Saturday, 31 October 2009

If I drop off the face of the internet...

If I drop off the face of the internet for a month, it's because I'm in nanoland. My username there is NutmegAngel too, so you can all go see how I'm doing (if you can be bothered :D). But in two hours and forty minutes, Nanowrimo is going to start, and that means I'll be trying to write 50000 plus words in a month. I know this is doable. I've done it twice before in Nanowrimo, and I've hit twice that in a month before now. However, I do also have to keep up with college work, distance learning course, and I'd like to continue reading because I just bought a new book and got a bunch out the library. So, that means that things like going on the internet are probably going to take place less frequently (although there's a high likelihood of me procrastinating over on the Nanowrimo forums... ).

I went to the Kick Off Party today. Off on the train, all on my lonesome, which was quite an adventure in itself (last time I did that was to York Uni, and that was also the first time). I got to Manchester over an hour and a half early (I blame my dad--he took me to the station really early, so I got on an earlier train that was also faster), wandered around the Arndale (is that how you spell it?) Centre for a while, got a book from Waterstones, and then off to the Chinese Buffet. Very fun. We all got goody bags with stickers and even a magnate! Great to chat to people who are about to embark on this crazy and insanely fun adventure. You should do it too :D. And I was amazed that I got treated like a bit of a veteran because this is my third year, and hopefully third win as well (you win if you complete--it's nothing to do with how good your writing is, only to do with the fact that you have to write 50000 words, and technically, yes, you could write the same word fifty thousand times, but where's the fun in that?!). So I guess that does make me a bit of a veteran. There were quite a few new to it. I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn't be. Stuff that good has a habit of gathering an increasing number of people to it. Anyway, I should go and finish off my ancient history homework, and hopefully my current novel, so that I can start at midnight. Two and a half hours to go! Yay!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Less than 1 week to go!!!

Well, it's less than a week until Nanowrimo starts. I'm still thinking I'll go with the same story (archaeology on the moon, so technically sci-fi, but also kinda historical). Although I might skip out the robot thing, or have him less sentient. I already have four major characters, so I don't know that I'll need another. Anyway, this is probably a pointless discussion. They'll probably wind up running off to Pluto or something equally ridiculous--nothing I've done at Nanowrimo has ever gone to plan (in fact, I can't actually think of a single story I've done that's actually gone according to what I expected...). So I also have less than a week to finish writing my current story (archaelogical thriller--a non sci-fi version this time, although I suppose... no, it doesn't really fit in the sci-fi. It's just not definitively set in a specific time. It's round about now, but not really, if that makes sense. Anyway, it's about a search for the Ark of the Covenant, and it winds up being in South America. And there's a golden ship too. I'm quite pleased with it at any rate, and it is almost finished. I just need Jay to get the golden ship off the Opposition, load the Ark back on, and head off to Israel. Just... Nah, it's doable. I've had 10k days before now, and if that's really what I need to finish it off, that's what I'll do.

Oh yeh, I also have two books to read before Friday evening for the History Readers group, although I'm part way through both (started one, realised I really couldn't follow it, decided to read the other first and then I had a bit of an idea of what the guy was talking about--we're doing the Fall of the Roman Empire, and I think that was one of the things I missed when I lived in America--at any rate, I know very, very little (or I did, I'm starting to learn a lot more now). So yeh, that to do, a bit more of my distance learning course to do, and a couple more books to read. Including a massive massive massive one that I got from the car boot today, which was published in 1936, and therefore is just about aviation pre WWII, which is the bit that I'm really interested in! This might be the nice fat, interesting book I've been looking for since I started reading Biggles. Hmm... it's smiling at me. I might just go read a chapter or so, and then read the Roman ones. That sounds like a good idea. Bye :D

Saturday, 17 October 2009

They Fought For the Sky

This is basically the only book I've really come across that's dedicated just to WWI aviation as a general history of it. There are some books on specific aircraft (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces), and generally a WWI book will mention them in the vaguest terms, as will (usually) a history of military aviation, although they quite often just start with 1918 when the RAF was formed. Unfortunately, I don't think it's in print. One sec. Yeh, I've just looked on Amazon and the most recent edition they have is 1977. But it's really good. I was totally gripped, and it wasn't just because I love WWI aviation (at least, I don't think it was). I really enjoyed it.

There was more mention of the thrilling exploits of the RNAS in Belgium, though I got the impression that a lot of it came from Churchill's book... There were a lot of references to Churchill too, although to be fair, Churchill was Chief of the Air Ministry or something along those lines, and also as the Minister for the Navy he was involved with the RNAS too.

