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The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff – 5/5 Stars

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - Front Cover
What’s it about?

The Eagle of the Ninth (TEOTN) is an historical adventure story set in Roman times. I had seen the film and so I had heard of the title and I knew the main goal of the main character, to retrieve the Roman eagle used by legionnaires. I did not know much about the symbolism when I watched the film, which was described in the book, and I had forgotten it was the main character’s father’s eagle, giving him motivation to retrieve it from the north, for family honour as well as personal triumph.

Was it as I expected?

I remember the film having a lot of tense action. The way the northern tribes were shown was exciting, and the palpable fear of being caught was done well. With the book there was less of both of these, which I found disappointing, and the only battle was at the start of the book. But TEOTN did focus more on the Roman side of the story, how Britain was changing but had not quite changed as much as main character Marcus had expected; and there were interesting characters on the way north who we didn’t know whether we could trust, with the most memorable being Guern the Hunter.

Character and plot

Marcus is crippled from a battle and his dreams of rising through the Roman military ranks and securing land back home are lost, but there is his family’s honour to recover. With a gladiator, Esca, he teams up with, they begin on the lunacy of heading north without any support to discover the whereabouts of the eagle, and to take it if necessary. They go there in disguise.

Praise

Marcus’ and Esca’s adventures were made really interesting through the prose. There was the danger they were in up north and the process of ritualistic discovery of where the eagle was, which showed a world of tribal worship of older gods, natural yet brutal compared to the ‘civilised’ Roman Britain. The discovery came as a surprise. There was something about the point of view of Marcus that worked so well in describing the character Esca and really bringing about dialogue and circumstances that I already want to read the second book!

Criticism

I felt the latter stages of the story were concluded too quickly, without one or two more transitions, although every chapter still retained interest. The reader was almost teleported to new circumstances and there did feel there were gaps. For an adventure story I expected more trials for the characters to go through on their way north. Some readers may disagree.

Conclusion

What’s the second book like? I’m interested in reading it.

Author Website

Resource For Writers To Choose Their Words

On the 4th November I attended the CIEP’s conference (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading). I attended chiefly as an editor and proofreader to attend webinars on various subjects and to find new connections. What I didn’t know was how much I’d take from the conference as a writer. Not only did I have the opportunity to network with potential copy editors and proofreaders for my own works, I came across this gem of a webinar: Choosing Your Words: Using the Historical Thesaurus of English to Explore Vocabulary presented by Fraser Dallachy.

Purpose of the thesaurus

The purpose was for the study of semantics: ideas as they are expressed as words.

So, there is a book and a website

Book: The Historical Thesaurus of Oxford English Dictionary

I learnt that Old English covers the period of the 8th century to 1150. The book’s first edition takes us to 2000, and the book’s second edition takes us after 2000.

Website: ht.ac.uk (The Historical Thesaurus of English)

The website is invaluable at looking at the language as a whole: word history, semantic history, and the history of ideas.

I will be using this resource to look for specific words in both my writing and editing to see when they were used. It can be used to avoid anachronisms, for both historical and speculative fiction writers. I suspect the next resource planned, The Future: The Time Traveller’s Dictionary, will also be of great value to writers and editors.

The webinar was a fascinating session for language lovers everywhere who have much to gain from learning how the history of semantics informs present word choice. And it’s such a fantastic resource anyway to analyse the language as a whole.

 

Ella Sanderson at the Diverse Poetry Event

Powerful poetry performance by poet with Asperger’s, Ella Frances Sanderson, who covers the feelings many of us share being on the autism spectrum such as meltdowns, alienation, trapped, and unable to be free to be themselves.

Ella was a guest performer at a café in Saltburn at the Diverse Poetry event (@DiVerse_Poetry) in June 2019. The video resonates strongly in the present, when it’s difficult to escape from some of the problems people with autism and Asperger’s struggle with on a daily basis, for those with the condition and those who live with others who have the condition.

Watch Ella’s evocative poetry

Follow Ella on Twitter @EllaSanderson18

Greev by Leo X. Robertson

Greev by Leo Robertson - Front Cover

Greev begins with a mysterious event. Inexplicably, anyone who is a mother dies. It’s an horrifically startling premise, and Robertson uses it in order to explore the ramifications of these deaths for the people impacted in its aftermath. The name chosen for the city featured is Los, I assume an allusion to the word loss, which itself loses an s for the city’s title. Los is also associated with the names given to large cities, most notably Los Angeles, or The Angels, and again here there is a loss, as angels is missing. The city of The. The on its own is forever left without resolution, without its subject, and is indeed at a loss. This is only musing, but gives some idea of the thoughtful nature of this unique book.

