Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Good vs Evil in fiction (fantasy specifically)

So, first of all, welcome back to my blog. I confess, I have been lazy. But I try, honest, and I haz cake. Want some?

Moving on.

I'm going to address something I've always found a bit odd. These days, GOOD vs EVUL appears to be a pet peeve of many on the intarwebz, and writers are often discouraged from writing such stories. Likewise, prophecy and chosen ones are hated by many more.

I confess, I love me a top class good vs evil story, with a prophecy. I don't think it is simplistic in its philosophy at all, and if handled well can be brilliant. True, there are some awful ones, but there is awful moral relativism as well. For every poorly executed farmboy, there is a dire anti-hero who we are somehow supposed to sympathize with as he/she murders and eats their mother. Twice.

But I digress a tad, because abusing the poorer examples of moral relativism in fantasy is as farcical as abusing poor good and evil, destiny fantasy.

I love exploring the concept of good and evil. For many, good and evil is an intrinsic part of their world view. Hell, I hope everyone reading this has a definition of right and wrong in their beliefs (if you don't, plz don't stab me).

Are there different kinds of evil? When does someone cross the line? How do you become evil? What is good? Can you be both at the same time?

I would argue traditional good vs evil and moral relativism are two sides of the same coin. They are two different methods of exploring the same subject.

Now, prophecy.

Simple prophecies are boring. But you can flip them around so much. What if they're riddles and almost impossible to decipher? What if there are contradicting prophecies? What if the prophecies are wrong? What if the prophecy predicts salvation at a terrible price, or no certainty of salvation at all?

If there is a chosen one, how do you figure out who he/she is? What does this chosen one have to say about their destiny? Do they meet it at all?

I would hate to see the more traditional elements of fantasy fall by the wayside, because there is always more to say, more to twist. What one writer says will often be completely different to what another says on the same subject.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Learning about the Climate Part One: Long Term Change

Disclaimer: I did not receive payment from any political or corporate institution to write this post. Written content can be found included in lecture material at Massey University, Palmerston North. Well okay, minus the smart comments. They’re mine.

So, Climate Change. Welcome to part one of a two part miniseries.

A lot of people do not understand it. In this miniseries I am going to explain how it works as well as we know, because we do not know everything. Yes, anthropological climate change will be discussed, but I will lay out the evidence for you to make your own mind up. Because I’m a smart cookie, I know not everyone is like me and doesn’t necessarily get off on science, so I’ll try to make this as easy and entertaining a read as possible. I promise pretty pictures.

The first thing you need to understand about climate change is there is both long term climate change and short term climate change (under which falls anthropological change theory). The second thing you need to understand is the causes are like dominos arranged in an erratic jumble. If one climate system is altered, the others will be affected by the alteration.

In part one, I will talk about long term change.

Orbital forcing is the main driver behind long term climate change, but it does not explain everything. Orbital forcing is how the earth travels around the sun.

In laymans terms, the Earth is a lump of rock rocketing around a nuclear fusion reactor and is held in place by gravity.

Well, sort of held in place.

The lump of rock we call home does not have a smooth orbit at all. We actually rocket through space on an ellipse, and we do a lot of wobbling on our tilted axis. I’m glad we’re a little unstable, because then we get seasons and I’m not left in eternal winter freezing my backside off at the bottom of the globe.

The sun is not even at the centre of the ellipse. It is off to the side.

There are three parts to orbital forcing, starting with the procession of the equinoxes.

As the Earth cruises round on its ellipse, it receives varying amounts of solar radiation. The sun is rather warm, and remember how I just said the sun is not at the centre of the ellipse? The point closest to the sun is called the perihelion. The perihelion is where we receive the most solar radiation.

Also, because the Earth is tilted on its axis (currently 23.5 degrees. Yes, I said currently. Who wants to talk about polar shift?), this radiation is not distributed evenly. At the current time, Northern Hemisphere summer occurs at the aphelion, which is the opposite of the perihelion. So for me down here in the Southern Hemisphere, I spend winter freezing and summer frying.

