Deleted scenes #2 – #4

14 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

“Murder your darlings” – William Faulkner

One of the strangest things about writing a multi-protagonist story (or at the very least, one of the things I wish someone had warned me about before I started writing one) is how much it forces you to write a story in a certain way.

To explain what I mean, imagine I had a book with just one protagonist in it. In such a novel, the hero might get 30+ chapters all to themselves. The whole story is told through just a single set of eyes and thus, over the course of the book, the reader is able to fully follow the hero’s story and understand their plight. This approach allows for a lot of twists and turns and, consequently, a great deal of character movement.

Look at 50 Shades of Grey for example (and wow, how I never thought I use that book as a positive example…). The whole story is told from the point of view of one character: Anastasia Steele. Thus, no matter how much Ana flip-flops in her relationship with Christian Grey (and boy, does she flip-flop), it doesn’t matter. We go right along with it.

Multi-protagonist novels, however, are very different beasts.

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you're in trouble

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you’re in trouble

On the one hand, having more characters means that the scope of your novel can be wider (since you have more eyes in more places showing the reader more aspects of your world) but the flip-side of this is that unless you’re lucky enough to have all of your viewpoint characters in the same place at the same time (in which case, why on Earth do you need to have multiple protagonists to begin with?), the individual plotlines for each character become quickly diluted.

When each character has only 5-10 chapters dedicated to them and the reader might not encounter that character again for several hundred pages at a time, it becomes increasingly important to keep each of those characters constrained to plots which can be easily summarised and understood. Your characters need simple throughlines and clear resolutions. There is little room for ambiguity.

So many protagonists... Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

So many protagonists… Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

It’s a law of diminishing returns: the more complex your novel becomes, the simpler its individual storylines must be in order to avoid your reader getting lost in a maze of byzantine plot twists.

Which is exactly the situation I found myself in with my main character, Abigail Leighton.

Abi’s story was always centered on the theme of identity and belonging. She is caught between the two worlds of the bunks and the nobility, belonging to neither and yet hated by both. Hers is a unique position, and one from which the reader is able to fully grasp the multi-faceted issues plaguing the ship. (Or at least, that was the theory).

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearence informed much of Abi's character

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearance was a big inspiration when writing Abi

Originally the plan was to have Abi break out of the bunks near the beginning of the book (which she still does), betraying her best friend in the process (ditto). Later, she would find that the outside world isn’t quite the land of milk and honey she’d always thought it would be (which is still the case) so she goes back to the bunks, begs forgiveness from her friend and then together they break the unspoken out of bondage and lead a rebellion against the ship, thus creating a third, new choice for her.

The problem was… that last part was too complex. If I had 20-30 chapters dedicated to Abi, I might have been able to make it work. But squeezed into just 10 chapters it just came across as her being indecisive, flip-flopping from one chapter to the next between wanting to be in the bunks, then out of them and then back again. It strained credibility.

Plus there’s the fact that no one would choose to return to the bunks. No one. It doesn’t matter how neat and tidy it made my narrative arc or how much thematic sense it made. The simple fact is that Abi, the character, would never return to the bunks even if you paid her and thus by shoehorning such a face-heel turn into the book I was doing her character a dis-service.

Abi might be many things, but an idiot she is not.

So instead I chose to postpone the reunion between Abi and her friend into the next book where it would happen on more even terms. The denouement of Abi’s story line changed from one of her instigating the rebellion to her actively fighting against it instead. Her story became simpler and easier to follow. A clean arc, shorn of ambiguity which (*spoilers*) ends with her becoming a hero.

Unfortunately, this leaves my original ending somewhat in limbo. There is no place in the novel now for Abi the would-be terrorist or her flip-flopping shenanigans. Thus, I present three chapters to you here. Three deleted scenes which will never make it into the book.

Click here to read deleted scene #2: Back from Exile (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #3: The More things Change (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #4: Undertakings (PDF)

As with my previous deleted scene, these chapters are far from perfect. Expect to see spelling errors, redundancies and other writerly ticks that would normally get weeded out during the editing process. Despite this, I like these chapters a lot and it’s sad I couldn’t find a place for them in the final mix. But ultimately the need of the story much come first. There is little room in multi-protagonist novels for needless complexity.

I hope you enjoy them.


Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

3 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

Luckily the editing process isn’t quite this tedious

As promised in my most recent blog post, I’m currently hard at work redrafting my novel the Arkship Ulysses for what will absolutely, definitely be the final time. Probably.

In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the scenes which never made it into the final cut.

As with any long-form piece of work, writing a novel often involves a lot of trial and error. It’s difficult to know exactly where a story is going when you sit down to write it and of course that inevitably results a lot of extra material which never sees the light of day.

How much extra material you ask? Well let me put it this way: the first draft of my novel completed in December 2012 was about 250,000 words long. The second draft, completed December 2014 was 160,000 words long.

Yeah, that’s a lot.

Now before I do this please be aware of a couple of things:

  1. The writing in these extracts isn’t fully polished. This is very much a work-in-progress here so expect to see a lot of repetitions, redundancies and other writerly ticks that the editing process normally takes care of
  2. These scenes no longer have any place in the book. It’s not like you can easily slot them into some place in the novel and have them make sense. Unfortunately things have moved around so much by this point that these scenes no longer fit without significant re-writes to their entry points.

All clear? OK so without any further ado I give you deleted scene #1.

Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

Click here to read Deleted Scene #1: The Black Sea (PDF).

This ‘scene’ (actually 4,000 words long, which is long enough to make it a chapter in its own right) is the telling of an old Earth legend. The story Susan tells Stuart in this chapter is a simple one but it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for because of how thematically resonant it is with the rest of the book as well as with Stuart’s character arc as a whole.

It also tells us a lot about the back-story of this world without being extremely in-your-face about it. I’ve always liked it when the world building of novels is done by the reader as much as it is by the writer and this story is, I feel, a perfect example of this. When you read it you get a real sense for the role of faith in people’s lives and how the citizens of the Ulysses perceive their religion as well as the catastrophe which stranded them among the stars in the first place.

As you can probably tell from the way I’m talking about this scene, I really like it a lot and I honestly wrestled with it a long time before finally deciding to delete it. Despite how much I enjoy it, it is ultimately 4,000 words of what is essentially filler and I can’t really justify that in a book that’s already well over its recommended length.

Anyway, if you’re interested in keeping score, this scene would have taken place during what is now Chapter 24: The Metapath. It even ends in a very similar way.

I hope you enjoy it.


Returning to the Arkship Ulysses

20 July 2015

As many of you know by now, I finished writing my epic SF novel the Arkship Ulysses at the tail-end of last year. I may have mentioned it once or twice.

Needless to say, the whole endeavor was a labour of love from beginning to end. Writing on the Arkship Ulysses spanned nearly 5 whole years – a depressingly long chunk of time to devote to telling a story I’ve had going round my head since I was 14 years old but a necessary one.

712L The Observers web

I have no idea why I keep using this picture to illustrate the Arkship Ulysses. I guess I just like it

The end result was good, although I’d be lying if I said it ended up close to what I originally envisioned. For one thing, it was a lot longer than expected, so much so that I had to cut the story in two and add in a sequel I’ve been trying to plot out ever since. At least 2 major characters were chopped out of the final cut, one of whom was originally supposed to be the book’s hero. There were whole chapters that I’ve even talked about on this blog that never made it into the final edit.

Still, I have to count it as a success overall, not least because it actually received an honest-to-God review online! And believe me: for an unpublished, unknown author like myself to receive any sort of unsolicited attention is a very rare and humbling thing indeed.

A couple of choice quotes from The Finder’s Saga review linked above:

“Burgess story and writing are epic. The chapters are long but the writing rich with description and dialog.”

“I find the plot intriguing and the characters strong, rich and multidimensional. The characters have motivations, fears, hope and all the emotions necessary for a rich story.”

“I find his setting descriptions and the background story believable and essential to the plot.”

Those are all really nice things to say about my work and I’m honestly chuffed to bits and extremely humbled that The Finder’s Saga would commit an entire blog post just to talking about yours truly. One of these days I’ll return the favour man, I promise.

And by the way, reading nice things about myself: Strangest. Feeling. Ever.

Special thanks to The Finder's Saga for the really kind words

Special thanks to The Finder’s Saga for the really kind words. It was very humbling

Anyway, in his book On Writing, Stephen King says it’s often a good idea to let a novel sit for a few months after you’ve finished writing it before you start with the redraft. He says that when you first finish working on a novel, you’re too close to it. You’re too invested in the characters and too close to the story to have any sort of objective opinion about it.