The novel is divided into sections, where a sequence of characters are given space to relay the unfolding consequences of the death of the mothers. What makes the book particularly distinctive is the inclusion, interwoven with the rest of the narrative, of an account by the author of the very real experience of the death of his own mother. Written in the early days of grief, the novel stayed suspended for quite some time, before the author returned to finish it. Taking such a personal and unflinching approach, Robertson makes public a very intimate pain. The themes tackled in the book unify the author’s choices, and ultimately a contemplative inquisition into the dead and the bereaved emerges.

The character who anchors the novel for the most part is Joe, a young man hit very hard by death and struggling to make sense of what has happened. A recurring theme in Robertson’s science fiction works is artificiality and the implications of android presence amid daily life. Here, the issue is used very effectively, raising more questions than it answers, and emphasising how adrift, and without anchor, our anchor really is. It is the sense of drifting which defines this novel, for me anyway—the amplified disappointment and disillusionment with life that accompanies, paradoxically, the numbness of grief. If at any time we experience the most mixed and unfathomable of emotions, it is the ones grief throws at us. The structure, with differing points of view, is initially a fragmented one, but this too ultimately pays off as apposite. Another theme which recurs for Robertson is disenchantment, both externally and internally. A scene I recognise from elsewhere but crops up included here also, is one where a character expresses that a loved one should leave them because they are not worthy of their attachment. A very potent example of the lies that a despondent mindset can tell itself, as, if we are to agree that anyone, even the most repellant of people, is entitled to understanding and perhaps even affection, which I do think is the only appropriate response to the world, then it is not for ourselves to have the final say on how loveable, or forgivable, we are or not.

For all the heaviness the subject suggests, the novel itself incorporates many themes admirers of science fiction will enjoy. The city itself is an impressive backdrop, a looming presence throughout, and as I find with most science fiction, has an innate character, making for an immersive experience. The novel is littered with ingenious details that enhance the city’s atmosphere, implying a rich history and organic development.

The main thrust of the novel involves a young woman, Cova, who has a past linked with an underground cult. She presents Joe with a potential way to right the wrong that has struck the city, and leaves him with a haunting dilemma.

A fine novel about death. Bitterness and hurt under neon. A farewell to a good woman.

Review by Rebecca Gransden on Goodreads

Author Leo Robertson’s Website

1984 by George Orwell – 5/5 Stars

1984 by George Orwell - Front Cover

What’s it about?

Many of the early chapters of the story are pure worldbuilding, giving the reader blocks of information about past and present reality in an unknown year thought to be 1984, when Big Brother’s revolution has succeeded. History, and therefore reality, is at the mercy of Big Brother’s Party, and so is fiction when it is permitted to exist. As in most dystopian novels of this type, Winston Smith is an ordinary guy at an ordinary job, bored even, yet allowing his liberal thoughts to roam, which is the only freedom he has. He’s being watched by telescreens in the corridor, and in his own apartment. Outside, there are spies and microphones everywhere looking for aberrations of personality or behaviour that can be seen as evidence of treachery against the Party, or anything different.

Sex has been repressed, seen as the energy that can work against party community and worship, and the hysteria lack of sex creates works in the Party’s favour. Sex happens to be one of the things lonely Winston craves, embodied by young and attractive Julia, who is a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, and her membership must seem like irony to Winston, believing she’s a spy for the Thought Police.

Praise

1984 gives us a taste of a world we may have been starting to step into in the 20th century, of leader worship, totalitarianism, and a party or nation above all individual thought and freedom, which is now seen as insanity. The past has been all but erased, and members of the party are forced to accept this or commit an act of ‘thought crime’. Reality is shaped continuously. Life is always getting better, and the enemy has always been the same, even when the enemy changes every so often. Failure to accept these tenets is dangerous.

‘It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.’

1984 can induce nightmares: the thought of a government knowing your every thought and using it against you to betray those you hold most dear, waiting in the wings long enough to ensure the utter downfall of your individual self and connections. Later, we don’t see a character have individual thoughts; we see them quacking along with the rest of the hateful masses. The thought that a human being could lose their individuality in such a fashion to become a cog in a societal machine, is reason to see this book as terrifying, yet immensely valuable in its warning of a time when we may begin to enter such a type of society again.

