Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Review: Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings

I picked up this book at FantasyCon down in Brighton and its taken me a while to read, I'd hoped to post this a few weeks ago and only finished the book at the weekend.

It's a slim volume, with an attractive cover, even if you don't like clowns, but the real treasures lie within. The first part of the book ties into the Vampire Gene series and for people like myself who haven't read the novels (yet) they provide an interesting window into that series. The protagonist Lucy is very much an atypical vampire for today's culture. Whilst most books and films seem to delight in having the vampire struggle against their hungers Sam Stone delights in the carnal blood lust that the image of the vampire evokes. Lucy is unapologetic in her appetites for sex and blood, and arguably could stand shoulder to shoulder with the other vampire elders of literature in that regard (she's better at hiding but equally as monstrous as Dracula in her own way). The other pleasing aspect of the character is that, for all that she's lived for centuries, she clearly doesn't know everything, and there's also no sense of ennui about her. She seems to revel in fresh experiences, which I found very refreshing as so many vampire elders seem to have seen it all, done it all and got the t shirt (or should that be opera cape?). The stories that Sam tells with her are varied and delve into the nature of vampirism quite a lot, it's not just blood and sex; other aspects are also explored quite beautifully.

Beyond the vampire stories are the "Bloody Jottings" which range from the rather whimsical to the downright horrific. They're all solid stories and all of them stand well alone, demonstrating Sam's depth and reach as a writer. I'm unashamed that The Toymaker's House is probably one of the most horrific short stories I've read for a while and parts of it really gave me chills, whilst at the other end of the scale Clown Addict actually me smile because it's so reminiscent of many Vincent Price movies from the 1970s and captures the macabre atmosphere of them so well.

I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment overly much on the poetry. I enjoyed the poems but I'm not a huge fan of poetry, so all I can say is that I liked it, other people may not.

All in all, if you're looking for something fresh in vampire fiction and for some really good horror stories, this is for you. Go buy.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Over at Sam Stone's blog (http://sam-stone.blogspot.com) there's a long post about stamina and how important it is as a writer.

I can't say how true it is, it struck so many chords with my own experience even as a completely cack handed amateur writer that it seems untrue (almost anyway). I'd like to thank Sam for posting it.

Now, go and read it. :)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Steampunk and Reality

I suppose that I should start by saying that I love Steampunk and the styles that it creates. I adore the look and feel of it and I also love the huge amounts of creativity that's sprung from the subculture that's grown out of the literary subgenre. Whether it's the likes of Dr Geof's cartoons (http://islandofdrgeof.co.uk), Herr Doktor's wonderful creations, the charm of the steambear competition at the Asylum or just the fashions sported by Steampunks around the world the subculture is brimming with wonderful ideas and concepts (not to mention that the whole thing is a hop, a skip and a jump away from a fairly coherent political philosophy).

Steampunk fiction is similarly excellent, full of the strange and exotic, the dark and dramatic, with wonderful heroes, dastardly villains and awe inspiring technology. Best of all it's such a meta genre that almost anything can fit snugly under it's broad brim. It can embrace everything from alternate histories (Steampunk's forte by definition I suppose), weird romance, vampires, aliens and other monsters all the way to the Cthulhu Mythos and beyond.

So why the "Reality" in the post title? If the subculture and subgenre is as fabulous as all that why would I have any reservations?

Partly it's because I can't help but feel that the whole thing runs the risk of being a little myopic and selective in what it sees in the past. There seems to be a lot of focus on the bright shiny things in the Victorian period and not a great deal on the terrible conditions that many normal people lived in. There's an uneasy feeling too that the inevitable but tragic concequences of Empire are brushed under the rug in both the subculture and the subgenre in favour of a "cracking good wheeze" (in truth the British Empire was sustained, as all empires are, by nasty tactics and an extraordinary amount of bloodshed: http://gu.com/p/32mgt) and a there's still a very great feeling of "White Man's Burden" about both the fiction and the culture which is regrettable. I'm sympathetic to Charles' Stross' comments about the subgenre, though I don't think I'd go so far as him in his comments (www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/10/the-hard-edge-of-empire.html) especially with regards the second artist effect.