Now, because the Earth wobbles on its axis, the direction of the tilt varies. After 10.5ka (1ka is 1000 years) it is completely reversed. Basically, it is the Northern Hemisphere’s turn to fry in summer and freeze in winter. After 21ka the cycle is back to where we are today.

The second part to OF is the aforementioned tilt. The tilt of the Earth varies between 21.5-24.5 degrees. The greater the tilt, the greater the difference between summer and winter. This runs on a 41ka cycle (there and back again).

The third part, and this really is the fun part, is the orbit changes. Yes, we are a little rock flying through space on gravity. But, the shape of our orbit cycles from being an ellipse to almost circular every 100ka. Being an ellipse, we have more pronounced contrasts between summer and winter.

These three parts are glued together. Play with one and you’ll play with the others. Deep sea core samples suggest our climate has been dominated by the 100ka cycle. Our period is called the Quaternary period, and it has been around for 2.7 million years. The time between glacial periods has been roughly 100ka for the bulk of the Quaternary. The 41 and 21ka cycles have either amplified or moderated the effects, depending on where we were at the time.

I did want to provide you with an animation of orbital forcing, but Havard are being very stingy. Nevertheless, if you want to download a 74MB animation follow this link:

And here is a page with some diagrams:

And here is another pretty picture looking at the relationship between orbital forcing and glacial periods:

As you can see, there is a relationship between glacial periods and orbital forcing.

However, orbital forcing only accounts for 77% of the variations occurred during the quaternary. Records indicate climatic cycles have shifted. 800,000 years ago we were on a 41ka cycle and then we shifted to our current 100ka cycle. There are other elements involved.

What elements are these?

Oh boy, here we go.

Disposition of continental landmass, tectonic activity, oceanic circulation, extent of ice cover and possibly variation in carbon dioxide, methane and dust. This is where things get tricky, because once again these guys are all dominos who like to knock each other over. For example, when the Panama Isthmus (the link between the Americas) closed, oceanic circulation was altered, which affected the climate. Also, the continents have drifted towards the poles.

But really, scientists are still working out how the other 23% works. What are the causes and what are the effects?

If you’re interested, take a look at the temperature trend of the quaternary period:

That is an oxygen isotope record. Basically, peaks represent a warm planet and troughs mean it’s cold.

You’ll notice the trend is we’re getting colder, and have greater variation between warm and cold periods. We’re also nearing the peak of a warm period. It is also interesting to note we get warm fast and cold relatively slowly.

Long term climate change theories still have a lot of gaps to fill in. Right now, some new ideas include connections between the magnetic field and climate (i.e. Venus has a crap one and the solar wind steals all its hydrogen, oxygen, etc and leaves it to belch carbon and sulphur dioxide into its atmosphere. We on the other hand, have a good magnetic field and we keep our nice molecules.) and Solar Resonant Diffusion.

That is all for today kiddies. Next I will cover short term change, hopefully while keeping my backside firmly in Switzerland as promised.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Review: Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex.

Artemis Fowl is one of the biggest Young Adult series on the planet, and the ranking is deserved. The first installment will forever go down on the list of my fondest childhood books, alongside Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Alex Rider.

Then Colfer delivered five more adventures, all top notch work, though some were still better than others. The previous book, The Time Paradox, is my second favourite after the first. It had its flaws, but without giving too much away it dealt with teenage desire, facing the past, and taking responsibility in a mature manner and was a highly enjoyable read I couldn't put down.

The Atlantis Complex didn't do it for me. In fact, in my opinion it is the worst book in the series.

This book had so much potential. The blurb is thus: Artemis comes up with a plan to save the world from Global Warming and invites the fairies to see his plan. His friends quickly deduce he has the Atlantis Complex, which is the fairy version of multiple personality disorder mixed with some paranoia.

Which sounds completely awesome.

Then the gang are attacked by an unknown enemy and end up having to scramble to save the fairy world etc etc. All while Artemis is loony.

Now from what the rumours are saying, Colfer might be getting bored with Artemis Fowl. I'm not going to discuss it here, because regardless of the author's enthusiasm for the project, a published book must have received the author's every effort and I am going to review based on this assumption.

