Reviews and Amazon Rants

It means a lot to get good reviews. It means quite a lot to get a good rating, though slightly less than a well thought out review. It also means a lot when Amazon decides ‘f*** you, we don’t like you having nice things, so we’ll delete your best reviews’. Though it means a lot in a different way.

They’ve been doing this for a while now on Amazon itself, and since taking over Goodreads, they’ve started doing it there. I’m certainly not the only one noticing the reviews disappearing – and only ever 5-star reviews, it seems. I can’t speak for the deleted reviews of others, but the ones that have disappeared from mine have been from review bloggers, writing detailed, unbiased reviews. Not family members raving about how the books are the best things ever.

Amazon has claimed before that they won’t allow authors to post reviews on books in the same genre as they themselves write. Aside from the fact that this is pathetically stupid and is pretty much censorship, it doesn’t seem to be enforced. My best reviews are written by a sci-fi author, and they’re still there.

Other authors have contacted Amazon to demand to know why this is happening, and Amazon claim ignorance. They say that it’s most likely because of the reviewers removing the reviews, accidentally reviewing the book – I can’t quite get my head around that one – or leaving the site (Goodreads). That doesn’t quite allow for the fact that I asked one reviewer if she knew why her review had disappeared from my book on Amazon, she emailed Amazon to ask why, they said they would put it back, and then never bothered. So what the hell are they playing at?

But that’s enough ranting about the somewhat disgraceful Amazon.

I received one such review just the other day, from The Review Hart. I requested the review months ago – just after I published Acts of Violence, in fact. She scheduled me for August, and I forgot about it. With terms like ‘haunting’, ‘spectacular’, ‘gripping’, and ‘fantastic’ dotted throughout, the review turned out to be very much worth the wait. And it’s a 4-star review which means A) people are more likely to pay attention to it than a 5-star, and B) it’s less likely to be deleted by Amazon.

In fact, reading the review kind of made me want to read the book!

In other news, we have a more definite date for the next anthology, Wyrd Worlds II: September 20-21. Mine will be the first story in the book, and is a sequel to Kira.

Days of Winter Guardians

I have left it so long since the last blog post that the whole layout of this New Post screen has changed. But anyway, it’s time to update the world on my goings on and allow you to unbate your breath.

The main, important things are that I have now finished my second short story featuring Kira. It is tentatively entitled ‘Kira Part 2′. Or ‘Horizon’. It will be first published in the sequel to last year’s anthology: ‘Wyrd Worlds II’. The exact date isn’t known just yet, but it will likely be as soon as this September! So I should probably get started on the cover.

The second important thing is that I’ve been writing a number of blog articles for Uproar Comics, hence why I’m even more quiet than usual here. I’ve been writing about a range of subjects, from the usual films, TV and games, to extraterrestrial life and the Mariana Trench. If you’re interested, which…why would you NOT be, they can all be found here.

And now for the all-important film update! I’ve watched several films in the past couple of months, some of them crap and some of them good.

Captain America 2: Winter Solder is good. Very good. Damn good. I think it’s tied for second place in my list of best Marvel films with Guardians of the Galaxy. The Avengers is better, I think. The only downside is that I guessed the big twist before the film was even released.

Guardians of the Galaxy is also good. Very good. I should probably say damn good, too, because it’s tied with Captain Freedom. It’s not the typical Marvel film, yet ties in with the Marvel universe well. I expected it to be pretty bad purely, simply, because of Chris Pratt. He seemed from the trailers to be an incredibly irritating…prat. But, in fact, he was pretty decent. Personally, I think Nathan Fillion would actually have been better in the role, but it doesn’t matter. It was damn good. And very funny.

X-Men: Days of Future Past was…actually a bit of a let down. Probably mostly because of how much people raved about it, and claimed it was the best Marvel film yet. It isn’t. There are several better ones in my opinion, including at least two previous X-Men films. But it was pretty good. Wolverine was in it, so that was good. But it didn’t feel like a superhero film at all. It was mostly talking, and shouting, and running around. The scenes in the future seem to be there more because they realised how boring the main film was in terms of action, so stuck them in there to keep people interested. And Quicksilver was pointless. But, good acting and a decent enough story. I’m not entirely sure what to think of it, so it’s just as well I’m not giving it a star rating.

