Carnosaur Weekend by Garnett Elliott

Carnosaur Weekend by Garnett ElliottWhen I first saw this cover I instantly thought it was the inside of a space ship. It was more interesting than that though. It was the inside of a time-share apartment. I loved the not so subtle play on the phrase time-share. What do the ultra rich do with all their money? They go golfing in prehistoric times of course.

This book was different from most of the science fiction books I’ve read. There were no lengthy expositions on how things were different. There was no social history essay. This story was as clear, concise and hard-hitting as the noir stories Garnett Elliott produces. It really worked. Most of the setting was in my head. I’d wager that if you asked ten people to descibe the locations and characters in this book you’d get ten different answers. Everything in these stories servers a purpose, there was no waste, no fuss and above all no faffing. These stories hit me in the face and ran off before I got the chance to see them coming.

This book was a great example of how a noir style of writing can work in the science fiction genre.

The Velocity Of Constant by Hardeep Sangha

The Velocity Of Constant by Hardeep SanghaI’ve spent the last week trying to work out how to describe this book. I’ll start with the easy bit. The cover. Daniele Serra. I could look at Serra’s work all day long. I don’t think I need to add to that.

At first I thought this was going to be beat poetry in a science fiction setting. That doesn’t quite describe it though. For me it sits somewhere between beat poetry and the beat literature of writers such as Burroughs. That for me is what makes this book different and almost indefinable. It is only seventy five pages long but reading this book takes a lot more time and effort that a book of that length normally does. I had to read some parts of this book three or four times and I’m still not sure I’m bright enough to understand all the subtleties.

The big difference for me was the layout. The little boxes of text on the page seem to laugh at linear progression and flip the bird at convention. I should have hated this but I didn’t. I found it fun and refreshing and most important thought provoking.

If you want a safe and simple read this is not the book for you, but if you want something different and challenging this book will be well worth your time and effort.

 

Beyond 2.0 The Future of Music by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

Beyond 2.0 by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

Beyond 2.0 by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

I’ve never done this before in a book review but I’m going to link to a soundcloud user. You’ll understand why a little later but for now enjoy the music.

This book was on my wishlist labelled as high priority. That may sound odd but Steve Collins is a childhood friend of mine and a person I am immensely proud of. To be honest I was expecting this to be a dull and peanut dry book that I’d struggle to read or thing of anything to write about. I was pleasantly surprised.

I can remember the first Audio CDs and the rise of Napster. I found this book a fascinating insight in to how technical and societal factors came together to push music creation and distribution in new directions. I had never thought about the origins of the mp3 format that completely changed the way I personally listened to music.

This book was more than a history lesson though. The simplified (thankfully) look at the murky world that is the world of media rights was enlightening and to a layman like myself. I said enlightening but what I really meant was convoluted and more likely to cause a brain freeze than a large slushy. That didn’t make it less interesting to read, if anything it made me think more about the byzantine clauses lobbyists and large companies have manipulated to their benefit and usually to the detriment of the artist.

Money should always flow towards the content creator. There will always be intermediaries. The morality and scruples of any individual or company will always have an impact on our imperfect society. Are content creators better off today than fifty years ago? In my opinion based not just on reading this book but other thing – probably. This book will make you think and explain explain some basic principle of the copyright quagmire that surrounds the media industry.

I said above I’d get to the soundcloud link a bit later, it is how one of the authors releases their work in to the wild. There is a section about soundcloud in this book and this account was referenced for sensible reasons. You’ll have to read the book to find out more.

 

Drag Noir Edited by K.A. Laity

Drag Noir Edited by K.A. Laity

Drag Noir Edited by K.A. Laity

If like me you often skim read or outright ignore the introductions found in anthologies as sycophantic and generally boring monologues then stop right there. The introduction section of this book is not just funny and insightful but it genuinely made me think about things and in ways I’d never done before. That is just about the highest praise I can heap on any piece of writing. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in sexual politics but for me this book is all about one word, sexuality.  The drag and the noir intersect in the different meanings of the word. There are some sexy dames in this book but not all of them are dames, or are they? What defines a sex siren? Is it intrinsic in their gender or is it an attitude and look that has nothing to do with gender? These are just a couple of the surface questions I found myself asking, there were plenty more but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.