It was a really good introduction to the air war, with sections on the people involved (the aces), the aircraft, the tactics. However, I don't think it really went deep enough to be completely satisfying. I still want to know more. I saw one or two new books in a bookshop in London on the topic, but they don't seem to have them at the library (with the exception of First Blitz, which is absolutely excellent, but does only cover a limited aspect of the air war). Still, it was an enjoyable book, and the pictures were great because I was trying to put strings on a Sopwith Triplane at the time, and the instructions with the model weren't very good, so I was able to see what it should look like.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blest Rehearsal

So, I said a while back that I'd volunteered myself to play my clarinet at Blest at the next one. Well, nothing happened for a little while, and then I got a text saying the rehearsal was on Tuesday. Lukas very kindly picked me up after my clarinet lesson (I had an hour on Tuesday because my exam was Thursday), and took me to Inglewhite. Please don't ask me where that is, I really have no idea. I've only ever been there and back in the dark. It's a gorgeous little church though, and it kinda looks from the inside like somebody's chopped the back end off. I was a little bit nervous--I'd never been to a Blest rehearsal before, I didn't know what I was going to be asked to do or anything. But all the folk were really nice and totally put me at ease.

John got me to improvise along with this drone thing which was made by the keyboardy-piano with a bit of sellotape, and the guitar people. He told me what key, so at least I knew what sharps and stuff when I'd transposed it up one, but I've never really improvised with other people before, so that was kinda interesting. Then I was doing that into a microphone, which was even more scary, but I got used to it. So yeh, we improvised stuff around a lot, which was really fun once I got into it. The church just made me feel so creative, with the only lights from the heaters which glowed red, and all the nice churchy sculpture stuff on the building and the rest of it. It was really fun. And then we were doing one of the songs accapello, so then Lukas volunteered me to sing. Which I'm fine about. And then I realised I had to sing into a microphone, which I've never done before. But it was quite good fun, and I couldn't really hear myself so that was okay. Yeh, I enjoyed it. Totally worth being somewhat tired the next day as I didn't get home till quarter to midnight. But I wasn't too sleepy, and I didn't do anything stupid (like try to eat cereals with a knife...). Oh, apart from going to get some bread for toast and opening up the bread/cereal cupboard and then staring stupidly at the cereals trying to remember what I was there for. But it was great fun. Can't wait till this Tuesday :D.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The World Crisis Part 1 1911-1914

Winston Churchill's book :D. I happened to see it and thought I'd see what he said about the first world war, seeing as it was mentioned in my history text book. I really enjoyed it actually. Although I was a little disappointed when I started it and realised that I hadn't bought the whole thing, and that loads of the later stuff was missing (the edition I've got appears to have the first two volumes in it, although I'm not entirely sure yet...). Anyway, having got to the end of Part 1 I figure that as most editions will have that bit as one book on its own this was the right place to review it.

I was slightly surprised at how nicely written it was, but then, Churchill was once a journalist. It's definitely biased towards naval events, and Churchill suggests that the naval arms race was the main reason for the war. Hmm... Interesting that he then goes on to advocate increasing our arms in the inter-war years. You would've thought that if he saw that as pretty much the cause of WWI he'd want them to avoid it in the prelude to WWII. Obviously it's all somewhat slanted what with being a bit of a personal account based a lot upon memory and stuff, but it's still really interesting. There's a lot of documents included, memos and stuff like that, from whatever Churchill was involved in at the time. And he seems to have had a knack of getting involved in just about everything. You get a real sense of energy and determination from the sheer flurry of messages that were sent all over the place, particularly when you realise that this must just be a fraction of the messages sent. I think the fact that there is so much primary source quoted in it makes it a much stronger book--you can see for yourself what Churchill's talking about. Although I have to confess it does get a little tedious to read through all the beurocratic stuff.

There was one fascinating passage about something I'd never heard about before, and as I have a bit of a thing for WWI aviation, I was quite surprised. Basically, a squadron of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service, I suppose you'd call it the forerunner of the Fleet Air Arm, although it was amalgamated into the RAF in 1918 and the FAA didn't come about until later) went to Belgium, sat on the shore, and started harassing the Germans. They started out just using their planes, then the Squadron Leader thought it'd be a great idea to start using armoured cars to bash the Germans on the ground as well. So they started racing round the countryside, using the planes to scout and the cars to attack any small enough convoys of Germans they happened to see around. Apparently (although I've no idea how Churchill could have learnt this, it might just have been him deciding that it had a huge effect because he had a bit of a thing for commandos), this caused quite some chaos, quite out of proportion to the size of the force deployed. Churchill says this is where he got the idea for the tanks, although how much that was his own idea (after all, the Germans were developing something similar, completely independent of the British). An interesting book at any rate.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Second World War

This is the John Keegan one. I was surprised when I started reading this and it said it wasn't a complete history. It looked pretty big to be a non-complete history. It was one of the books my history teacher recommended, and I thought I might as well get hold of a copy. I didn't bother with the A-level books because I'd got the ones from that series on Russia and I thought they were pretty rubbish--they had definitions for all the words I understood, and no definition for the odd word they used that I didn't really know what it meant. Which was annoying as you can imagine. Anyway, I read this book, and I found it really interesting.

