Story Release: What the Darkness Asks in Return

Another story, pulled from my brain and splashed in a gory mess onto the page, has been released into the wild that is the internet. It’s one of the shorter ones I’ve written, and was based on a prompt on a writer’s forum, where we had to write a flash piece revolving around a teleporting door. A little over a year later with some edits, this is the result, published at Every Day Fiction.

It’s about portal to a rip in space-time, disguised as a door, that a 13 year-old boy uses to hide from his step-brother. Only, as you may guess from the title, it wants something back. I wanted to try writing it in the voice of a timid teenager, with minimalist, juvenile descriptions of the speculative element. It’s a meager 800 words, so do check it out.

It can be read over here.

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A Quiet Place (shh, the movie is playing!), and the Death of Player One, Stalin

I haven’t been writing as intensely these past few months, which has left me with some extra free time. Which I’ve been using to spend at the cinema.

The best of which is undoubtedly the per-screening of A Quiet Place, the directorial debut of John Krasinski. It’s a masterfully directed horror powerhouse that’s taut as piano wire and so intense it’s almost painful. This is a film that demands an audience’s attention, and deserves it. Popcorn went cold and chocolate remained uneaten, my audience was so engrossed in the raw intensity unfolding they didn’t want to make noise that would shatter the moment. This film knows its core concept is a horror goldmine, and they ran with it to the hilt.
The film’s not scary in the traditional scene, but there’s a scene where my blood felt like it was running cold – you’ll know it when you see it. No small feat for a film with less than ten lines of dialogue. Go see it with the biggest, most crowded audience you can.

I also Ready Player One with my dad tonight. Y’know, the movie that underpaid Buzzfeed  and Huffpost journalists and one-note Twitter attention seekers are declaring to be the downfall of Western civilization (and for the record, if such a movie existed I’d like to know about it). Rob Boffard covers the subject of not dog-piling on Ernie Cline’s vision better than I do, so give that a read. And RPO isn’t perfect. It’s not even mind-boggling. I was hating it for the first half an hour, and there’s dozens of quirks with the world-building and logic and I could pick at, not to mention the writing and the film’s determination to make you eat nostalgic until you burst. That pop-culture reference you like? Get ready to have it shoved down your throat until you choke. That film you treasure, that video game you enjoy? Here, have a bucket full of it, with extra salt and sauce and a free side of exploitation of everything you love. The film is iconoclasm in motion, and it knows it. And they’re banking on you seeing it because you want to see every pop culture thing you know and love mashed into a bowl and blended with everything else that might be treasured by some geek around the world.

And yet…and yet…despite all those problems, I had fun. I walked out of the cinema happy. I enjoyed my time in OASIS. That, I think, says a lot about a film’s quality if you’re able to enjoy it despite its flaws. My dad said it best when he said it’s a kids film that everyone can enjoy. There’s a scene that plays off The Shining that’s borderline sacrilegious, but jaw-dropping and worth the price of the ticket alone. Still, it demands to be seen on a big-screen, with as many pop culture junkies as possible.

Your enjoyment may vary on how much the phrase “geek culture” and its accessories makes you cringe. Me, I’ve got my reservations on doing the “geeking out” mode and drooling over every obscure reference in Marvel trailers while wearing Doctor Who PJs and sipping soft drinks out of a Superman straw. The stereotype of an overweight white guy who lives in his mum’s basement with a neckbeard is a frustrating one, mostly because it’s not always untrue. But that’s a whole other conversation; go over and read what Simon Pegg has to say on the subject (who, on many ironic levels, stars as one of the OASIS co-creators in Ready Player One.)

Then, there’s The Death of Stalin. Its almost outrageous how it manages to be dark as pitch and still out-right hilarious in its portrayal of total disregard for human life, and the madness of politics. Iannucci is King of political satire, and his scathing attack on socialism and Marxism is profound as always. It’s a better movie than RPO, but I wouldn’t see it again, whereas I might with RPO.

