Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Top 10 Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Books

In response to Zed’s comment to my last post about Science Fiction, here are my top 10 Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books.  I tried to put them in some sort of order but that proved too difficult, so in no particular order;

      1.       The Body – Stephen King
Sentimentally speaking, The Body is my favourite story.  The Body is one novella of four in the book Different Seasons by Stephen King.  Four boys lie to their parents and follow the train tracks to find the dead body of a kid their age.
I first saw the film based in this story, Stand By Me, when I was 12 and I fell in love with it.  I found the book when I was 18 and it sits proudly on my shelf, yellowing and bent from the number of times it’s been read.
The book is beautifully written and dark.  As much as I love Stand By Me, the book spoke to me so much more.  This is a story from my childhood and adolescence, this story got me through teenage depression, GCSEs, exams and my first year of University when I felt down or homesick.

2.       The Blade Itself: The First Law Book One – Joe Abercrombie
This book, and the subsequent sequels, have some incredibly vibrant characters written on its pages.  Beware, there are a lot of characters but a couple really stand out and even now, years after reading this book, I still remember Logan Ninefingers and Glokta vividly.
The Blade Itself is gritty, violent and full of action.  I never doubted buying it after reading the blurb in the bookshop and I accidently read the first sentence when I got home. I had to put whatever I was reading at the time on hold until I had finished this fantastic book. 
A summary/blurb can be found on Joe Abercombie’s website.

3.       Guards Guards – Terry Pratchett
I love all of the Discworld novels to a certain degree.  Guards Guards is one of my favourites for two reasons; Sam Vimes and dragons.
This is the first Discworld novel for Vimes, we are introduced to an alcoholic guard and his men.  You instantly find yourself drawn to Vimes, you empathise with him and trust in him which is what makes him one of most anticipated and heart warming characters in the Discworld.
I love this book so much that I have an artists impression of Errol on the wall of my living room.

4.       Small Gods – Terry Pratchett
Another Discworld novel.  This novel explores the perception of belief and that is why I love it.  I admit that I have a fascination with mythology and belief and I found this book a joy to read with fascinating concepts.
Small Gods follows Brutha, a novice priest who lacks what is necessary in the thinking department and yet he is the one that the great god Om, in the form of a tortoise, appears before.

5.       Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Yes, another Terry Pratchett, but this time co-written with Neil Gaiman.   I told you that I have a fascination with belief and gods and you probably know by now that the Armageddon holds some interest to me too.  This book is about just that and a mix up with the coming of the Antichrist.
I picked up this book because of the angels and Terry Pratchett’s name on the front and was introduced me to the world of Neil Gaiman.

6.        The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
This is supposedly a children’s book but that shouldn’t put adults off.  A toddler house is broken into and his parents murdered.  The ghosts living in the graveyard across the road take him in and raise him.
This book is dark, humorous and beautiful written with a story that has never left me.

7.       Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett
Yes, yes, I know.  Another Terry Pratchett book.  But come on, the Wee Free Men!  How could this not be on the list?  Again, another supposed children’s book.  Wee Free Men is the first in the Tiffany Aching series.  Tiffany is unlike other girls, she has a fantastic way of thinking, taking after Granny Aching.  She is a cheese maker and a witch.  On her family’s land live the Wee Free Men; small, blue little people who speak the most wonderful Scottish. 
This book is a must read introduction to the Wee Free Men and the lovely Tiffany.  I cannot actually put into words how amazing the Wee Free Men are, which is a frustrating thing for a writer.  They are so much fun to read and they quickly became some of my favourite all-time characters.

8.       World War Z – Max Brooks
Now, I haven’t actually quite finished reading this yet.  I bought it in preparation for the film which is due out in this country at the beginning of 2013.
This book is a collection of interviews with all different types of people around the world, telling the story of World War Z, the war with zombies.
Despite not having finished it yet, this book has already made the list purely based on the dedication and research that has obviously gone into it.  It is very well written and basically every interview is a short story, reading them gives you the full story of the war from every angle possible; economic, political, military and civilian, from so many different countries across the world.  It is an awe-inspiring novel just for this but the story is also painfully real, violent and wonderful all at the same time.

