After a long dry spell, I’ve decided to dip my toe back into some creative writing. And how fortuitous, it’s Inktober! The good folks over at Kugali Media have been kind enough to come up with prompts for those of us on the Mother Continent who need a little inspiration. So, for this month’s Sunday installations, I’ll be using selected prompts for the week and trying to bring them to life!
ANCIENT – a poem
“Do you think about us?” whispers the grave
A question and indictment;
a truth which burns – for I do not
In quiet times, perhaps I hear
In dark of sleep, perhaps I see
There is so little thought, given to these
Truths of the soul and soil
Yet from them we are born and live
Back to them our breath we’ll give
FAVOURITE FOOD – a memory
I remember less of the taste, or the smell, than I do of the
feeling. Warm, and full. Sated and smiling after a heavy meal of sadza and more
beef, tomato, onion and veggie stew than someone my size should have been able
to ingest – these were good times. Food brought out the best of us. On a full
stomach my father was hilarious, my mother magnanimous and my siblings happy. I
was content, after a fashion.
But things change, don’t they? Sometimes over long periods
of time – a young man with ambitions and dreams wakes up one day burdened by
the ghosts of the man he should be. A young woman with hopes and goals wakes up
one day to realise that she lives in a gilded cage. Other times change is fast.
Night to day. The best in us sleeps and neglects to wake the next morning and
we are once again tip-toeing through a maze of triggers and pain.
Then the day fades and the night comes, and once again the
best of us wakes. We sit around the table, we eat and we breathe. Then my
father makes a joke and we laugh, my mother pours wine and my siblings smile.
Today, I made my favourite food. I sat at my table, and I brought out the best in myself.
A God has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help is Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead God, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.
But when the duo discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and the city’s slim hope of survival.
I came across Three Parts Dead a few weeks ago when I searched for something along the lines of “What to read if you’re in The Broken Earth withdrawal”. Google, being all-knowing as it is, spat out several interesting suggestions, and I couldn’t help but click on the link that mentioned lawyers riding lightning bolts and resurrecting gods (because… really?!). Falling somewhere in the general realm of urban fantasy territory, the debut novel in The Craft Sequence series seemed like a book that might just wow me, so I bought it and got stuck in.
Friends – you need to read it.
As the first published entry (but not chronologically the first story in the series) this book packs in a lot of information about its setting, and manages to never once fall into the trap of info-dumping. From the first scene, where our heroine is literally thrown out of a flying building into a desert, to our introduction to gods and how they work, Three Parts Dead simply keeps it moving along, trusting the reader to understand and sort the information being given. Gladstone manages to straddle the line between informing and badgering his reader through effective use of dialogue, and character perspectives. What the priest knows, our novice Craftswoman Tara Abernathy does not – so he explains. What Tara knows, priest-technician Abelard does not – so she explains. And in this way you’re introduced to a brilliant new world of weird.
No matter what genre you’re writing in, making your characters believable is no walk in the park. They may all exist as fully fleshed out beings in your mind as the writer, but getting that across to the reader without overwhelming them… well.
But just as with his world-building, Max Gladstone works to deliver a main and supporting cast of characters who are their own people (and gods, and entities in between). Their motivations are entirely their own, and he builds his story around them. So when we get to the conclusion of our caper, and all is revealed (wow, are there some revelations going on) you sit there and think… ‘oh yeah, that makes perfect sense, actually. Of course these folks would do that!’
For much of the story, I was happy to sit back and coast along on the tide of excellent storytelling. Then I’d stop and think… ‘hold on. That’s odd. I could have sworn… oh. OH.’
And really… that’s the best kind of storytelling. Read this book!
