5 Reasons to Read – The Invisible Library


theinvisiblelibraryI’m kinda tired of fantasy. Not that they have all gone bad nor that the genre has any issues or anything like that. I just feel done with it these days, done and bored and annoyed by it. Then somebody mean and thoughtful and gorgeous and intent on taking away my spare time gave me The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, and I was hooked, hooked I say you. So hooked that it made my recommended list, which is something I keep inside my head for when people ask me silly questions like ‘I don’t know any good books, do you?’ or ‘Can I ask you about your relationship to Jesus?’, you know… the usual stuff one encounters in day to day conversation. The Amazon blurb really does live up to its hype that “Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

5 Reasons to Read: The Invisible Library

The book just happens to include:

  •  … a dimension hopping secret agent/spy/thief/librarian person, that is part of an organisation that (appears) to exists solely to collect and protect the most important books (of course, that would be most books but who am I to argue). As a professed bibliophile, I am completely hooked.
  • … dragons and fae and magic and airships and our experience is not an all-knowing one where all these wonders are normalised, but one mediated through the main character Irene, whose personality and choices manage to get on both my good and bad sides.
  • … funny internal (and external) dialogue that grounds the characters decisions (and indecision) in the most human of all traits; to massively overthink everything and to doubt the selected course of action. Irene is a real person and acts like a real person should or would or could. And then chats about it. It’s wonderful and fun and distracting within the book itself.  
  • … excellent world building that allows for actions to have actual personal consequences, explanations for why certain events do or don’t have consequences, why we recognise it and why it’s exotic or foreign. It’s explained in-world why we feel at home and why we should get excited about this particular reality.
  • … recognisable literary characters which feel like clear homages to their literary lineage without becoming boring, nor does it feel like rehashing or reusing the work of others. The story reads like it’s written by a true lover of books. Since the book is set in an alternate reality London, the potential for future encounters are broad and exciting indeed.

If I should fault it for anything, its the lack of a proper big baddie. The big baddie feels flat and vindictive for no reason (yet), but within the context of a first book suffices to bring about a sense of threat and drama that works without being overplayed or underplayed. The other “real” enemies in the book (no spoilers, I promise) feel fleshed out and very immediate so I can forgive the big bad for staying in the wings for now. I have book two ready to go anyway. It’s my Christmas read. And book three popped onto my Kindle a week ago, so its about time. So as long as your can accept that book one is an origin story, I would highly recommend The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman.

But what do you think? Is The Invisible Library as trite as most fantasy and I’m just a little bit deluded? I might be deluded anyway, I mean who really knows. Let me know!

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NaNoWriMo 2016 is here – Time for Another Bout

2016-11-01-18-25-29Yes, I may have neglected the blog for months, but I did move countries, change my career path, injure my back and encounter the wonders of Belgian bureaucracy. All excellent distractions and apparently kept me too busy to remember that I had a blog (or several as it turns out) to write for. But now NaNoWriMo is back for 2016, so why not revive the blog in the flurry of activities we call the “Write 50.000 words and don’t have a heart attack” party that is NaNoWriMo in a nutshell.

This year is going to be a bit of an experiment. I will be writing my own work, the progress of which you can follow here and add me as a writing buddy, while simultaneously starting a collaboration with my partner, the very talented Andrea, to write our own contemporary fantasy murder mystery.

And I haven’t been entirely inactive since my last post. I started a sister blog that pokes fun at corporate vernacular, that I have thoroughly enjoyed compiling and creating content for. You can find here should such shenanigans tickle your fancy.

Anyway, I am off to frantically type out the opening scene for my NaNoWriMo 2016 project. Best of luck to everyone out there. And if you need a reason to participate, you can find 5 reasons right here!

But what do you think? Is NaNoWriMo worth the time and effort and stress and pain and fun and excitement and other feelings both good and bad? Let me know.

And now… The NaNoWriMo song.

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Chasing Ice with Torben Jensen

Got interviewed about my trip to Greenland in 2009. 🙂 And got a chance to share my pictures from the trip. Have a read and give the writer a follow.

