Posted March 22, 2014
into Books by John Birmingham
The author was a committee!
Franklin W Dixon is the name on the spine, but that was a convenient cover for hungry writers press ganged into churning out the multimillion selling titles for less than a hundred bucks a pop. There was one guy in particular, Leslie MacFarlane who wrote a lot of the early titles and did his best to introduce some literary merit into the series - all to no avail. He hated the books so much he would never even refer to them by name.
Leslie McFarlane kept voluminous diaries. His family has them. He wrote in fountain pen, in elegant strokes that squirreled up a little when he was touched by despair or drink. In these diaries, “The Hardy Boys” is seldom mentioned by name, as though he cannot bear to speak it aloud. He calls the books “the juveniles.” At the time McFarlane was living in northern Ontario with a wife and infant children, attempting to make a living as a freelance fiction writer.
Nov. 12, 1932: “Not a nickel in the world and nothing in sight. Am simply desperate with anxiety. . . . What’s to become of us this winter? I don’t know. It looks black.”
Jan. 23, 1933: “Worked at the juvenile book. The plot is so ridiculous that I am constantly held up trying to work a little logic into it. Even fairy tales should be logical.”
Jan. 26, 1933: “Whacked away at the accursed book.”
June 9, 1933: “Tried to get at the juvenile again today but the ghastly job appalls me.”
Jan. 26, 1934: “Stratemeyer sent along the advance so I was able to pay part of the grocery bill and get a load of dry wood.”
“Stratemeyer wants me to do another book. . . . I always said I would never do another of the cursed things but the offer always comes when we need cash. I said I would do it but asked for more than $85, a disgraceful price for 45,000 words.”
Statemeyer said no.
21 Responses to ‘The Hardy Boys Dark secret revealed’
Posted March 21, 2014
into Books by John Birmingham
James Brown is a former army officer who commanded a cavalry troop in Southern Iraq, served at Task Force HQ in Baghdad, and went onto to Afghanistan to serve with the special forces elements there. He's also a very thinky bloke who's written one of the best books about the creator/destroyer mythology of Anzac that I've read.
A particular bugbear is the canonization and commericalisation of Anzac worship. The extract below gives us a brief taste of that. But the book also contains the sort of granular detail of the commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan that governments of both persuasions spent a lot of time suppressing. Totally worth a read with The Day approaching.
32 Responses to ‘The Cost of a National Obsession’
Posted March 20, 2014
into Books by John Birmingham
At least that's what it feels like in this interview snippet published at the AV Club when he was asked about the TV series catching up with his books. I love this because it sounds just like slightly panicked voice in my own head as deadlines loom.
GRR: I’m hopeful that I can not let them catch up with me. The season that’s about to debut covers the second half of the third book. The third book [A Storm of Swords] was so long that it had to be split into two. But there are two more books beyond that, and A Dance With Dragons. A Dance With Dragons is itself a book that’s as big as A Storm of Swords. So there’s potentially three more seasons there, between Feast and Dance, if they split into two the way the did [with Swords]. Now, Feast and Dance take place simultaneously. So you can’t do Feast and then Dance the way I did. You can combine them and do it chronologically. And it’s my hope that they’ll do it that way and then, long before they catch up with me, I’ll have published The Winds of Winter, which’ll give me another couple years. It might be tight on the last book, A Dream of Spring, as they juggernaut forward.
11 Responses to ‘George R.R. Martin's dog ate his manuscript’
Posted March 19, 2014
into Books by John Birmingham
I didn't even realise Flinthart had a book out! What's more, it came out in September last year, so the slovenly laggard is due a sequel!
Haven't even cracked the spine yet, and I'm thinking I might buy myself a Kindle or iBook version (assuming there is one of the latter) because the cover feels like it was made from human skin.
I assume that was done on purpose given the write off:
Michael Devlin is the first of a new breed. The way things are going, he may also be the last.
Being infected with an unknown disease is bad. Waking up on a slab in a morgue wearing nothing but a toe-tag is worse, even if it comes with a strange array of new abilities.
Medical student Michael Devlin is in trouble. With his flatmates murdered and an international cabal of legendary man-monsters on his trail, Devlin's got nowhere to hide. His only allies are a hot-tempered Sydney cop and a mysterious monster-hunter who may be setting Devlin up for the kill. If he's going to survive, Devlin will have to embrace his new powers and confront his hunters. But can he hold onto his humanity when he walks the Path of Night?