Unlike the Osprey books, it did a good job of focussing on the military stuff like I expected it too. It was very well structured, with the war split into six sections, based on time and theatre. I found the chapter on the 'Resistance and Espionage' very interesting--basically Keegan said that the resistance movement was pretty useless and just wasted lives. That did surprise me--I'm sure they served some purpose (although thinking about it, I don't know what precisely... Maybe they didn't.). However, he does say that the 'sigint' (signal intelligence, basically Ultra) section was a lot more useful.

The sections which focussed in on battles were also very interesting. I enjoyed reading about the carrier battle (I never really realised that Midway was the first...). And there was the Battle of Britain, tank battles, city battles, all sorts. I can highly recommend this book. There was also a lot about the strategy and the decisions that had to be taken regarding it (for example relating to the opening of the second front, and how Churchill was desperate to push it back to 1944 in order to get the build up and preparations sorted so as to minimise casualties). I thought it very balanced with regard to which bits he chose to focus in on, and with regard to the coverage of both sides.

Anyway, I would highly recommend it as a very good general history of the Second World War. Maybe it isn't entirely comprehensive, but all the major bits are covered in good detail, and it's well written. I read it through like a proper book, but it could also be used for reference (I have a feeling I'll be rereading bits and pieces when we start studying the actual war rather than just the build up in history).

Fluffy Rugs, Polishing Silver, and Tidying a Room...

When I got back from college last night, I decided to do something I'd been saying I'd do for ages. I decided that I'd find the silver polish under the sink and actually polish the necklace I ended up with which was my Aunty Gladys's. It was rather tarnished, but I'd been wearing it anyway, because it's also pretty. But I sat down with a bit of kitchen roll and went at it, and I'm glad I did. I never realised silver was so shiny! It looks quite impressive now. I then managed to break one of the links pulling it over my head to try and decipher the hallmark... But my dad fixed it, so that's okay :D.

We went to Southport today, and looked in a ridiculous number of charity shops for books, and would you believe that I didn't find a single one I wanted? Not even in the awesome bookstore which is the only place I know of that regularly stocks Biggles books! They had a bunch of Biggles ones in, but I already had all of them :(. It's getting far harder to find the ones I haven't got yet... maybe that's something to do with the fact that I've got fifty odd out of maybe 90ish. Anyway, I did get a new fluffy brown rug, because my cream(ish) one which I've had for ages was getting a bit manky. So I have a new rug. And I need to tidy my room now. But I don't really feel like doing it... Meh, it needs doing. I shall have to find homes for my only dvd and the three xbox games my brother gave me. Next to the videos on my bookcase I'm thinking, and the National Geographics can then go under my bookcase. That would work.

Friday, 9 October 2009

A Short History of England by Cyril Ransome

I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. I mentioned it before, and I found it really interesting. I don't know how easy it would be to actually get hold of a copy, because I got this for 20p from the Church Fate up the road (is that the right fate? I can't remember if there's different spelling. Hang on, is called for... Oops. It's Fete, not Fate. But my inbuilt spell checker doesn't like it. Never mind. Moving on.). I was just curious, in part because I like old books and this one's certainly in that category--the edition I have was published in 1907--in part because of the description 'from the earliest times'. I don't know a whole lot about the earliest times. We've never really studied them (with the exception of a brief look at the Battle of Hastings, with a multiple choice test I remember failing miserably only because I got the numbers mixed up about four questions in and from then on put the right answers in the wrong box...).

It starts off with looking at 'the English race', which I found very interesting, because it's no longer PC, particularly with all the connotations of Aryan race. Anyway, this book was apparently to be used as a sort of text book, so I guess it was just fine to say that sort of stuff back in 1907. There was stuff on the Conversion of England to Christianity, about the early kings (did you see pictures of the stuff they've just found down near Stoke-on-Trent? It's incredible! Imagine what it would feel like to just be randomly digging up, expecting nothing more than perhaps a coin or a bent bit of old metal, and finding such incredibly carved gold! Wow!). Then comes the Norman Kings, and it was interesting that this book says that 'though it was a hard thing for the English to be conquered, still their descendants have derived greater benefits from their defeat than they could possibly have done from their victory'. This is pretty much the opposite to what the other book on Harold the Conquorer I read suggested. I wonder how much of it was down to changing appreciations of what it was like back then. Anyway, it continues to follow the course of British History right the way through to the death of Queen Victoria, and then slightly beyond so that it can close with the end of the Boer War. It's fascinating to read, not just in the history that's told but in the way it's told. Some of the reporting is not entirely how we're accustomed to seeing it. For example, what's generally called the Crimean War is referred to as the Russian War. There is a little bit about teh campaign in the bombarding of Russian ports in the Baltic, about Sardinia joining in with the French and Britsh, and the Russians taking Kars from the Turks, none of which was ever mentioned in the history text books we had... There is reference to the 'disgraceful mismanagement of the war by Lord Aberdeen and some of his collegues', but Florence Nightingale doesn't get a look in, and nor does the Charge of the Light Brigade. it's interesting to read about the 'China Question' in 1900, with teh European Powers talking about splitting it all up between them, and 'the real Chinese problem still remains to be settled'. I know I'm focussing a bit on the later stuff, but I find it interesting to see what they perceived as major problems.