Criticism

It’s not until Winston meets Julia that the story really gets going. On a first read, the ideas are novel, but on the second read they are of interest but can become a touch laborious for a novel by today’s standards, being more focused on political ideology, however, they do well in showing a world where the ideas are inhuman and alien.

Conclusion

1984 is a terrifying vision of what we hope won’t become the future, based, it seems, on disturbing chapters of human history and taken to the extreme. Inferiority is proved after torture, individuality is erased, and so much is spied upon and known by the Party you no longer believe you can maintain freedom or loyalty to anybody. The message: you will love Big Brother, whether you want to, or not!

Sea of Glass – Extract

Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

‘The theatre was empty, brighter, he could see more of it through the gloomy light this time, though its edges remained elusive. He wouldn’t dawdle in the place. The feeling that someone had only just coughed and left the room hit him. He rushed to where he’d found the way out before, the doorway in the dark he’d hurt himself trying to round. Now in the twilight of the stage there was no door, only old plaster and paint, an oddness to its colour.

The pit hummed at him, calling him forward, inviting his compliance. If he didn’t want to be stuck he’d have to move through didactic pathways, sacrifice his will to self-govern in extremis and resolve to temporarily surrender to whatever capricious assholes turned the cogs of the place.

He took the old steps to the stage floor and wandered to where the builder had sat. The pit was still and shadowy, no hint of the struggle that had taken place within. The emptiness soothed him and he allowed himself a pause to wilfully forget about his EXIT. Under the theatre light that fell on him, especially his face.

Name.

Take to the centre and forsake the mask, wear your best then let her undress you, all the moments flicker past in her, you stole her you know, hustled her like a numbskull in fluke, couldn’t ride her waves incandescent, so she spat you out poisoned chalice style, her movements pyrrhic victories you’d hold against her because she shone her fractured light on your want, now you wander umbilical precipitating perfected shits, walking away, forever walking away.

Kattar moved to backstage, around the chipboard blank scenery, wires hanging disconnected, copper and rubber tubes, nails in the walls. A power box was fixed to the wall near some steps leading into a dark way back farther. He opened the box, full of switches with stickers and worn away diagrams for instruction. One switch glowed green so he flicked it. Music filled the room, muffled from out front in the theatre. Closer, the sound of whirring machinery sprung into life, grating and squelchy.

Rumbling travelled from the stage on the other side of the scenery. He hesitantly moved to retrace his footsteps, peeping around the splintered wood to spy the open stage floor. There, in the middle of the stage, the flooring opening up, a square trapdoor controlled by robotic pulleys. From below a bulk rose, difficult to see, to make out at first, rounded and bent. It pushed from beneath, a portion of it caught under the sides of the trapdoor. The trapdoor gave and a foot sprung up, dirty and bruised. The body ascended, twisted, inverted, guided by rope, flopping at the knees, cracked skew-whiff at the ribcage. Discordant grimy guitars rattled in minor chords, reverb in a whirlwind around the theatre. Her thighs ready to split, like an unpicked sausage. Someone’s daughter. Someone’s daughter. If this is Anna then that’s too bad. The woman’s dress had fallen inside out and over her face, her hands peeking out from under the hanging material with wrists bound, a tattered bra rotted into her skin, the rest of her naked and bare. Someone had stripped her, hoisted her up, hidden faceless. Kattar couldn’t decide how to react. The sight of her was a world. The dress was stained, with dirt, excrement, patches of fluids. He found a clear section of hem and lifted it, to confirm her deadness. The shadow underneath showed a face beaten and shocked, lacerated cheeks pointing to a forehead with letters carved, the right way up for him, upside down for the woman. ‘Queen of Worms,’ it said in bloody cuts, as worms slimed through her hair and balled squirming inside the hole of her open mouth. Her eyes were shut.

Kattar dropped the hem of the dress, which fluttered back to cover the woman and her worms. This felt forensic. His neck hairs prickled like he was under observation, a study onstage. Now who was making him an actor? Shitty move, thinks it’s clever. But the body is real enough. The music tore his nerves, wearing him down, twangs turning into fuzzbox mush, distorted whines percussive and deconstructing feedback until his ears pounded hot. Was it louder, or he more sensitive? There was something in the music he couldn’t background anymore. Squinty, he glanced at the pit, but all was vacuum.