Honourable Mention: Describing Diverse Characters
There is a certain fear that one feels when one sees the kind of beautiful cover art that Three Parts Dead has. Immediate memories of fumbling attempts in creative writing classes where people described Black hair as everything from ‘wiry’ to ‘ coiled like tiny snakes’ (true story) only to see the picture they were trying to paint and think… Am I being Punk’d?! I’m not even going to go into all the things that I’ve read and heard any skin tone darker than an eggshell be compared to. Let’s just say “like fresh mud” is on the better end.
So how excellent was it to get to the end of this book and realise that I’d been given, through narration, self-description and character perspectives an image of what each character looked like and not once cringed? Very excellent, I tell you. Which is no small part of why I’ve decided to read the whole Craft Sequence. So, kudos for not being cringe to Mr. Gladstone.
Mood Rating: First of all, read this book. Second of all, be wowed. Third of all, read the rest of the series. And drink water.
Scandroid is a self-titled, full length album released in November, 2016. A cyberpunk tale, this album follows its protagonist Red as he roams the streets of Old Tokyo for the elusive revolutionary sound which will gain him entry to Neo Tokyo – a flying behemoth in whose shadow the ruins of Old Tokyo lie. Accompanied by a suite of lyric videos that serve as visual aids as you delve into this cyberpunk dystopia, Scandroid is an album well worth experiencing. So, let’s begin!
The year is 2517, and we are in Old Tokyo. This synthwave track sets a steady pace, the strings a constant companion for the occasionally driving, occasionally frantic drumbeat. Older minds than mine note that the sound is reminiscent of the Blade Runner movie score (the original, not that other one) so I’m just going to roll with that assessment. By itself, 2517 puts you in mind of a relentless march towards something, and as an intro track, serves to bring you calmly into the storm that is the…
This is what we’re looking for in Old Tokyo. A dance-worthy rhythm carries Red’s story to our eardrums. Lyrically heavier than 2517 (which is not hard, to be honest), Salvation Code gives context to the listener. Red searches for the Salvation Code, whose transmissions, “coming from [Red’s] savior” are “analog and digital” – indicating that the end goal is to bring the two together. But who’s this savior? Why is there a divide? Is Red alone?
At least one of our questions is answered rather swiftly. Red is not alone in the streets of Old Tokyo. Aphelion, an android, also walks the “empty streets”, and the two seem to strike up a romance. The lyrics strike a sombre note, and the synth beat gives you the feeling of being swept up in an epic, if tragic love story. Aphelion being the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid, or comet at which it is furthest from the sun, you can understand why we get such lyrics as “so far away from you, my winter has begun”. This song is half-ballad, half-dance track and leads smoothly into the rest of our journey.
This 80’s hit is surely one of the most recognisable songs in the world, and the cover fits perfectly in the theme of this album. Now that Red and Aphelion are on this journey – analog and digital – we start to hear more of the retro sounds of the 80’s (to which this album can easily be seen as an homage) which are integral to the Salvation Code. The song serves as an anthem, declaring that the current world order is something that we “can do without”. The Salvation Code will help Red and Aphelion usher in something else, and they are marching towards that future.
This instrumental track zooms in at breakneck pace, invoking images of our revolutionaries running through the streets, fleeing forces unknown, going towards a, you guessed it, destination unknown. The song alternates dizzy highs and vertigo inducing drops which simulate the kind of adrenaline rush one might experience whilst running for one’s life.
After this frantic chase, Connection offers us a different look at the situation in which Red and Aphelion find themselves. Themes of defecting, deactivating and stepping outside of the accepted parametres of human-machine relationships are dominant here. Red and Aphelion are essentially, well, engaging in some very taboo intimacy. The pair forsake perfection in favour of making connection, and the uptempo electric guitar in the chorus brings us along for the ride. The lyric video is a voyeuristic look at our singer playing an arcade driving game, overlaid with lyrics, sound waves and all sorts of grainy goodness as he tries to drive inside the lines. Make of that what you will.
