Writing the seasons: Spring

This is the first of a series of advice pieces I want to do this year. It will (obviously) consist of four articles (actually it might contain a fifth if I choose to do a Christmas special – Christmas is so different from the rest of winter), one for each season, The reason I am choosing to do this is that sometimes I get frustrated when reading a book and wondering what time of year it is supposed to be set.

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The Power of Words #1: Advertising

This is the first of a series of discussion pieces that I want to do this year on how we use and manipulate, or are manipulated by words. Language is a powerful tool and in the wrong hands can be a strong weapon. Despite the old saying words can hurt and do cause damage.

Commercial Advertising

Advertising is arguably the most prevalent method by which words are used (and abused) to persuade us to a certain point of view.Continue reading “The Power of Words #1: Advertising”

Book Review: The Portable Door by Tom Holt

Paul Carpenter is a bit of a sad case. Socially inept, living alone, a succession of unrealised crushes (he falls in love with practically every girl he meets), he has no job and no money. When he applies for a mundane job he doesn’t want and promptly fluffs the interview, he doesn’t expect to be offered employment. Neither does he expect that the thin, hostile girl would also given a job and end up being put into the same office with her.

And the job is boring but as time goes on and he starts to feel some affection for the new girl, things start to turn a little weirder. The company refuses overtime, kicking the staff out bang on 1pm for lunch and 5.30 for home time, locking the door with no re-admission. Slowly, the secrets of the business are revealed as the pair are given tasks that become increasingly bizarre.Continue reading “Book Review: The Portable Door by Tom Holt”

Book Review: 1000 Years of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke

As tongue in cheek as the title sounds, this is an informative history book that charts 1000 years of Anglo-French mutual adoration loathing. Stephen Clarke leaves no stone unturned as he charts events surrounding the momentous events from history involving the two countries.

The text is as tongue in cheek as you would expect and there are giggles aplenty. The first big laugh I had was when Clarke described William II (informally known as Rufus) of England as “a medieval Paris Hilton” for his indulgences and a love of “make up, dresses and yappy little dogs”.

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Book Review: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

This is the least typical of Wyndham’s novels in that it is set in the far future and not in middle England.

This is a tale of a small agricultural community on the island of Labrador in a far future post-apocalyptic world. Their historical documents refer to the people of old who were destroyed by “tribulation”, punishment from God for their sins.

Based on small-town America of the old west and religious values that we might identify today as fundamentalist, these people are fiercely insular and intolerant of difference. This rigid adherence to purity leads them every year to destroy a good proportion of their food crop. People who are different are killed or sterilised and banished into the wilderness.

When young David starts to have vivid dreams of big cities and horseless carriages and a group of his friends realise they are telepathic, they conspire to keep their abilities secret. Eventually they are discovered and flee to the fringes where they make contact with a far off civilisation.

It is not made explicitly clear what the Tribulation was but tales of blackened glass in affected areas, illness that sounds like radiation poisoning amongst those who go there and the presence of mutation suggests nuclear holocaust (a theme present in several other Wyndam novels).

The message about humanity is mixed. Throughout the community of Waknuk is portrayed negatively: ignorant, barbaric and by destroying their food supply, self-destructing. Yet at the end the new arrival from Sealand who comes to Labrador in what sounds like a helicopter, states in no uncertain terms that the people of Labrador would never tolerate her people and that her people could never tolerate the intolerance of the people of Labrador. A poignant message for our time.

If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them – Karl Popper

Steampunk: Quirky, Funky, Sexy

I must admit that I’ve recently developed a bit of a fascination for the sub-genre and its something I’ve approached through the artwork. On my woefully underused tumblr page I have posted several steampunk’d science fiction icons (a dalek, optimus prime, predator, R2D2 and C3P0) and a computer just for the amusement. However I do find the original artwork highly appealing if only for the imagination behind it. The fashion is pretty funky (and a little bit sexy) too.Continue reading “Steampunk: Quirky, Funky, Sexy”

Examples of Social Commentary in Horror

Having already established that science fiction often contains elements of social commentary, I wish to explore whether the same is true of horror. I had this idea about a week ago and in preparation felt I ought to write a few book reviews of my favourite horror novels. To be perfectly honest I can’t think of a great many horror novels or films that really attempt to explore the same sort of issues that hard science fiction or social science fiction attempt. Those that do tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The primary aim of horror is, after all, to terrify. Science fiction has no such primary goal.Continue reading “Examples of Social Commentary in Horror”

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine: “Every time I shut my eyes… it’s always the same.”

This past Sunday I watched Danny Boyle’s Sunshine for about the tenth time.Continue reading “Danny Boyle’s Sunshine: “Every time I shut my eyes… it’s always the same.””

Examples of Social Commentary in Science Fiction

So I can’t really get the events of Frankenstein out of my head and it is still giving me much to ponder, not in and of itself, but how science fiction is such a major and important conduit for social commentary. If I had studied sociology instead of archaeology at university, I would like to have written a dissertation on how science fiction is the most effective medium for raising awareness of, or commentating on, social issues.

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Book Review: Web by John Wyndham

‘Web’ is a surprisingly pleasing addition to the career of John Wyndham. Published ten years after his death, it follows similar themes to several of his better known works.

After an episode of PTSD, our protagonist purchases an island in the south Pacific in order to create a utopia and get away from the strains of the western world. This is a very short book (140 pages) and a good 40+ at the beginning is taken up with a short history of the island, the first arrivals in the early 19th century, its annexation into the British Empire then onward to both world wars and its change of ownership during that time all the while the locals amuse themselves with the rare arrivals of the white man.

But it is in the aftermath of WWII that the story really begins to take shape. This was a period of testing nuclear weapons and an attempt is made to move the locals from the island and to another where they wouldn’t be in the path of the fallout.

Years later our group arrives on their utopia to discover that something isn’t quite right. There are spiders all over the island and they are evolving. Far from being a utopia, the humans become trapped by the freak of evolution.

The metaphor of humans no longer being the pinnacle of evolution is one used several times by Wyndham and it doesn’t feel tired or overused here, it is just presented in a different way in light of the era in which Wyndham was living in which he wrote it. It comes to a sudden end but felt that it could have should have been longer. The ending itself is not typical of Wyndham.