The Second Life of Amy Archer – a review

-But probably not a very good one

Okay, so this dubious blog is about books and words and some random observations on life, and I read the book, so I might as well review it.

When I was a kid, there was this burst of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ movies – both animated and real life. Including that incredibly scarred-me-for-life ‘A Return to Oz’ movie. Really, that thing should have an age restriction of 89+. One day, which probably should have alerted me to the quality of the movie, but I was really young, I was excited to watch a movie called – I think – ‘The Dreamer of Oz.’ It wasn’t a story about Oz, but about the guy that wrote the story. Maybe it was a good movie, maybe it wasn’t: I don’t remember and wasn’t really old enough to judge. What I do remember is the utter disappointment when no fantastical creatures appeared throughout the movie. ‘The Second Life of Amy Archer’ was much like this: between the title (which is:
“The years ago she disappeared. Now she’s back – and she hasn’t aged a day…), tag-line and blurb I hoped on a fantastical story about parallel worlds, spiritual revelations and/or anything else that Mulder and Scully could have investigated. Instead I got…well, whatever this book was.

Now I have to say it wasn’t bad. I really wanted to find out what was going on here, but I never would have bought it if I had known it was a book club type of book. I’m not a fan of the genre. And this book is most definitely of that calibre: it even has Reading Group Notes in the back, for crying out loud! But, being the innocent I seem to still be, it never even occurred to me to turn to the back before I bought the book!

…Oh, it’s written on the back as well. Bummer…

To add insult to injury – and by this time I was bleeding all over the show – it had the cringe worthy line: “Libby’s eyebrows rise imperceptibly.” In other words, the first person narrator notes that the other character moved her eyebrows in a fashion that can not be recognised or seen by the narrator! Even the word ‘barely’ would have helped, but apparently nobody noticed the incongruity of the statement and I was left to spend an inordinate amount of time being pissed about it. In fact, as I write this, I want to go hit whomever it was from the Literary Review that wrote: “A gripping and well-written tale.” No, it wasn’t. It’s about as terrible as Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ Halfway through that literary non-masterpiece I was rooting for the main character’s death. Just for something to happen. Halfway through this book, I was hoping the mother had killed her own daughter in a fugue state. And now Amy was out for revenge. But no…

Okay, I’ve finished my glass of wine and feel better now, promise.

This book isn’t very bad. It isn’t very good, either. It just is. But it is also the reason why I always end up reading and re-reading old favourites, for at least I know what I’m getting. Koontz, for all his faults, at least always delivers on the fantastical. Eddings, even if he is mostly fantasy YA, always told a tale of magic and mystery. McCaffrey always somehow ended up in her realm where a select few were telepathic. In fact, she managed to combine fantasy and scifi seamlessly in her books. You want dragons? You want another world? You want alien threats? You want mysteries and faint clues left by someone in the past? Go read ‘The Dragonriders of Pern.’ You want a gut-wrenching tale of a mother’s loss and her search for her child? Go read one of those pamphlets about missing children. But skip this.

Unless you really like stories that try too hard, then this is a must-read!

*mutters* Imperceptively raised her eyebrows…

 

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US vs UK vs US vs…Canada?

As mentioned before, I love languages. I also love the fact that good ol’ South Africa is smack dab in the middle between the UK and the US when it comes to understanding English. See, we are taught the Queen’s English – you know, ‘centre’ instead of ‘center;’ ‘jewellery’ instead of ‘jewelry;’ ‘favour,’ ‘honour,’ ‘flavour’ and ‘colour.’ But at the same time we are bombarded by Hollywood, American books and all things American English (English simplified, according to Windows). We shop at Spar and Woolworths and buy out cheap burgers at McDonalds and Burger King. We have milk in bags and bottles and we classify it as ‘full-cream,’ ‘2%’ and ‘low-fat’ milk. We eat Snickers and Cadbury’s. We speak of ‘jelly’ when we refer to that gelatine-based sugar pudding and ‘jam’ is the thing we spread on toast. But we prefer coffee to tea and most people believe ‘Yorkshire pudding’ has sugar in it. In fact, most of us aren’t sure how to pronounce ‘Yorkshire.’

Usually this gives us a bit of perspective on the English language, but it can also be very very confusing. Is it a ‘sidewalk’ or a ‘pavement?’ ‘Torch’ or ‘flashlight?’ ‘Lift’ or ‘elevator?’ Recently, as I read a James Herbert horror, I realised there’s a difference between a ‘ravine’ and a ‘gorge.’ Or is that ‘gully?’ No, I’m sure ‘Gully’ is where the ferns are and you have a song by Johnny Clegg and a bat voiced by Robin Williams. So ‘gorge?’ Let me go check… Yup, ‘gorge.’