In my opinion, the sexiest song on this album, Datastream seems to be a flashback to a past relationship. Whether this is Red or Aphelion’s reverie is a little unclear to me, but given that Red is our POV character, I’m going to say this is his memory. Which makes the lyrics very interesting, given that Red is most likely fully human. Synth, electric guitar and an ever-present drumbeat drive this song forward, pushing home the intensity of the lyrics and the sentiment behind them. The chorus speaks for itself:
Open yourself to me Prepare to entwine Breathing in binary Our systems aligned Searching for frequencies And scanning through time Both lost in the datastream That’s linking our minds
This song, another flashback, gives more insight into Red’s past. Through the lyrics, and the lyric video, we learn that Red’s previous lover is gone, replaced by a clone, and that whilst the streets of Old Tokyo are frequently referred to as being empty, they are, in fact, littered with drones and have other residents. Red, though human, is made of “blood, circuit and bone”, which may explain his quest to find a new path outside of binary thinking. At the end of the lyric video, we see Red and Aphelion meet for the first time. The song itself is frantic, putting you in mind of the kind of haphazard behaviour one might exhibit whilst listless due to loss.
Awakening with you
This is the origin story of how we came to have an Old and Neo Tokyo – the awakening of Atom 7k and EEV. Watch the lyric video because, well – the story is awesome.
Atom & E.E.V
A soulful instrumental, Atom & E.E.V gives you time to sit, hydrate, and think about what you’ve just listened to, learnt about and… yeah… enjoyed. I’ve got to say, by the time I arrived at this point in the album I was ready to call myself a retro synthwave fan and buy merch. Let this song mellow you into the oncoming conclusion of this concept album. Here, we get a glimpse into what the Salvation Code may sound like, as analogue instruments solo over heavy, pulsing digital instrumentation.
Perhaps symbolically, this video sees us enter the game we’ve so far only seen from the analogue world. In the lyric video Red is on a motorcycle, driving to… look, at this point I don’t know if the destination is still unknown. But all this time, we’ve been watching Red. And we get a look inside his head, where he’s thinking about Aphelion, and how, in the streets of Old Tokyo, they look up and dream of Neo-Tokyo, who’s shadow hovers above. Our lovers and dreamers are determined as ever to make it to their personal heaven, and the Salvation Code is the key.
Pro-bots & Robophobes
Whilst Datastream is the sexiest song on the album, Pro-bots & Robophobes stands out to me as the best track (we all have our opinions!). It captures the essence of this album in 4 minutes of story-telling, eerie and determined vocals with driving synth underpinning everything. The lyric video, with a totally different visual style to what we’ve seen before, offers us a glimpse into what the war which led to the divide between Old and Neo-Tokyo was like. Hint – it’s humans. We are the problem. Watch it below to get all the same feels as I did:
What is a concept album if not a mind-ensnaring tumble through the creator’s mind? Eden, which has an official video (yep, not a lyric video, a video video) pulls us firmly out of the digital world and into the analogue. And what a transition! Red (Scandroid’s Klayton – you may know him from Celldweller) wanders through “Eden”, where lyrics about an eternal where “I am yours and you are mine” are juxtaposed over a dead city. Presumably, this is Old Tokyo, through whose ruins he wanders, looking at old religious iconograpy, encountering a simple bot still running though its humans have long been gone. We’re looking at the fall-out of a war where two sides which worked hand-in-hand found themselves suddenly opposed – and destroyed Eden in their wake.
And so we reach the conclusion of our journey – without a lyric video to tell us what ever really happened. Singularity’s video brings us back into the arcade, but it’s a still image. So… Did Red finally make it to Neo-Tokyo only to discover it a barren “Eden”? Was the quest all for nought, as he wandered the brilliant streets whose vast foundation cast Old Tokyo into shadow? Where is Aphelion? Did Red starve to death (because there’s literally nothing edible in sight in Eden)? In the end, Scandroid leaves us with more questions than answers – which is fitting for a cyberpunk saga.