9.       The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham
This is possibly the only Science Fiction novel on my list.  Is this Science Fiction?  The classic story of an English village.  One night every occupant blacks out, when they come round they soon realise that every woman of child bearing age is pregnant.
This book is fascinating, fast paced and I found it very difficult to put it down.

10.   The Shawshank Redemption – Stephen King
A true classic.  The Shawshank Redemption is another novel hidden inside Different Seasons by Stephen King.  As with all books-turned-into-films, the book is a lot better than the film and surely you know how good the film is?  The book is more personable and heartfelt, it is dark with a twisted human beauty that seems to be Stephen King’s forte (I haven’t read much Stephen King-yet).
Watch the film; read the book.

A small selection of books on my to-read pile are;
  •  Everything Neil Gaiman (he is a new discovery of mine – Neverwhere and Stardust)
  • The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  • Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay – Chris Wooding
  • Heroes – Joe Abercrombie
  • Snuff – Terry Pratchett
What does this tell you about me?  That I’m not too keen on Science Fiction but I am a big Terry Pratchett fan. 

So come on then, share.  What are your ten favourite Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror books?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Science Fiction: A Definition

Is anyone else having a really bad month?  I know people are because my friends and family are telling me about their awful Januarys.  It seems every week brings with it more bad news.  To add to that, for some reason, work is also very busy.  This means that I haven’t been writing as much as I should have been this month.  In fact, I’m very behind.  I’ve rewritten my plan for my current novel three times since the New Year and while I’ve printed out and started editing Chapter One of Silver, I haven’t got very far.

I’ve also been thinking hard about what to write about here on this blog.   What with stressful, long days at work, no writing and throbbing headaches, stories were not very forthcoming.  Until last night when we watched the first episode of the new series of Room 101.

Fern Britton joined Frank Skinner and told the nation that she wanted to put Science Fiction into Room 101.  I was in shock and so was Robert Webb.  Now, I am well aware that this should not have been taken seriously.  Honestly, though, I felt my blood rush and I instantly started to build a defence for Science Fiction. 

It seemed to me that Fern has only seen or heard of Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr Who so I began to scan through my DVD collection in search of other Science Fiction titles that might stand up in a debate.  This then led to a problem; what is the definition of Science Fiction?

Aliens are the first thing that comes to my mind when Science Fiction is mentioned.  Aliens and space travel, so the obvious picks from my collection are Firefly and Serenity, District 9, Independence Day, Cloverfield and Paul.  Of course futuristic titles also fall under the category; I, Robot, Terminator and its sequels and the Fifth Element. 

Then I became a little stuck – The Walking Dead.  This television series is a perfect example to me of beautiful writing encapsulating the reality, horror and social and individual meltdown that a plague of this scale might cause.  It is about a disease (possibly) infecting the living, killing them and then reanimating their corpses.  It is therefore a futuristic and scientific concept.  These concepts are usually categorised under Horror, but could it also be called Science Fiction?

I have found a number of Science Fiction definitions;

Science Fiction
a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc.

Well that’s just vague and unhelpful.

How about;

Science fiction reflects scientific thought; a fiction of things-to-come based on things-on-hand.’ By Benjamin Appel
SF is a controlled way to think and dream about the future. An integration of the mood and attitude of science (the objective universe) with the fears and hopes that spring from the unconscious. Anything that turns you and your social context, the social you, inside out. Nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible.’ By Gregory Benford

The argument, really, then is whether Science Fiction is just wholly about the science.  That limits it to space travel and time travel and everything that comes with them.  It still doesn’t answer my question regarding zombies.

In the bookshops, Science Fiction is often shelved with Fantasy and Horror. The lines between these genres are so easily blurred and a novel can easily be classed in more than one of these.  Zombies usually fall under Horror but I find that Horror is another one of those vague, blurred genres.  Anything can be Horror – Literature, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Comedy, Romance.  Ok, perhaps Romance doesn’t often collide with Horror but it is possible.  Does this mean that these three genres that always share the same corner of the bookshop are so interwoven that they cannot be parted?  This would mean that zombies are Science Fiction by default of simply sitting in that corner under Horror.

