Sunday, 10 March 2013

Movie Review: Oz- The Great and Powerful

 Today we bring you another movie review.

Well, technically this isn't a movie based on a book but since it serves as a spiritual prequel to one of my most beloved fantasy worlds- Oz, I believe it is worthy of a review from a literary standpoint as well.

While the oh-so numerous novels were meant specifically for kids, the movie targets the grown-up audience as well, although the central attention is still the kids.

It shows how the Oz (full acronym OZPINHEAD), came to the land to Oz and became its ruler. The story is surprisingly good and I never truly saw the major twist in the plot till it actually came to the fore, which was in the middle of the movie.

The characters are also well developed and Oz is not the simple, bumbling fool, we have to know in the books but a selfish, deceitful, pompous showman who loves womanising but also has a good heart beneath it all.

Theodora (the Wicked Witch of the West) played by Mila Kunis, is a wonderful character who starts up as a good person and believer in the protection of the people but spurned by Oz's betrayal and the seeds of evil (almost literally) planted by her sister, turns into and evil cackling broom-riding witch.

Evanora (the Wicked Witch of the East) played by Rachel Weisz, is the major antagonist and is probably the most non-gray character in the movie, besides Glinda the Good, who, as you can already tell is good.

A special mention goes out to Finley, the flying monkey, who is one of the most lovable animated creatures of all time and comes up with some witty lines through the movie.

The first half is breezy and the first glimpse into Oz is breathtaking and the 3D effects are in full force. The second half is a traditional good v. evil battle, but it manages to hold your attention well enough. Overall, although, it doesn't rank among the all time greats, it still is a decent watch and may even find a place in my DVD collection.

Signing off,

Saturday, 23 February 2013

New Spring: A Book Review

All right, people. So, I read some great books and this is one of the two I listed in a previous blog-post. To the uninitiated, this is a prequel novel to the epic-recently concluded-14 book, Wheel of Time series, which has spanned two decades and a little over an author.

I managed to get hands on the prequel only after reading 13 of the main series book and hence, my observations would obviously be coloured by what I already knew about the series. Nevertheless, I will try to give an unbiased viewpoint.

As you see, the cover shows four characters and most of the story is told from the viewpoints of two of them- al'Lan Mandragoran - an uncrowned king of a fallen kingdom (shades of Aragorn but trust me far cooler) and Moiraine Damodred (a channeller of some power trying to reach the upper echelons of the female wizard faction of the world known as Aes Sedai). Both of them appear in the first novel and play important parts in the last novel, so they are pretty much main characters (although with the sheer number of characters, defining major, secondary, tertiary and minor characters in Jordan's world is next to impossible).

The novel traces the beginnings of the journeys of the two to what they become during the course of the series and although, New Spring is nowhere near as enticing or mindbogglingly heavy as the rest of the novels, it does its job of laying the groundwork pretty well.

I would not however suggest reading the prequel before reading atleast 3 or 4 of the main novels, because of the assumption of familiarity that is required to fully understand the concepts and nuances of the prequel. So, unless you want to have questions like- "Who in the burning blight are Aes Sedai and what in the bloody name of light are Ajahs?", I wouldn't suggest picking this book up as your introductory point in the series, for another reason. The series begins on  a light note and grows more adult and this prequel is written more in the adult tone, so it might be an awkward bump to read the first novel after this.

That being said, the novel weaves in the characters and the plot nicely with the upcoming events of the first book, which is about 20 years away and the epic meeting between Lan and Moiraine, with both ending up drenched, which is always referred to in the novels, is simply that- epic. Some scenes are best left to imagination and I always thought this one was too, but it is a testament to Robert Jordan's writing skill and pedigree that he matches and surpasses expectations with this scene.

This was a soft breezy read and the search for the infant Dragon Reborn started from this very novel. A job well done.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Monthly Drudgery

Yes, yes, I know it's supposed to be a weekly thing, but hear me out. Not only have I been busy on the personal and professional front, I have managed to read a few books (of which reviews shall soon be up), but I have also discovered something, so freaking amazing, it has changed the way I write and has nearly tripled my writing speed efficiency. Hold on to your horses; I will get to it eventually.

Being a lawyer sucks because of the insane work pressure you're subject to and being immersed in a world of new inventions (I am a patent lawyer), only helps a bit. But this month, my personal life took precedence for once and I was able to attend a very close school friend's wedding. Yay! for him, but my parents took it as a sign to start pestering me for marriage as well. I am freaking too young for that. In fact, the other personal milestone was turning 26 recently (thanks for all the fish....and wishes), so you can understand my considerable horror at being woken up to a call from my parents wishing me a birthday and saying, now you're old enough, get married.