I am also well aware Colfer did a lot of chopping and changing of the story and had a deadline to meet.

First up, the narrative.

Colfer has always used his authorial voice in the Artemis Fowl series. Usually he does very well with what is usually a big no-no, but here it got in the way for the first time in the series. He used it, and used it, and used it, and most criminally of all he drained the suspense from the story. In one scene Artemis finds a strange object and Colfer tells the reader it is important. This was well into the story and I almost threw the book at the wall then.

Granted, this is the first new Fowl book I've read since learning about writing craft in detail, but I have re-read the others during this time and they have not jarred me like Colfer does in this book.

The authorial voice wouldn't be quite as annoying if he didn't tell instead of show throughout most of the book. The characters are also wooden at times, which contrasts greatly with previous books. Towards the end there is a scene where the characters should have been horrified. Instead they watch Holly's ordeal like it is a mildly interesting midday soap opera.

I don't have the other books on hand (they are in my hometown three hours away), but I don't remember the third person omnipresent POV being this prominent either. What is more, it fluctuates. Previously in the series we would have one character's viewpoint with the occassional switch to someone else, usually for an authorial joke.

In TAC, one scene Colfer will be head hopping with every paragraph and the next scene he will stick with one character with no head hopping. The inconsistency made it dificult for me to keep immersed.

The structure of the book is different as well. There are nine chapters and an epilogue that is really a chapter spread across 317 pages, excluding the random five page series recap at the start of the book.

While the chapters are sizable, the book feels cut in half. One goal is resolved, the other is not and there are still ten thousand new and old questions needing an answer. I don't mind cliffhangers, but I do feel like I've been left with half a book.

To illustrate, take the first half of The Arctic Incident, Beef up the word count then leave it there. That still doesn't quite illustrate it, but the feeling still stands.

Moving on to plot and character, things start to improve. A bit.

If you don't want spoilers, do not read past this point.

Artemis had his pros and cons. At the beginning his paranoia and superstition was plain to see and actually very well done. Little Arty has a thing for fives now. Fives and multiples of five are lucky and safe, fours and multiples of it mean death. He no longer trusts anyone, least of all himself, and he starts off quite brilliantly.

Then along comes his alternate personality, Orion.

On one hand, I appreciated Orion. He spoke like a Shakespeare play, was highly amusing and hung all of Artemis's secrets out to dry, including his attraction to Holly. He produced many laugh out loud moments.

But he could have been so much better.

I love it when Colfer gets dark and complex on the reader. He could have used any personality, anything, and he went for comic relief.

Orion just wasn't interesting enough. He has no depth, all he was was a gimmick to hinder Artemis. The superstition and paranoia suckered me in. I couldn't wait to see the personality Artemis developed.

But Orion is just stupid. If he had more depth than comic relief, he could have been very good. His only moment was when he hung Artemis's feelings for Holly out to dry. That conversation is one of the best moments in the story. But from then on he just sat there making stupid statements and expressing his love for Holly. Winding up Foaly is all well and good, but the Atlantis Complex strikes me as something that could be so much deeper.

In contrast, the villain of the piece is the most three dimensional one the series has had barring Artemis himself. Opal Koboi is fun and hilarious, but she can be a bit two dimensional.

Everything Turnball Root does is for love. He fell in love with a human woman and used the mesmer on her because he was scared she would stop loving him. She is now a very old woman and Root is desperate to escape prison so he can restore her lifeforce.

He is also arguably more of a monster than Koboi. I think his bodycount is higher than hers for a start.

I think Colfer handled romance well. Despite what he says about Holly and Artemis not loving each other, his characters have different ideas. TTPs kiss has been discussed to death, but in TAC there are more subtle hints. Holly says she wants to cradle his head in her hands and ask him what is the matter when she picks up on his paranoia and superstition. When Orion blurts out Arty's attraction, Holly says they will be discussing this in depth later. Then at the end she's holding his hand in hospital while they're talking and just as the reader thinks they're about to have that discussion, we cut to a Butler POV and he gets the last POV in the book.

