Category Archives: Ramblings

Movie Review: Train to Busan

It took me longer than it really should have to get around to seeing Train to Busan, and it wasn’t until I finally sat down to watch it that I realised how big a mistake that wait was. I’m a huge fan of zombie apocalypse films and when the first trailer dropped I was hooked. Then as tends to be the case, life happens, and it fell off my radar.

It wasn’t until a friend posted they’d bought a copy that I hunted it down on cable TV. Train to Busan was everything I hoped it would be and more. It hits all the right marks when it comes to horror, action-thriller, and zombies. It’s a slow burn at the beginning, introducing the main characters, setting up the premise and foreshadowing the virus that will come to destroy South Korea, but it soon kicks up the pace and ramps the tension.

SPOILER ALERT IN ALL ITS SPOILERY-NESS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.

Now before I go on, I’ve said before that I’m no movie aficionado – I just know what I like. So it’s on that alone I’m basing my review. Alrighty then, let’s get this show on the road… or tracks…

train-to-busan

Train to Busan follows the story of Seok-woo, a divorced fund manager who works long hours while trying to raise his daughter, Soo-an. For her birthday, she finally convinces him to take her to see her mother in Busan. He doesn’t want to go, but his mother convinces him he must take her (just an aside, the last phonecall between the two is very cool). On the drive to the station, it’s clear some major shit is going down ­‒ ambulances and fire trucks are screaming past ‒ but the pair seem relatively safe. Once on the train, however, and just as the doors are closing, a young woman stumbles into one of the carriages with a bite wound to her leg.

And so begins the journey.

We’re introduced to the rest of the cast – a married couple expecting their first child, a baseball player and his cheerleader love interest, two elderly sisters (brilliantly played), a rich CEO, and the train driver (minor though his role is, hero he remains).

It doesn’t take long for the infection and the attacks to begin, slowly working their way through the carriages. These zombies are hard-core eating machines that move with speed, and in the confines of a train make survival all the more difficult. It soon becomes clear to those on the train that some bad, bad shit is going down outside, although most are unaware of the infection spreading inside, pretty much until it’s too late.

While most of the film takes place on the train, one pit-stop at a purported safe zone doesn’t end well for a lot of the passengers. Numbers are whittled, and characters are separated­‒ Seok-woo from his daughter, husband and pregnant wife, the sisters, and the baseball player and his new girlfriend. They have to fight through a number of zombie-infested carriages to reach their loved ones.

There’s something about horror set on trains that amps up tension – confined spaces, no way to get off, not in control of your destination. The claustrophobic feel of it lends itself well, and here is no different. It also brings out the true nature of the passengers, and what some will do in their quest for survival. Do you try to save who you can? Or, do you sacrifice others for your own survival? We see both sides of this with the remaining characters, and there are some brilliant scenes that showcase the decisions the characters make.

The two elderly sisters’ relationship is one of the most touching. Grouchy and sarcastic with each other, they are the most fun to watch, which makes the death of one (watched in all its gory glory) so traumatic. It’s here we really see the choices made, and the surviving sister understanding the wrongness of kicking uninfected passengers out of a safe carriage, sets things (almost) right.

TraintoBusan_zombie

Sacrifice is the name of the game here, and it’s not until very close to the end that we understand Seok-woo (and his company) are the harbingers of what is happening. There are no happy endings here. There is survival, but at what cost? And it’s that social commentary, woven expertly through the storyline without it being didactic, that gives Train to Busan its heart.

For those of you who balk at foreign-language films because you think subtitles take away from your viewing pleasure, put that aside and watch this movie. I had (and have) no issues with it, and it in no way lessened my appraisal.  Director Yeon Sang-ho delivered a film that entertains and makes you think, it makes you question: what would I do? The zombies are fast and voracious, single-mindedly focussed on “food”, and damn well everywhere. Excellent stuff.

For me, it’s one of the better zombie movies I’ve seen in a very long time, and if you haven’t got around to seeing it, you really should make the effort.

I give it 9 out of 10.

Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I once described Mark Lawrence thus: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Many a night I have sacrificed sleep and my ability to function as an adulting adult, so immersed have I been in Lawrence’s worlds. This holds true with his last book in the Red Queen’s War series – The Wheel of Osheim.