Machete Kills. Surprisingly entertaining and amusing.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 was terrible. The worst Marvel film yet, perhaps. Not quite as bad as I’ve heard people say, but terrible. Electro, or whatever his name was, was a complete joke of a villain. Foxx played him well, but the character himself was just ridiculous. I can’t even be bothered to explain why. Plus, spoilers. The conclusion of the relationship with Gwen Stacy wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was ruined by the stupid ending.

So, that’s that. Look out for Kira in Wyrd Worlds II next month. Probably.

The Short Goodbye

It’s the end of an era. It’s the closing chapter. It’s game over, man! Game over! It’s…a really good analogy that makes you feel sad even though you don’t know why yet.

For about…I don’t know, say two years, I’ve shared an office two or three days a week with Uproar Comics, Startacus and Troll Inc. Now we’re being unceremoniously kicked out of said office. Our new room is a dank little hole in the ground with little natural light, and it ain’t big enough for the four of us.

Thus, Uproar and Troll Inc. are departing for greener pastures. Gone will be the geeky cross-room conversations about films, games, TV, and what makes a superhero. Gone will be the awful puns, the amusing arguments, the snort-riddled giggling (leading to more laughing and points on the snort-o-meter). Gone will be my friends.

Through our proximity, I have shared ideas, been inspired, laughed a lot, received work, donated work, helped, been helped, learnt, and been shot at with Nerf guns. Until the end of the day, there are about 25 of us in the office, and I’d like to call a good chunk of them friends. The social anxiety…thing…agoraphobia, whatever, in me knows that’s a lot more than someone like me can generally hope to have. And the fact that I could be in the midst of that many people and not want them to f*** off quickly says more about them than about me.

We’ve known for only couple of weeks that we’re being kicked out of the office, so we haven’t had a lot of time for the fact to sink in, and to prepare. Then again, things don’t tend to mean as much to other people as they do to me, so I’ll wrap this up quickly and get back to writing something worthwhile.

I don’t like change. I didn’t like it when Troll Inc. came in. I didn’t like it when Startacus came in. I didn’t like it when Uproar came in. I liked the quiet. I wished they had found somewhere else to go and left me on my own in the office. Now, in the quiet of an empty office, I wish they’d stay.

But it’s not all gloom. Well, it is, literally speaking, because there’s just one small window at the top of our new office, but Startacus will remain with me in our new little dungeon. So the laughing will continue, just with fewer voices. And no snorts.

So, apart from hauling computers and desks around, there’s only one thing left:

Danny, Gio, Heather, Holly, Jonny, Michael ‘The Beard’, Ruth, Ciaran, Richard, Andrew, Marcus, Jim, Emma, Gavin, Thomas, Ryan, Felix, Tom, Lewis, music one, and the other few I don’t know the names of… Goodbye.

Cam, Eoin, Philip…we need a new coffee machine.

Frozen Croods

Having watched about twenty minutes of The Croods last night, before having to turn it off because it was so incredibly boring, I am now thinking about writing a blog detailing just why Frozen is so grossly overrated. I my ever so humble opinion, of course.

So, I will do that. But not now. Just thought I’d say…that I will.

EDIT: I have now written said rant about Frozen. I have posted it over at Uproar Comics’ blog, here.

Frozen

Reminiscence and Ranting Ramblings

I was awake until about 3am thinking and ranting to myself. While Kira decides what she’s going to do next, here is a diluted version of my ramblings:

Somewhere around this time in 2007, I was leaving college with a shiny HNC. Unfortunately, that was the highest qualification the college was allowed to give us for the course – Interactive Computer Entertainment (ICE) – even though it was, according to the lecturers, a degree-level course in terms of modules and other terms I didn’t understand. But anyway, I had one. With distinction. That’s a lie. We could only pass or fail the course, but I got plenty of distinctions in the individual assignments, so it’s a lie I will perpetuate in a self-important manner.