Of course, that’s not strictly true either.  For avid Horror readers and viewers, Horror is light years away from Science Fiction.  Although in my experience, Horror fans are often Science Fiction and Fantasy fans too. Perhaps this is why these three genres are grouped together, not because of the similarities between genres but because of the shared fan base.

On a similar point, has anyone else noticed that the Horror channels on Sky are regularly showing War of the Worlds (Science Fiction), Firefly (Science Fiction) and Angel (Fantasy)?

If you search online for a definition of Science Fiction, the internet seems just as confused.  To me, Science Fiction will always mean space and time travel and all that those entail but I am glad that the lines are blurred.  Every time I enter a bookshop, I head over to that corner to get my Fantasy/Horror/Science Fiction fix and often find something shiny in a genre I didn’t expect.  My favourite definition of Science Fiction, found by my search engine, was by Damon Knight;

"...[Science Fiction] means what we point to when we say it."

P.S.  This is the blog of a writer and I have every intention of actually putting some fiction up here.  Promise.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Big British Cat Conspiracy

I popped onto the BBC website the other day and look at what I found; a deer carcass found in Stroud is being tested for ‘big cat activity’.  Since moving to the West of England I have found the idea of big cats in our countryside intriguing.  Never before, though, had I heard of them being in Gloucestershire. 

So I did what anyone else would have done; I googled big Cotswold cats.

Big cats have escaped into the British countryside from zoos and circuses, although the biggest influx probably came from the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 which resulted in big cat ‘pets’ being released into the wild as their owners could no longer afford to keep them or had the room to conform to the new law.  They released their precious pets into the wild rather than euthanise them.  They did this legally – it only became illegal to release wild animals into the countryside in the early 1980s.

The cats have bred over the years and are now into the third, if not fourth, generations of big cats.  Many different species are said to have been spotted including;
·         Pumas
·         Panthers (most common)
·         Leopards
·         Lynx (originally native to Britain and some have been released back into the wild in Scotland)
·         Ocelot
·         Jungle Cat

The cats are secretive by nature and stay away from confrontation which is why sightings are so rare.  Territories can also be vast making cats hard to pin down.  The websites listed below suggest that the best time to see the big cats is during August, September and October when harvesting takes away a lot of their cover.

Big cats mainly eat rabbits; however when rabbits are scarce, sheep and deer will be killed.  Many sheep and deer carcasses have been found with evidence of a big cat killing.

In Britain, there is space for the cats to spread out and for each cub to find its own territory.  With no predators to compete with, the big cats are thriving.

While it is wonderful, mystical even, to think that there are big cats roaming the British countryside, many photos have been found to have been hoaxes.  No kill or sighting has ever been confirmed, although nine attacks have been verified.  Although it is completely believable that cat sightings would be low due to a big cat’s superior hearing and speed, why has a big cat corpse not been found?  Nearly four decades after the cats were released into the wild, shouldn’t their existence be confirmed by now?

The answer to this conundrum, according to some, is that the MOD is covering up their existence.  The author of ‘Big Cats: Facing Britain’s Wild Predators’, Rick Minter has claimed that the body of a large black cat is being kept in an MOD vault in North Yorkshire, a claim which the MOD has refused to comment on.

This might just be a romantic theory but why not indulge in it, until the existence of wild big cats is confirmed and becomes a reality.  I know what I’ll be doing later this year – camera and binoculars at the ready.

The two most indulgent websites that I found were;

I was looking through the local news and...

I just tripped over this...

'The Evening Post revealed yesterday that the headless body of a man had been discovered at Callington Road Hospital in Brislington on Wednesday. The head was found nearby.

Avon and Somerset Police are not treating the death as suspicious but were yesterday still trying to establish the identity of the man, who is believed to have been aged 25-40.'

Firstly, surely a headless body is fairly suspicious?  On the suspicious scale of 1-10, I would say headless would be a 10, wouldn't it?  No one can cut their own head off (unless they are unfortunate to come across whirling blades, but this is unlikely in the grounds of a hospital).

