Saturday, 31 December 2016

Book Review: Trust No One, edited by Jonathan Maberry

The X-Files: Trust No OneThe X-Files: Trust No One by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was one of those Amazon suggestions that came up while I was purchasing something else X-Files related, so I did the good consumer thing and added it to my cart. It’s a collection of fifteen short stories from various points in the X-Files timeline, though set mostly in the early years. In a lot of respects, I’m really glad I read this. There are some brilliant pieces of writing, particularly in the second half of the book. The first edition is uncomfortably heavy with typos and continuity errors, in some stories more so than others, but the editor Maberry assures me these have been addressed as of the second edition. Some of the entries read like forgotten case files we never got to see on screen, which was exactly what I wanted out of this title, while those that disappointed me were at least short.

Stories that stood out for good reasons are worthy of mention. Catatonia, by Tim Lebbon, the first in the collection, was a good editorial choice to set the tone of the book. The intro of Mulder calling Scully at 3a.m. to convince her to join him on an obscure case was kind of comforting in its familiarity, and the piece was peppered with a light dusting of MSR that fans of that formula will appreciate. Loving The Alien, by Stefan Petrucha, was the only first-person tale in the book, and was delivered in a dry, straightforward Scully wit that hit the mark completely. It was also the first story in the collection where I really enjoyed the writing and not just the story. This beautiful management of language counterbalanced the fact that the story itself wrapped up too quickly and the culprit was… not really hinted at, at all, prior to the reveal, IMO. Dusk by Paul Crilley was a laugh in the face of Twilight, and what I imagine the show would have done to capitalize on the sparkling vampire craze, though the element of M & S working together and openly together…? Uncertain whether I bought that. Sewers by Gini Koch was Scullyless but placed not long after Mulder met Arthur Dales and got hooked on the X-Files, and gave a plausible explanation for Mulder’s wedding ring in the episode Travelers. Time and Tide by Gayle Lynds and John C. Sheldon read exceptionally well and I wish this was an actual episode, as with Kevin J. Anderson’s Statues, both situated at the very end of the book. These were tidy, tight stories, with intriguing X-Files, good pacing, clever M & S banter, almost no errors and obvious attention to detail. In other stories there were irksome oversights, including Skinner googling on his phone in 1994, M & S operating in Saudi Arabia (??), M & S calling each other Dana and Fox, and numerous timeline discrepancies, like “he spoke to her at 4p.m., and it took so long that he didn’t get back to his own office until almost noon!” so ending the collection on the high notes of these very polished pair of longer stories was definitely the right way to order the book.

In a final mention, Jonathan Maberry's introduction to the book is a love letter to The X-Files so inspiring and moving it actually outshines some of the stories in the book. The book has its weak links, of course, which was inevitable when trying to collate the works of so many diverse authors, but it was pulled together out of true love and there are stories here in which that can be definitely felt.

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Saturday, 24 December 2016

A Christmas sneak-peak at Book 4

Happy Christmas, readers! While Book 4 is so far away you'll be sad if I guestimated, here is a little snippet to thank you for your support and encouragement this year, and to help assure you that after that horrific cliff I left you dangling from, the story does go on. This piece comes from the prologue of the as-yet-unnamed Book 4.

Please remember that this is a veryveryfirst draft and is entirely liable to change and (hopefully) refinement over the course of the writing and editing process. Enjoy! Xxox

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

They arrived at the doors of the operating room and Miranda paused to catch Renatus as the gurney went on without them. His tight, worried eyes widened as he realised he was to be parted from his apprentice, even briefly.
“No, Miranda-”
“Renatus, you need to get it together,” she told him, calmly but firmly. Aristea disappeared inside the theatre with the other medical staff. For just a moment, Miranda and Renatus were relatively alone – they mightn’t get another such chance. “Tell me what happened to her. Lisandro?”
“I need to-”
“Renatus,” Miranda snapped, trying to focus him. His attention was beyond her, following the girl he could no longer see. “You aren’t going inside my sterile operating environment looking like that.” She pointedly glanced over him, and he seemed to notice the blood on his own hands for the first time. If possible, he paled further, and she worried he might faint. She waved quickly in his face to recapture his attention. “You can see her again in a moment. You’ll scrub in, like everybody else. Tell me what we’re dealing with. How did this happen to her? Was it Lisandro?”
He was so lost, but he nodded quickly, trying to gather to himself the words she needed from him.
“She saw him before I did, and she ran… She wouldn’t stop, she wouldn’t let me stop her,” he explained hurriedly, “I tried. We couldn’t Displace. Otherwise I… He hit her with…” He gestured after her helplessly with his bloody hand. “I don’t know what it was. We’re wasting time.”
“Where were her wards?” Emmanuelle asked with a frown, arriving after having deflected the nurse. Renatus turned to her with blank, empty eyes.
“She let them down,” he murmured miserably. Aristea’s Wards instructor stared at him.
“She what? You let her into that situation without wards?! Why–”
“I told her, I swear.” Renatus looked like he didn’t know what else to say. “She was shielded – she shielded everyone – and then, I don’t know, she dropped them. This is all my fault,” he concluded aloud, pulling away and stalking a few paces down the hall, pressing his sticky hand to his face in distress and leaving a feral smear of blood before he could realise what he was doing.
He was right, they were wasting time. Miranda grabbed his arm as he paced back past her, staring with dread at his hands.
“Can you help us heal her?”
The look on his face was nothing short of broken. She gathered there was a huge story there she’d never heard, but now wasn’t the time.
“Renatus, you’re no good to anyone like this,” she said flatly, not caring if she sounded insensitive. What was the point of a superpower like Renatus if he was shedding magic everywhere indiscriminately instead of concentrating it on a task as significant as this one? “Get a hold on yourself. There’s raw magic in your apprentice’s flesh. We,” she indicated Emmanuelle with a nod of her head, “can close up those wounds but you need to pull that spell out.”
He was so white. He swallowed. Visibly pulled himself together. “Whatever you need.”