The premise of the plot was brilliant, but it was poorly executed. The next book will be the last apparently. There are still two Opals running around, Artemis is still insane, and there is the Holly/Artemis dynamic. I hope it is a memorable finale. I love this series, and I want it to go out with a bang.

Two stars from me.

The Smoking Gun for your Story

Conceiving a new idea is one of the most exciting things a human can experience.

There are so many ways it can happen. You can have it all in a rush, or you can piece it together.

It doesn't matter if you're a nuclear physicist or a marketer-the rush sends you giddy, and all you can think of is implementing this idea.

I'm a writer. I write my ideas.

For a writer, new ideas can be saviours' or they can be the worst possible hindrance.

Mine was a hindrance at first, but eventually I realised I needed to dream up and review things for Little Puppets. So it was off to the magical and frankly fantastic beta reader for the puppets and in its place I embraced Julie.

I'm going to share the conception of this psychotic, calm, disturbed, dangerous, fragile, compassionate, cynical, complex, straightforward young woman. I hope I manage to get your heads nodding and mouths smiling as you think back on the building blocks for what you have today.

The first part came into my head playing 007:The World is not Enough on my Nintendo 64 emulator a year ago. The first mission was the bank and stealing some stuff. The scene warped afterwards, showing a young spy of indeterminate gender walking into a large bank with a metal suitcase. I was very curious about the contents of this suitcase and why it was being delivered, but I was infused with my WiP The Prototype, which later became Children of The River, now renamed Little Puppets.

The second scene came to me in a dream after watching the last Weeping Angel episode in the current Doctor Who season. My friends and I were fleeing Angels and locked ourselves in a classroom up at uni in the Old Main Building. The OMB is a very old, very British building. It is dim, quiet, stuffy, and has no concept of straight corridors. First years find the building a nightmare to navigate. It also has automatic doors in some areas, but not in others, and they are silent. The buidling is very creepy.

When we locked ourselves in this classroom, I turned to see a woman crouching in the far corner. She was robed in white and hooded so I couldn't see her eyes. She smiled and pressed her finger to her lips before standing and approaching.

Then I woke up.

The last piece fell into place a few weeks ago. In class I zoned out and starting looking around the room. One girl caught my eye. She sat alone in her row, watching the slide show with a very guarded expression. Her mannerisms contrasted greatly with the girls around her. She was very pretty, with shoulder length red hair and sharp green eyes you could feel from the other side of the room.

Because it was 9am and I really couldn't be bothered with listening, I wondered what she was like. She looked like the toughest girl in the hall. I think, despite her shortish height, she could deck most of the blokes in the room. She looked tough, yet fragile. Straightforward yet complex. I felt it in her body language.

She became my character. Julie Harper is based on a curious young woman I studied on a whim at 9am in the morning.

The pieces didn't clunk together immediately. I can't say why they eventually did. I put the girl in the bank quite quickly, and when I gave in to the trigger and sat down to write, I remembered the dream.

I can't say why the Valarie were included, it just felt right.

And there it is. That's one story. My question for you all is simply to share the conception of your stories. Everyone loves an idea.

Thank you all, and good night!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

yeah, yeah, I teased in my last post. But it's er....Wednesday here therefore it's Tuesday in the States which means I must be a sheep and follow!!!!!!!!!!11111111


Something thudded in the closet.

I stopped, gripping my gun. Great, more random crap. I wasn’t going in there. Not in that bloody house.

“Secret Service. Open up or I’ll open fire. You have five seconds,” I called.

I swapped my tranq gun for my silenced pistol. I didn’t care if the bloody Pope was behind the door, it was getting shot up.


I pumped the trigger. The pistol coughed and the muzzle flared. The bullets punched through the closet door, leaving small dark holes. I emptied the clip into the bloody thing and loaded another. I like my surprises dead.

I reached for the door and threw it open.

A naked woman fell into the hall. She was quite obviously dead. I kicked her over. She was middle aged, slender, and riddled with my bullets.

Jesus, I’d just shot the PMs wife.

Her face was strange. It was contorted, euphoric. I knelt and touched her skin. It was still warm, very warm. Warm, pink and slick with sweat.