Secondly, this looks like a fantastic story line for a detective drama to me.  I remember the first time I learned that murder wasn't a concept made up by script and story writers.  I was quite small and it came as a real shock to learn that there were really people that bad out there.  To this day I am still shocked when something like this happens - straight out of an episode of Lewis or New Tricks...or maybe even Supernatural?

Naturally, condolences go out to the family of this man, whoever he may be.  It is fairly disgusting that his body has been left undiscovered for so long. 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Top 5 Apocalyptic Films

To follow on from my previous post about the end of the world, I thought I’d share with you a list of my favourite apocalyptic films.  I am a big film fan. No. A massive film fan.  To prove this I have quite a large collection, filling up two large bookcases and ranging across genres from childrens to comedies to chick flicks to action to adventure to sci-fi.  

I would include books in this list but after just checking and double checking, it turns out I have only one apocalyptic book in my collection (World War Z).  This was a revelation to me but once the shock had subsided I trotted over to my film collection and plucked out my favourites, my beautiful, my precious.

  1.  The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Need I say more?
The first two, the originals, in the Terminator series and the only two that can be taken seriously.  Arnie is in his pivotal role in these classic films with lines that everyone knows.  The action sequences are incredible, as are the soundtracks.
I went to see Terminator 3 at the cinema and was sorely disappointed.  I waited for Terminator 4 to make it to the small screen and was filled with some hope as the focus seemed to be on Kyle Reese.  I thought this was a fantastic idea; Terminator focused on Sarah Connor, Judgement day on John Connor and Salvation on Kyle Reese. Unfortunately the film was filled with plot holes so glaring that I laughed myself off the sofa.  John Connor was poorly written and poorly played.  This was a film filled with unmet potential.

The first two films, on the other hand, met their full potentials.  If you haven’t seen them yet (or even if you have) rent/buy them, get in the chocolate/popcorn, turn off your phone and lights, pull the curtains, settle down and enjoy.

      2.       Shaun of the Dead

Well I could hardly leave this one off the list, could I?  A true British classic, it has everything a British film should have; laughs, tears, strong characters and a good British attitude towards the living dead.  No guns hiding in every house within easy grasp to blow a zombie’s head off.  No, the British are much more resourceful; baseball bats and vinyl records.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with many other British greats, star and this is the film that made them household names.  It is brilliantly written, acted and directed.
3.       The Book of Eli

This one is a bit different. 
Thirty years before the film is set, a war broke out.  It was a religious war and culminated in all King James bibles being destroyed.  All except one.  Eli has been told by God to take this last bible West and so he is.  God protects him on his mission resulting in some excellence action sequences.  Gary Oldman plays a leader of a new town, risen from the ruins of the war.  He remembers the bible and the power those words can have over people.  He remembers it and he wants it.  So when Eli comes through his town, he takes this only opportunity to obtain the power of those words.

This film is not for those who dislike the reality of a post-apocalyptic world.  It is a brilliantly written and philosophical film that I highly recommend, but some people might want to close their eyes in certain places.
      4.       Zombieland

This is an excellent zombie romp.  Our anal hero survivor is travelling to his hometown in this ‘zombieland’.  Along the way he meets other survivors; a redneck Woody Harrelson and two con artist sisters.  Together they fight, zombies and each other, and survive.  They do what any sane person living in America at the time of a zombie outbreak should do; they go to celebrity houses. 

This film is full of heart warming characters, laughs, fantastic zombies (what I call ‘computer game zombies’ in that they run at you with flailing arms) and, most importantly, the rules for surviving a zombie outbreak.  Watch and write them down.  They could become very useful at any time.
5.       Doomsday

I bought this DVD on a whim and really enjoyed it.    Another wonderful British film, although not quite a classic.  A virus that threatens to wipe out the human race breaks out in Scotland.  A large wall is built across the English/Scottish border to keep the virus inside, along with those who are infected.  A little girl is rescued by a soldier and taken out of Scotland.  Many years later, when the little girl has become a woman, the virus is found in London and the Government decide to send her and her group of specialists into Scotland to find the answer to a cure.  The team travel through the now wasteland and ruins of Scotland, meeting the survivors and their new societies.