From here, I went into Incubation, which is basically an office run by a company called NORIBIC, for start up companies. I was going to make games! Computer games, obviously. There were two of us, and neither of us could program, but that didn’t matter. The course coordinator, who was a programmer, told us to get on with the 3D side of and he would do the programming for us when it came to it. For the purposes of this rant, I shall call him Dick, which is a completely random name, and certainly not chosen for reasons that shall become apparent.

So we got to work creating. We would make a demo of one or two levels as proof of concept, and try to get funding with it. Then we needed programming. We had characters animated, but we needed them to walk about. We needed scripted events. So we asked nearly every day for about three weeks, until finally Dick came to ‘have a look’. By this time I had blindly stumbled my way through some of the programming and got some switches and whatnot working. He looked at this code and all was well, apparently. He then went to have a look at the built in code to see how he’d go about doing what we needed.

He stared at the code. He stared at the code some more. He drummed his fingers and stared at the code. He sipped his coffee and stared at the code. Then he said, ‘I don’t know what any of this is’, and walked out. And that was the last we saw or heard of Dick concerning our programming.

So that was that. All that time. All those months. It must have been at least a year we were working on everything, and Dick pretty much destroyed it in one move. We could have perhaps found a programmer from somewhere to do what we needed done, but we let ourselves go into a downward spiral of crappy game ideas that only postponed the need for a programmer, and then my partner disappeared to Belfast without a word and I never saw him again.

In hindsight, I realise I was the only one taking it seriously. He was only there to feel like he was doing something with his life, without actually doing anything with his life. So I don’t know what would have happened even if Dick hadn’t exaggerated his skills and willingness to help.

So I’m left with dozens of 3D models I can’t use for anything, and that no one else can use because they had to be so low poly in order to not crash the crap game engine we were using, and questions of ‘what if’. We worked on three games in the time we had, and two of them would have been pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. But it wasn’t to be.

At least the memory of Dick led me to the memories of the ICE course, and how much I enjoyed it. I went from knowing just about nothing about game design to being one of only six people to pass the course, getting distinctions and merits left, right and, on occasion, centre. Mine became the name most called out in class when people were in need of help, rather than the lecturers’. And perhaps the thing that raises a smile most when I remember it: the music assignment. I put together a music track for our main music assignment and when the lecturer heard it, he told me I wouldn’t even get a pass. It was too late to change it, so I just submitted it. Then came the day we had to go and collect our assignments. I went in expecting the fail he told me I’d get only for him to ask to shake my hand, and give me the only distinction that he’d given out that year. Apparently the write-up that accompanied the music track changed his mind. And now…I am a writer.

Anyhoo, luckily for all of you, some unfortunate news while writing this has ended my urge to write anything or rant any further, so…bye.

Origins Of Friday The 13th

What are the origins of the Friday the 13th superstition?

No one knows.

More? I suppose it is a blog post. Okay, I’ll think of something…

The Knights Templar

“Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam” (Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the Glory)

knights_templar_2

Around 1118 or 1119, nine knights offered their services to the King of Jerusalem. They patrolled the pilgrim route to help and protect travellers. At the height over their power, the Knights Templar (or Knights of the Temple) consisted of around 20,000 members, spread around every large town in the Holy Land.

Though the members took vows of poverty, the organisation itself received donations of various kinds. Because of their size and military strength, the Templars were used almost like a bank by anyone from pilgrims to Kings. And that was a problem.

In 1291, the last Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, Acre, fell to the muslims, and the Templars were no longer needed. Just over a decade later, fearing their power and desiring their wealth, the King Philip IV of France used probably-false rumours of heresy and blasphemy to persuad the pope (Clement V) to order the arrest of all Templars.

In the dawn of October Friday 13, 1307, well organised, mass raids were carried out. The Templars were charged with everything from heresy and blasphemy to homosexual practices. A great many were tortured into false confessions. Despite this, none of the charges were every proven, and outside of France, the Templars were even found innocent. Over a hundred died under torture, or were executed.

Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Temple Knights, was burned at the stake in 1314.

The mass arrest, murder, torture, execution, etc, of the Knights Templar is perhaps the most popular origin of the Friday the 13th superstition. The problem is that there is little to no documentation of this superstition before the 19th century, so it doesn’t seem that likely that it stems from the Templars.