All in all, this was a solid album, displaying all the best parts of nostalgia whilst skipping over all the worst. Give it a listen if you’re looking to dip your toe into synthwave, cyberpunk, or retro music… or you just like concept albums.
Mood Rating: Enter the datastream, and get in touch with a world beyond the binary. Let Scandroid take you to a world where humans realised their potential as creators… then messed it all up. Because it’s so on brand.
Like many millennials, I grew up with The X-Files. To this day, there’s something irresistible about the odd lighting, barely congruous storylines, interminable will-they-won’t-they between Scully and Mulder and, of course, the cases in the show that I can’t bring myself to admit isn’t that great and let go of.
Maybe my love for The X-Files… is an X-File itself? Ok, that’s a reach but not by a lot, really.
Suffice it to say that when I stumbled across Gillian Anderson’s Earthend Saga I was *elated* and resolved to read the whole thing. But life happens, and time was scarce so I decided to finally try out this new fengled audiobook thing that I’ve been hearing about.
The Results: I am a convert. Audiobooks are awesome. And the three books which comprise the Saga? Well… erm… yeah. Mixed feelings. But read on to find out how it went down!
A Vision Of Fire
This book started decisively. The characters were introduced swiftly, their personalities established and their relationships to each other and the world around them clarified. Because it was my first audiobook, I thought that was all due to the medium but no – Gillian (and that guy Jeff Rovin) just did a really great job.
And my little X-File-loving heart was so happy when I realised that the plotline was essentially an X-File.
Perhaps that’s not quite fair. A Vision Of Fire deals plainly with the supernatural. Children are having visions which manifest themselves in real-world, frightening and life-threatening ways. And at the centre of it all, just trying to help her patients, is child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara. Her quest to help one young girl in New York ends up taking her around the world, where she meets other children who have suffered similar visions and their consequences.
She meets others who have tried to help, and (refreshingly, if you remember Scully) allows her scientific mind to ponder the possibility that what her patients are experiencing – and what the mystics who claim to understand the phenomena are saying – is something no current science can explain.
A Vision of Fire meanders a bit, but always comes back to that sweet spot between intrigue and plot. Gillian’s voice lulls you as effectively as is chills you as you listen to the story of Caitlin O’Hara and her encounters of the… third kind? Fourth?
Whatever. You know what I mean.
A Dream Of Ice
The second installment of this Saga picks up on the heels of the first. Caitlin O’Hara, renowned child psychologist and incredibly competent single mother ) that didn’t seem like a big deal in the first book, but it is in this book) is coming to accept that there are things in this world not imagined by our science. And that these things don’t have the best of intentions for us.
Anyway, this being a trilogy, one character and her supporting cast can’t be expected to carry three books.
So, enter artefact-hunter extraordinaire Mikel Jasso – who comes complete with an employer who is the head of a shady organisation (quirky support characters included). He’s been trotting the globe, hunting what he initially thought to be artefacts of a long-dead, but likely primitive civilisation. He’s done some questionable things to get his hands on these artefacts in the past, and he’s fine with that. Because it is the science and discovery which matters. Mikel could easily have been a caricature of his character archetype, but he’s saved from that by some clever characterisation and… probably… being narrated by Gillian Anderson.
Both Caitlin and Mikel are, of course, embroiled in the unfolding realisation that, long ago in the frozen landscape of the Antarctic, there thrived a people who’s ingenuity was eclipsed only by their stunning inability to accept that there are natural forces with which we should not tamper.
Sound familiar? Lol yeah, hi global warming.
Whilst Mikel’s journey is that of a solitary scientist, collecting historical artefacts which prove themselves to be more than shiny, humming rocks, Caitlin’s journey in this book is far more personal. Her son, Jacob, is acting strangely. A generally happy and well-behaved child attending a school which caters well for his needs (he’s deaf), Jacob one day has an incident so severe that Caitlin is called. She finds her son traumatised, seemingly by nothing at all – but she knows that what ails her boy isn’t some kind of fit, or tantrum.