The Conclusion does a pretty good job of summing up the general themes of the book. It talks about the growth of the British Empire, and there was a lot of focus throughout on politics, with the gradual opening up of the vote to different classes. The ending reads thus: 'No other country in the world can look back upon such a long career of advancement in liberty, and at the same time of almost unbroken success as a conquering and colonizing people. Let us hope that the British of the future may not be unworthy of their ancestors--a hope which every boy and girl in the country may do something to make good; and let it be truly said of us, as was untruly said of some of the Roman emperors, that we have successfully united two things--Empire and Liberty.' I've just included that because I found it really interesting to look at how they saw their Empire. I wonder what Cyril Ransome would think of the country he obviously has great love and respect for were he to see England today. The Empire is all but gone. The politicians are pretty well despised for their mucking up of expenses, and apparent inability to tell the truth. Nobody cares much for the Monarchy, and I'm pretty sure that anti-social behaviour isn't exactly what he hoped when he said about every boy and girl doing something to help advance Britain. However, it was intended as a textbook, so there's a good chance (I would assume) that things weren't overly rosy back then either.

Just one more little thing I want to pick out before I finish. At the start of the book, there was one bit that really surprised me 'the teaching of literature is happily being made a separate department from the teaching of history'. I never realised they were once the same subject. I mean, I shied away from applying for a combined History and English Lit course because I didn't think that it would do justice to either subject (besides which I do prefer history), but they were once the same thing.

It's a really good book in short. If you happen to see a copy floating around (I suppose there must be some, somewhere, or I wouldn't have got hold of one), I'd recommend grabbing it. It was really interesting to read, flowed nicely as a general narrative, and was conviniently split up into chapters based upon which monarch was ruling (and let's face it, in the earlier periods for sure, and still to a certain extent more recently, that was a major consideration, particularly when the monarchs still had a lot of power). It's detailed enough to use as a general reference to get background on a period, and it does cover certain specific events (mainly constitutional or related to the Empire), in quite good detail considering the fact that it's such a broad sweep of history. It's also short enough to read as a continuous narrative like I did. So yeh, I have no idea how many of these might be around and where you might get hold of one, but I'd recommend it all the same.

The Second World War (6) Northwest Europe 1944-1945

I have to say, I wasn't overly impressed. I think it was just too short on such a 'big' chunk of history. Basically, it covered D-Day and after. I think the introduction was part of what put me off. It tried to give the causes of World War 2 in about two pages, along with a summary of what had happened so far. Which, as you can imagine, entailed rather abbreviating it, and to be honest it would've been better off without it. It just meant giving the most stereotypical version of events imaginable and to be honest I'd be amazed if anyone didn't know that already. And again, the book itself didn't really say anything particularly new or special. I suppose it might be worth reading if you don't know anything about the invasion of Northwest Europe etc. However, I wouldn't recommend actually buying it--just get it out the library. It's not something you're really going to want to read again, and it isn't detailed enough to use as a reference book.

Currently Untitled...

So, it's nearly nanowrimo. Well, okay, it's three weeks off, but I'm planning my story, okay? So here's what it's about...

