years now and still going strong. Not bad for a balloon)

 

*And I started writing Tea and Jeopardy with Em, which was/is great fun!

**I failed. Curse those Split World players!

***But I’d be delighted to try, should I meet any of you in a pub sometime 😀

My Christmas has come early! (a.k.a. I've just got an agent!)

Back in August I started looking for an agent and submitted my manuscript. Time passed and after much checking of emails, cyber stalking, dreaming, despairing, pretending not to think about it, focusing on other projects, dreaming again, despairing again, moving house, actually forgetting for a while, remembering again- <snip>

I’m delighted* to announce that I am now represented by Juliet Mushens of the Agency Group.

I really couldn’t be happier about this**.

 

*Riding around the house on an imaginary horse sort of happy. Shouting, jumping up in the air and spontaneously dancing (badly) sort of happy. This is far from my normal state. It’s great!

**See above.

Good Things: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

Check out the cover. It's gorgeous.

Check out the cover. It's gorgeous.

Over the last few years there have been loads of great things (books, films, blogs, people) that I have meant to blog about and not got round to. So, in a very relaxed way I’ve decided to start by talking about a book I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams.

So this is part enthuse, part review though it’ll be spoiler free I promise.

First a disclaimer: I have met the author and imbibed alcohol in her presence.

Right, onto the review. The Copper Promise is a fantasy novel and is brilliant. The characters are recognisably fantasy enough to feel immediately comfortable while being different enough to feel fresh. Most importantly I liked them and cared for them, even when they screw up. And they screw up quite often.

There’s magic, gods, monsters, taverns, pirates, knights, epic battles, dungeons, mysterious caves, wise women, mystics, demons, cannibals, dragons, tons of bad guys, an abundance of scars and a mild hint of sauce.*

The writing is pacey and fresh, funny at times but also serious enough to feel tense as well.

Above all, this is fun**. The Copper Promise is not a short book but I tore through it, often muttering to myself things like ‘just one more chapter…’

I’m loath to say more as I hate spoilers*** and you can read blurbs for yourself. But go read it. It’s brilliant.

If you like GIF’s Andrew Reid’s review is also well worth checking out.

 

*Seriously, what’s not to like?

**I almost didn’t write this because the word fun is sometimes used for things that are rough round the edges. This isn’t. In fact the ‘fun’ here is well crafted and probably took a ton of work to achieve.

***Which is why I’m not a pro book reviewer. I’d suck.

Man-cave

What with the advent of life and the saga of moving house I haven’t been around online much at all for what feels like forever.

The house needed a lot of love and we decided to decorate before unpacking because otherwise the chances were the decorating wouldn’t happen. We’re still a way off from getting the house just how we want it but the first phase of painting is done, new carpets are in, we have internet, TV and a phone line. And most importantly we can sit down*.

Also I now have a room of my own. It’s been variously referred to as my office or my snug but the name that seems to have stuck is Man-cave.

Behold the Man-cave!

Behold the Man-cave!

It makes me happy. In the last house I did all my work in the front room which was fine until the Bean came home or Em wanted to take a break**.

Such trifles are fading memories now I have a Man-cave. And I have to say I love it! I loved painting it. I love hunting for the right picture*** for it and I love writing in here. I’m in here right now, typing this. I have a goofy smile on my face.

A group of brave adventurers (retired).

A group of brave adventurers (retired).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I’d never realised how important it is to be able to sit down in your own house before.

**A very rare occurence.

***Ongoing.

Bristolcon 2013

I’ve wanted to go to Bristolcon for a while now but have been cruelly denied by work for the last two years. So it was a real delight to be able to go to the 2013’s event.

There was a full programme and I was impressed with how tightly organised the whole thing was. All the panels seemed to run to time and the staff were both efficient and approachable throughout. I’m gradually starting to understand how much time, love and effort goes into these things so a big thank you to everyone who helped make it work.

Some quick highlights:

-Listening to readings by Philip Reeve*, Mary Robinette Kowal** and Ian Whates***

-Fanboying at Philip and Mary

-Getting to meet Gareth (and Becky) Powell in a non-digital format

-Chatting quite a lot about roleplaying with David Roger and hearing about the legendary ‘day of meat’. (Apologies to our third musketeer, I didn’t log your name but did appreciate your love of Zelazny!)

-Listening to Mark Buckingham spectacularly fail to list all of his current projects in 30 seconds (he has a lot on!)

-The spontaneous cheer when Emma was announced as one of next year’s guests of honour

All in all it was a lovely event and I will definitely be going back.

 

*Who is a thoroughly lovely chap. I’d happily take him home for tea.

**Who is just as cool on panels as she is on podcasts. I’d happily have her over for tea too.

***Who remains one of the nicest men in the world. What the hell, I’d have him over for tea as well!