It's certainly true that Steampunk Magazine (www.steampunkmagazine.com) has addressed a number of the issues that surround the genre, with their focus on non European cultures and the role of women in the Victorian age (as well as critique figures like Edison). How much of that will trickle out into the wider world however is something that at the moment we just don't know.

The other thing that concerns me is the great focus on militaria. Whilst I have to admit that I think that many of the steampunk uniforms look glorious I'm also of the opinion that war isn't something we should aspire to and I would love to see the development of more, well, civilian aspects to go alongside the fancy ray guns and other forms of weaponry.

Which all leads, I suppose, to the question of what I'd like to see more of, especially as I'm not willing to declare a plague on both the houses and flounce off into the night, camp vampire style. Really I'd love to more fiction exploring the darker and nastier aspects of the subgenre, not mad science or occult dark but what happens to children who lose their limbs in industrial accidents dark; or the darkness and menace of a steampunk styled Opium Wars or Indian Mutiny. I feel that we should not be frightened to stare into the real shadow the Victorian era casts and engage with it, rather than simply making up monsters to project in a shadow puppet show. I'm not sure I'd want to go as far as Stross in his comments about there needing to be a "mundane" steampunk story, I'm not sure that such a thing would be successful, but bringing a bit of hard edged historical accuracy in wouldn't exactly hurt things.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

National Write a Novel Month and Musings About Vampires

So I bit the bullet and entered NaWriNoMo (this: www.nanowrimo.org), which I suspect is either going to break me or be really fun.

I have a nice idea for a story, a sort of mashed up post apocalypse vampire murder mystery thing that I think will work. I've done some prep work for it, in so far as I have a plot and a protagonist and know the basics of the world but otherwise I'm going in cold aside from a bunch of ideas for scenes.

Looking at it, I think that as long as I can hit about 10,000 words a week I should do alright though there may not be much in the way of editing. If the story works I may try to keep the momentum up for another month to double the length and then spend January editing the manuscript to Hell and back again, but it's all a matter of waiting and seeing at the moment.

It feels a bit strange that I'm writing vampires at all, to be honest. For a long time I've felt burnt out on them. There have been too many bad movies and books with too few characters that stood out as exciting and compelling (to me anyway, your mileage may vary). In some ways too, just the sheer volume of media that features vampires has left me a bit cold and it felt like they were being turned into soft porn for women and teenage girls, through things like Twilight and the True Blood novels and when you get to the stage that what sets your vampires apart is that they sparkle the cynical part of me wonders how far we are from bringing back Count Chocula breakfast cereal. Add in the fact that many of the stories still use the image of the strong, alpha male as a desirable, masterful, vampire and it makes me wonder how far we've really come from the shadow of Lord Ruthven and Count Dracula.

This isn't to say that I loathe everything that has vampires in, I'm currently reading Sam Stone's Zombies in New York and Other Bloody Jottings and have found her take on vampires very interesting, not least for the fact that her protagonist Lucretia is an elder who isn't jaded and cynical (or at least not to the extent of most elders seem to be) and there isn't the sense that she's seen it all before, which is refreshing.

I've also enjoyed Poppy Z Brite's Lost Souls and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series and I'm really looking forward to reading both Sam Stone's and Raven Dane's vampire novels once I've ploughed through some other books (I have a ridiculously big reading pile). Also, despite playing them for years and years, dating back to when I started gaming back in the 1990s, to the extent that there was a period where it felt like there was always a game of Vampire the Masquerade going on, I still have a soft spot for White Wolf's Vampire games.

Even so it seemed a bit strange that when I sat down and started to think about the Write a Novel in a Month initiative (I'm not really sure what to call it to be honest) the first thing that bubbled up out of my head was a vampire story. I don't mind but, as I say, it seemed odd. That being said, I'm quite enjoying the challenge of not only creating a novel in a month but also trying to write something compelling with a monster I think is so over used.

I have a few bits to tidy up before I get started so the next week and a bit will be quite a rush but then, well we'll just have to see.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Rise From Your Grave!

Crap, has it really been over two years since I last posted anything here? Gonna have to fix that.

I'll try to post more frequently (or really post at all) and there'll be some book reviews posted by my wife, Evie.