He recommends taking a step back and leaving it in a drawer for a few months while you work on other things.

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

It has now been six months since I last wrote about the Arkship Ulysses. In the meantime I have, in accordance with King’s advice, been doing other things. Lots of other things. Now, finally, I think I’m ready to jump back in to this beast and make some much-needed (and final) edits.

“What edits?” I hear you cry.

Well as it happens I actually made a list of patch notes whilst writing the first draft in anticipation of this day. These are basically moments during the writing process in which I was aware of contradicting myself but didn’t want to go back and fix them in the interests of moving things forwards. The list I’m about to print here probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the book as closely as I have but hopefully it will put into context just how much redraft work needs to be done.

In short, it will involve writing one completely new chapter and extending two more as well as numerous other fixes which will mostly involve a lot of CTRL+H work.

writers-block

Note: I will not actually be using a typewriter to make these edits

Fixes needed are:

  1. Make Nathan Hathaway Master-at-arms not Chief of Marines
  2. Don’t kill Tundra until chapter 15
  3. In chapter 14, Rutherford tells Kara that she’s due to move into the Captain’s quarters – not ones that he himself is funding
  4. Change Ramiel Sullivan to Gabriel Sullivan throughout.
  5. In chapter 17, it is taking place on the morning of Earth Day not the evening. People are still getting ready and when he listens to the Captain, he’s talking about how nervous he is about meeting Kara for the first time and whether he really needs to. He’s told it’s mandatory.
  6. It’s Commander Fletcher, not Albright
  7. Stuart when he goes to Oxley: he is publicly thrown out but still secretly helped. Oxley sends Sarah to give Stuart a map. ‘The best nodes can be found here’. And then they share a shot of something (this contains the gene seed for the Metapath). Stuart perhaps vaguely guesses this near the end of the book but it’s not until the sequel that all becomes clear.
  8. Remove the character of Rutherford. Where he currently exists, make it all Nathan Hathaway. Put Rutherford as a far more professional soldier type. Keeping his superior’s secrets and covering up for him out of loyalty. A much better replacement for him in the second book when he takes over as master-at-arms. It’s Rutherford that interrogates Stuart, not Hathaway
  9. Give each department head a cool-sounding naval name. Boatswain (chief of maintenance) for example. Chaplain, Master Shipwright (chief engineer), Wardmaster (medical), Ordnance, pursers (administration), etc.
  10. Show Estavan getting pulled away for interrogation better than currently

As well as generally giving it a spit and polish and cutting its length by at least 5%.

Additional scenes to add:

  1. Before being rescued from the bunks. A scene where Abi is burying her father. Her friends gather around her wrapping up his body and leaving it out for the priest. There’s nothing left to keep her here now, she thinks. Its time she makes a break for freedom. Brent is marveling over Kara. This is the girl the uniforms are all het up over? Dawn reveals her plan to use her. He offers to take her in to show the Gentleman. They’re putting an army together. Plans to attack the ship. Abi rolls her eyes at the words. It’s all show boating, she thinks. Still she gives the uprising her blessing. He’s angry now about father’s death. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.
  2. After visiting the bunks to try and see Dawn. Abi goes looking for what remains of her old life. There is little left. Her old quarters are all in the hands of the Oxleys. She manages to look up Stuart in the directory but his quarters are deserted. They are tiny and a mess. Equations everywhere. Old ship parts he was tinkering with. She finds a small box tucked away under the bed containing the old family crest. She remembers how it used to adorn her father’s chest when he still wore the uniform of master shipwright. Remembers him cold beneath the touch as they laid his body out to be collected by priests. She takes it with her.
    Outside she runs into the landlady who scowls at her. Says Stuart is two weeks late paying his rent. She’s going to kick him out. She thinks Abi is a whore he’s hired. She takes the box of goods from Abi. Abi protests. I’m his sister. But the landlady takes one look at the number on her arm and shoos her away. Abi returns to her quarters alone. That’s when she cries.
  3. Final chapter to resolve everything. The Captain sits in his quarters going over the reports coming in. The ship is a mess, the nobility are at each other’s throats in outrage and he doesn’t know who to trust anymore. He trusts Abi, however, for reasons Abi doesn’t understand. He asks her to help him find a genuine long-term solution to the issue with the bunks. He reinstates House Leighton which his father pulled down years ago. He names her ambassador to the bunks. Abi reluctantly accepts.
work-in-progress

“A movie is never finished, only abandoned.” – George Lucas. Suffice to say, it’s the same with books.