Finally, I checked out A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a classic example of style over substance, pushed to the hilt. There’s nice costumes, but everything else is hollow and cloying. It means well, but the writing and directing is so scattered it comes across as suffocating. It’s hard to believe this comes from the same director who brought us the nuanced and moving Selma. DuVernay didn’t just not stick the landing, she fell face-first and splattered over the ground. It’s a real shame.

As far as three excellent films out of four goes, it’s not a bad week. I’ll likely be checking out Pacific Rim 2 soon, because mechs and robots.

Review: Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown

The fact that I finished this book a week ago and have still been unpacking my thoughts on it should be sufficient indication how much I enjoyed it.

I’m a die-hard fan of the first Red Rising trilogy, so I knew what to expect when diving into Pierce Brown’s latest, 600-page offering. I just wasn’t expecting Iron Gold to so wildly depart from the structure of the previous books, while still maintaining so much of the series’ identity, jacked up on Sevro’s steroids.

Never before has the world felt so alive and rich and full of wonders and danger. The world-building is a lot smarter this time; there’s no lengthy info-dumps; there’s droplets of exposition and hints of how this world and it’s microsocieties function, from the scarcity-minded people on the Rim who’s decorative tastes and methods of torture match their lifestyle aesthetics, to the political arenas on Luna taken directly from democratic councils in ancient Greece, to the cyberpunk-esque superstructures and the people that inhabit them. The world(s) slowly build in your mind until there’s a very vivid and very personal universe coming alive on page. It commands attention, and it deserves it.9780425285916

And just of commanding of attention are the characters. Going for four PoVs was the correct choice, although some were much more interesting than others. Ephraim’s guff, raw attitude could have been pulled straight from Blade Runner, Lysander’s complex and nuanced storyline and characterization made me hate how much I loved him, Darrow is as delightfully rash and stubborn as ever, and Lyria’s cocky attitude brings a new set of eyes to the world. Lyria’s PoV was decidedly the weakest, and her character arc felt a little too sudden. And if there’s any fault I can find in this book, it’s that Darrow is more absent from the on-screen narrative than he should be. Darrow’s the heart and soul of this world, after all, so it was disappointing not to see him and the Howlers (and Sevro, the little devil) taking a more on-screen role. I’d have gladly swapped a good chunk of Lyria’s PoV for his.

But in saying that, each of the characters are phenomenally sketched, their emotions and feelings so sharply detailed that it’s impossible not to care about them ever so much. The events of any given narrative cannot emotionally support itself unless it has the central characters and their feelings, reactions and social views providing the backbone. And in Iron Gold’s case, each of these characters’ reactions to the unfolding events is a quiet revelation. Their feelings are messy and rash and motivated by spur of the moment decisions (which they may or may not soon regret), filled with heart-break and rage, and it’s wonderful to embroil yourself in the middle of this chaos. I felt like I was with them every bloody step of the way, right until the bitter end that felt me hating how much I love Pierce Brown, but also want to scream at him.

This book is nothing less than a phantasmagorical mash-up of science-fictional exuberance jacked-up to the hilt. There’s so much richness and goodness bursting out of the seams of the characters, technologies, planets and cities of the world it threatens to spill over. Science-fiction is said to be the genre of ideas, and never has it been more true here. The action is as bloody and brutal as ever, the suits of armor and weapons lovingly detailed and described, the politics as cuthroat as ever, the world several shades darker and more messed up than it’s ever been, and the almost endless cast of characters play their roles as productions of their culture and upbringing to levels so theatrical it’s almost Shakespearean. Brown’s velvety prose is so rich and jam-packed with detail and tiny literary gems it’s like he didn’t think he’d get the chance to ever write another book. Even on its own, every page is a delightful morsel. As a whole, this book is a dessert masterpiece.

Pierce Brown has absolutely out-done himself in almost every way and should be given a round of applause for producing something so stellar it reaches meteorological greatness. It might be too early to call it book of the year, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The wait for Dark Age will be unbearable.