Basically, my main character is an archaeologist called Vari on her last dig before retiring from the field. She's asked to go to the Moon, to look at the history of the Lunar Colonies, from the Space Race during the Cold War, to the destruction of the First Colony (a Quaker settlement which was bombed by the US), through the second Cold War between the EU and US, right up to the present day Troubles since the disintigration of the US left lots of nuclear powered space rockets cheaply available, along with equipment to exploit the Moon's resources. The Moon was modified so that it's got oxygen etc and some plant life, although the main attraction is the gold and other precious minerals, so lots of Enterprisers have gone up and the place is still pretty much a war zone. Vari's assisted by a Moonwalker (an elite special forces soldier based on the moon) and two research assistants. There's quite a bit of conflict between the two groups--they look down on the Moonwalker (who doesn't yet have a name), while he finds them naieve and irritating. There's especially lots of conflict between the assistant Mark and the Moonwalker, because Mark's a pacifist and also rather wimpy and pathetic, and so he keeps niggling at the Moonwalker and asking how he can possibly stand being a soldier and killing people etc. Vari determines to dig at the First Colony, despite the Moonwalker's repeated attempts to dissuade her because it's still very much a disputed area. While they're looking at the remnants of the First Colony, they find something much, much older. As in pre-Egyptian older. And they find a 'man', specially augmented (basically turned into a robot), who calls himself an Immortal when they inadvertantly wake him up. But the civilisation from which he harks was incredibly advanced, and Vari etc are not the only ones interested in him. And the other group is fully prepared to kill to get their hands on the Immortal.

And hopefully this time I won't go too far off track. But you never know with nanowrimo. I have had some rather ridiculous experiences with writing novels in a month. And I've only done it twice (well, as part of nanowrimo. I did write Shadows in the Sky in something like three weeks...). Anyway, we shall see.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Unknown American Revolution

It wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped--I found it a little difficult to follow because I wasn't familiar with the period to start with, apart from a little bit of general knowledge. It expects you to know the events of the main 'American Revolution' (why is it a revolution and not a war of independence? When I lived in America it was referred to as the American War of Independence. All of a sudden it's the American Revolution...). I did make notes, and they are slightly less confusing than the ones I did for the Origins of the Second World War would be, but I read a large chunk of it in the car and that made it hard to make notes so I kinda gave up.

Anyway, here goes.

Roots of the Revolution: Jailbreaks at Newark. Yeoman farmers were asserting their claims to land. The New Jersey land system was very confused. Scottish proprietiers tried to assert their rights, which led to violent dispute. Erupted mid 1740s. The gentry saw it as treason against the crown, especially when they were threatened with house-pulling (basically what it says on the tin--a mob would get a bunch of ropes and collapse the house). The yeoman argued that they'd improved it so it was their land. There were religious tensions between the two groups as well--the gentry were Anglican, the yeoman more radical. The Awakeners preached antimaterialism and condemned the rich. There were tenant revolts in New Work, North and South Carolina and Vermont. The case against the monarchy and aristocracy was being built. Christ's Poor was a group full of enthusiasm, with a message that God did not operate through clergy and aristocracy, but through all. There was anger over the fact that people with no formal teaching started to teach others. The group appealed to slaves. Ministers feared that they would take moral license. The Declaration of Rights in Virginia 1776 guaranteed religious freedom. "Little Carpenter's Dilemma"--Cherokee-English alliance had been in place, but coming to an end in 1750s. 7 Years War led to breakdown in relations (this book kept coming back to the issue of Native Americans, suggesting that it was a kind of double war, with a background of settler v native fights going on).
"The Mobbish Turn" in Boston (Massachusetts). Town meetings there allowed low social ranks to outvote gentlemen (basically, they had a bit of a democracy going already). There were huge protests over attempts to press gang men into Royal Navy ships. The Militia was called in toturn away rioting crowd, but most were part of the crowd already. Boston was nearly bombarded, but it was averted after the release of townsmen. 'Independent Advisor'--a newspaper for labourers--was launched in 1748. Leveller sentiments were echoed in it. There was a general fear that the town meetings would be overthrown in 1760.
There were problems on the frontier in Philadelphia, which poisoned the air. 20 peaceful Indians were murdered, which led to 'verbal civil war' between Quakers and Presbyterians. There were arguemetns over instituting the royal government too. Discussion everywhere, with pamphleteers using lots of strong language.
There was a general longing for freedom amongst the many slaves. Lots of slaves were held in the south, many of whom were treated badly. They worked towards freedom as best they could. This period also saw the start of a call for abolition. Lay (who was a Quaker) became determined to stop his fellow Quakers owning slaves. This work continued after his death in 1759.
The hated Stamp Act was passed on March 22 1765 (apparently this is what most people think of as the cause of the American Revolution--I thought it was to do with taxing tea and the Boston Tea Party...). Anyway, the crowds were angry because they didn't think Parliament had any right to pass an internal law. Parliament were trying to pay for the 7 Years War, and they figured it was pretty fair to get some of the money off the Americans. However, there was a bit of a mob revolt on August 14 1765, with pulling down the building to distribute stamps, then having a big bonfire and destroying the Lieutenant Governer's carriage. It spread to other areas too, and the Stamp Act enforcers homes were destroyed and they were forced to resign.