Phew! Well anyway, that’s all for now. I’m going to give myself 3 months to make all of the changes listed above. At the very least I hope to be done by my birthday when I can finally start sending this thing off for submission and working on another novel instead. As always I will post my progress here.

I also plan to start posting some deleted scenes on here which never made it into the final cut. Think of them as Director Bonuses if you will, a nice little extra for those of you who have been following me this far.

Watch this space!


Short story: Abduction

9 June 2015

abductiontolightHere’s a new story I’ve been working on for a while. It’s about one man’s failed attempts to stop himself being abducted by aliens and the complete apathy shown by the world around him towards his struggles.

You can read a sample of it here (PDF).

The full version I will be submitting for potential publication elsewhere.

I first started writing this story after reading some of Kurt Vonnegut’s work recently. Just like the great master’s stories, Abduction doesn’t pretend to treat its subject matter very seriously. It’s designed to be quite tongue in cheek, perhaps even funny in places, although I like to think it holds some fairly weighty issues beneath its comedic surface. Themes such as worth and the value of a human life. Themes such as the lack of empathy society shows towards those who are not considered culturally important. Themes like how easily one can feel left behind or worthless in an ever-changing cultural landscape.

I hope you enjoy it. As always, C&C are welcome.


What next for the Arkship Ulysses?

21 January 2015

A few weeks ago I finished writing a book. As you can imagine, I was pretty proud of this fact.

The book was longer than I originally planned it to be and I finished it well behind schedule, but I still think it’s a pretty good read for a first timer like myself. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you go right now and check out the sample chapters available on this website.

Now, that the writing part is finished, however, the real work begins.

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London

So many books…

Any writer will tell you that getting published in today’s market is a brutally hard business.

In some ways the book industry has never been healthier than it is now – almost 1 million books were published last year in the US alone according to some estimates and new ones are being published all the time on every conceivable topic. At the same time, however, the trade paperback and hardback markets, as they have existed for decades of years, are dying. ‘E-reading’ and ‘self-publishing’ are the buzz words of today’s age. Outside a tiny pool of best-selling authors whose work is guaranteed to sell, the vast majority of writers find their work homeless and unloved, doomed to wonder the fringes of the slushpile for all eternity. Just more noise in a market that’s already screaming its head off.

Believe me, I am aware of these facts. They are depressing, sure, but I made my peace with them a long time ago.

The trouble is, sitting back and analyzing a situation from afar is one thing. Getting close and personal with it is something else entirely. So, for example, I can look at something like the Artists and Writer’s handbook and I can see that almost no agents or publishers are interested in science fiction. I can look at the current books sales for science fiction and see how poor they are. I can look at the list of best-selling science fiction books and notice how little there is from the last 20 years…

And yet, I still have to try. After all, I promised myself I would.

writing_humour_synopsis-scaled500So let’s get down to business: all publishers and agents ask for 3 things when submitting them work.

First of all, three sample chapters. Done. Finished. Easy as pie.

Next, a one-page synopsis. This is a brief 600-word summary of your entire book boiled down to its core elements. In my case, my book had to shed a lot of weight to get to this target. I’m literally covering several chapters with every sentence here. I don’t even mention one of the main characters at all and in my attempt to boil the plot down to an understandable core, it loses almost all of its themes of religion and faith which are some of the core concepts of the book. I won’t tell you how long this took to write. The answer is too depressing.

You can find the finished synopsis below. Spoilers for anyone planning on reading the finished book:

The Arkship Ulysses is all that remains of a once-vast fleet of ships that fled the Earth a thousand years ago. Today, the ship is a shambles: overpopulated and barely functional. Its Captain is a lame duck and its crew has devolved into a pseudo-feudal system of powerful families vying for power.Abi Leighton, a young girl with a sharp mind and an even sharper temper, once belonged to such a family. For the last five years, however, she has lived a life of disgrace as one of the so-called Unspoken. She works like a slave, she lives in squalor, and, due to a ship-wide food crisis, there is talk of an uprising all around her. She is determined to crawl her way out of this hell hole and back into civilization where she belongs as soon as possible.