And then there are the words we’ve completely given up on and use any-old-which-way. Like the number ‘0.’ When reciting a number, I will casually start off by saying ‘oh’ and then casually switch over to ‘zero’ and, if I want to, go over to ‘nil.’ Many of the black dialects prefer ‘nought’ above the rest and you know what: nobody bats an eye, for this is how we roll, baby! The same is true of the letter ‘z.’ We are equally comfortable with calling it a ‘zee’ and a ‘zed,’ although we tend towards the latter, as the Afrikaans pronunciation is ‘zet’ and the two languages tent to bleed over. Of course, this made that the Stargate: Atlantis joke went over out collective heads as a whole, as most of us didn’t even realise there was a friendly/not-so-friendly rivalry between Canada and the US where the poor ‘z’ is concerned.

So, whoever said language isn’t fun?

Androcentrism (male-oriention)

I pick up the book, my heart fluttering with excitement. A new fantasy book I’ve never read before.

By the end of chapter one I’m miffed. Halfway through chapter 2 I’m pissed off and by the end of chapter 3 I’m despondent. Sci-fi and fantasy used to be the genre that could question traditions, social norms and political standards. And they still do, unfortunately it seems the only thing they focus on is the equality between men and women.

It is this that annoys me. I’m so tired of fantasies where the female heroes are always the inferior or secondary sex; where they are told they can’t fight for that which they believe in, because they’re women. Even when they end up being the heroes, this androcentrism irritates the hell out of me and I end up being annoyed at the entire book.

Part of this annoyance is that I really want to read a story where women are as capable as men and respected as men, but another part of it is that there are so many other social issues left out. Why not use this vehicle to enable change in the way we see sexual orientation? What about asking questions about religion? We live in a world where the Western world (mostly) are waging war on Islam. But is it the faith in Allah that should be feared, or the religion of radical Islam? Why didn’t all of us learn from the second World War?

And what about environmental issues? Our planet is suffering, but why aren’t we addressing global warming and deforestation and littering?

Obviously one story can’t address everything in one story, but some variety would be nice. Give me a story where men and women are equal, where they are too busy saving the day to get their knickers in a twist because a woman is trying to pick up a sword! Give me a story where Joan of Arc kicks ass and then lives to kick ass another day! Give me a story like The Terminator (I already love the movie, but the more I think about it, the better it gets!) where Sarah Connor asks Kyle Reese: “In your time (the future, for those ignorant of the plot of this great movie), what are the women like?” And Kyle answers: “They make good fighters.” Boo-yah! Take that, you androcentric donkey’s rears!

Six word stories #1

Arthur C. Clarke recounts the tale of Earnest Hemingway’s bet to his friends about writing a story in just six words:  “While lunching with friends at a restaurant , Hemingway bets the table ten dollars each that he can craft an entire story in six words. After the pot is assembled, Hemingway writes “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” on a napkin, passes this around the table, and collects his winnings.” Apparently Hemingway was a bit of an asshole.

But these ‘six word stories,’ though apparently much older than this example, is an extreme form of condensed fiction. In six words an entire story is told. There are no details, yet we all know what the tale is about. Just six words can be an entire story.

Though those ‘six word stories’ can be powerful, writers need to write a bit more than that. Even something as silly as fan fiction need some more flesh to it. I think the shortest fan fiction story I wrote was slightly over 900 words long. It was about a page and I think it is one of my best ever. I still get comments and ‘likes’ about it, and I wrote it in 2010 or so. But, come to think of it, that story was based on a single seven-word sentence – and it only went into 7 words because I used my screen name in it and it’s 3 words long.

A few words can also change an entire story. Two of the best examples are from the audio-visual world, one from television and one from a movie. The first is from Avatar: The Last Airbender (not the movie. Never the movie). In the opening monologue Katara describes their beautiful world. A beautiful world isn’t a story though, but these six words change that into a story that I still re-watch every once in a while: “And then the Fire Nation attacked.”

The second is another sentence at the end of a movie. At the end of The Terminator (the 1984 original), Sarah Connor asks the station attendant what the boy said to her when he handed her the photo, and he replies: “He said ‘a storm is coming.'” The entire story and all the sequels are contained within those six words.

Today I also have a six word story to share; my own little tragedy:

I’ll never see my roses bloom.