Blue flames emerged from her fingertips, softly curling them. The blue grew, flowed ethereally across her hands, took hold on the binding of her wrists, turning to warm orange flickering faster. The binds burned away and her arms swung free, her hands alight flung sideways, rocking to and fro. The flames travelled along her arms and ignited the dress, which burned with white intensity up her frame. At this the body screamed and gurgled, expelling worms in a cascading arc, contorting against the flames. Violent as the yells were they carried an unnatural music, frequencies spectral. Kattar stood transfixed with astounded curiosity because she sounded long dead. The flash of fire enveloped her, and a wriggling cocoon of light undulated spitting cinders and rolling sparks. Kattar held out his hand, reaching cautiously, to find no heat to the flame. The sparks at his feet travelled over the dark floor to catch every wiggling worm, and crisp them up on collision leaving charred pellets in their place. Mid flow the smouldering brickettes briefly formed the words ‘FIND ESPE’ in fierce orange before continuing to scatter and then cool to coal dust.

The light on the woman diminished and she hung blackened, swinging gently, tannery shine like midnight.

Blog
https://rebeccagransden.wordpress.com

Purchase link:
https://books2read.com/u/b6jqKW

 

Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock – 3/5 Stars

A collection of short stories rather than a novel, and one that shows Elric as a slightly different character to one we’ve seen so far. He’s changed somewhat, and the reader isn’t sure what has caused this change: separation from his love Cymoril or from his people the Melniboneans?

What’s clear, or not that clear, sometimes, is that he has no interest in dalliances with women. Not at all, except maybe that occasion when …

Praise

We learn more about the greater world behind Elric in this collection, of the Lords of Law and Chaos that are in an eternal fight for dominance, and how this fight impacts on the earthly realm. And the backstory to Melniboneans’s empire is touched upon, showing Elric’s defiance, and their origins are brought to light. I hope more is added to the backstory of these origins, as they were resolved quickly.

I enjoyed reading the adventures of Elric yet again, and of how his character had changed. Rather than weak, dreamy, and apathetic, he has this defiant or hopelessness and anger about him that makes him an altogether different character. It could be weariness: using the sword has broken him down. Nevertheless, it’s not clear throughout the collection what it is Elric wants, and when he does want something what led him to want it?

There are strange beings and mighty lords from other realms, war, ship quests, and ancient civilisations. There was more than enough to keep me entertained.

Criticism

Elric rescuing princesses in distress was getting a touch old. And the gullibility of Elric was apparent yet again, listening to a captain, though a reason was given for it later: ‘You will learn that one day. I have not the courage to tell you. I bear you nothing but good will, however. Be assured of that.’ Sure, let’s kill the sorcerer on your word!

Overall

As a continuation of the series showing change with Elric, I’d recommend The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (TSOTSOF).

Author’s Website

 

These Unnatural Men by EJ Babb – 4/5 Stars

These Unnatural Men by EJ Babb - Front Cover

‘What with so many public service vehicles being hijacked during the travel crisis, but I think they were more concerned for the protection of government property.’

A dystopian novel

These Unnatural Men (TUM) was not the novel I was expecting. Many, but not all, dystopian novels I’ve read are influenced by cataclysmic events occurring during the novel itself, whereas in TUM the characters are already trapped by past circumstances, so it falls into the ‘trapped dystopia’ category in my mind. TUM was character based. I found this style refreshing and new, taking the reader out of the tried-and-tested formulas for dystopia, and what’s marvellous is that it also plays with the reader’s mind, dipping into preconceived notions of psychiatric institutes and blending them with a euthanasia focus.

Fascinating characters

Nieve Hindeman is the protagonist, an up-and-coming euthanasist bent on advancing her career at Boar House and doing euthanasia the right way. She’s very much a product of the present in TUM, but a more extreme version who wants to prove her theory to hope it will change euthanasia for the better. She’s not a ‘doctor’, as the patients still get confused what to call them; I liked this link to the past. Her character was fascinating and disturbing.

And though I disliked Nieve’s cruelty, zealous approach, nosiness, and her blatant disrespect of privacy, I came to feel sorry for her at times when flashbacks were given into her past and when older characters criticised her lack of knowledge of the real world. It’s as if she was groomed to be a euthanasist and she’s as trapped as the patients are: ‘You should have applied and received your civilian money by now, but if you haven’t you can borrow some from the petty cash box.’

Author EJ Babb did expand well on the rigorous assessment process for acceptance into the euthanasia program. There is a lot of red tape preventing cases from going forward, and by the time the patient is through with all these tests, like David, they’re impatient and they just want to die.