Anyway, that just gives you a bit of a flavour of the sort of stuff in the book. Wow, did you know it'd take about 2million 2 ounce packages of jell-o to fill the white house? Sorry, I was just on the nanowrimo forums... Right. Back to the book. It was quite interesting, but, like I said, difficult to follow when you don't really know the 'known' American Revolution. There was a lot about slaves, women and Native Americans in relation to the politics of the time, and very little on the fighting etc. Fairly interesting, but unless you know something to start with and want to know more about the experiences of 'ordinary' people, I wouldn't really recommend it.

The Well Between The Worlds

I got given this book as a proof copy through the Teenage Readers Group at the Harris, so I thought I'd better actually finish it. The first few chapters were tedious, backgroundy stuff. To be honest, I was highly tempted to give it up as a bad job. It was about a different world, and this guy was accused of being a monster because he fell in the sea and didn't drown, so they were going to kill him. But instead of killing him, he was rescued by another guy and taken to the big city. There he learns that they have to capture monsters from this other world. That's when it starts to get interesting, exploring the morals of exploiting these creatures, with the main character possessed of greater than usual power. I did enjoy the middle. But the ending was terrible. Imagine, if you've read Eragon, that at the end of the first book, after going through all his trials and emerging from the fight with the Shade injured but alive, Eragon decides to get on Saphira's back and fly off and leave the world to sort out its own problems. Or imagine that in Assassin's Apprentice, Fitz abruptly decides that people getting Forged is none of his business and leaves forever. Or James Adams in the Cherub series completes his training and then decides he can't be bothered to go out and be a spy and help catch criminals. It was genuinely that disappointing. I was expecting, as I got near the end, that either there would be a success in the quest, or that when it failed the stage would be set for a sequel. Instead, the character randomly decides he doesn't care any more and leaves. I was so disappointed in the ending, having got through a mediocre beginning and then enjoyed the middle. If you do end up reading this book, it's pretty good up till about the last three chapters. Just stop there and imagine that's where it finished and that there's going to be a sequel.

Too Black, Too Strong

I don't often read poetry. In fact, this is the second book of poetry I've ever read voluntarily. I just happened to see it on the shelf in the library, on a special poetry display, and I've enjoyed Benjamin Zephaniah's books since reading Refugee Boy at high school (and a couple of others after enjoying that one loads). I'd heard some of his poetry before too. Anyway, I really enjoyed it. For all the not reading poetry thing, his poetry is really good. There was a nice range of topics in his book, and it has a real ring to it. I think it's probably even better to listen to, but reading it was good. It's got a lot of rhythm to it, and the words are words that you hear everyday. It feels contemporary, as well as dealing with contemporary issues--racism, crime, life in general. I read one or two every day until I'd finished the book, quite often reading them while my computer was switching on. Unlike some poetry, it doesn't take a huge amount of effort to understand what he's saying, but it's hard-hitting, brilliant.

So, there is the first poetry review I've ever written on this blog. I'd certainly recommend it, although if you can get it on tape/cd, that would be even better.

Ice Station Zebra

I don't think I've reviewed this before, but it definitely wasn't the first time I've read it. By Alaistar MacLean, it has, like all of his book, plenty of excitement, unexpected twists, and intriguing characters. MacLean really is one of the greatest thriller writers ever--even though you'd expect his books to now feel out of date, they're still just as interesting as ever (although having seen the film of one of them, I must confess I found that one rather out of date...). This one involves a mission to the Arctic, to Ice Station Zebra, a meteorological station, in a nuclear submarine. The base has suffered a devastating fire, and the submarine is in a desperate race to find thin ice where they can surface, close enough to the Station that they can give effective rescue. But when they get there, all is not as it seems. Somebody set the fire deliberately. And of those killed, not all of them merely died from the fire. Some were shot, including the narrator's own brother.

A brilliant read, it's fast-paced throughout, and with plenty of unexpected twists. I'd certainly recommend it.

The Tiger Warrior

I enjoyed this one. The most recent by Alan Gibbons, it was brilliant. The descriptions of the 'lost' Roman legion was brilliant, and it blended the story of the ancient warriors with that of Jack Howard and his team of archaeologists. They're following in the footsteps of Jack's great-great-grandfather, in an attempt to unravel an ancient mystery. It's the fourth book in the series, and they just keep getting better. Atlantis was the first, and (amazingly for me), I've read the series in the order they were actually published, rather than in a totally random order as I've managed to find them from the library. I love the character of Jack Howard as well as the action and the descriptions of the ancient world (and the not quite so ancient world), and this book allows greater insight into his character. He's quite enigmatic, and so you find yourself rereading any detail of his former life with intense interest (or at least, I do :D). You also meet Jack's daughter for the first time (I never knew he had one... Maybe I missed something? Or maybe it's just another feature of Jack's past that he keeps quiet about.). To a certain extent, I thought Rebecca was a poor character, but that might just be in contrast with Jack who's a lot more developed. At any rate, I'd highly recommend this book and the rest in the series.