Who cares? As long as he kicks arse!
I feel kind of creepy posting two Amazon links in a week, but damn it, people.
THIS! IS! FLINTHART!!!
20 Responses to ‘Hey! Look what I found in my post box!’
Posted March 18, 2014
into Books by John Birmingham
Continuing with our series of JB’s deadline reading picks, I wanted to write a little about a series I’ve been enjoying hugely even as one recurring fault annoys the bejesus out of me. The Safehold series (First three titles: Off Armageddon Reef, By Schism Rent Asunder, and By Heresies Distressed. There are more).
I’ve been listening to the first two on Audible, but will switch to iBooks for the third because the narrator changes for some reason and I can see from the reviews that everyone lost their shit. Doesn’t mean the stand-in narrator is bad, just different and with audiobooks that can be enough to bump you out of the imagined world.
I picked up Armageddon Reef because I liked the name.
There, I said it.
Weber is a prolific author, and I’ve always meant to read his Honor Harrington series because space ships and sexy space ship captain.
But for some reason I found myself drawn to his other main sci-fi series – there’s another five or so besides Safehold. Reef started ‘zactly as I expected and wanted, with an enormous and unstoppable fleet of star faring space lizards bearing down on gallant little humanity and…
Destroying us utterly.
That’s not the book I bought. I wanted to see those space lizards carved up into handy bite sized casserole chunks. By laser beams!
But no. They defeat the hell out of us and a small convoy of ark ships scuttles away to rebuild the human race somewhere in farthest reaches of the galaxy. Okay. That was cool, I can wait a few books for those space lizards to get what’s coming.
I won’t go into plot spoiling details but the ark experiment goes a little off beam and next thing you know you’re reading a … fantasy novel. And not just a fantasy novel, but one set in a medieval theocracy with a rather uncompromising chapter dropping you right into the middle of some arcane point of Church politics. Verily did it vex me.
But stay with it. As jarring as the transition is, and as much I didn’t want to read a fantasy novel set in a medieval theocracy, the Safehold story does become so compelling that more than once I’ve found myself driving a few extra blocks to finish a chapter of the audiobook.
One surviving representative of old high tech Earth… er… survives. A woman, whose mind state is uploaded into a very, very lifelike android, which she has to reformat as a male android because, you know, medieval theocracy. Armageddon Reef then becomes the story of ‘Merlin’ (geddit?) guiding the young monarch of a tiny kingdom in revolt against the hoopleheads of the Church of God Awaiting.
Lots of splodey, lots of running around with swords, and lots of very enjoyable scenes of bad guys with swords getting carved up by a robot moving at inhuman speeds with inhuman strength. It asks the same questions that frame so much of the AoT books: how do you bootstrap technology and can you even do it if you don’t first change everyone's world view.
I will read the whole series in one form or another, even though I can now see it might take a long time to get back to those damned space lizards. I have but one qualm. A writer’s tic that afflicts Weber’s prose so much it actually jolts me out of the story a couple of times a chapter. It’s also personally cringe-making because it’s something I do enough in my own writing to feel very uncomfortable calling him out on it. (In fact, having identified what was annoying me so much in Armageddon Reef I went back through the manuscripts of all the books and ebooks I’m currently working on, wielding a very sharp knife).
It's characters laughing when they should just be talking.
And chuckling, when they should just be talking.
And smiling, when they should just be talking
And smiling when there’s no reason to smile because that tells us the character is being all ironic.
ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING LAUGHING AND CHUCKLING AND IRONIC SMILEY FACES, DAVE!!!!
Elmore Leonard was a bear for this sort of thing. He said the only verb a writer needs for dialogue is ‘said’.
That’s a bit hard core for me, but if I could go through the Safehold books (and presumably all of Weber’s work), and make one small change that would amp up the awesome to 11, I'd do this one thing.
No character would ever smile, or chuckle or laugh unless they were sitting in the front row of a very good comedy show.
Other than that. I love these books. You should too.
This linkypoo goes to a hard copy sale page, not Kindle.
Posted February 3, 2014
into Books by John Birmingham
I've been smashing out this deadline since about early December, which means I'm way behind on my TV watching and video game playing, but strangely enough I've managed to do some quality reading. I find it helps when you're pushing through your own words to occasionally dip into someone else's. Maybe it's just a break from the imagined world in which I have to spend 12 hours a day. Could be it's just nice to see that somebody else finished the job.