There was an easy favourite for me in this anthology. A Bit Of A Pickle by Paul D. Brazill not only has a really clever title but addresses something I hadn’t considered. Fading glory. Such a perfect noir subject applied in a fascinating and spellbinding manner. King Bitch by James Bennett was completely different and yet captured the spirit of drag noir just as well. Every story had a niche all to itself, just like every dame is more than the bright red warpaint and stilettos they wear. There wasn’t a single story that I didn’t enjoy.

This book could easily be considered subversive by encouraging lifestyles that are seen by some to be against their cultural norms. Good. This book made me think and challenge my own perceptions. I hope it does the same for you.

When is horror not horror?

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

 

In the run up to the release of Billy’s Monsters here is Vincent Holland-Keen answering the very question I had when reading this book. Was it a horror book? Did my warped little mind make it scarier than it was for other readers? Enough of my prattling. On to the good stuff from.

‘Are your books scary in any way as there seems to be a lot of talk about monsters?’

Someone asked me this not so long ago after I explained I was a writer and that my next book was called ‘Billy’s Monsters’. It’s a fair question. The answer should be simple, but horror isn’t as black, white and bloody as genre labels like to suggest. Before I elaborate on that idea, I need to confess a few things:

  • I’ve never read anything by Stephen King.
  • I’ve never seen The Exorcist.
  • I’ve never suffered a drug-induced, hallucinogenic nightmare featuring flesh-eating toilet paper and urinals resembling various right-wing politicians spewing pus-laden piss over blood-stained tiles while ranting about immigrants, wind-farms and Miley Cyrus’s fashion choices. Seriously, it’s true. I don’t even drink coffee.

So, I’m not a horror aficionado. When I was very young, the only recurring nightmare I had involved volcanoes. Then I saw a TV show where a team of disaster troubleshooters faced down an impending eruption thanks to fire-proof asbestos suits. My next volcano-themed dream ended with a quaint stall that might have been selling mobile phone cases in another context, but here was selling the aforementioned asbestos suits. After making the necessary purchase, I walked off into the red fog pervading the scene and haven’t had a nightmare since.

Though there was that one time I dreamed a guy broke into my flat and almost gutted my stomach with a knife, but I handled it, so I don’t think it counts.

My worries came before I went to sleep. I did worry there might be monsters under the bed. I did worry the little people from the original ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ might be living in the cupboard in our hallway. But mostly I just worried about getting to sleep, because of course trying to get to sleep never works; insomnia being the subconscious mind’s not-so-subtle reminder that it’s the one really calling the shots.

And anyway, I figured if there were monsters lurking in wait, that meant you could talk to them. Telling the vampire in the airing cupboard that the little people in the hallway had been making fun of him again robbed both parties of their power to scare, just like seeing the monster in a horror film diminishes its menace, regardless of how gruesome it may be. As Veronica says in my novel ‘The Office of Lost and Found’ when shown a picture of the monster that’s been terrorising a young Billy: “He’d be scarier with more spikes on his face and chainsaws for fingernails.”

The unknown can be anything; the known could always be worse.

But there’s a paradox here. Existential dread only gets you so far. A vague, unspecific threat is not nearly as dramatic as an immediate and specific one. A monster that may or may not be lurking in the shadows is a wholly different proposition to a monster seen in broad daylight with dagger-like teeth a moment away from chomping off your most intimate of articles.

At this point, the line begins to blur between horror and suspense. Dangling the threat of terrible consequences creates suspense, which in turn can drive characters to action. Those terrible consequences could be a wife discovering her husband’s affair, or a man having his face eaten off by a demon. Both could be deemed horrific by the characters in question, but typically only the latter gets classed as horror.