National Novel Writing Month!!

Well, on October 1st, the new Nanowrimo site launched for this year. I discovered this yesterday, when I thought I'd just go see if anything was happening. So I am now an official participant for 2009, yay! I'm quite excited. I have a story idea, based on a dream. I have one character for said story. I have a novel to finish before it gets to November, and I'm going to try and get ahead with college work/distance learning course work, so that I have more time in November to write. I'm excited already. Hopefully that doesn't mean I end up abandoning this idea and writing something else, but we'll have to see. Whatever I write, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I have done the last two years.

If you've never done Nanowrimo, I'd really recommend it. Basically: you try and write a novel of 50000 plus words during one month, that of November. A large number of other people are writing at the same time, which is quite encouraging. I know 50000 words seems a lot, but it's definitely doable. It's only 1667 words per day. I think the first year I did it, I managed to get the words done by getting up an hour earlier in the morning, and that was it, other than typing up. Last year, I didn't get up early, I just squished it in whenever I had time, and I still managed it with time to spare (although I didn't write as much because the story finished before I got to quite as high a word count as in the first year). So yeh, it's great fun. Stories that you think started out pretty sensible/boring end up with a bazillion unexpected twists. Because you can't stop and edit, you do get interesting author's notes (NB: This character no longer exists, is the worst example from last year...). But you also get a novel length book at the end of it, and the satisfaction of having done it in a month. I wish I'd heard of Nanowrimo earlier on in my life, but I've really enjoyed it the past two years, and I've made some great friends through it and the follow on events (Nanocomo is the site I'm most active on). It makes you realise you're not the only writer in the world :D.

So yeh, go for it! It's free, it doesn't take anything but time and a keyboard (and internet access so that you can verify your wordcount and get a cool certificate). And it's fun.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Origins of the Second World War

I was surprised at how readable this book was. Not at all dry like I was expecting. I have made notes on the first few chapters, I may as well type them up here, then at least I'll know where they are, rather than having to fish for a notebook (which I'll have to do now...). I read it through first, and then I thought I perhaps should make notes, so I went back over some of it, but didn't quite finish. Anyway, here goes...

Main theme: Hitler had no grand strategy. He allowed events to develop and then took as much advantage of them as possible. Appeasement may have been weak, but it was only viable option at times.
Key overall features of buld up to WWII: America utterly excluded by own choice. Soviet Union excluded until later on, then included by British in attempt to push Hitler into agreeing by show of solidarity. Not treated as Great Power, believed that ideological matters too divergent for such an agreement. Britain wanted to revise Versailles from start.

Actually, on second thoughts, I'll leave the typing up at that bit. The other notes probably won't make sense to anyone but me, and they're rather fragmentary.

Another interesting claim that AJP Taylor makes is that the fact reparations weren't settled straight off meant that the Germans failed to gradually come to accept them. However, I think the invasion of the Ruhr was more of a problem--the resulting hyper-inflation meant that the Germans could see that the French were causing them problems. It was easy enough to blame them. We've just been looking at Locarno, and Taylor suggests it was a bit of a nightmare. He says it led to the 'delusion' that Italy was powerful, and the pact with Mussolini undermined the British as a democractic power. Furthermore, there was the whole issue with Poland not being settled. Then he said something interesting: that it was war with the US which was the one most expected in Britain. I suppose they were having a sort of mini-naval race despite the Washington agreement.

Anyway, I found it a very interesting book, but I did not agree with AJP Taylor about everything. I don't think the alliance with Italy really undermined the democratic powers. Let's be frank--Britain has allied with various non-democracies over the years. The USA has supported dictatorships. That doesn't particularly undermine democracy.

So there you go. The Origins of the Second World War by AJP Taylor. Pretty good book, quite interesting even if you don't agree.

The Fall of Lucifer

It took me a little while to get into this book--the first few chapters were hard work and not much seemed to happen. It was a lot of setting the scene. However, I'd been told by various people that it was really good once you got into it, so I persevered, and I have to say it was worth the effort of getting through the first bit. The descriptions became very involving, and the plot was interesting. It was about, like the title says, the Fall of Lucifer. Mostly using the author's imagination, although some of it comes from the Bible too. The stuff with the DNA was interesting, although rather complicated.

It's a good read if you like fantasy. I haven't read the second yet, I don't know how soon I'll get round to it (or if I will...), but I certainly enjoyed this one.

Creative Writing Group

Well, yesterday I took the Creative Writing Group at college. It was quite interesting. I showed up pretty much exactly on time, and there were already a bunch of people in the classroom waiting! I'd hoped to get there early, but I didn't. Oops. Anyway, it went pretty okay, but everyone was so quiet at first! Maybe that was just cos I got them to read a piece of writing (that I'd done) which introduced two characters. I think I'll stick it up here in a moment. Hmm, yeh, why not?