Galderkhaan comes home to roost in this second book of the Earthend Saga, which includes a fresh hell for Caitlin as souls from the past catch hold of her son and are determined to drag themselves back into the land of the living – an eventuality which Caitlin stopped in the first book with a rather dramatic scene at the UN . By this point, our heroine has learnt a couple of tricks from her tangles with deceased souls, and sets about to find a way to once again stop Galderkhaan from bleeding out of the past and into our present.
Meanwhile, Mikel’s shiny stones are wreaking havoc and his mysterious employers are coming to understand that they’re playing with a type of fire (that’s funny, see, since this is the book about ice) they can’t contain. This doesn’t stop them from forging on, though. Because LOL humanity and also there are three books in this Saga.
A Dream of Ice was more personal, and as a result more frightening to listen to than A Vision of Fire. Better paced writing and Gillian’s low-pitched narration drove this book forward with little room to get bored or lost. In my opinion, the series peaked in this book, and could easily have ended on the book’s cliffhanger and still been a favourite of mine.
Alas, the show must go on.
The Sound Of Seas
Even the name tells you that this book didn’t really know what it was trying to accomplish in the series.
But if being unnecessary was an effective deterrent against existing then a lot of my favourite things and least favourite people wouldn’t exist – then how would I build character?
So yes, I powered through the third installment through a combination of determination to finish what I started, and excitement to write about it for TAGG.
The Sound of Seas picks up, again, where its predecessor ended. Caitlin O’Hara has gone Super Saiyan, tapped into some pretty awesome powers, and inhabited a dead person’s body in search of her son’s soul. In the time and place where she is inhabiting said body it is still very much alive, as is the Galderkhanni civilisation which she has thus far had mostly terrifying post-extinction contact with.
And Mikel Jasso is in the same place as her, though in a different time. He’s joined an Antarctic expedition in the present, with the intent of finally learning the secrets of the shiny rocks which are actually described as tiles all through the books. I just like the phrase “shiny rocks”.
Whilst Caitlin experiences the wonder of Galderkhaan in the past, Mikel explores its simultaneously awe- and fear-inspiring ruins in the present. Caitlin’s story lost my interest at numerous points in this final book, whilst Mikel’s was gripping, and almost relatable.
Almost, because if I went through what he went through in this book, I’d have chosen to lay down and give up sometime after the first bone broke. But Mikel perseveres, and we are treated to a tale which traverses the space between now and then, real and ethereal and ultimately shows us that nuance can be highly overrated.
As Mikel’s story comes to a head and we finally see the true power of this civilisation which refuses to fade away – Caitlin’s story meanders its way to finding some meaning.and an ending which is satisfactory mainly because I was ready for the end to come.
The Sound of Seas was worth listening to, despite all my grumbling, if only as a means of closure. Where A Vision of Fire was occasionally slow, and A Dream of Ice kept packing punches all the way through, The Sound of Seas left me glad to have a conclusion to the Saga and not wanting to go back.
In Conclusion: The Earthend Saga was a lovely entry into the world of audiobooks. I’ve been a bit harsh in the review because I went in with the highest of hopes and found a trilogy which was good, verged on great in the middle, but ultimately landed resoundingly on good again.
Mood Rating: Listen to this trilogy if you’re a fan of speculative fiction which dabbles in thriller territory; a newcomer to the audiobook world like me and you want a taste of the potential; and – most relevant, really – a fan of Gillian Anderson.
Akata Witch, the YA novel by Nnedi Okorafor is one of those books that isn’t just genre bending – it is genre redefining. And who better to narrate the audiobook than the enthralling Yetide Badaki? Read more
I thought we’d take a break from our regularly scheduled programming, to bring you a web series that is neither sci-fi, nor fantasy. Imagine that! Instead, it’s just about being a middle range millennial trying to make things work. Sound interesting? Read more