TOO BIG A BITE?

imgp0506Torben is a fellow writer and avid traveler. Apart from writing and traveling, his passion is anything related to books, which he also frequently blogs about. This time, however, we shared some stories about his trip to Greenland over a cozy meal in a small Irish town.

Greenland might seem an odd choice for a place to visit. Why did you pick it?
I didn’t actually choose Greenland as much; it was offered by my University as a study trip to explore Greenlandic culture and its importance to Denmark’s little known colonial history. To be completely frank, I mainly used it to avail myself of a free trip to experience some dramatic geography and a part of Denmark that many Danes will never see in person, which was outside the trip’s intended purpose.

Did you have any expectations before your journey?
To see ice. Lots and lots of ice. And I…

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Reasons to Sci-Fi

I’ve heard many times that science fiction is about space ships. Way too many times to ignore it, so I wanted to address this massive misconception. Science fiction is about our future potential as a technological civilization. SF stories are told about a future based on the application of (hypothetical or actual) technologies and about what the potential outcome might be, whether good, bad or mad. Real-life spaceships are awesome and the men and women who get blasted into orbit regularly should be considered heroes, but those incredible feats are achievements of science, engineering and exploration. They might have been considered science fiction at the beginning of the twentieth century,  but they are real and we’re living them now. Remember, your smartphone was also a matter of science fiction a mere 15 years ago, yet today we’re living out that fact. Add tablets and the Web to that equation.

Science fiction as a genre is a way of discovering how the human condition could change, how societies do or don’t adopt certain technologies, and the subsequent culture clashes between pre-, non-, and post-adopters. We get to see how humanity may fare in an increasingly complex world filled with knowledge and technology we don’t have (yet). It explores hypothetical situations and gives hypothetical answers to questions we’re unwilling to face or might not even fully understand, simply because we don’t have the capacity or imagination to do so. SF can at least give us a snapshot,  a glimpse of what may be or not be.

It is, in short, about a potential future. Whether a plausible or a possible future, is a different question.

What should we then consider science fiction? Here are five paradigms or perspectives I think should be considered part and parcel of science fiction. The list is bar far not exhaustive, merely scratching the surface:

  • Time and scale What happens to us or the universe in the long term? A million or a billion years from now, things will have changed in way we cannot predict or understand. Think about time travel or time manipulation, all those tantalising what-if scenarios, like encouraging Hitler to seek a career as a monk or not asking that girl out back in 91, what would happen to our reality?
  • Evolution and adaptation – Are we the end point? Will we change dramatically? Or are we the stepping stone for something bigger and more powerful like a functioning AI? Telling stories where humanity itself is at stake is the key here.
  • Adaptation of certain technologies Do we choose to use a particular piece of technology or not? What happens to those who use it? What happens to those who don’t? The social, political and ecological outcomes might vary wildly and we should explore them.
  • Into Inner SpaceWhat do intangible elements, like ideas of dreams and identity mean? Can we explore them or even try to explain them? What if we do and don’t like the answers?  
  • Into Outer SpaceSPACESHIPS! And yes, science fiction can be about the exploration of space, colonising worlds, discovering new life and the conflicts that would ensue. What will that mean for us? Would it save us or doom us?

Stories like The Windup Girl, Brave New World, 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea, Red/Green/Blue Mars, Frankenstein, 1984, Dune and Childhood’s End create wondrous and terrifying narratives aimed at questioning and exploring key aspects of changes to our society, if the scenarios play out.

I was born in the late seventies. Back then my family had turn-dial black and white TV with 8 local channels, our telephone was still tethered to the wall and my dad drove an Morris Mini. To visit a friend I had to walk several blocks to knock and ask if he or she wanted to go play, because often they wouldn’t be near the phone. So while I was growing up I dreamed of a future with easier access to knowledge.

Today we literally have access to the world from our smartphone, a device so small it boggles the mind how we made that in my short lifetime, and in the immediate future we’ll be facing personal drones, driverless vehicles, 3D-printing in our garages and personal digital assistants that are more like Tony Stark’s “Jarvis” than Siri. We live in the future and the world is only going to move faster. So the role of science fiction is becoming more and more complicated and fascinating, and has to deal with ethics and morals of technological progress by predicting the potential change and fallout from progress.

