Archive for the ‘author’s review’ Category

Way back when I was young, I inherited a pile of books from my father. Some were from when he was a boy, others were from later on, dealing with Greek and Roman history mainly.

Of his boyhood books, one in particular became my favourite. It had been given to him for Christmas 1956, so is quite an old book, and was called The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann Wyss. I read it many, many times as a boy, but hadn’t read it for many years since, until the other day.

The novel itself was first published way back in 1812. In the version I have at least, the language and even attitudes in it may seem a little old fashioned, but perhaps modern adaptions have gotten around it. For instance, pineapples are referred in it by their old name, Ananas.

As to the story itself, it tells of a Swiss family on a colony ship heading to the South Seas, and who are shipwrecked somewhere in the East Indies. The rest of the crew perish, but they survive. The story is told by the father of the family, whose name we never discover and related their adventures. The rest of the family is his wife, Elizabeth, and their four sons, Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Francis, ranging from 14 to 6 years in age.

The island they find themselves on is a veritable Aladin’s cave of an impossible collection of plants and animals drawn from all over the world – lions, tigers, jackals, zebras, ostriches, kangaroo, platypus, wild boars, onagers, monkeys, penguins, flax plants, pineapple, coconuts, rubber trees, sago, cotton, so on and on.

Using the tools they find on the ship and the father’s seemingly limitless knowledge of trades, they build themselves a place to live and indeed thrive.

What I loved about it as a kid was the adventures they had, exploring new lands, building shelters, discovering new wonders and so it. It was probably the first story that sparked the enjoyment of that type of thing in me, and certainly influenced a lot of the books, games and movies I enjoyed so much in later years. It is in part also what I love about building new worlds to write in, as it allows me to seek out the new and unknown.

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I’ve seen the new Star Trek movie and thought I’d give a brief review. Firstly I’ll say I’m not a Trekkie. I’ve seen the odd episode and movie, but never really got into it nor followed it. I did have a flatmate once who was a Trekkie, and I learnt most of what I know through him.

Babylon 5 was the first SF show I really followed – only missed one episode in the five years it was on. Since then Firefly and Doctor Who have also been SF shows I’ve really enjoyed.

But back to the movie. Warning, there will be spoilers.

The movie has been called a reboot of the Star Trek universe. And that it is. Time travel is involved which totally rewrites Star Trek history. That is if you consider it canon, which some Trekkies aren’t.

The movie starts with the Federation Starship Kelvin investigating an anomaly in space, from which emerges a vast spaceship of unknown origin. Following the death of the captain, the first officer orders the evacuation of the crew, including his wife who is in labour. He stays behind to cover the evacuation, but before he dies, his wife gives birth to a son whom they name James Tiberius Kirk.

Hang on, Kirk’s father doesn’t die in canon say the Trekkies.

Ah, but this is the reboot Star Trek universe. Without going into too many details and spoilers, an event in the far future causes an event in the past that rewrites history. Yes, we are talking time travel here. Not exactly a surprise in the Star Trek universe.

This time it is a little different. At the end of the movie this alternate reality hasn’t been reset and history continues down the other trouser leg of time. It is a neat trick that allows them to, in the future, write further movies that, while set in the Star Trek universe, aren’t beholden to the old canon.

The movie itself is a lot of fun and has a number of call outs to the past; the obligatory red shirt, the green alien chick for young Kirk and familiar lines.

It is also an accessible movie for those who haven’t seen Star Trek before, and not just for the Trekkies, which The Onion had a go at in the following clip.

For this, the second, Author’s Review we are going back, way back to a very old book, The Histories, by Herodotus of Halicarnassus.  The Histories was written around 440BC, which makes it about as old as I feel most mornings.

Herodotus is said to have been born in Halicarnassus, an ancient Greek city that lies in what is present day Turkey, sometime around 484BC.  He is often regarded as the ‘Father of History’, due mainly to his writings of The Histories, a record of his inquiries, but has also been called the “Father of Lies’.  The debate on which he is has been going on almost as long as The Histories has been around.  Those for the latter debate the veracity of his tales and claim he fabricated much of his work.  The former point out to his methodical way he went about collecting his materials, testing their accuracy to an extend and them compiling them in a narrative.  Many times in the book he presents several accounts of of an event, then writes what he believes was the most probable.  He travelled extensively around the known world in a bid to write more accuratly.