Someone was behind me.

I exploded, twisting round and chopping with my hand like a striking rattlesnake.

A slender hand caught my own. Facing me was a woman robed in white. Her hood covered her eyes, but her thin lips and silver hair enchanted me. I could stare at her heart shaped face forever. She was the most lovely woman I had ever seen.

She raised her finger and pressed it to her mouth, the pale digit contrasting with the deep red of her lips. I stared. I would be quiet, I would be anything for this woman.

She smiled. Joy frothed in my chest, bubbling and dancing away. It had been so long since I was truly happy. I was a secret, and secrets don’t feel.

The woman reached into her cloak and pulled out a slender blue rose. She lay it gently between the dead woman’s breasts. Then she lowered her head, stroking the woman’s hair, and kissed her lips with such sweet tenderness. I wanted her to kiss me like that. I needed her to.

The white woman released my hand and it went cold, so cold. I looked at her, begging for her to take it back, but she just smiled. A single tear slid down her cheek.

Then she vanished.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Author, the character, and telling their story. Plus, a snippet of my SNI

Hello everyone.

It is often said the author should remain separate from the character, not just in narrative but in personality.

Sage advice, but in my view authors cannot always be separate. The characters come from the author, and often naturally they will share some traits with the character.

Off the top of my head I can draw some lines between most of my characters and myself. Not huge ones, because they are not me and I don't want them to be me, but there are similarites. Not all of them nice.

Unfortunately, this has no bearing over how easy it is to tell their story. Mathew has to be the most impossible character to get anything out of.

Mathew is the calm, honest, loyal thinker. Not much affects him and when it does he goes into emotional denial. His voice comes out strongest when his shell is cracked. This is fine during the middle and end of the novel, but writing his first few chapters and making him interesting is excruciating.

Then there is the complete opposite: Thera. She's always trying to help people, and she wants someone to listen to her secrets. This is fantastic, it makes her so easy to write.

My question for today is: What are your characters like to write?

I'll leave you with an extract from my shiny new idea. This book will be a lot shorter than Little Puppets, which is being put aside for a month or so for both a break and a savaging by my beta reader. In that time I hope to blast out at least most of a new WIP with the working title Julie, a very dark YA Urban Fantasy. And here she is, the first 725 words of her story:

I walked through the sliding glass doors of the Royal New Zealand Bank and took off my shades, putting them in my coat pocket. I casually glanced around, studying the joint.

Not much was happening. Typical fucking bank. Gigantic hall with marble overload, ten bank tellers, and about three customers and a dog.

Well fourteen customers actually, but I never exaggerate.

They were all pretty average. Accountants, trust fund brats, lawyers. But if someone here was interested, they would make sure they were average. Sitting on a bench reading the paper was secret agent suicide thanks to Hollywood.

I strode to a teller, my heels clipping on the floor. A few people glanced at my suitcase. Why the client needed the metal on the outside of the suitcase beat me. But that’s the New Zealand Secret Services for you. Logic is not our strong point.

The teller smiled. Yeah whatever, he was so pleased to see me my ass. He probably wanted nothing more than to go home and watch porn.

Me, cynical? Never.

I put on my young professional act. I reached into my pocket and gave him some I.D. I’m Bella Nichols apparently. I also gave him a letter from the NZ Police. It basically said “do this or get fucked over.”

Mr Happy Bank Teller opened the letter and went a little pale. He glanced at me quickly before ducking out the back to get the special forms. I waited, keeping my face bored but professional. I’m considering taking up acting if I ever get out of this shit business. I’d be good at it, and I’m decent enough eye candy for the boys and their action movies.

He came back with the papers. I didn’t even bother getting my glasses out, I just signed them almost off by heart, with Bella’s signature. I slid them back under the glass.

“Thank you Miss Nichols. Please go to that door down there and someone will be there to assist you.”

The guy looked like he couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. What a spineless bloke, it was only a letter from the cops. Sure, it has some threats in it but every bill my dad gets seems to revel in the prospect of burning our house to the ground and looting our corpses. If only they knew who paid their bills. The expression on their greedy faces would be classic.