13 and Friday

The number 13 itself is considered unlucky. First, there is Norse mythology. 12 gods gathered in Valhalla for a great feast/party thing. But a 13th, uninvited, unwelcome guest arrived: Loki, the trickster god. Loki tricked Hoder – the god of darkness – into shooting his brother, the god of joy and gladness – Baldr (or Balder, or Baldur) – with a dart tipped with the only substance in existence that could hurt him: mistletoe. Baldr’s death plunged the world into darkness.

balder

Next, we have the Last Supper. The 13th guest was Judas, who apparently betrayed Jesus. It was also a Friday, supposedly, that Jesus was crucified.

Hotels don’t have 13th floors, due to the superstition being so widespread.

It was, it seems, a Friday that Eve tempted Adam with the apple.

Friday is considered an unlucky day all over the world.

So, in conclusion, perhaps it is simply the fact that the unlucky day, Friday, combined with the unlucky number 13 results in a particularly unlucky Friday the 13th.

Force War

Force War is the third and final part of Dawn of the Jedi. It takes place a year after Prisoner of Bogan. The Rakata have attacked. They have cut a bloody swathe through the system’s planets, and even attacked Tython itself. The allied forces – the Je’daii and all remaining non-Force sensitives have joined forces against this common enemy – have blunted the Rakatan attack on Tython, and the bloodthirsty dark siders have fallen back. Daegen Lok has been asked by the Je’daii to lead their forces, and Xesh now fights alongside them.

War-FleshRaiders

The Rakatan ground forces are mutated lower caste Rakata, Flesh Raiders, little more than beasts. They do not wield the Force, but they do fight with forcepikes (basically forcesabers, but with more hilt). They are strong and incredibly bloodthirsty. They are joined by a number of Force Hounds. Shae Koda’s presence and bond with Xesh is the only thing keeping him from being overwhelmed by the dark side. He has begun to learn the balance of the Force, but knows that only the dark side will serve him in battle.

After a tough battle, we see that tension is running high. It’s not only the strain of war, but the forcesabers. The weapons require the dark side to operate, and the Je’daii are finding it increasingly difficult to keep balance within themselves while wielding one. We also see that something more is developing between Xesh and Shae, which isn’t exactly surprising. Xesh seems willing to allow these feelings, while Shae is more reluctant, leaving with a weak excuse when things are getting too intimate.

It seems the Rakata are losing their connection to the Force. They have been commanding slaves more than they have been commanding the Force, and it is slowly leaving them. This is why Tython is so important to them. Not only will the planet restore their connection to Force, but it is also the location of the galaxy’s last remaining infinity gate (those Kwa Stargate things from part 2). This gate was the main one, and requires no connecting gate in order for the Rakata to travel wherever they want in the galaxy. As powerful as they are now, they will be unstoppable if they take Tython.

War-Tau

Remember the final revelation of Prisoner of Bogan? That Xesh has had memory blocks put in place by the Predor? He is beginning to have dreams about this. The blocks are perhaps beginning to fail. Drawn by the distress she feels through the Force, Shae wakes Xesh from his nightmares. Knowing that they could both die, she decides there no reason not to keep her ‘secret’ any longer: she’s in love with him. But Xesh doesn’t know what love is. The best he can do is tell her that she’s about the only person he doesn’t hate, and that she calms his anger. What a romantic. He also tells her that his name is not Xesh. He gave himself a name from the only word he remembers of his native language: Tau. Shae is now the only person to know it. Which is nice.

Now comes a bit that kind of confused me. Tasha Ryo, one of the three journeyers who were, I thought, meant to be main characters, took a backseat after part one. She is now a Seer, a Je’daii who basically sleeps all day to get visions. These visions are not clear and must be deciphered, much like normal dreams, I suppose. The reason I was kind of confused was that for some reason, I thought this was Tasha’s mother the whole time. So even though they keep calling her Tasha, I kept thinking “I wonder where Tasha is”. So, I’m an idiot. Anyway, Tasha sees a vision that leads Xesh to locate, through his old Force Hound astral travelling tricks, the location of the high Predor. They attack this planet.