Friday, 23 December 2016

Book Review: The Collectors' Society, by Heather Lyons

The Collectors’ Society (The Collectors’ Society, #1)The Collectors’ Society by Heather Lyons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. Alice is a grown, competent woman living in a Victorian England asylum after her most recent return from Wonderland when she's approached by the Collectors' Society and asked to help save Wonderland, and other living story worlds, from deletion. In modern day New York, she teams up with adult versions of other classic children's book characters, and they edit themselves into story "timelines" to collect objects called Catalysts, which are essentially a fundamental object that could be thought of the "heart" of a story, and which must be taken and protected to prevent villains from destroying them. Once a Catalyst is destroyed, the entire timeline is deleted with it, and someone is hunting for Wonderland's Catalyst.

Overall, I liked this story. The premise was fun and clever, Wonderland was an extremely cool setting, (Huckleberry) Finn was a perfect book boyfriend, there were some great one-liners in dialogue and the central romance was hot. However, the first half of the book is very slow with meetings, dialogue, cleaning bedrooms etc, and Wonderland isn't visited until nearly the end. Alice didn't particularly pull me in as a heroine - her qualities as a curious, creative, abstract thinker were not apparent until she returned to Wonderland, when suddenly she was back to talking to spiders and believing in impossible things (she'd read as a perfectly flat Victorian girl up until this point). Her lust for her partner was hot at times and led to some steamy scenes, but I was plagued with loud thoughts of "THESE ARE CHILDREN'S BOOK CHARACTERS! YOU CAN'T MAKE THEM DO THESE THINGS OUTSIDE OF FANFICTION!!" All characters were completely removed from their original versions and out-of-character, nothing at all like they were originally portrayed, which while explained in the story, wouldn't have flown in a fanfiction community so I'm surprised it's been so well received by the reading world.

The pacing and overall structure of the story was also strange. It felt like a couple of stories stitched together. After the slow beginning, a series of cutesy bonding opportunities arises, and when they finally reach Wonderland, a significant previous relationship is revealed that feels like it comes completely out of nowhere (how does this NEVER come up?!) and somewhat undermines the validity of the central romance. I became uncertain in the strength of their love and all later insistences that they're meant for each other/destiny/whatever felt flimsy, which was unfortunate.

I would also be remiss if I did not comment on the poor editing. Under five errors, I would think, is forgivable, but I stopped counting after ten, and it was all silly little things that should have been picked up on a final proofread. It was distracting and pulled down the overall quality.

I did like the premise and though there were issues with the book, I would be willing to read more in the series now that the foundations are laid down.

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Monday, 5 December 2016

Six lessons I learned from the class of 2016

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
- Nelson Mandela 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Aside from writing a lot, reading a lot and studying a lot, I am also a classroom teacher. Tonight, a very special cohort is graduating from our school to continue on to high school – my very first class, and my second, and my third, all at once. Due to staffing coincidence, I followed the class of 2016 for three years, and the end of their time at our school is a milestone in my career. It’s with pride that I’m going along tonight to watch them walk across the stage as graduates, no longer small, no longer dependent on me, but upstanding and awesome individuals ready to take on the world and change it for the better with the force of their willpower and social conscience, whose lives and learning journeys I was privileged to be part of. Year 6s of 2016, thank you for everything you taught me. I hope you learned as much from me. You have all inspired me and made me a better teacher and person. You still have so much growing to do but you are no longer the bright-eyed, button-nosed, piggy-tailed, grubby-faced little dots that sat on my floor and listened as I explained that proper nouns like people’s names need capital letters because they are important. You are big now, but you are still my kids, and you always will be.

Here are some of the lessons you taught me. I hope you never forget them. I won’t. 