When she meets a beautiful girl named Kara, in whom the nobles seem to be paying far too much attention, Abi thinks she might have found her golden ticket. Abi watches over the new girl, slowly gaining her trust by saving her life from an attack by a local gang and teaching her how to survive.

Through this girl, Abi learns of a plot to end hostilities by marrying the Captain – the most powerful man in the universe – to one of the Unspoken. In this way, they claim, the masses will be shown a glimmer of hope that will motivate them to return to work and quit their talk of rebellion.

Armed with this knowledge, Abi uses Kara’s safety to buy her way to freedom. Thanks to her noble upbringing she is able to wheedle her way into a job working as the girl’s personal tutor. She quickly regains money and standing for herself. However, back in society Abi finds herself shunned by the very people she once called friends. There is nothing left of the life she once had and the situation on the ship turns out to be far worse than she imagined. The food crisis is spiraling out of control. It’s obvious that the noble families are plotting something big.

Abi bides her time until the day the Captain is due to meet with Kara for the first time. While the eyes of the ship are distracted, she steals an ident card from a high ranking officer and uses it to break into a secure area. There she discovers that the talk of rebellion wasn’t just talk after all: it was an idea planted among the Unspoken by spies working for the nobility. They want the Unspoken to rebel. They want the ship in chaos. And they want it to happen at the exact moment that Kara is being shown to the Captain for the first time.

In a flash, Abi realises what’s happening: someone is going to assassinate the Captain and blame it on the Unspoken, thus gaining the support needed to dispose of them forever. With fewer mouths to feed, the food crises would be over. That person would be a hero, in prime position to take control following the Captain’s demise.

With no time to lose, Abi runs to the Captain’s quarters, arriving just in time to stop the ringleader before he can go through with his plan. However, this victory has comes at a terrible cost. With the ringleader now dead, there is no one left who knows the plan to stop the riot when the Unspoken break out on cue and start ransacking their way across the ship.

Thanks to some fast thinking on Abi’s part, the Captain and his few remaining allies are able to bottle up the Unspoken but it’s obvious that this is only a short-term solution. Abi has saved the Captain’s life but she may just have doomed the ship in the process.

The Captain, not knowing who else to trust, charges Abi with a new task: that of finding a real solution to the food crisis that doesn’t involve killing off one third of its population. Abi suddenly finds herself thrust into the centre of attention, possibly the most important person on the whole ship.

The Arkship Ulysses is the first book in a planned series. It is a 150,000 word fantasy in space, along the lines of Frank Herbert’s Dune or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

The final thing all agents ask for is a cover letter and luckily this part is pretty straight forward. Any agent that’s been in the industry longer than a couple of days will know exactly what they are looking at as soon as they open your envelope so they really don’t need a lot of waffle. All they really care about you is that you’re not a nut job and that you have a book for them to read. Hopefully, I can prove both of those facts in one, easy to read letter.

Dear X,

I am looking for an agent to represent my book, The Arkship Ulysses. It is a 150,000-word epic fantasy in space along the lines of Frank Herbert’s Dune or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire that would be the first in a series of books.

The Arkship Ulysses tells the story of the last surviving ship that fled the dying Earth when the rest of humanity died out. After a thousand years of wondering the cosmos, the ship is in a bad way. Things are falling apart, nothing works, the crew are demotivated and its civilian population is starving. Our hero is a young girl who has fallen on hard times. Her attempt to climb back into high society while all around her is falling to pieces forms the backbone of the narrative.

I am an English teacher living in Wroclaw, Poland. I am relatively new to the writing business but last year I had two short stories published in various anthologies. While at university I won the in-house ‘Edner Fuller’ prize for my fiction. I hope to now take my writing to the next level.

I enclose a brief synopsis and the first three chapters of The Arkship Ulysses for your consideration. I
would be happy to send you the full manuscript if and when appropriate. I enclose an SAE but you do not need to return the manuscript.