Unfortunately, Trill is still about, and still a spy for the Predor. She tells him that the Je’daii are coming, and he has an ambush waiting for them. Sek’nos Rath is taken down in the battle, and taken prisoner. He becomes one of the many Force sensitives powering the Predor’s ship. Xesh, his memory block still keeping him from recognising Trill, is tricked into entering the ship, and she knocks him unconscious.

Shae feels that Xesh has been lost to the darkness, and resolves to save him, despite her master’s scolding at the emotional bond they now have. Said master also tells her that he must take command of the Je’daii troops, as Lok has disappeared.

War-Master

This is where my complaint at the start of part two comes in. Predor Skal’nas is removing the memory blocks from Xesh’s mind, and we see that he ordered Xesh to kill his own master and sabotage the ship over Thython, so that Skal’nas would be the one to take the planet. However, if you recall the beginning of Prisoner of Bogan, Skal’nas is angry that Xesh and his master have not contacted him. This doesn’t make sense, leading me to believe that this was a twist the writer came up with quite late on, perhaps even after part two had been printed.

With the memory blocks gone, Xesh remembers some of the more terrible things he has done, and how he actually quite enjoyed it. It is easy for Skal’nas to bring Xesh back under his command. He is a Force Hound once more. Not only that, but he quite happily tortures Daegen Lok who, we find, has been taken prisoner. Xesh uses Lok’s own mind twist against him. Lok’s madness is sanity and truth to Skal’nas: he has found the infinity gate. Remember that chasm under the Anil Kesh temple, that drives people mad if they try to descend? That is where the infinity gate is located.

Next, Skal’nas uses Xesh and Trill to draw the power he needs to find all the Je’daii Seers through the Force, and blind them. The Je’daii’s only advantage is taken away, and the Seers are blinded both physically, and to the Force. The Je’daii are forced to retreat.

Now all they can do is wait on Tython for the Rakatan assault. The only up side is that, because Skal’nas wants the infinity gate, they cannot bombard the planet from space. Skal’nas launches the attack, but takes Lok and Xesh in a shuttle craft to the Anil Kesh chasm undetected. Almost undetected. Shae’s bond means that she senses them break through the atmosphere, and goes after them.

War-Sek'nos

Meanwhile, Sek’nos Rath isn’t about to become a minor character. He gathers all of his pain, rage and hate and unleashes it, freeing himself and all the other Force sensitive slaves powering the ship. They kill their guards and join the fight. But Sek’nos is more interested in taking revenge on Xesh.

While the battle rages, the blinded Tasha Ryo once again activates the ancient holocron, hoping for guidance. It seems not all is lost. The Rakata arriving on Tython fulfills the true purpose of the holocron. “It is time,” A’nang says, “for Tython to awaken.”

Down in the chasm, Predor Skal’nas reveals that he knows how to reach the bottom without being driven mad by the infinite gate’s defenses. It is a simple symbol that he and Xesh must hold in their minds: the symbol of the Tho Yor that brought the Je’daii to Tython all those years ago. They leave Lok chained up and descend. It isn’t long before Sek’nos and Shae arrive. She and Lok follow their quarry. And so begins the final issue.

Sek’nos, left behind and thinking there is no way Shae and Lok could survive the chasm, is confronted by Trill. He hates her almost as much as Xesh now, and in an impressive but very short battle, he defeats her. His rage nearly overpowers him, but at the last moment, he spares her. The last we see of either of them is Sek’nos walking away, carrying the unconscious Trill.

Below, Lok is in battle with Predor Skal’nas, while Shae fights Xesh. She will not kill him, but he doesn’t seem to be interested in anything she has to say. They fight is interrupted when Lok tries his mind twist on Skal’nas. The pure evil in the Predor’s mind is too much for Lok, and Skal’nas strikes him down, and activates the infinity gate.