Anyways, away from all the mad hullabaloo of life, I managed to steal away precious moments of 'me' time during which I obviously picked up books to read. In fact, I lugged around a novel to read during the boring parts of the travel and was picked on for reading a 'dictionary' by friends. The nerve! Irrespective, I totalled a not-so-impressive tally of four novels during this period, all of which have been a pleasure to read.

Which brings me to the most important section of the post. The magic tool for writing:
No, no, not a wand. I wouldn't be that cliched. It's a DRAGON!

No, not the fire-breathing kinds. It's actually a speech-recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 by Nuance.

Another speech-recog software? What's so great about that?

I hear your scoffs! This one is MILES ahead of anything else on the market.

"You talk, and it types. Use your voice to create and edit documents or emails, launch applications, open files, control your mouse, and more. Quickly and easily capture your thoughts and ideas." That's what it says on the site.

And capture your thoughts and ideas it does. It trains to recognise your accent, speech style and even pauses to identify punctuation. It even delves through your entire word-files to understand what style you write in. So, basically it's a dream come true for an author. Just say the words aloud, when you have an idea and poof! they are on paper.

Hah! But I don't carry a laptop or a tablet around me all the time and ideas hit me anywhere and everywhere.

But you do carry around your mobile- Just record a voice memo and come back and feed it to Dragon and you'll have everything written down again.

And this is all besides the normal voice control features it gives you. My mornings go something like this, nowadays.

"Wake up." To the mic configured to Dragon.
"Open Word."
"Fabius lashed out. His brother was dead and he'd played the leading role in it."
"Open Firefox. Go to Search synonyms for lash."

There you have it. The world of computers meshed with your ideas all at the beck and call of your voice.

So, go ahead! Buy it now. Yes, it's slightly expensive but the trial is free and the older versions are reasonably cheaper with not too much feature loss.

Still not convinced? This entire blog post was written with Dragon.

Signing off,

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A new book and a not so new one

So, after about 10 days of anxious waiting (during which I was slaughtered at work and clocked an astounding 130 hours of billed time and hence, did not have time to be all that anxious), I have finally got my hands on a book which I have been waiting for over three years or little more than one (from different perspectives- I'll come to that soon).

Ta, Da!! My very own copy of A Memory of Light. To the unknown (wait, there are people who don't know about this book?), this book marks the end of a truly epic (in all sense of the terms) Wheel of Time series, which spans 14 books and the lifespan of a little over one author. As you might notice on the book cover, there are two authors mentioned. Robert Jordan is the creator of this world and sadly his demise in 2007 had left many of wondering whether the series would ever reach its fitting finale. Enter fellow fantasy writer- Brandon Sanderson of Mistborn trilogy fame, who took up Jordan's notes and worked on them not like he would have but Jordan would have. Though, this meant that the final book had to be split up in 3 parts which released in over 3 years and the last of the three releases now after over a year of the 13th book's release (hence my wait of 3 years and a year respectively).

Anyhows, my trials and tribulations for getting this book was compounded by the fact that delivery in India on the release day of the book was impossible (booo...Amazon) and hence the long wait of 10 days. But to my surprise, with the Memory of Light came a surprise package...

This is a prequel novel to the entire series, which sadly or happily, I haven't read so far. Turns out, I was some lucky number customer to buy AMoL and was gifted with a free copy of the above for my efforts (or the lack of them). Eitherways, it means my reading weekend has been happily extended and I am abstaining myself from AMoL to read the prequel NS first. Hopefully, it will also give me a first hand perspective of comparing Jordan's style with Sanderson's adaption of it.

With that I'm off to the land of the Wheel of Time. I will be back with a review of both books. Meanwhile, for those who have not read this series, what's wrong with you? Go pick up Eye of the World today and bid goodbye to your current lives for a good month or two.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Query Critique

A Pineapple Lightning query critique, where the lightning strikes at the meaty stuff and pineapple discusses word flavor. 

Utsav’s comments are in Red, and Brighton’s are in Blue. 

Seventeen-year-old Valora can end the nightmarish hallucinations plaguing the world, but to do so, she will have to join the enemy.