Please contact me if you need more information. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have or revise the novel as necessary. Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

R J Burgess

Lastly, of course, I need a contact list. Here are the agents I will be hitting first. I’ve chosen them simply because they all a) are UK-based and b) specifically target writers of genre fiction. They are:

  1. Anubis Literary Agency
  2. Michael Berenti Literary Management
  3. Mic Cheetham Associates
  4. Dorian Literary Agency
  5. Sheil Land Associates Ltd.
  6. The Standen Literary Agency

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

 


Reading my favourite authors

10 January 2015

Long-time readers of this blog will remember about a year ago I published a list of my favourite authors. You can find the article here so I’m not going to spent too much time explaining my choices now, but as a quick reminder the authors were:

  1. C. S. Lewis
  2. Ursula Le Guin
  3. Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Douglas Adams
  5. George R. R. Martin
  6. Octavia E. Butler
  7. John Wyndham

Over the years it’s safe to say I have read a lot of books by these guys and many of them rank among my absolute favourites.

However, I haven’t read all of them and therein lies the theme for this new series of posts. Starting this month, I will be reading one book from one of the seven authors above every few weeks. These books will be entirely new to me. Perhaps they will be lesser known works by these authors. Perhaps they will be famous books that for some reason or other I never got around to reading. All of them will be new to me.

I can already tell you these reviews are going to be very interesting to write. Unlike the reviews I did when I was reviewing the slush pile at a publishing company, I won’t be reading these books completely in the dark. And unlike when I was reviewing the best-selling books of all time I won’t have any word of mouth or film adaptations to give me some idea of what to expect.

Instead, I will be reading these books from an entirely new position: armed with full knowledge of who these authors are and knowing all too well the high standards to which they are capable of reaching, and yet approaching each book as a fresh artifact to which I have little association beyond perhaps a vague sense of its plot.

As a fan of these writers, it’s going to be hard to stay objective and not fall into bouts of fanboyism. But never let it be said I’m one to shy away from a challenge…

So without any further ado, these are the first three books I will be reading in this series:

Book one: The Screwtape letters by C S Lewis

stllewisIf anyone ever asks me who my favourite writer is, I will tell them C S Lewis. His book Til We Have Faces is easily my favourite of all time and I can’t name a single book of his I haven’t enjoyed (although That Hideous Strength came very close).

I love how the guy writes about his faith. I love the way he couples together such pedestrian everyday characters and situations with such deep and challenging theological themes. As a religious man growing up during these spiritually lukewarm times, I find it extremely heartening to read a man like Lewis and feel the pure conviction shining through from his work. Of all the writers I have ever encountered, he is the one whose world view seems most to mirror my own. There are many times during his more discursive books that I literally feel as though I’m reading my own thoughts presented on a page.

C S Lewis was a university professor by trade so his writing style is often very literate and occasionally falls into bouts of self-indulgent argumentation. Sometimes it feels like he’s lecturing you more than telling a story, which I know puts a lot of people off him, especially considering the inflammatory subject matter.

For both of these reasons, however, I think The Screwtape Letters will be an excellent book to choose for this series. The Screwtape letters are a series of fictional letters from a demon to another who is trying to tempt a man to damnation. Straight off the bat we can see that this is classic Lewis: Christian themes; literature and argumentative writing style; lecture first and plot second.

It’s widely considered one of his best books.

Book 2: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

the-sirens-of-titan3I have read precisely two of Vonnegut’s books: Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. You might be surprised that I consider the guy one of my favourite writers of all times considering I’ve only read two of his books but if you think that way that’s only because you’ve never read them.

Vonnegut writes with none of the reverence or spirituality that characterizes Lewis’s work. His work is anarchic, cynical, darkly funny in an almost depressing way. He writes like a man who has truly seen the depths to which humanity can sink and is now desperately trying to make sense of it all. It’s like the literary equivalent of punk rock and I love it.

When it comes to choosing which of his books I should read next, I actually have Vonnegut himself to fall back on. In Chapter 18 of his book Palm Sunday he grades his own novels. Not in accordance with some external standard of what is ‘good’, he says, but rather in reference to his own abilities and what he feels he is capable of.