Above, at the core of Anil Kesh, Tasha has been guided by the holocron. A’nang tells her that it is time to awaken the Tho Yor. But he needs a Je’daii seer. Blinded is not severed; she can be reunited with the Force, but it will cost her ‘mortal shell’. This is quite a sad scene, but I can’t entirely put my finger on why. Tasha hasn’t been a prominent character to get attached to, yet she is likable. Perhaps it’s because she’s so young, or already been through a lot, or…who knows. But it’s a good, sad scene. This is on reflection, of course, as the first time round I didn’t realise it was Tasha. Again: idiot.

Said scene shares alternate pages with the battle below. Shae, in one speech bubble explains to Xesh/Tau what most of the world doesn’t understand: what love is. It seems enough to bring him back to the light. But if he needed any more encouragement, it comes in the form of Skal’nas striking Shae down with Force lightning. Xesh attacks in rage.

War-Tasha

Above, Tasha’s final moments are filled with selflessness. To protect the remaining worlds from the Rakata, she falls into the stream of energy flowing through the centre of Anil Kesh. In her last moments of life, her sight is restored, as is her connection to the Force. She finally understands the purpose of the Tho Yor.

And so do we. All nine of the Tho Yor awaken with a bright yellow energy. With immense power, they strike out and destroy each and every Rakatan ship. And the infinity gate below.

Skal’nas’s rage at this doesn’t help him. Xesh still slices him open and he falls into the weird…flesh-eating water.

Apparently, Lok is still alive, as is Shae’s trusty flying rancor, who swoops in to save them as the place falls apart…naturally. It wouldn’t be a climactic finish if the walls weren’t crumbling around their escape.

The penultimate scene shows Lok refusing to hand over his forcesaber. All the other Je’daii have done so, because of the way the weapon skews the balance of the Force. But it has served Lok too well to give it up. Nor will he submit to being sent back to Bogan, apparently. Instead, he sets out to hunt down the Flesh Raiders who escaped into the wilds after the battle.

Xesh – or rather, Tau – and Shae are heading through a forest. Even after everything, the Je’daii masters have put their trust in Tau, and in the Force, and allowed him to remain on Tython. The two are setting off to explore the planet, and the balance of the Force itself. With a kiss, they walk off into the…moonset.

Force War was, unsurprisingly, packed full of little but action. I enjoyed it, and I certainly liked the idea of the forcesabers corrupting the Je’daii. In the end, even the most powerful masters were beginning to feel themselves tipping more towards the dark side. Even enjoying the killing. That issue with Skal’nas and the memory block remains the only real issue I had. Although, Xesh going back and forth between good and bad got a little bit annoying. He’s evil; he’s ok; he’s bad; he’s good; he’s evil; he’s good again.

I was disappointed to see Lok was still alive. I’d hoped that Skal’nas had killed him, but sadly not. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still a villain. Not the main villain of this story, but he was driven mad in the chasm, even if his vision was true. He wants nothing but power, and the forcesaber will probably only make things worse. If they are working on another graphic novel, dealing with this, then that’s okay. Otherwise, I would have preferred that he die.

War-Hawk

I was a little disappointed that Hawk Ryo was barely in this one, as he was probably my favourite character. He was a bit like a tougher, more gritty Han solo, but with Force powers. The little tin star denoting his rank as Ranger helps make his look pretty good too.

The story between Xesh and Trill was left unresolved, which was a bit of a shame. Xesh’s actions caused her to become the hate-filled dark sider that she is, and she is taken prisoner by the Je’daii for it, while Xesh goes free with his new love. I would have been perfectly okay with Trill turning out to be the hero at the end, turning to the light side and stopping Skal’nas, while Xesh just…died. Although he was a good enough character, I never really gave much of a damn about him, whereas I felt sorry for poor Trill.

Lastly, I would ideally have liked to have the typical hero gathering to end things. All of the surviving main characters gathered together in one scene to have some kind of closure for all of them. But never mind.

So, overall, this was the second very good graphic novel that I’ve read, and has made me want to find more, particularly with the same artist. Although in places the art wasn’t what it could be, there are some very good images, and you can feel the tension and the heat of battle, and hear the forcesabers and the music.

I’d probably give Dawn of the Jedi a 7 or 8/10 So in short, I highly recommend this for anyone, whether you normally read graphic novels or not. Remember: I don’t.