This is a gory, action packed, face paced film and definitely worth a look.  The creator of Doomsday is the same man who gave us Dog Soldiers – a definite British classic.

Obviously there are a lot more apocalyptic films on offer but I decided to only choose the 5 that really stood out to me.  I am also highly anticipating World War Z (which seems that it won’t be released in the UK until 2013 unfortunately).  If you haven’t seen any of these, I highly recommend them.  Naturally, I would also love to get recommendations...

EDIT:  I have been reminded of one of the best British apocalyptic films I have ever seen (but is not yet in my collection); Attack The Block.  A film about a gang of teenagers and the aliens that invade their block.  This film is a work of pure genius.  It combines a love of science fiction with the reality of politics, racism and poverty.  It is now available on DVD and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.  Believe it.

 Check these films out at

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Apocalypse Now

Over the New Year weekend, we watched Dara O’Briain’s ‘This Is The Show’ where he speaks about the film 2012 and the scientific downfalls in the plot.  Being a lover of my own Sky Movies package, I was thrilled to find 2012 showing on one of the channels the next day. Unfortunately we’d missed the very beginning which features in Dara O’Briain’s routine but, as is my way with apocalyptic films, I became hooked and so watched it anyway.

I also went on Facebook and saw that one of my friends had posted that the world is due to end on 23rd December 2012 and I just caught an advert for a programme regarding the Mayan Prophecy on the end of the world in 2012.

My spidey sense is tingling and the paranoia is starting to kick in.  I’ve already made plans for 2013 and 2014, the world cannot end in 2012.  So I decided to do some research and here are a few of the many details that I found;

1.     The Mayan Calendar ends on 21st December 2012.

The ancient Mayans believed in a cycle where the Earth passes through each of the 12 zodiac signs.  2012 will be the year that this cycle ends.  The Mayans were intelligent star gazers, mathematicians, architects and scientists and they weren’t the only ones to believe in these cycles. The Egyptians, Cherokee, Apache, Aborigines are a few among the many others who also believe in this prediction.

However, this Mayan prediction has been taken from an artefact that is damaged, some of the scripture is difficult to make out and so could have easily been misinterpreted.  One expert has claimed that rather than the end of the world, it actually signifies the coming of a Mayan God.

What these predictions also fail the mention is that the cycle shown on the calendar has already ended- 12 times in fact – without the world being destroyed in the process.

What I also find interesting, in my own cynical way, is that the Mayan Government is expecting a high tourist turnout for the end of the world.  What an excellent way to boost tourism and a good excuse for a massive party!  Let’s just hope the Mayan Government has a chance to spend it’s riches.

2.     The Book of Revelations

In the Book of Revelations, it is written;

(8:10) And the third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

This could easily be a description of an asteroid hitting our planet – 433 Eros is expected to pass Earth on 31st January 2012.
However it will pass the earth at a distance of 16.6 million miles. The moon is closer to Earth and impact is highly unlikely.
What I personally found interesting was that it is consistently a third that is blighted throughout the entire passage.  Which is also the number of stars (angels) that fell from Heaven when Lucifer fell. 
3.     Natural Disaster

The number and intensity of earthquakes have increased resulting in devastating tsunamis such as the earthquake and tsunami that swept across Japan in 2011.

According to some research the staggering increase in earthquake and volcanic activity is down the reversal of the magnetic poles taking place causing the tectonic plates to move and the electromagnetic forces and earth’s gravity to be severely affected.  This might account for the all of the bad weather – maybe it isn’t global warming after all!

Although, the magnetic poles are capable of flipping, this would not be an instantaneous event.  It would happen slowly over thousands of years and even then, according to the scientists, the biggest inconvenience for us would be to have to change our compasses. 

All of these predictions (and this is only a handful) can be interpreted in many different ways. All is not lost!  Perhaps 2012 will see a new age of enlightenment – unlikely considering Britain’s Government.  Perhaps the politicians’ warnings that 2012 will be worse than 2011 will come true and the financial market will crash sending us back into the dark ages.  Or perhaps life in this world will actually be destroyed. 
Or maybe nothing will happen. 

Any facts, fiction or otherwise were taken from here;