I just searched Google for ‘Jurassic Park genre’. It came back with the words: fantasy, thriller, action film, science fiction and adventure film. But the movie is laced with sequences that would be considered out and out horror if this wasn’t nominally a ‘Steven Spielberg family movie’. Perhaps the first appearance of the T-Rex qualifies solely as thrilling because a dinosaur eating a lawyer off a toilet is comic rather than horrific.

To cite another Spielberg film: Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. It ends with gratuitous shots of melting faces, but most people don’t consider that a horror either.

That’s why I said at the start that horror isn’t as black, white and bloody as genre labels like to suggest. But I lied about the answer to the question.

‘Are your books scary in any way as there seems to be a lot of talk about monsters?’

The answer is simple, because the question leaves so little room for manoeuvre. Yes, there are ways in which my books could be considered scary in the same way that Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park could be considered scary. Or Alien or Hellraiser or Evil Dead 2.

Billy’s Monsters does contain bona fide monsters, murders and psychological torment. But it also has thrills, spills and a fair few jokes. I don’t know whether it’s a horror, a thriller or even a very peculiar romance. You might read it and cower behind the sofa, laugh uproariously or toss the book aside with a contemptuous snort, because that’s the truly horrifying thing about stories; what you take away from them is often more about those whispering voices in your head than the silent words on the page.

I’ve hit lvl 20 in Destiny and have no idea what to do

Hezen Chest Piece

Getting to level twenty is the easy part of playing Destiny. There are clear goals and a path to follow. Then it stops. You’re alone. WTF?

I’m not going to go through everything step by step but hopefully I will give you enough information to use a search engine or your favourite video sharing site to move forward.

I’m going to start off with Ascendant Energy and Ascendant shards. They seem so unimportant when you hit level twenty but that soon changes as you upgrade weapons and armour.Once you have advanced a bit there are a lot of thee to be gained from doing the raid. Before then there are two ways to ensure getting some. The quickest and easiest is to do public events. If I want to do one of these and don’t have much time I’ll head to Earth on a patrol mission and zip over to The Divide or Mothyards. How do I know when to head to the right one? Destiny Public Events (http://destinypublicevents.com/) is an amazingly useful and accurate site. I find that the events normally start withing 5mins either side of the stated time. The first event you complete on any given day will result in a present from the postmaster. This is repeatable on different characters. You don’t need to be particularly high level to do that. I have two characters that I do this with regularly and it results in fourteen materials a week. On average that is one weapon and armour upgrade a week. Not too shabby. The other method is to do the Daily story challenge on the left side of your destination screen and raise the difficulty to lvl 24. Do that once a day with each character and you get another fourteen a week (double that if you bump it up to maximum difficulty.

Materials are all well and good but how do you get that shiny Legendary equipment you so desire? There are lots of methods. Raising your Vanguard or Crucible rank to level two is the most guaranteed way. I’ll start with the Crucible as that is simple. Pick up crucible bounties head to orbit and jump in to a crucible match. You will get reputation whether you win or lose the match (more if you win) and also crucible marks. Reputation opens up the vendors to you but marks are the currency. There is a 200 mark cap on both vanguard and crucible marks so try to spend them before you hit the cap. Winning four crucible matches is roughly equivilent to the average bounty reputation gain. This can take a while so don’t bother doing it unless that is the part of the game you really enjoy (like me). You will get blue crucible armour and weapons at the end of matches which makes it a good thing to do when you first get to level twenty. There is one more type of bounty. Exotic bounties. I’ve seen it written that there is a 2% chance of them popping when you hand in any other bounty. For me they’ve always appeared when handing in at least four at a time (yes I know it is more likely). These can be really frustrating especially when you need void kills in the crucible and everybody knows you’re only using your shotgun but they are generally good fun and a welcome break from routine.