This was how he graded himself:

  • Player Piano: B
  • The Sirens of Titan: A
  • Mother Night: A
  • Cat’s Cradle: A+
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
  • Slaughterhouse-Five: A+
  • Welcome to the Monkey House: B-
  • Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
  • Breakfast of Champions: C
  • Slapstick: D
  • Jailbird: A
  • Palm Sunday: C

Obviously I’m going to choose one of his A-rank books for this series and The Sirens of Titan seems like the perfect choice.

Written early in his career, this book famously ranks among one of his most chaotic of all. From what little I’ve heard about the book, it has almost defies description. Vonnegut seems to tumble between ideas, somehow forging an almost Macgyver-like plot out of little more than wit and cynicism alone. Reading the book’s blurb tells me almost nothing about what to expect inside. All I know is that Vonnegut thought it was good and that’s good enough for me.

Book 3: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

lathe-of-heaven2Sometimes you read a story and you feel entertained. Sometimes you read a story and feel moved. Some books challenge you. Some books stay with you forever. Only Le Guin manages to do all of these things at the same time.

Have you ever met someone before whom you feel insignificant? You know that this person is more intelligent, more insightful and more talented than you will ever be, so much so that all you can do is stand in awe of them. That’s how I feel when reading Le Guin.

Despite being a devout feminist, atheist, environmentalist and socialist her books never seem to brow beat you with these principles. Unlike Lewis, she never seems to be lecturing you. Instead she lays out a situation and lets you come to your own conclusions.

Likewise, unlike Vonnegut she never seems to let her ideas overwhelm her or get her down but instead remains in control of her plot throughout. From a technical standpoint, she is probably the best writer on this list. Certainly, I’ve never known a female writer create such realistic male characters before.

When it came to choosing which of her books to read, it was actually really easy. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of parallel universes. The idea of taking one thing, changing it and then running with the implications of that change is science fiction in its purest, most undiluted form.

As a kid I loved shows like Sliders or the mirror universe episodes in Star Trek. As an adult, I adore reading through alternate histories. I am always running what-if scenarios through my mind with my own life history and that of the world around me. I find it fascinating.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to stumble upon this book. Here we have a novel which isn’t just about one alternate universe but about the implications of creating such universes in the first place. The book is surprisingly short considering the amount of ground I’ve heard it covers so I’m expecting a dense read. I’m expecting some tough themes here on the nature of choice, reality, fate and free will. I’m expecting some crazy, unpredictable turns of events and, most importantly, a bloody good read.

Of all the books on this list, this is the one I am most looking forward to reading. It was the one that made me decide to start this series in the first place.

So that’s the first three books for you. I’m going to get cracking on reading them now and I’ll post back here in a couple of weeks with the first of my reviews.


Merry Christmas everyone!

24 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

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It’s been a long hard year full of ups and downs, and now is the time to sit back and reflect on all that’s happened. Pour yourself a glass of your favourite bubbly, turn on the TV and and do your best impression of a sack of potatoes while stuffing yourself full of turkey and chocolate.

Because that’s what Christmas is all about!

And as my own little Christmas gift to you all, as promised here are the final two parts of the Arkship Ulysses:

Not much to say about these chapters except that they are done and with that, the Arkship Ulysses is also done and I am very happy about both of these facts. One final spell check and re-formatting notwithstanding this book is now done and dusted and ready for submission.

It’s a strange feeling writing these words. I believe it was George Lucas who once said that no film is ever finished, it’s just abandoned. That’s kind of how I feel about this book. Looking at what I’ve written, I can see so many points that could do with fine tuning. There are sentences to be trimmed, dialogue to be retooled, descriptions to be neatened out and rephrased… But that’s all detail work to be talked over with an editor. The fact remains that this book is complete in a structural and plot sense and that means this is now a great time to ‘abandon’ this particular book into the wild.

As long-time readers of my blog will know, this book has been a bit of an experiment on my part since I’ve been ‘publishing’ it here at the same time as I was writing it. I did this in the hopes that doing so would help give my readers a better insight into how a book is written and also give me a place to vent my frustrations when things inevitably went wrong.

Now that it’s finished, however, I must start to put the commercial aspects of my book first. Therefore, I shall be removing all chapters from my blog later today (with the exception of these three teaser chapters). So if you haven’t finished reading it all yet, now is a good time to catch up (unless you like the idea of waiting until it’s on sale in a book shop somewhere). 🙂

Here’s to a fantastic Christmas for everyone. Cheers!