He was in the wrong part of town. Anywhere else, he wouldn't have got a second glance, just another Birdie, one of Enlan's virtual slaves. And even here, he could have been ignored, were it not for the simple fact that he was just standing there, at the edge of Number 7's winding drive, leaning against a lamppost, large black wings draped loosely over his back, trailing against the sides of the gleaming metal.
The midday sun was bright and cold, barely burning away the layers of frost that had built up the previous night. White flakes still lingered in the shade, and everywhere puddles were built from ice. The Birdie was not dressed for the weather. He was wearing tattered jeans, the hems frayed with an inbuilt greying of grime. They were too long, probably an inch when they were new, now worn down to nearer the right length. The only concession to the weather was that the equally battered black leather jacket was zipped up fully, bulking out further the short, solid frame.

His hands were jammed in his pockets, the fingers of the left drumming against his thigh, causing the fabric to stretch and tighten. Other than that, and the odd ripple that the wind cast through his shoulder length, tightly curled black hair, he was completely still. The golden eyes were impassive, watching the road, watching the sky. He was not watching behind, but he didn't need to. He would hear anyone trying to sneak up from that direction.

There was nothing to watch at the moment, but the implacable peace of Residential District 7 did not last for long. With a well-tuned roar, a nu-kar turned into the street on which he stood. It was black, low slung, the darkly mirrored windows reflecting the expressionless face of the Birdie as it ground to a halt precisely in front of him.

It sat there, thrumming softly, for several seconds before there was any action. The rear door opened slowly, gliding to a stop at its full extension. Steam trickled out in rivulets as the warm air of the interior met the sharply frozen exterior, and a man emerged from amongst it.

He was well over a foot taller than the Birdie, and appeared twice as broad, although much of the bulk was down to the furs with which he had enveloped himself. The coat was the thick downy white of polar bear skin, the trousers peering out from beneath the long folds, visible only for about two inches just below the knee, had the sleek shine that came from butchered seals, and the boots that swallowed the bottom part were of indeterminate, though presumably animal, origin. Curled around his head was a fluffy black cat, which shifted position lazily and tightened its grip as he entered the frigid air.

“Are you aware that this is Residential District Seven?” the man asked. His voice was clipped and precise, laden with upper class overtones.

A very faint smile traced the corners of the Birdie's lips and then it was gone again.

“I shall call the police if you persist in remaining here. We cannot condone your kind coming here.”

The Birdie reached into his back product and produced an identity card. “I'm Ash Lunnoth of the LPD. You've probably heard of me.”

The man spat on the floor. “The Lunon Police Department has a better sense of propriety than to send you here. Particularly as you are doing nothing. You do realise that impersonating an officer, even if that officer is a Birdie, is not something the police approve of.” He reached into his own back pocket and withdrew a gun. “Leave. Now.”

The Birdie continued to regard him impassively, not moving from his position against the lamppost. “I am Ash Lunnoth of the LPD. We are investigating a multiple homicide with a probable gang connection.”

“Terrorists,” the man spat. “You're more likely to be one of them. Leave this area, or I will shoot.”

“That would be a mistake.”

“Wiping scum such as you off the face of the earth is never a mistake.” The man leaned in closer. “I am Governor Highton. You have presumably heard of me. I have killed dozens of Birdies, dozens. One more is not going to bother me. And if pressed, my chauffeur will back me up. It was self defence. Not that it will ever reach trial.” He pressed the gun against Ash's stomach. His eyes were a very pale blue, and they locked onto Ash's. They were not cold—they were animated, alive. He smiled, and then he screamed as Ash snapped the arm that was holding the gun with a vicious twist that forced him to drop the weapon, the crack of breaking bone loud upon the still air.

“Get back in the car and go home.” Ash was still completely calm. “Write this off to experience.”

The governor collapsed to the floor, wailing with pain. The cat, though clearly well trained, could not ignore its instinct to leap clear, and the man's head hit the floor hard. Ash grabbed the cat by the scruff of its neck and hurled it into the still open door of the nu-kar, then seized the governor roughly by the shoulder and tossing him after it.

“Take him home,” he ordered the chauffeur, before slamming the door. The nu-kar drew slowly away.

Ash flexed his hands slowly, staring into the mid distance, then shrugged and resumed his watch.

Anyway, after that I wrote some ideas on the board and had them do character profiles, and then get into pairs/threes and first work out how to get their characters to meet and then come up with a bit of dialogue based on that. Then we did a fun dialogue thing with the whole group, but we kinda ran out of time. But yeh, I think it went fairly well. I hope other people thought the same :D.