Like someone more articulate said:

Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition. Isaac Asimov once said, “Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.

But what do you think of science fiction? Are deeper philosophical musings getting squashed by big shiny tech toys? Let me know and stick around for weekly posts on reading, writing and life in general.

And do like, share and subscribe. Stay tuned!

Encouraging a reading culture

69317437The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled  – Plutarch

Hey you… You there. Yeah you, reading these words. As you obviously like to read, you should read more. A lot more. Finish this post, then go pick up something else, like Fatherland or Supergods or Bite of the Mango (all on my personal reading list). Or pick anything else really. Keep kindling that mental flame because you’re going to need it. If your mind lacks proper kindling it will burn without direction, get confused and burn your house down… Admittedly this mixed metaphor lacks a bit of je ne sais quoi, but you know what I mean.

And I’m probably preaching to the choir, but it still needs to be said. Reading is important, not only on a personal, but a social level as well. When you encourage a reading culture, you really encourage a thinking culture. And who could argue that we need more thinkers? Take the Brexit vote, the latest abysmal example that springs to mind. An entire country goes to vote on an issue that will have national and international consequences and sets the tone for many years to come, and the very day after the vote Google surges with queries like “What is the EU?” and  “What does it mean to leave the EU?”, which exposes a serious lack of fundamental knowledge.

Why didn’t people know anything about what they were voting against? Is that anybody’s fault that information was scarce? Or was it scarce? (Also, let’s not get into the discussion, why they wouldn’t gather information before the vote?) If you want to point fingers, you could argue that it’s a failure of education, a failure of the system and the culture. I can’t comment on your specific country’s basic education, but there’s a lot of recent criticism about the declining standards in schools becoming the norm. And that may very well be the case, yet that is only one side of the coin. Albeit educating young people about current affairs would be important, this is more about the generation who’s already out of school and will actually be voting.

Now, what do we need to do counterbalance that? What can we do? The Brexit debate itself was crippled by misinformation (not to mention apparent lies slapped on the side of busses), yet anyone who dared to point that out, was either sidelined or simply ignored. When specialists and experts in their field came out to say “Look, this doesn’t add up, we need to think about the…” they were promptly dismissed with a nod and were told “Let’s not listen to experts”.

If this is the situation we are in, then we need to encourage people (especially people who don’t listen to experts) to go and do the work or research themselves. They bloody well need to read more. What can we do, as a culture, to encourage more reading and more critical thinking? And I’m not pretending to have the answer, but a few suggestions worth considering:

  • How about we encourage a diverse approach to reading? Stop saying that audio-books, comics or anything else isn’t reading (whether it’s a specific genre or author), and be happy that person is reading.
  • How about after we stop belittling certain types of reading, we start suggesting more? I see you like X, have you read Y? You may actually like it.
  • How about we share the contents of a book or any other topic? My experience of reading X might be completely different and my learning points completely different. Book clubs shouldn’t be a thing of the past.  
  • Most importantly how about we don’t take anything a book (or the side of the bus) claims for granted? You read the claim, now take it with a pinch of salt and go and verify it. Let’s be inquisitive and curious about the world, people.

We need to venerate long/short/any form of writing, doing actual research, being knowledgeable and well educated. We need to learn again how to think for ourselves and to be able to make our arguments count, and all of it starts with reading and thinking more.

Note, this is not the end of my thoughts on these topics. I barely scratched the surface. Have a lot more to say about social bubbles, sceptical thinking, etc. Who knows… Adding some more kindling to the mind fire.

But what do you think? And if you are reading Fatherland or Supergods or
Bite of the Mango, let me know. Would love to have a chat about them. Also tell me if I’m wrong, you might think a poorly educated and misinformed public is a good thing.

Comment, like, share and subscribe. Stay tuned!