It’s taken me longer than I’d have liked to get to this book, but it was damn well worth the wait. The Wheel of Osheim continues the epic tale of Prince Jalan Kendeth of the Red March and gargantuan Viking Snorri Ver Snagason. Fated to stop the ‘Wheel’ and save the world, these two characters are polar opposites but more alike than perhaps Kendeth would care to admit. Snorri? I’m sure he saw the kindred in Jalan early.

While I bought this huge tome in its beautiful print edition, I read it on my Kindle (because I am in love with my Kindle, and that’s a revelation that still hurts sometimes, but what’s one to do?). And while my husband has adjusted to the dim reading glow from my side of the bed, I haven’t quite adjusted to his: “it’s two in the morning… it’s three in the morning… no amount of coffee is going to make you human.” (He’s wrong, so very wrong.)

Ooh, would you look at that. Three paragraphs in, it must be spoiler alert time.

SPOILER WARNING… … SPOILER WARN… … SPOILER… … … FIRE BAD, TREE PRETTY. (Shut up.)

the-wheel-of-osheim

 

So where to begin? Well, with Jalan being spat from Hell (or Hel) and back into a quest he wants nothing to do with. All he wants is to go home and forget about the whole sorry mess – those are the words he speaks, yes, but Jal is the quintessential character of juxtaposition – he is both brave and cowardly, cruel and kind, indifferent and devoted. Human. That’s his appeal; he’s tremendously flawed, but when push comes to shove (and that’s often a literal shove), he surprises himself by doing the right thing, because despite his protestations to the contrary, that sense of righteousness within has grown to a formidable force.

A lot of that, I think, has to do with Snorri and the friendship the two have forged. While Snorri is quite open with his admiration (and remonstration) of Jalan, there’s a vulnerability in the Viking that perfectly balances the violence within. It’s that balance that’s slowly working its way through Jal. Though demonstrably different, the two are cut from the same cloth. Something Snorri sees far more than Jalan.

It’s an intricate world Lawrence has woven, and intricate players he’s put within. We see more of Jalan’s brothers – the two he’s hated most his life. But as with all relationships, it’s complex and we see the contempt Jal has had for his brothers superseded by the familial ties none of us can escape. In The Wheel of Osheim we see the depth and growth of Jalan more than in the previous books – we see the humanity he’s always tried to cover, to shield from the world. It’s achingly brutal.

The same can be said for Snorri’s ventures through Hel to find and rescue his wife and children. This melding of faiths – Jalan’s Christian Hell, and Snorri’s Norse Hel – showcases the layering Lawrence has put into each character. Snorri is a Viking on a mission, and nothing will stand in his way – not demons, not undead, not Hel’s warriors… that battle scene where Snorri finds his son is one of the best I’ve read. It’s bloody, it’s cruel, it’s heart-wrenchingly incapacitating – all that it should have been.

As with any final book in a trilogy, there’s much to tie up – both long game and short. This is a story that needs investing from the reader. You can’t half-arse it through this. The foreshadowing is there, and it’s subtle, but it all comes to play as you head into the final battle – the saving of the world… or rather, the saving of it for just that little bit longer.

Past, present and future all lay their cards on the table in The Wheel of Osheim, and fate, oh what a fickle mistress she is. The gods (whichever you choose them to be) have had their hands in this from the beginning. Which beginning? From the time of The Builders – the gods that never were – the world has been ticking so very quickly down. And magic, she is tearing apart the fabric of this universe faster than anyone realised.

It’s this urgency Lawrence plays to throughout this book, while still taking the time to address all that’s been built into the previous two books: the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, Garyus (by far one of the most interesting and underplayed characters), Lady Blue… it’s quite a cast. And while not everything is concluded (possibly leaving it open for more stories in Jalan’s world), there was enough to make the ending satisfying.

Look, I could go on and on about the different aspects, the plots and sub-plots, the narrative, mechanics, architecture of the book, but I’ve no time to write a dissertation on how good this book is. Yes, sometimes it does fall into cliché (the usurpation of the throne by the Red Queen’s brother, and the subsequent death), but this can be forgiven based on the prose alone. As with The Red Queen’s War, and The Broken Empire series, Lawrence can take and twist words into the most sublime of writing. When the ‘wordsmith’ is used, I’m sure Lawrence is one of the authors meant to wear this moniker.