Writing for the Void

Multiple times a week I sit down at my computer and start at a post. Right now, as I’m typing this, there are 7 unfinished drafts in that folder; and I suppose I need to start asking why that is? Why do I write these complicated and witty blogs in my head, but when I sit down at my desk, all I can see is the void of the screen? Why can’t I finish the blogs? Why can’t I translate those essays in my head onto the screen?

The answer, I realised today, is that all these posts are being written into the void. I can’t see you, I don’t know who you are or why you are reading this. I imagine you reading this: sitting at a desk or lying in your bed with some hot cocoa and a sandwich, but probably you’re sitting at the doctor’s office and are just idly scrolling through some sites you ‘liked’ one night while you were high on coffee. Or on the toilet. I can be as poetic as I want to be, but that is a very real possibility and one I promise you I’m not imagining. There might not be that many of them, but my mind do have a number of barriers and imagining you on the toilet is definitely a restricted-zone.

And that’s part of it. I can imagine you smiling as you read this, or sighing or even rolling your eyes, but I’ll never know you. I’ll never know why you read this or what you think about it or who you might show this to. You are a void: an endless pit I write into. You are the void I entrust my random thoughts to. You are the void that will always be just beyond my reach, and it frightens me. For I can also imagine you thinking this is nonsense. I can imagine you scrolling by without a second glance and most definitely without a second thought. Or even a first thought. You are scary.

Yes. You are scary.

 

Great names by other authors

There have been some awesome names and words created by authors of fiction throughout the centuries. Some of them I’m just happy to read about, but then, sometimes, there are some of the names and words I’m actually jealous of!

Mithrandir and Mirkwood

Starting with the king of fantasy, JRR Tolkien coined some words and names still used in the genre. Most of the names – especially after the movies made it even more famous – have become recognizable even to those who’ve never read the books. These include names like ‘Gandalf,’ ‘Frodo Baggins’ and ‘Gollum.’ But my favourite word – and the only one I would love to use myself – is the elvish name for Gandalf: ‘Mithrandir.’ I love how it rolls off the tongue and how mysterious it sounds.

For a place, there are many to choose from in Middle Earth, the least of all ‘Middle Earth.’ Some beautiful names are ‘Lothlorien,’ ‘Moria,’ ‘Rivendell’ and just about every elven name. But the most beautiful is ‘Mirkwood,’ a name we read of first in The Hobbit. It is a name that sounds mysterious and dark and is a perfect name for a dark, mysterious wood!

Elrakyn and fenlings

Moving to another fantasy legend, David Eddings created some epic names and words. Though I’ve never been a fan of ‘Polgara,’ the name ‘Poledra’ actually isn’t too bad. But the words that stand out, are ‘eldrakyn’ and ‘fenlings.’ An ‘eldrak’ is a kind of clever troll and ‘fenlings’ are cute otter-type creatures. They are granted the power of speech and it is utterly adorable!

Gar, Sylph and Mord Sith

You don’t have to struggle through the entire Sword of Truth-series by Terry Goodkind to find some fabulous words. Note that I don’t write ‘struggle’ because the series is bad, but because it is heavy reading. I like it, but it isn’t on my regular-reading list. He did create some wonderful words, though. There is the simple ‘gar,’ a great flying gargoyle-thing that counts its bloodflies; the ‘sylph,’ that transports you to other wells and was probably once a human woman; and of course, the ‘Mord Sith,’ probably the most bad-ass women ever to grace the pages of fantasy. In true Goodkind-style, their origins are also extremely tragic and terrible. It’s worth it to read it just once, either way.

Nac Mac Feegle and AshkEnte

Considering the amount of books he wrote – and the detailed world he created – there are few words from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld-series that I really envy. Most are great, but the only words I wish I could have come up with, would be ‘Nac Mac Feegle’ and ‘AshkEnte.’ Especially ‘AshkEnte’ is a word that would have been wonderful in other, more serious fantasy. But, considering the corpus of work by Pratchett, the word is perfect. It’s a pretentious word for a pretentious rite with some pretentious characters, and then he satires all over it! Well played, Terry, well played!

Tau’ri

The Stargate name for humans is ‘Tau’ri.’ The word in its less-fancy form, Tauri,  is a real word and you can Google it, like I did. Real or not, it is another word with a nice ring to it and something I would love to have an excuse to use.