 

A Scourge of Clickbait on Thee

16ooj0Why do people still engage with clickbait? Wait wait wait, hang on, let me rephrase that. Why do people persist in engaging with headlines that are obviously designed to appeal to our most basic level of curiosity, to our emotions, our greed and our sense of schadenfreude, instead of relying on our intellect and not giving it traction and traffic? Clickbait is a terrible thing. It’s objectively terrible. It promises a reader something life changing but instead gives you a hamster eating miniature burritos. Which is great in and of itself, but it’s hardly worth a line like “Chef cooks meal for his favorite hamster. What he cooks will blow your mind”.

A good headline is essential for attracting readership and clearly my own needs work, but for me a clickbait header is a de facto statement that you have nothing of value to offer me. It means you’re a scam, a fraud and you have nothing to say. A good headline is simple, informative and direct, leaving plenty of room to be creative and entertaining, and generally refrains from being too inane, deceptive and/or unnecessarily hyperbolic.

A clickbait headline includes a cliffhanger to bait the reader and an emotional trigger to push the reader to click. It deliberately excludes information you need in the decision process and nudges your curiosity bone Clickbait headlines are so lacking in content that you can make a headline clickbait generator. This one thrilled me with results like “19 Unusual Psychological Experiments That Can Be Explained By Duran Duran B-Sides” and “55 Life Hacks Only German Men Should Never Be Ashamed Of” which sound fascinating without giving me anything of substance. Clickbait reminds me of pop-up ads from the nineties or the phishing e-mails which occasionally grace my inbox. Bait the reader with A, then push to click B, get screwed by a conman C. Rinse repeat, appeal to simpler natures, make a profit. Unwanted and unneeded.

And that’s probably also the problem, it has become a numbers game. Get shares, likes, clicks, sneezes, whatever and hope your content (regardless of quality) goes viral so you make a profit on ad revenue or distributing swag or whatever floats your boat. The monetary incentive is strong and the market remains open to clickbaity content, to the extent that some major news outlets have used clickbaity headlines as a way of boosting traffic, apparently not understanding that it drives away more discerning audiences (like me).

And it’s interesting because on the other hand we do live in a (more) golden age of writing. And I mean that literally. More people than ever before have the ability to read and write, and the opportunity to publish their words of wisdom in whatever form, be it social media, print or laser print on cutting boards. The sheer volume of content is both forcing writers to be more creative and experimental in their work, and creating a need to sell. And what sells clicks are headlines and images. A strong, well crafted headline, usually paired with an image can make or break a piece of work. Timing, interest and some luck also plays a part in its virulence.

In short, please don’t propagate clickbait. It feeds a system where content takes second (or third or fourth or…) place in favor of clicks.

What do you think? Does clickbait have a role is modern writing, be it in blogging or journalism or something completely different? Or is it just utterly terrible pathos-based garbage? It is. It really is. But let me know if I’m wrong.

Let me know and do like, share and subscribe. Stay tuned!

Has it been written? – Library of Babel

LibraryOfBabelSnapshotI came across the Library of Babel some time ago, yet it continues to intrigue me and allows me to indulge in the more philosophical aspects of my brain. In short, it’s a system that allows for mathematically generated text to be created and destroyed and recalled instantly. It’s a gem of literary creativity, even if isn’t technically a human literary achievement. As taken from their website (which you should really go explore, if only to marvel at the very concept of mathematically generated text), it states that:

“The Library of Babel is a place for scholars to do research, for artists and writers to seek inspiration, for anyone with curiosity or a sense of humor to reflect on the weirdness of existence … completed, it would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters … it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be …  At present it contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, about 104677 books.”

This means that every book, blog post, tweet, facebook update, article, etc. ever written or consumed exists out there. Which means everything that can possibly be written already has been “written”, regardless of whether it’s ever been committed to paper or even conceived. Which reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s L-space or Neil Gaiman’s Lucien’s library or any other hypothetical space where everything written simultaneously does and does not exist, just like that concept you wanted to work on, that poem you wanted to write about your last date, or that next entry in your diary. It’s in there… It just hasn’t been generated and exposed to the world. Not yet at least. But the concept also creates a lot of questions.