The Histories are considered the first work of history in western literature, and concern the Greco-Persian Wars fought in the 5th century BC.  These wars included such noteable battles as Marathon, Thermopylae, Plataea and Salamis.  Herodotus states the reasoning for his writing of The Histories right at the start; Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his enquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds – some displayed by Greeks, some by Barbarians – may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought with each other.

It is not just a book about the wars though, for Herodutus touches many subjects in the book, of the peoples of the known world, of the nature of the world and the status of sciences as were known during his time.

I first came across The Histories in college, when studying ancient civilisations.  Those from the USA call university college, but from where I went to school, college was the last two years of high school.  Here endeth that lesson.

I liked the book a lot, its rambling style touching many subjects, its glimpse into a world long since gone, and its inspiration.  I had read prior to that another ancient history, History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, and both had a big influence on me.  I have always been a history geek – I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was only five.  Such matters do come out in my writings, or at least the world creation behind my writings.  The history needs to work, make sense, and above all, advance.  Have you noticed how in many works of fantasy that they seem to be perpetually in a state roughly akin to the middle ages?  They never go forward and they never seen to have advanced from, say, the bronze ages, to there.

That does irk me somewhat, and as a result in the world of Sharael that does not happen.  There is a bronze age period, with a somewhat mapped history, characters, planned events and the likes.  Given the influence of The Histories, the Illiad and Odessey and the Peloponnesian Wars had on me, the style of writing for that period of history in Sharael is slated to be different than in more later periods – check out Cahuac and the Sun short story for an idea of what I mean.  I do also have plans for a book in the style of The Histories and the Peloponnesian War detailing the events of the bronze age wars between the Maedari and Chelosians, but that is more of a vanity project for the future.  Hopefully after I get established.

If you enjoy history, it is a highly recommendable book, and for everyone else, read it anyway.  You may just enjoy it.

This is the first of what will be a series of ongoing author’s reviews, which, basically, will be me sharing some of my favourite works of literature, movies and more, and the reasons why I enjoy them.

These things are, of course, subjective. What I may like others may not. To each their own.

We shall begin with Macbeth, by Shakespeare. For those going through the Australian education system at least, it would have been hard pressed to miss out on studying Shakespeare at some stage. We studied him a number of times, and amongst the plays we looked at was Macbeth. In fact I got to study it more than once.

Shakespeare was an absolute genius of the English language, and indeed is responsible for many phrases and words that we take for granted now. He crops up in the new Doctor Who, in The Shakespeare Code. It is a good episode, but doesn’t match The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink, two absolutley brilliant episodes.

The play Macbeth is a thoroughly fictionalised account of the life of the real Macbeth, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, who reigned as the King of Scotland from 1040 to 1057.  He bears little resemblance to the character from the play, and indeed contemporary accounts speak well of him.

Despite that, the play is a fascinating study of the rise and fall of man and of the interplay of the characters of Macbeth and his wife.  Way back in my high school days, I wrote an essay on the growth of the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  I shall endeavour to one day update it for it remains my favourite, and indeed, only surviving essay from high school.

In essence, the essay plots the reversal of roles in some sense of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  Lady Macbeth starts out as the stronger of the two, and it is she who drives her reluctant husband into murder and usurpation. She has great courage and force of will.  From there, though, she weakens and diminishes until such time as she can no longer live with what is done.

Macbeth himself is a tragic hero, initially trusted and well loved, but with burning ambition.  However, it is his wife that drives him to act upon those ambitions.  Without her, he would not have done the deed.  From there though, he changes.  The deed done, he has no recourse but to go on, defiant to the end, becoming more resolved and less under the influence of his wife with each passing day.

At least, that was how I remember the essay going.  I shall have to fetch it out and re-read it thoroughly.

Macbeth is a masterpiece and I highly recommend it to all.