Overall, The Wheel of Osheim is a dark, gritty, often humorous storytelling of a world in its dying days. Of political machinations, of haunting past deeds and the price one pays. And monsters, oooh, there be monsters. A totally immersive, roller-coaster ride to tie the series off.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars.

Shenanigans to resume shortly

Well we’re in March, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get back to the blogosphere. I’d aimed to do better with the blogging this year but life, in all its middle-finger goodness, decided it had other ideas. Not that 2017 has been worthy of the middle-finger for me, but rather best laid plans and all…

It’s been a hectic couple of months, with family staying with us (mine and my partner’s – his coming all the way from Uruguay), a marriage (not mine and my partner’s), kids heading reluctantly back to school, and getting back into the groove with work, which is always difficult after a month away. But back I am.

There’s quite a lot happening on the work front with Cohesion Press, with some killer novels coming out this year – military horror kick-arsery (so a word) and creature-feature deliciousness. Have I told you how much I love my job?  Seriously, reading killer stories before unleashing them on the world is like crack – book crack.

But there are other big things happening on the Cohesion front, and while it’s too early to give away the details (well that, and an ‘on pain of death’ clause), it’s damn exciting. Like super, uber, surreal exciting. Details will be forthcoming. Later. Down the track. Sometime. Shhh.

Oh, and if you were unaware, the submission window for SNAFU: Judgement Day has about two months left in it. Check out the guidelines, follow the guidelines, and send your best work. The series is going epically strong, and really… apocalyptic fiction? How can you not write it?

On the writing front, things are moving a little slower than I’ve wanted this year, but I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself when it comes to the putting down ink. I’m reworking a story I’m extremely excited about, and I am going to submit that bitch until it finds a home. It deserves to find a home – the characters told me so, and they’ve got weapons and magic and an army of the dead, so I’m gonna listen to them.

Reading… oh, how I love thee. I’m ahead of my pretty low schedule of books to read this year – about a quarter of my way through my sixth novel. And despite my absolute reluctance, I will readily admit this is due to now owning a Kindle. Yes, Geoff, I have finally publicly admitted my love of the Kindle. Those screams you hear are my print books howling at the betrayal. But, but, but… it’s not complete and utter betrayal, as a print book was purchased the other day that is now nestled in my new bookcase, so ner!

So that above paragraph means book reviews will start hitting the blog (the first probably tomorrow), and I’ll have a Women in Horror Month article up soonish too. Then normal shenanigans will resume fairly regularly.

/stream-of-consciousness

Festivus Book Pimping – The Vengeance Trilogy by Devin Madson

It’s that time of year again, folks, and what better present is there to give someone than books. BOOKS, I TELLS YA! So in the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be pimping books and series that have impressed me, and would make great gifts and stocking stuffers. Support authors!

Now before we go any further, the path to Festivus is a shadowed one. On it you will find only those tales that sit on the darker side of genre fiction. Watch your step.

*claps hands* Alrighty then. Let’s get started.

First off the Festivus ranks is Devin Madson’s amazingly epic The Vengeance Trilogy.  Set within the pseudo-Japanese empire of Kisia, the series is told by Darius Laroth, Hana Otako, and Endymion as they’re embroiled in the fight for the Crimson Throne. While these three tell the story, it is also the tale of Katashi Otako (Hana’s cousin), Malice (Vice Master and Darius’s half-brother), and Emperor Kin – all want different things from the empire, and fight they must. Fight or die.

The first in the series – The Blood of Whisperersintroduces the reader to the players vying for control of Kisia. From the back-cover blurb:

They call him the Usurper. A man of common blood sits upon the throne. By his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war. Vengeance is coming.

BoW

The next in the trilogy is The Gods of Vice. Here, we delve more into the unique magic system Madson has created for this world, and where betrayal and political manoeuvrings mean no one is safe. From the back-cover blurb:

Two emperors. One empire. The war for the Crimson Throne has split Kisia. The storm is coming.