I walked down to a side door at the far end. Two burly security dudes stepped forward, puffing their chests out and giving me hard man looks. Yep, sure guys, you’re the tough men round here and I’m the pretty little girl.

“Miss Nichols?”


“We’ll take that for you.”

I handed him the suitcase. Our guy in there would make sure these guys did what they were supposed to. I smiled and thanked them before heading for the doors. That was easy, thank God. I hate it when some asshole makes trouble and tries to kill you. I don’t get off on this shit, I’m just a girl who wants to sit in front of the TV eating chocolate.

I stepped out into bright sunshine. A white Toyota Corolla rolled in and idled by the kerb. I chucked on my shades and kept my head pointing in the general direction of the car, scanning the area with my eyes from the safety of mirrored lenses.

Nothing was amiss. Just boring Aucklanders’ living their typical boring Auckland lives. Yeah, I’m not a local. I’m a Palmy gal and like the rest of the country, I take the piss out of Aucklanders’ instinctively.

I popped the handle and jumped in shotgun. No black BMWs for the NZSIS. We save the world in your mum’s car. Aston Martins have this habit of drawing attention.

I buckled up and sighed, staring out the window. Another delivery down, and the rich asshole who asked the government to protect his assets had his stuff delivered without killing the messenger. Not that he probably gave a shit. He’d be glad I took the hit and pat himself on the back for showing such good judgement.

“Go all right?” The driver asked. We didn’t share names. People had this habit of screaming them when you applied hot things to their skin.

“Yeah, the package is sweet.”

The bank exploded.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Need inspiration?

Good evening guys.

Well, actually it's good morning, but I digress...

I'm going to talk to you about the universe.

What the hell does this have to do with writing, you ask?


When you look up and see those twinkling little dots, you are seeing them as they were thousands-sometimes millions-of years ago. In essence, you are staring back in time.

In theory, if you had infinite eyesight, you could see so far you could see the creation of the universe.

They might make you feel utterly insignificant, but you shouldn't feel like that. Here's why.

4.6 billion years ago, gravity caused a giant molecular cloud to collapse in on itself. This cloud spawned several stars, one of which is our good old sun. The leftovers formed the planets.

The universe is roughly 90% hydrogen. Hydrogen is like the party girl in school. She's hot, she's everywhere and she'll shag anything if you get her drunk enough.

Naturally you will find her in the sun. Hydrogen is part of the nuclear fusion process that drives the thing.

Humans are full of water. On average, water makes up about 57% of your body weight (it varies of course).

Water is stocked with hydrogen.

Humans didn't spring up from nothing. We share the same building blocks with the rest of the universe.

You are not just a part of the universe, the universe is a part of you. Everything came from the same point.

You are a star.

Just think, you come from the same stuff as the Andromeda Galaxy. That baby is on its way here, set to crash into the Milky Way in a few billion years. You also have a lot in common with quasar galaxies. Just think of a giant space laser beam.

The universe really is fantastic. Check out this picture of Andromeda taken in infrared:

Look at her. Isn't she beautiful?

It has a LASER BEAM.

Well okay, not quite. We're not sure what they're made of, but you can bet there's hydrogen in there. They emit every light and radio wave you can think of and are the most luminous objects in the universe.

How cool is that?

When I read about this stuff, I lose my ability to write. I just love drowning my imagination in the sheer brilliance of it. The size and scope and age and endless possibilities.

I think all the usual questions yes, but mostly I just stare with my mouth hanging stupidly. Not much writing gets done, but I wake up the next morning with a feeling I don't have the writing prowess to describe yet...

But the universe also has restraints. Those pesky laws of physics keep it in check, yet it gives limitations the middle finger and makes quasars and black holes and a little particle called "strange matter." That stuff changes everything it touches, and the stuff it changes touches other stuff and so on. Here's a linky:

I hope one day I can write a story like the universe. I hope you do as well. make your characters lives blaze like quasars. Make the story as mysterious as dark matter. Create the eerie beauty of Andromeda....

You're a star. You have skanky hydrogens in your brain. Go and use them.