1. Always be persistent. Do not give up. 

Remember when you were in Year 1, and you couldn’t read? You tried and tried and it just wasn’t happening for you. Every time we read together you would frown at the page and stagger through Here is Billy. Billy has the ball. You cried sometimes. I told you we would keep working on it, and we did. We practised our sounds. We played sight word bingo together. A grandma who visited twice a week sat with you and you tried to read with her, too. Then one day in September we were sitting at the reading table going through a book and you started to get it. It all came together, all your hard work. One word, then two, three, then a whole sentence – and you excitedly yelled, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it, I’m reading, I’m reading!” like a bike rider with the training wheels off for the first time. Your joy that day taught me that hard work pays off, as does believing in the outcome. 

2. Always be kind. Do not hurt others needlessly when you could build them up. 

Remember when you were in Year 2, and the child sitting beside you couldn’t write yet? You had it down-pat, getting in there with your entries and exits, but your neighbour was still learning which sounds went with which symbols and was having trouble forming the letters. One day you were handing back work for me. You stopped at one without turning it over to check the name, and said out loud, “I already know whose this is!” Your shy neighbour blushed when you handed it over. You smiled and said, “I knew it was yours because of the pictures. You’re an amazing drawer! Are you an artist or something?” Your ability that day to see the sparkle in other people that some might overlook taught me that it’s not hard to see once you’re looking, but that the brightest sparkle in another human is the gift of kindness, because you shone that day. 

3. Always be generous. Do not withhold what you can give freely – compliments, assistance, a smile, an acknowledgement of effort.  

Remember when you were in Year 3, and we were studying space? I spent a whole weekend painting huge polystyrene balls to look like the planets, and threaded them with fishing line, and got in at 6:45 in the morning to hang them all up in the classroom for you at vaguely representative distances. I wanted them to be there for you when you arrived at school. You loved them and I was pleased. But then on Tuesday morning one of you was standing on my classroom veranda with your mum when I arrived at school. Your mum had to go to work, but you’d insisted she come and see the planets first. You said to me, “I wanted her to see what a good job you did, because you worked so hard on them for us.” Your thoughtfulness that day taught me that a little kind word goes a long way, because you made the whole effort worthwhile. 

4. Always be strong. Do not compromise

Remember when you were in Year 3, and we read that book about Nelson Mandela? I grabbed it from the resource room because it was the right level for you, but we never finished the book because you became so fixated on the concept of a person who would lay down his freedom for what he believed to be right, and we talked all through our reading session. You were so inspired, so passionate, and you asked such insightful questions. Boldly you pointed at the rest of your reading group and demanded of me, “You mean she couldn’t go to the same school or do the same things as us because of her skin? What does that matter?! She’s just as important as us – and even better at Science than me! That’s just stupid.” The others heard you, heard the strength of your conviction, and were moved. Our conversation was so much more stimulating and valuable than just reading the book from cover to cover. Your passion that day taught me that the world is much simpler than some would have us believe – there is right, there is wrong, and what falls between deserves to be questioned, not buried in political correctness; and it only takes one voice to start the process of change. 

5. Always be inspired and dream big. Do not listen to naysayers

Remember when you were in Year 1, and we used to get free activities time? I bet you miss that. You built towers out of blocks every week, in all different creative structures and styles. Most of them collapsed, but you weren’t put off. You tried something different – you had a goal, and you weren’t giving it up. One day you built something amazing, the best tower yet. The rule was not to build above your chest, but you went higher. Above your head. Trying to be a good safe teacher, I told you not to. I said, “It will fall down.” I shouldn’t have said that to you. You said, firmly, “No, it won’t.” You stretched to put the last block on top and stood back. Everyone around came to see the realisation of your dream. Somebody clapped, then everyone was clapping. You smiled bigger than I had ever seen. Your creative determination that day taught me that dreams are meant to be realised, and they take calculated risks and trust to achieve. 

6. Always be the best you that you can. Do not be anybody else or let anyone else choose who you will become. 

Remember when you were in Year 1, 2 and 3, and someone called you the naughty boy or the weird girl? You started to believe it, and it broke my heart. After a particularly bad day we sat together and we talked while you cried. I said you are only who you decide to be, and you can decide they are all wrong, because they don’t know you. I reminded the others that you were not that label and that tolerance meant giving you the chance to find your feet, even though it might take you a while and you might make mistakes along the way. You were just young so I wasn’t sure you could take meaning from what I said, but you amazed me, because you did it. You embraced the you you wanted to be. Some respected it; others didn’t. Their loss. This will always be the way, but conformity is not your duty. You owe only yourself, and you owe yourself your very best you. Your resilience of character that day, that year, and ever since, taught me that life is about finding yourself, and that while the journey is likely to be an awkward one and while others are unlikely to properly appreciate your personal brand of weirdness, your vision of who you want to be and your determination to be that at all costs is what matters. 

I aspire to share in your qualities. Good luck, class of 2016, and thank you!