Are there be masterpieces of poetry hidden inside, waiting to be discovered rather than written? If I found one, can I publish it as my own? Or is that already someone else’s intellectual property? Or would the act of finding it bring it to existence? Furthermore, can I ever hope to be original? If what I’m writing has already been written, does it mean I plagiarized it, even if I wasn’t aware of its existence or it wasn’t written by a human or at least with human intent? Is the Library of Babel art? Should the entire idea or concept be considered an art project, or a mere exercise of mathematical magics? If so, what does it mean?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, nor do I pretend to have any. Most art comes from, or references, other art and the Library of Babel certainly references other pieces of work. In fact it references every piece of work, real and in potentia, but not explicitly so. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the creative process or a maybe it’s just a machine that recreates something that does or doesn’t really exist yet. I don’t know. But it makes me wonder.

What do you think? What does this project say about creativity, about writing in general and about plagiarism? Does it say anything at all? And just to be clear, this blog post already exists/existed in Babel.

Let me know and do like, share and subscribe. Stay tuned!

5 Reasons to Read – The Thrawn Trilogy

thrawn_trilogy_timothyzahnFirstly, I must acknowledge that the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn is no longer considered canonical in the Star Wars universe. On the other hand I still read and enjoyed the books and I hope elements will eventually work their way into the new trilogy. Also, if anyone reading this is involved with Star Wars 8, please cast me as a stormtrooper (preferably in a cantina, maybe on some star of death, perhaps opposite Eddie Izzard). Anyway, since the next trilogy is merrily on its way, what better time (that wasn’t right before the cinematic release of episode 7) to delve into what could have been. So here goes.

5 Reasons to Read the Thrawn Trilogy

You get to see…

  • … massive starship battles. The two trilogies have shown us the intense spectacles of fighter-to-fighter combat, but actual starship-to-starship combat was reduced to who had the luckiest fighter pilots, most glaring structural oversights and least obvious targets. The Thrawn Trilogy delves deep into Star Wars canon and creates thrilling combinations of physics-based weaponry with careful force-wielding and mighty starships in intensely creative ways. No womp rat hunters need apply.
  • … a non-human imperial officer. The Empire, the ever-so-casual-racist Nazi-analog with a bit of British imperialism in the mix, has a Chiss (a previously unseen race) commanding officer. Not only does this create an interesting adversary for the New Republic, but also allows for delving deeper into the empire’s history, philosophy and the flexibility of their morals and ideals.
  • … force influencing and application across vast distances. You probably already know that Luke can utilize the force to pull his lightsaber from a mound of snow, Vader can force choke a incompetent officer from between starships and the Emperor can generate actual force lightning to kill, maim and cook his own face, but the actual scale and versatility of the force has only really been displayed in the books and video games. Without giving away spoilers, the way the force is being utilized in the Thrawn Trilogy is not only creative, but hints at how the power was wielded in the past. For interesting and spoilery examples click here.
  • … Admiral Ackbar and actual political intrigue. I personally always wondered about Ackbar; what kind of fish-man was he and how does he fit into the New Republic. As a commander and tactician he was always degraded to “It’s a trap!” memes, so the trilogy does a great job of fleshing out the character and implementing him in the plot, in a manner that makes him look both competent and complicated, but also powerful.
  • … an empire on the backfoot. The Empire was a colossus, a power encompassing dozens of star systems, massive fleets of starships and super weapons, able to subjugate entire planets and wipe out rebellious activity swiftly and efficiently. Except here they’re not so great, not anymore. In the Thrawn Trilogy they have the strength and the manpower, but unlike the movies, there is a strong chance and hope for new life in the galaxy. There is no Deathstar analogue, no click-a-button-to-win weapon, no droid army.

Other reasons to read the Thrawn Trilogy include the development of the relationships between Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, more interesting clones and droids, and the knowledge that these books are completely untainted by the prequels. Unless George Lucas somehow re-released them with extra scenes and better special effects.

But what do you think? Have you read The Thrawn Trilogy?

Did you like how Jar Jar Binks rose through the ranks to be the empire’s most feared assassin after coming out of hiding on Coruscant?

Did you enjoy the anger you felt after reading that outrageous lie? Then come, join the dark side and like this article, disseminate it and subscribe for more.

Complete your journey and join me as my apprentice.