GoV

And the final in the trilogy has just been released. The Grave at Storm’s End is a powerful last book in the series, where none of the characters will ever be the same, and as a reader, you won’t either. From the back-cover blurb:

Vengeance has come. Katashi Otako walks with the Vices, burning everything in his path. Now the spirit of Vengeance, he will stop at nothing to destroy Emperor Kin and take the Crimson Throne. When gods fight, empires fall.

gse

 

There is no doubt in my mind that Madson is an author to keep an eye on. Her writing is beautifully crafted, and her imagery the stuff of wonder. The Vengeance Trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a really long time, and one that holds pride of place on my bookshelf. Oh, and those covers are just gorgeous.

All of the books are available from Madson’s website, and come perfectly wrapped for Christmas. You can’t go wrong as a gift.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, political intrigue, and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

 

 

Pay the Creative

There are two things I have no qualms about spending money on: books and art. As a pen-monkey, I believe books are art in and of themselves – from the cover to the artistry of words within. I smile every time I walk past one of my over-flowing bookcases, or the pile of books on my bedside table.  All of which complement the art on my walls. And the nine pieces I’ve yet to frame and hang… oh, they call out to me to find their place.

a-mindful-installation

Yes, I’m running out of wall space, but that’s okay, we’re in the process of finding another place to call home, and while a new house has to hit the right marks with bedroom numbers, office space, backyard, for me it’s wall-space and bookshelf positioning I see. But I digress.

Of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts regarding consumers not willing to pay for books for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Here’s one such post that goes into detail about one author rallying against some readers who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for a writer’s work, that the art of storytelling and providing a reader with a product should be given away for free. (I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head, and I had to retrieve them from my cats.)

Pisces

But it’s not just authors who are expected to work for ‘exposure’. Artists, too, are often targeted to provide their work for free (or exposure). You can’t pay bills with exposure; you can’t eat a reader’s ‘good will’, and ‘word of mouth’ doesn’t pay your kids’ school fees.  The fact there are those out there who expect you to work for free, to help them achieve a product that will make them money but not you… damn, that’s hard to get my head around.

Like the books I read, I buy my art. Never would I consider asking an artist to forgo the hours of work and their inspiration just because I like something and want it to adorn my wall. I don’t ask my tattooist to ink my skin for free either. But there are others out there – parasites I call them – who believe artists should just give their work away. The Brave Little Illustrator captures it perfectly here. There have been times when I’ve found a piece of artwork I just have to have, and to own it meant putting my pennies away until I could afford it. That’s just what you do.

train in vain 1

I don’t set out to find art, it finds me. I’ll see a post on social media, someone will share an artist’s work they’ve come across. I’ve found artists at conventions, expos, bookstores… so many different places, and these pieces, I know, belong with me. So I have no compunction for paying for the art, because this allows the artist to live to create more.

And that’s what it’s all about. Here in Australia, our current government has cut arts funding and scholarships, and they’re looking at allowing parallel importation that will grossly undermine the earning ability of writers in this country, and dropping copyright to fifteen years from publication before it becomes public domain. There’s this growing belief that the cultural contribution artists and writers provide isn’t worth the time or paper it’s created on. Art and books create escapism, they take you to places that ignite your imagination, give you respite from the ugliness that intrudes upon our lives, and if that isn’t worth something, what is?

Raniermos

So if there’s a book you want to read, or artwork you want for your home, or perhaps some external or internal art for a book you’ve written… pay the artist!

A big shout-out to those artists whose work adorns (or soon will) my walls: Monty Borror, Jeannie Lynn Paske (Obsolete World), Damon Hellandbrand (owe you an email, dude), Greg Chapman, and Mel Schwarz. Check out their work, and that of Dean Samed and Caroline O’Neal. As for saving for art, it’s a Chris Mars piece I’m looking at next adding to my collection.

Oh, and a big-up to Andrew J McKiernan, who gave me the illustration he did for my story, ‘Nightmare’s Cradle’, which sits proudly above my desk.

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* All pieces shown within this post I have bought from the artists (apart from Andrew’s piece, which was paid for by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine).