I've gone through five novels so far this deadline; two of them brilliant, one of them pretty good, one a bit of a dud, and one that I'm only about a third of the way through and beginning to enjoy after some initial misgivings.
The brilliant picks I owe to Orin, I think. I seem to recall him mentioning a couple of space operas by a guy called James SA Corey awhile back, but if it was somebody else I apologise. Unlike most of the space operas I read, these are quite constrained. Humanity has got off this damned rock and colonised Mars, a couple of moons around Saturn and Jupiter, and big chunks of the asteroid belt. Faster than light travel is still impossible. Damn You, Einstein. But the Epstein Drive (invented by a guy called Epstein!) has allowed ship designers to build spacecraft that can get out to the edge of the solar system in mere months, as opposed to years. It gives the politics of the solar civ a wierdly nineteenth century feel.
This is the sort of thing that would normally piss me off, but Corey (a pen name for a couple of other writers who wanted to collaborate on a big splodey space project) does a very good job, Douglas Adams style, of reminding us just how big space is. Even our little solar system. It's really big. The tech is sweet, the science seems very scientific and the story rocks along. I won't give away too many spoilers other than to say an ancient evil from the cold reaches of intergalactic space reaches out and threatens to destroy the human race who are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to present a united front.
It was a joy to read these books because quality shoot-em-ups between the stars are increasingly hard to come by. The characterisations are great in both novels with an ensemble cast of four or five players led by a couple of main actors, who I won't discuss here because it would be difficult to lay out the story arcs without giving away massive spoilers. If you like your space opera with lots of splosions and infamy and space zombies, I recommend a buy.
The Long Earth, another collaborative effort, this time between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, is the sort of book I would normally be all over like a cheap Chinese suit, since it's about the multi-verse. In the first of the series – there are a few more to come apparently – a scientist discovers a way to step between parallel earths, an infinity of parallel worlds, each one only slightly different from the one before. Of course when you push those differences out towards infinity, the differences become infinite. I found The Long Earth to be a fascinating if occasionally frustrating travel log as narrated by "Joshua Valienté (a natural 'Stepper') and Lobsang, who claims to be a Tibetan motorcycle repairman reincarnated as an Artificial intelligence." There’s good fun to be had following them through world after world and watching the repercussions play out on Datum Earth, or Earth version 1.0 I guess you could call it.
There isn't much of a storyline, though; it's really more a book of exploration with the challenges of pushing deeper into the increasingly different worlds providing what passes for a narrative arc. There's a bit of mystery involving some of the life forms which have evolved up and down the contingency tree, and these sort of feed into what passes for a plot in the second book in this series, The Long War. I didn't enjoy War nearly as much as Earth, and wouldn't feel comfortable recommending it to anyone. The whole thing seemed half baked. But if you like your alternate reality stories, there's nothing wrong with The Long Earth and I don't mind fessing up to having enjoyed it.
Finally I was in at Pulp Fiction the other day and saw that Peter Corris had a new Cliff Hardy novel out, Silent Kill I'm a sucker for Pete's work, and I've bought every Hardy book he's ever written; the only crime writer of whom I could say that. It took me a couple of chapters to get into this latest one which starts off with a large info dump about one of the principal protagonists and suffers in its early stages from a lot of characters being introduced a bit too quickly. But then somebody dies and we get back to Cliff doing what Cliff does best, driving around Sydney knocking heads together.
I picked up my copy of Silent Kill on iTunes and have been reading it on my pad and phone, rather than my Kindle. (I saved my Pulp Fiction purchase for a hardback called The Suicide Exhibition, because Nazis and Demons. Or something. I'll drop the link in below). Amazon forced the change on me when they opened the Australian-based Amazon store and tried to make me reset my account locally, where the selections are much thinner and the prices much higher. I'm happy to pay for my digital content, but I'm not willing to get shaken down for it. So, perversely, although I pay a little more per title on iBooks, and the selection is complete arse unless I use my US account, I've decided that's the price I'm willing to pay to chip away at Amazon's monopoly. The link above goes thru Amazon, where the kindle copy seems to be a reasonable seven or eight bucks. If Apple had an associates program, I'd link to them instead.
I'm getting pretty close to the end of the second Hooper book, and I suspect Cliff will see me through. I'll have a couple of days off then before charging into book 3, which I've got plotted out scene by scene and ready to go. At that point I'll need to give me a few more deadline titles in reserve.