Letting in the Force again and the trouble with prequels

I have to admit that I was once a great Star Wars fan and that at one point in my life, there had been no (Official) Star Wars material released that I had not watched (or read in the case of the Star Wars Expanded Universe). With so many things in life, a person gets busy and you move on, many times justified in the belief that you have outgrown those interests. I found that my life moved on and away from Star Wars precisely when the Star Wars prequels were released. The first movie was unmitigated disaster and that carried through to the rest of the trilogy.

My problems with the prequels are:

  • Anakin was a cardboard template of a good character and the shoddy character development carried right through from the first movie right up until the end of Episode 3. His ultimate descent to the Dark Side was almost pushed through to the last 30 minutes of the Episode 3. The prequels were meant to show us how a great or just man was forced over to the Dark Side with the Clone Wars as the backdrop. But how the character development was worked into the story, the character development should have been the subplot with the Clone Wars being more important. To be honest, the Clone Wars probably had way more meat on the bone and for me were way more interesting.
  • The first movie should not have existed. The story should have started with Anakin as a padawan and the Jedi involvement with the Clone Wars. In fact, it might have been more interesting with the Clone Wars starting as the cliffhanger at the end of the first movie That way, rather than Anakin snapping at the end of Revenge of the Sith, there can be a definite more gradual descent toward that point where he murders Jedi toddlers.
  • It would have also been far more satisfying (to me at least) if Anakin had been a “run-of-the mill” Jedi without all of the prophecy hokum about bringing balance to the Force. That way it would have been far more effective in showing that anyone can turn to the Dark Side, you just need the right circumstances pushing him there. It would also be great to say that even those men and women who start small can ultimately have great impacts on the world around them without someone foreseeing their arrivals thousands of years before. That way the Jedi council also don’t look like complete idiots… if there are only 2 Sith EVER, what other way would the “Chosen One” have of bringing balance to the Force other than decimating the Jedi until there are also only 2?
  • Everything was just so gosh darn shiny. What separated Star Wars from other science fiction was that in the original trilogy, the world looked lived in. It made everything seem far more genuine that all of those shiny ships which look as though they have all just rolled off the production line.
  • It all lined up so nicely with the original trilogy. Oh look, Anakin also had his right hand chopped off by being impulsive in the second movie of the trilogy. The only thing missing was Count Dooku wheezing “Annie, I am your father… search your feelings, know it to be true.”

Besides all of that, the prequels were all set just before the events of the original trilogy which meant that everyone who watches those movies after they watched the original trilogy would know exactly what the final outcome would be. SPOILER… Anakin becomes Darth Vader, who didn’t see that coming? That dude in the robe, Palpatine, is only going to get his come-uppance three movies later (or thirty years previously). Obi-Wan while an awesome character ultimately makes himself smaller and goes into hiding to protect Luke. The greater part of the Clone Wars were packaged into a cartoon series, it might have been more interesting if they had got more of the focus of the original trilogy with Anakin Skywalker and his evolution into Darth Vader being a sub-plot.

The thing that has finally got me excited for the new movies is that it’s in the future after the original trilogy and unless you have been involved with the writing of the new movies and avoid spoilers, you have no idea where the movies are going to be going when the opening ticker starts for Episode 7. You do not know what is going to happen with any of the characters (although I am pretty sure that none of them are going to be Game of Thrones’d). It’s going to be like the first time that you sat down to watch Star Wars in the sense of the great unknown.


Missing my writing

I have to admit that I am missing my writing incredibly. I started my Masters in Financial Management this year and as such I have not had much time or opportunity to be able to write and there is a feeling that I have an itch that I just can’t scratch. I am so busy with everything else, I just can’t devote as much time as I would like to the art. Yes, I am a financial manager and when I am in the depths of my job and busy with it I do enjoy it, although there seems to be so few of those days lately. But I am also creative and I miss being able to express that with my writing.

At the end of last year, I managed to finish the first draft of my Beast of Ragnarok and need to finish its edit to bring it closer to the end of being the finished product. But there is also another project which has really been crying out with a siren song and that is The Children of the Dragon and both want me to sit down and devote a little bit of time to it. But I just can’t seem to get there. I have been indulging the longing with short bursts that I can spare but it never feels enough.

One day I’ll be back!

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

ImageThe story and the novel are brilliant as one would expect of a Gaiman piece of work. A part of me is sad that it wasn’t longer but I know that if Neil had stretched the novel out to make it longer only for the sake of length that it would have suffered. The story is perfect at the length that it is.