The character Logue and his dynamic with Nieve was worth reading:

‘Logue smiled at her – a rarely seen expression on him. It made his big, droopy eyes shrink inwards as the folds on his face bunched together. He looked subhuman, almost lizard-like.’

‘His watery eyes were boarded with prominent blood vessels and his thin top lip curled inward as he spoke. “Everyone has secrets.”’

Criticism

I’d like to have learnt more about what had happened in the past, what this travel crisis was, and to delve deeper into the technologies used at Boar House for the purpose of euthanasia beyond a particular drug.

David, Nieve’s case, was intentionally boring, and the point was hammered home how little of his true reasons for being at Boar House was divulged. It makes the reader wonder, is it David who’s not forthcoming or is Nieve imagining things from too much pressure? He wasn’t interesting after the beginning and the story, true to its form, was more about Nieve.

Overall

TUM was a novel that kept me reading. I wanted to know what Nieve would discover to be the truth and I wanted to know what sort of character she was. Page after page we learn about the fictitious dystopian world author EJ Babb has created, and even after finishing you still feel you want to learn more.

On Amazon

 

On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price – 5/5 Stars

On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price - Front Cover

‘Whichever structure you’ve used, the main purpose of the final act or closing chapters is to resolve the threads of this plot, ensuring that the reader’s investment is paid off; that the central storyline is given space to be concluded satisfyingly.’

This book was recommended to me in an editorial magazine review, and I thought it’d be nice to try it out and see if it was as interesting as it appeared. It turned out I was correct. Some of the comments on genre were excellent for broadening my mind and encouraging me to think ahead about reader expectations.

On Editing asked me to analyse sections of writing, and explained why some were better for conveying show-not-tell practices as opposed to summaries or ‘telling’. In this sense I felt On Editing opened my eyes to practices I could look into correcting in my own writing, as well as others’.

I didn’t agree with every example, in the point of view chapter, notably. But I did see the point the authors were trying to make. All the examples were clear and easy to understand. I’d recommend On Editing for writers who are new to self-editing, need to brush up on their self-editing skills, and for developmental editors who want to know how to approach some areas of writing.

Forty Birthdays by Jason G Long – New Release – 5/5 Stars

New Release September 2020!

Forty Birthdays by Jason G Long - Front Cover

What’s it about?

Specialness associated with birthdays: each ‘chapter’ is a story, from the point of view of a different character on their birthday, and something exciting, interesting, or meaningful will hit you in each one.

None of the characters quite knew what was going to happen on the day of their birthday itself, be it good or bad, and this was an excellent premise for Forty Birthdays. Most of the characters with birthdays were young, for several running chapters, and perhaps in some cases I read them this way because of the style of putting aside of reservations, making drastic mistakes, and the specialness associated with birthdays.

For younger readers, then, and older readers?

The stories can appeal to a wide range of ages. Under-thirties would maybe better relate to the presence of technology in the stories and the trials of growing up. However, the stories were definitely relatable to me, as somebody in his early thirties, and I have a strong feeling there will be more than a few stories everybody can see themselves in.

The themes were of individuality, love, life, and death, and though all chapters have a philosophical thread through the interactions of characters – subtle some times and blatant at others – there was also a more studied concept of philosophy through ‘soul-hopping’ and the ‘nature of a soul’, beyond a limited definition of love and connection, as a way of seeing or understanding people you like, or at least that’s how I understood it.

The characters vary: eloquent, empathetic, downtrodden, sophisticated (‘a priori’); and come from all walks of life. I did also note LGBT themes through more than a few stories, in a broad definition of love that leads to conflict in some cases, liberation in others.

Messages in each story

Feel-good stories, in some cases, and dramatic and upsetting in others: every story written is powerful and evocative and it’s apparent from the first. In some, there are poignant messages about what really can matter most in life for different characters in different situations.

There were many stories I felt I had grasped the message of them, only to see them from another angle on a second reading. I enjoyed puzzling over the meaning of a few of them also. In this sense, they are stories that can be reread – you can get more from them than a novel you could read and cast aside for a year.

Conclusion

To me, it felt like a pleasant reprieve reading Forty Birthdays – something different from my usual fare and I was surprised how interested I was to find what circumstances the characters in each chapter would get in. I had much enjoyment from the experience, and crucially, the stories never got old!

On Goodreads

On Amazon

Author Website