So many words…

So April must have knifed the previous three months in the back and leapfrogged ahead. That’s the only explanation for me to be looking down the barrel of the first school holidays for this year. It’s been a busy three and a half months editing wise, and after being offered the role of lead editor for the SNAFU series, and editor for Cohesion Press’ upcoming releases, it’s been a whirlwind of amazing words crossing my screen.

What hasn’t been happening is reading for pleasure (although, conversely, the stuff I’m reading for Cohesion is brilliant indeed). But I’ve had the same novel sitting on bedside table, untouched, for going on three months. And it’s a novel I’m truly invested in – City of Wonders, the third in the Blasted Lands series by James A Moore. However, by the time I head to bed after a full day of editing, my eyes feel like someone’s rubbed them with sandpaper, and I know picking up the book will do not only me, but the story itself a disservice.

Last year I read a total of twenty-five books (novels, anthologies, collections and graphic novels), and that doesn’t seem a lot for the average avid reader, which I’d definitely class myself as. So why wasn’t I reading as much as I thought I should (or wanted)? I’ve often said I read a lot for my editing business, but had no real idea what ‘a lot’ was, so I decided to quantify ‘a lot’ and started keeping track of the word count of all I read for “work”. Yes, those are deliberate quotations – see previous paragraph about the brilliance of what I read.

SNAFU Future Warfare  Into-the-Mist-194x300  American Nocturne  Jade Gods

Now anyone who knows me, knows that not only do I totally suck at math, but math totally hates me back. It’s giving me the finger right now. But even I can’t deny the numbers, and believe me, I’ve tried. From ‘That can’t be right’, to ‘Stupid fat fingers must be hitting the wrong buttons’. But no. The numbers definitely add up. It’s a believability thing.

In January of this year, I read a total of 300,200 words; February was a doozy, reading 568,100 words, and March? 392,350. In the first three months of this year, I’ve read: 1,260,650 words. That’s right – one million, two hundred and sixty thousand, six hundred and fifty words.

If we break that down to novels – at a word-length of 90,000 – that’s …. (hang on, doing math, this may take a while)… okay, that’s 14 novels. Fourteen novels in three months. That’s more like it! That’s more me.

The beauty of reading for editing is that you sometimes get to read stories that you may not normally pick up at a bookstore or buy online. This year I’ve read horror, military horror, regency romance, crime, fantasy, YA, children’s books, non-fiction on refugees and Human Rights Law, eating disorders, and corporate planning. It’s a funny ol’ world.

City of Wonders

I used to feel guilty about not reading as much as I used to, but not anymore. Sure, my ‘to read’ mountain grows ever-higher. And yes, I’m still buying books to read – really, that wasn’t ever going to stop. But now I look at the novel sitting on my bedside table and think: Soon, my pretty, soon. And when we are once again reunited, it will be bliss.

Print, dammit!

Any one who knows me, knows that when it comes to reading for pleasure, my preference is print books. Always print. I have overflowing bookcases (which means I don’t have enough bookcases), a mountain of ‘to read’ books on my bedside table, stacked neatly on the floor… and anywhere else I can find room. And I tell ya, every time I see them I smile. I mean… BOOKS!

So a couple of years back when Alan Baxter put out the first of his Alex Caine trilogy, Bound, I waited until Supanova Sydney to grab myself a signed copy. The only thing better than a print book is a signed print book. It was a kick-arse story, and you can read my review of it here. Pumped as I was to read the next, I was told, rather sheepishly by Alan, that print copies for books 2 and 3 were still up in the air, but ebook was available.

I flinched. Ebook? But no! I want print! PRINT, dammit!

It’s taken almost two years, but they’re here! Well they will be in June. And the new covers are just brilliant – so much more evocative and in-line with the story within. Take a look.

Caine-Bound-book-page   Caine-Obsidian-book-page   Caine-Abduction-book-page

This does, of course, bring up one problem. Well, not a problem per se, more… well… I can’t have mismatched covers, okay? There. I said it. It’ll drive me nuts. Niggle at me. Like an earworm… constantly whispering: not the same, not the same, not the same.  So three new books it will be. All of which will be signed.

Check out the book blurb for Bound, then do yourself a favour and put these books on your wish list.

Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed – a world he wishes he’d never found.

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

After a fight one night, an enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, claims to know Alex’s secret. Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him along a mind-bending trajectory beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else.