There are some questions that go unanswered: What is the name of the narrator? Whose funeral did he escape from at the start of the novel to go and sit by the Ocean and remember? But ultimately those questions do not matter – what matters is what happened to the narrator’s 7 year old self all those years ago.

The majority of the story is told from the perspective of a 7 year old and so there are many points where it is perfectly done and events which are not completely understood or matter to the narrator are glossed over even though the older self knows what it means all those years later and we as adult readers can understand their significance.

I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait the same amount of time as there was between Anansi Boys and “Ocean” before Neil Gaiman brings out his next novel aimed at his adult readers.

Hellhole – don’t go there

This book was difficult to read because it was just so boring to read.  There are no direct confrontations, except in the prologue and even in that the confrontation isn’t that flash. None of the antagonists face each other directly and while I can understand that this is the first novel in a trilogy there is nothing compelling enough to pull readers through to the second or third novel.

There are several problems with the novel, which I’ll go through below…

The planet was a hellhole?  Really? It just didn’t come across that way in the text. A couple of “killer” storms blew through doing absolutely no damage and even when they were inbound, there wasn’t any sense of danger to the main characters or to anyone.  The planet’s ecosystem is supposed to be resilient and resist foreign plants, etc. but there is no follow through on this.  No one ever mentions how hungry they are or wonders where their next meal is going to come from.  General Adolphus (a horrible name for a protagonist) and his merry men may as well have been exiled to Planet Bland.

Characters were weakly drawn clones of each other.  One character, Antonia Anqui arrives on the planet fleeing from an abusive relationship using an alias and her new “boyfriend’s” mother doesn’t question her past or where she is from.  In fact, the galaxy’s worst criminals are supposed to be sent to the planet as punishment but none of the characters on the planet come across as being a hardened criminal and no one is worried about their safety or concerned about the nature of their neighbours. “There are just so many gosh-darn good people here”. Again, Planet Bland.

I honestly couldn’t have cared less about any of the characters and if the Diadem (head baddy) were to have thrown any of them into a blender I wouldn’t have been worried, there was another clone on the next page.

The writing was horrible and felt amateurish with many things told and not shown and didn’t engage me at all.  I carried on reading just because I wanted to finish the novel and not because I cared about what was going to happen.

Then there are the plotholes.  One guy dies after he falls into the Slickwaer Lake and yet no one else who jumped in suffered the same fate, they were all allowed to get out and are levitated out by the powerful aliens in the soup.  As to the Slickwater… where is Agent Mulder when you need him? Again, with a planet filled with murderers and rapists (other than just the rebels exiled to Planet Bland) one would think the general populace would be a little more concerned with their safety and yet NO ONE is paranoid that the aliens might be lying to them about the motives.  Really fast travel between planets requires stringliner terminals in the planet orbits. Adolphus has someone connect a new stringline to another planet toward the end of the novel to Hellhole (these stringlines are only allowed to come from Coruscant, I mean Sonjeera) and the opposition (the baddies) deliver a shipment of military ships to the planet after the terminal has been installed and the military commander doesn’t wonder “Gee, I wonder where that other terminal comes from?”

Loved ones die and people get raped (not that you’re made to care for anyone) but the only follow through is “oh well, shit happens” and they move on.  The rape victim throws herself into the slickwater, gets possessed and comes out five minutes after the rape just fine.

A person is murdered and there’s whole speech about how Adolphus must be better than the corrupt Diadem and that there needs to be a proper investigation… an investigation which lasted a whole 50 words more with the perpetrator not being worried at all that the ruling might not go his way. Hell, I suppose he is on Hellhole, where else can they send him?

None of the characters act like real people and can forgive some things in a blink.  Oh I think you manipulated my dad into killing himself and ruining my family but hey you threw yourself into the slickwater so you must feel really bad about it.  Let me come back and read all of your love letters and forgive you.  Completely unrealistic.

I used to really enjoy Kevin J Anderson but it seems as though his writing has only gone one way.  I won’t be back.  Hellhole, Hellhole 2 and Hellhole 3 can go to hell.

Favourite Bands – The Killers

Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you that I love my music and can barely get through life without some form of music playing in the background. Hell, my boss will tell you that the music that comes out of office sometimes doesn’t always fit with his image for an accountant. It’s also one of the things which act as a trigger for our memories and you can’t help but think of the first time you heard a favourite song and it brings back the emotions that you were feeling when you first heard it or when it was playing in the background during an important event in one’s life.