Terok Nor

Another name I wish I could somehow use, is the Star Trek name ‘Terok Nor.’ There are thousands of names and words in the Star Trek universe, but by far my favourite is ‘Terok Nor,’ the Cardassian name for the space station renamed Deep Space 9. And yes, I’ve been ‘keeping up with the Cardassians’ since the mid-90’s, although it is spelled slightly different and the aliens are not half as vicious and manipulative as their human namesakes. This is scary, as the Cardassians as a culture live for intrigue.

Felwood

Though not a story – either written or filmed – it is a nice name reminiscent of Tolkien, from whom World of Warcraft seem to get a great deal of its inspiration. Here, too, there are many names I could fall in love with, such as ‘Ammen Vale,’ ‘Durator’ and ‘Shadowglen,’ my favourite is ‘Felwood.’

I feel slightly embarrassed to admit there are no Star Wars names that really stand out, beyond the fact that the movies (OT) is one of the cornerstones of my youth. The same goes for any of the Anne McCaffrey books. They are great stories, but the names are not that wonderful. One day I can only hope at least one of the names I will create will make a list such as this. Maybe. Maybe not.

 

80 Dahlias of my Soul

There’s a house. In a small town. In the middle of the nowhere that is Africa. I still dream of it.

It is a big house even for a country with enough space that most suburban houses are big. To my sister and me this house is precious. No, it is sacred. You can mess with our past and you can mess with much of our present and future, but do not mess with the memory of that house. We will destroy you if you do.

It is the house where the two of us built a zip line (if you google it, you will find Wikipedia actually mentions the South African version, called a foefie slide) and I nearly lost my thumb because of it. It is where we tried to learn how to walk on our hands (neither of us could even manage that and the hill we practised on might have had something to do with our failure). It is where we learned to roller-skate and where we got drunk the first time. It was where our mom made us push our little brother’s pram up and down the long hallway to get him to sleep and I threw a massive fit when I realised how much my sister was cheating at it. See, it was a very long ‘L’ shaped hallway, with a slightly longer leg near the front door. My mom told us to take it in turns to push the pram ten times each. I reckoned it meant pushing the pram all the way to the front door and back, counting that as a single trip. My sister, on the other hand, only pushed the pram to the end of the short leg and counted that as one. The concept of ‘laps’ seemed to have passed her by.

We grew up in that house. We played and laughed and fought and cried and dreamt in that house. In those times when my sister and I seem to be far from one another, when we’ve fought and we’re not talking to one another for months on end, that house would still be the talisman that binds us together. Even our husbands know that when we talk of the ‘Dahlia street house,’ something very personal is happening. If ever we get a sisters-tattoo, it would have to be of a dahlia, for of all the things that bind us and separate us, that house – one where we only lived for a total of twelve years – is the most important.

My parent also know how attached my sister and I are to the memory of that house, but they can’t ever truly share it. they, both, have other houses they still dream of as I dream of the Dahlia street house. And I’m not sure about my little brother’s attachment to the house. I know he liked it there, but I don’t know if he dreams of it. I’d have to ask him sometime.

First Reads

Everyone’s first time ought to be memorable; it ought to spark passion inside you and leave you wanting more…

Wait, what did you think I was writing about? I’m writing about the first time you read a book, especially the first in a genre. Seriously, sometimes I’m worried about humanity.

Okay, seriously, sometimes I wish there had been some master list to help me choose the best books to start with. Well, not that it really would have mattered, for there were no online books back then (there wasn’t even an online when I started reading) and our library was very limited. But seeing as we’re living in a brand new world where you can have almost anything your heart desires if you have a pc and access to the cyber-realm, here are some of my thoughts on first reads.

And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist: this isn’t an evaluation of how good the writers are, only which I’d suggest as introductory reads to a genre. Okay? No knickers, people!

If you’re interested in fantasy – epic, not urban – I’d suggest David Eddings’ Belgariad. There are numerous great other fantasy writers, such as Terry Goodkind, Robert Jorden, David Gemmell and, of course, the father of fantasy: JRR Tolkien. But Gemmell is depressing, as is Goodkind. Jordan is a very long-term commitment. And Tolkien is not for the feint of heart, believe me! But Eddings, though in the end 12 books – if you read the complete series about Garion – is written in a very easy way and the story is charming. Though a classic ‘chosen one’ story, one can’t help but fall in live with Garion and his companions. And once you’ve finished the Belgariad and the follow-up pentology, the Malloreon, you can read the two companions, Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, and I can guarantee you you’ll be ready to start all over again. It’s the way it’s written, after all. How did Eddings put it: they’ve created the literary equivalent of peddling dope.