The hook seems almost ready. Nightmarish Hallucinations is a good and enticing phrase. Defining the enemy would do wonders here. Something like joining the ones who created them in the first place. I agree with this, the first clause brings up vivid imagery for me, and then I have no idea what to picture when you get to the last clause about the enemy because I have no idea who they are, what they do, anything about them, why are they so bad? I think you could do this in another sentence added right after the hook. 
Having just awoken from illusions(illusions is not interchangeable with dreams, and they are also not the same thing as hallucinations, illusions are erroneously perceived things that are actually occurring such as magician tricking the audience into thinking he’s doing magic when it’s really just a trick, a hallucination is perceiving of things that aren’t real. I think you can ditch the word entirely, it’s already given in your hook that there are nightmarish hallucinations so you can simply say now that she’s awoken and it will be implied that it’s from those.), Valora’s past is nonexistent, imaginary, and shattered, but that doesn’t stop her from moving forward. And you lose me...repetitions of the same word do not have the same effect in a query as maybe in a book. Also, moving forward is such a generic term, it loses a lot of impact. A query should use only the words that are really required and should convey the story in every line. Instead of moving forward tell us what she needs to do to piece together her lost memory and reality. Yes, something specific here would be stronger. 

After all, reality is a gift given to her by the Potesters who freed her from dark visions. Merge this with the last line to give it more impact. Valora knows that in a world where brainpower is a virtue, her great brain capacity is precious. Aha, this is the crux line and gives us an insight into the world. Setting up a world and the characters in it, is what a query attempts to do. Adjusting to a small and perfect city, she also knows it is forbidden to provoke the enemies, the Spurons, who are to blame for the nightmares. Again, if there are nightmares, how is the city perfect? Also, what are nightmares? Are they dreams or monstrous creatures? What is their impact on this city? Make us feel the problem, so that we can root for Valora as the saviour.

The only problem is that Valora would like nothing more than vengeance. Vengeance? For what? I thought she doesn't remember anything? She would do anything to repay the Potesters’ kindness of giving her freedom. I understand this a bit better, but repay the Potester's how? What do they need? And her uselessness of not being able to contribute to anything whatsoever only fires up her willingness to strike the Spurons. That again feels a little out of context because we don't know how Valora could have contributed and why she's unable to do so? Is it because nightmares from the Spurons still plague her? Also, adding some description to the Potestors and Spurons would help creating the world. Are they humanoids? How are they different? Attacking them would be the perfect act of gratitude and self-fulfillment—laws be damned. So, I am guessing Spurons are the autocratic ruling class and Potestors are the normal peasant class which is oppressed?

Haunted by her past and a newly freed mind, she grows restless and stumbles over secrets more powerful than the terrifying delusions themselves: the Spurons are not the enemy. The Potesters created the dreams to enslave the people, building a fully subjugated army of suppressed minds. They had only freed Valora to look good in the eyes of the unsuspecting public. And the BIG reveal. While you are supposed to give a good outlay of the story in a query, you also must not give everything away. Make this a little veiled. Something on the lines of "But Valora finds that the truth is quite distinct from the reality and determining who created the dreams to enslave people could change the entire world's view of who the real enemy is- the Potestors or the Spurons?

Now she has to scamper (if this word is being used to add the implication that she’s smaller and weaker than the Spurons then good, it does, scamper is generally used to describe the hurried excited movements of rodents or small kids, and to me seems at odds with the general tone of the query, I can see that she’d be hurried, but seems too light hearted of a word to describe her movement towards the start of a possible war.) to the Spurons, who are preparing for a war to end the hallucinations. But it’s not easy, because she doesn’t know the potential brainpower she holds will eventually lead to sacrificing the impossible. Herself. Sacrificing oneself is no longer impossible. We have often seen heroes sacrifice themselves for the better good of the world, so don't hinge your stakes purely on that. Instead go for her mental dilemma - Should she aim for ending the hallucinations and saving the world or risk turning against the very people who gave her life and freedom from the hallucinations.

I hope this helps. Your world is a very interesting one and it would be quite thrilling to read a book where deciding what's a dream and what's not is difficult. We need to understand more of Valora's psyche and her longing desire to help the Potestors out and her detestation of the Spurons and her eventual crisis when she realises she's supporting the wrong side. Get Valora's motives out in the clear and I thing your query will have hit the mark.
Actually for me the biggest distraction was that you spell Potesters so closely to protestors, but not, and at first I thought it was a typo but then I saw you always spelled it that way and it was clearly intentional. I think that’s always a risk in spec fic in making up names for things, that sometimes their connection to real words can be way more of a distraction than you intend. Is it super important that they be called that, because I would find it distracting all book long. (Though maybe that’s just me and I’m weird.) 
I agree with Utsav, your world sounds interesting, and I really like the concept.