Recently, one of my favourites has been The Killers out of Las Vegas with Brandon Flowers as their front man. I only have to put their albums on shuffle on my iPod to relive some of the more poignant of my recent memories. Their song, All These Things That I have Done off their album Hot Fuss will make me think of Friday nights at the office where I did my articles as the article clerks cracked a beer and relaxed after some trying weeks. Or my wedding, when one of those friends was calling for the DJ to play the song for most of the night (he eventually did). Read my Mind from Sam’s Town will make me think of my time in New York when I was seconded there for four months away from the girlfriend (now wife) and how some of those days were so incredibly hard to get through.

The one song that never fails to bring the emotions welling up is Human off of Day and Age. It was the big single at the time when my wife was pregnant with our first child and I had voted for it in a local chart show. One day I got a call from my wife that something wasn’t right and I had to rush back from work to take her to the hospital. The nurses were busy with my wife and I got the call from the radio station that they wanted me to dedicate the song as an intro. This was five minutes after hearing that there was a very good chance that we had lost him. It was something very difficult to do without bursting into tears (ala Andy Murray) but something I managed to do. Thankfully, we didn’t lose him and six months later he was born.

Of course, every time I hear the song I think of Declan and how grateful I am that things worked out in our favour and he is in our lives.

The Current English Curriculum (and my problem with it)

If one looks at the works which are presented to children during their formative years while at school it becomes apparent that these titles are chosen because of their literary value rather than any possible enjoyment of the novel.  There is no argument that the work which is seen as set work are great specimens of literature – Macbeth by William Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Lord of the Flies by (I forget).

As stated above, they are great works of literature but hardly works which will inspire anyone to have a life of reading in their future.  Rather they encourage children to get through them as quickly as possible, find footnotes and other short cuts so that they have as little interaction with them as possible.

Wouldn’t it be far better for the syllabus to choose novels and works of fiction and non-fiction that are written closer to the current day and style and also something that the children of today would enjoy more?

Instead of Lord of the Flies let the children read something like The  Hunger Games by Susanne Collins or Deviant by Robison Wells. Both deal with the same subject matter of a dystopian world and might strike more of a chord with the current world.  If the students are interested in reading more, then the teachers will be able to suggest they go find one of the older novels in which the themes were first introduced.

If a culture of reading can be brought back into the world instead of one where people sit mindlessly in front of television screens and only watch the images projected there it would certainly be better than the current society where it is considered to be uncool to be a reader.

Seat-of-the-pants vs Outliner

The past few months have been particularly difficult in a writing sense for me. I dipped into one of those writing slumps that I have heard so much about and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I have been able to safely negotiate my way through it just yet. If anything, I can see the end ahead but I think I’m still pushing forward trying to get out. I haven’t had one of those days where I cracked out more than a thousand five hundred words in many a month. In fact, I haven’t had a day where I’ve broken a thousand words.

I suppose you could say that I took a little time out to just have a break and to focus on my day job (the boredom!!).

I believe my problem with not being able to get into that comfortable groove of writing is all dependent on the question of writing by the seat of the pants versus being a heavy outliner. Stephen King has always been a great proponent of writing without an outline and “extracting the fossil of the story from the ground”, while writers like Brandon Sanderson advocate a more structured process to writing by creating an outline first.

I’ve already finished two novel length manuscripts using the seat-of-the-pants approach (Pecan Hill and When Angels Fall) and wanted to use the outline approach when writing my next one, the first novel in a duology (a two book series). My thought was that because it was the start of a series, I would need the structure and stability brought on by the outline approach in order to be able to write a series. My only problem is that I absolutely HATE outlines. I’ve always thought that the best way to write to discover the story as I write it and it’s always been more interesting to me like that.

But Lords of the Apocalypse (the name of the series) has a huge mystery in it and I’ve been struggling with how to solve the mystery. I wanted to go into the novel and the series knowing the steps that the characters would have to take in order to crack the mystery. That way I wouldn’t have to go back and have so many new drafts at the end to try and get everything right. The problem is that the steps I take after I have finished a manuscript are pretty much the same steps as my outlining steps at the beginning of the project. Insane I know, but it’s the truth. It’s this step which actually robs me of any passion I have for a project.

I’ve been trying to do an outline for Lords of the Apocalypse before the devil climbs on my shoulder and whispers in my ear that I should just write the thing like I did with Pecan Hill. This means that I’ve been stuck between two approaches and it’s not working. I need to get more willpower to stay the course and finish the outline before I leap into the writing. I know it’ll help me otherwise I’ll reach the end of a chapter and a scene and then be stuck because I have to think of what will come next.

If I plan and outline before hand, I don’t need to stop at the end of a scene – I already know the next step and can carry on.

I just need that backbone.