For Sci-Fi I’d recommend Anne McCaffrey, in particular the Catenni series. It’s not what I’d call ‘hard-core sci-fi,’ but you have to work your way up to writers like Robert Silverberg, Isaac Azimov and Greg Bear. Oh, and I don’t even want to start on the Arthur C. Clarke and Genrty Lee collaboration which brought us the unforgettable Garden of Rama series. It’s a series that unashamedly brought us one of the first ‘the aliens made them do it’ story-lines. If you don’t know what tmtdoi is, you’re not reading enough fanfiction. If you do know what this refers to, you’re probably reading too much fanfiction. Sorry, that one gets you coming and going.

If your style is fairy tales, you can’t go wrong with Robin McKinley’s Beauty. Light, first person prose with a cute story and still one of my favourite stories when I’m feeling down.

Pratchett. The master of the fantasy satire is Terry Pratchett, and he wrote enough books that I feel we need to a whole section devoted to him. Yes, there are some other writers doing the same sort of thing, like Tom Holt and Neil Gaiman (of Stardust fame), but the master is Pratchett. His first book is The Colour of Magic, but even he later said that’s not the place to start. As all the books build upon one another, I feel one ought to start as early in the series as possible, but one where most of the lore has been figured out. In that case I’d recommend Guards! Guards! Dragons, a non-magical sword, a non-scion, a grumpy policeman and you get to meet Colon and Nobby, two of the greatest comic reliefs ever!

If your tastes run more towards more mundane – I mean normal -genres, you can’t really go wrong with Dean Koontz for a supernatural thriller. He covers a lot of themes, from ghosts to psycho killers. He also wrote some corny romances in the ’70’s, but we’ll ignore that.

For a medical thriller I’d recommend Robin Cook. I know it’s a bit dated, but it’ll still be fun to read. The same goes for Louis L’Amour and his westerns. Old but fun. And with L’Amour you only have about 150 pages max and you always know what to expect.

Obviously I’m missing dozens of genres and I do realise most of my choices are older. A few of these writers are dead and some, like Koontz, has been at it for decades. So if anyone has any alternatives or suggestions, please do so in the comment section (if I got it to work, that is).

Bunny love

 

 

English not for the Fainthearted

  • Live,  live
  • Wind, wind
  • Read, read, lead, lead
  • Nose, knows, no
  • Through, throw, though, trough, rough, cough
  • Court, courtesy
  • Hair, heir, hour, herb (In America)
  • Know, knife, knob
  • I before E except:
    • Weir, heir, heist, feisty, neighbour
  • After C:
    • Science
  • Hair, air, heir
  • Tear, tear, tier
  • Tire, tyre
  • Desert, desert, dessert
  • Booth/booths, tooth/teeth, goose/geese, mongoose/mongooses
  • The bandage was wound around the wound
  • The farm was used to produce produce
  • Refuse the refuse
  • There was a row about how to row

The list is endless, but I rest my case.

Midnight Writing

There’s this sweet moment between getting ready for bed and falling asleep where some of my best ideas come from. It probably has to do with the fact that there are no distractions left. Anything important has either already happened, or has been solved or can wait till tomorrow morning. There are a few exceptions to this rule, notably medical emergencies, acts of nature and alien invasion.

In the past I’ve merely smiled at these thoughts and vowed to remember them the next morning. I never really do. They always tend to fly away with my dreams. So I’ve started keeping a notebook and pencil beside my bed. I tried a pen for a while, but the ink prefers gravity to play a positive role in its life and writing upside-down just annoys the ink. So a pencil it is.

Mornings, thus, have become something to both dread and look forward to. It’s like waking up to find a personal letter written to you, from you. Usually the letter is the beginnings of a beautiful idea grasped in that fleeting moment of enlightenment before sleep steal reason away. Perhaps, in the battle between good and evil, good is only allowed to whisper in your heart and we are too busy with life and worries to hear it up to that silent moment. But evil, being evil, blows upon those words and they never really find their way to your mind.

Okay, fanciful ideas set aside, I really do think up some amazing ideas and some of my best inspiration comes from those midnight pages.

Unfortunately – and this is the part I dread – some of those ‘enlightenments’ are nothing more than vague ramblings. Something upon the lines of: ‘why drunk you should never text.’ Doped-up sleepy ramblings should never be held against said party and therefore I also keep the notebook where nobody can get to it and I faithfully tear out every and any offensive pages, never to return to them again.

Doped-up sleepy me can be a real dumbass.