Vanguard reputation is a different beast. You get this from the grey bounties but also from doing activities like strikes, missions and patrols. My personal favourite bounty involves punching thirty monsters to death without dying. Always fun. This brings me on to the strike playlist. You will get engrams for completing these strikes. Don’t worry if you don’t have mates to help you the strikes playlist will matchmake some help for you (and them).

There is no match-making facility for the weekly and weekly nightfall strikes. You either need friends or to be very cunning in how you do it solo. There are not many people that can do a nightfall solo and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know the strikes very well. What if you don’t have friends? Why is there no clan or guild facility in Destiny? There is. This is where you need to access http://www.bungie.net. If you are logged in to your Playstation account in your browser you can use that sign-in to authenticate with. There is a clan section where you can join a clan and use the forums to arrange meeting up with people to get things done. It pains me to be social but it is useful and you get to interact with new and fun people. I will talk about the Strange Coins from the weekly strikes below. Nightfall rewards reflect the difficulty. Rewards that I’ve seen include ELEVEN Ascendant Shards, exotic armour and weapons and some very nice Legendary weapons.

Xur. The weekend vendor that swaps exotics for Strange Coins and exotic engrams for motes of light (you can get these in multiple ways but most reliably as you gain xp on a lvl twenty character). A weekly strike on lvl 28 will net you nine coins. Manage the level 24 on an alternative character and that adds another six to get you an exotic every week if you want. There are plenty of options but my recommendation is to get an exotic helmet rather than any other armour slot. This is because to reach level thirty you need thirty light in each slot and that can only come from exotic or raid gear. As you can only have one piece of exotic armour equipped at once I recommend the head slot because the raid helmets only drop on the hard level raid (everything is level thirty). The raid on hard is the only thing I’m yet to try and I’ll hopefully give it a go soon.

The raid. It is great fun and really intense but worth every minute. If you’re lucky enough to get in a group with experienced players you can almost walk through it. Somehow though being in a group of raid virgins working it out together is more fun. Until you hit the tiredness wall and have to stop before you face-plant the floor. It does save the raid at key checkpoints and the leader of the firegroup can get the group together to try again later in the week. Don’t forget that this like most things resets on a Tuesday. The weapons and armour you get make repeating the raid slightly easier and that is something to beware of when watching videos online. That person with full raid armour and weapons will damage Praetorians and oracle a lot more than you will even with fully upgraded exotics with the right damage type. Try it as soon as you can. Even if you only get as far as killing the Gatekeeper you have the potential of getting raid gear.

These are the things I’ve done and are by no means exhaustive or definitive. Play how you enjoy but have some targets and ways to get there too. Most importantly, have fun.

Billy’s Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen

This cover is from an advance copy and it may look a little different in production. I hope it doesn’t. I’d really like to see it as clean and beautiful as this in the flesh. When I first looked at the cover if was bright and had pretty patterns. Now I’ve read the book there are shapes and the suggestions of nasty things lurking just outside of my vision. This would make a great bus stop poster.

I am a fan of Holland-Keen’s work. I can remember sending him a tweet asking when the follow-up to The Office Of Lost And Found (well worth a read) was going to be released. It was nice to see references to TOOLAF in this book. There is something about this book that makes me think of Dirk Gently but I can’t quite work out why.  This book is all about the spaces in-between. On one level it was about the gaps between worlds but on another it was about the readers imagination filling in the shape and scale of the monsters. This was an important point for me. The fear in this book came from what I carried in my head and that was directly reflected in the story. Simple yet clever.

Boy meets girl, dresses like an idiot and spouts some cheesy cliches and then wanders off to save the world. That pretty much explains the entire book but does it no justice at all. The humour throughout this story works really well and prevents it from becoming too sombre. Although suitable for young adults there will be a lot of grown-ups like me (stop laughing) that enjoy this book and I can see this book being passed around within families.