Sunday, 29 January 2012

Collective Collaborations

The recent introduction of e-versions of instalments is probably as good a time as any to refer to Shadow Unit here.  As someone who has caught the odd episode of Veronica Mars, X-Files, Supernatural and CSI (Vegas, not Miami – traditionalist here), it shouldn’t come as a massive surprise that I’ve found myself tuning into Shadow Unit on a virtual basis.

For the previously uninitiated, Shadow Unit is a TV series “aired” in website format.  In the words of the writing team themselves, it’s “a mystery/suspense show, a profiler shoe – but with a science-fictional problem at its heart.  An ensemble cast of smart, witty, capable people, each with a vulnerable place at his or her core.  A single, unified what-if…only a little outside the laws of physics as we know them”.
Essentially, the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit investigates those cases designated as outside the “norm”, the ones which are sent “down the hall”.  Those involving the “Anomaly”, which causes genetic mutation, a parasite/host relationship, injury, virus or infection, amongst the speculative theories.  Characters are categorised as either alpha (“normal”), beta or gamma; gammas being humans fully affected by the Anomaly and, thus, a threat to society.

The series is deliberately interactive, with some characters maintaining LiveJournal accounts and even having been known to respond to fans of the show on occasion.  There is also a detailed “wiki” and running order for episodes.
To date, three full seasons have been released, with the website reader (Paypal) funded and Season Four currently under way.  There also appear to be plans for previous seasons to be released in “dead tree” format via sources such as Amazon , following on from the current e-format versions (of which there are 10 capable of being downloaded).  Best of all, they can all be located easily here, with a clear running order set out.  Just be sure to avoid character synopsis/summaries, if you’re making your way through the episodes in chronological order, so as to avoid inadvertently stumbling across spoilers for “future” episodes!

I’d previously checked out episodes via the website but have now availed myself of the opportunity to download the e-versions, as it’s more comfortable to read them in a non-backlit format (personal preference only).  It’s been well worth the minimal effort and cash involved.  (Each “book” constituting of a couple of “episodes” each and various extra “cookies" and LiveJournal extras is less than £2.00 on the UK Amazon site, with US versions similarly reasonably priced.)
The writing is effortless and the characterisation sound; unsurprising, given a number of well-known authors form part of team responsible for formatted episodes (Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear and Holly Black, amongst others). 
I found myself easily hooked in and am enjoying the opportunity to revisit the characters.  If you find yourself intrigued by the premise, you could do worse than pay the website a visit, starting here and let the characters and plotlines speak for themselves.     

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Thrilling Memento

On the subject of recommended reads, one of my most recent has been S J Watson's Before I Go To Sleep.  I happened to mention this to a friend on the way out of work the other day, only for someone else in the lift to indicate this as a recent read of theirs too.  Hence the reason I thought I’d put together a couple of thoughts on the novel for the benefit of the blog.

The book is an interesting one for a number of reasons.  I’ve alluded to it as the Memento of the book world in the title to this entry and, certainly, this is something which seems to be referred to in a couple of the reviews I’ve seen to date.  It’s not hard to see why, given the novel deals with the subject of an amnesiac whose brain “resets” itself each night when the main protagonist is asleep.

The plot is thriller phrased as self-discovery and exploration of the past.  To say much more concerning it, save to note that Christine becomes aware that her husband is keeping information from her, would spoil the suspense element and so I’ll leave this to interested parties to pursue.
The narrative device itself, couched in the terms of Christine’s diary, drafted from day to day, works well and the language is clear and concise.  This leaves the reader free to follow the plot developments and keeps the overall momentum going whilst in the narrator’s company.  Whilst I did in fact second guess one element of the plot prior to the novel’s conclusion, it didn’t detract in any way from my enjoyment overall.

The idea of the amnesiac narrator is a novel one (no pun intended) and one partially inspired by real life memoirs, although the events of the book are purely fictitious.  From recollection, I can recall seeing the issue of memory explored recently in a similar guise in Cat Patrick's YA contribution Forgotten but that as much from the perspective of teen romance as the suspense element.  Too, the concept is explored here from the point of view that the narrator remembers aspects of their future but has no recollection of the past - hence another departure between the two.  (Yes, suspend and leave your disbelief at the door if you’re intending to embark on this one as your next intended read.)
For me, it would also be remiss not to mention Holly Black’s Curse Workers Trilogy, whose Black Heart I’m anticipating the arrival of later this year.  If you like the sound of a noir style fantasy and haven’t sampled any of Black’s prior work to date, you might want to start with White Cat and play catch up.  Here, Cassel is forced to question his own memory when he finds himself sleepwalking and plagued by dreams about the eponymous feline in the title.  As you read further, you discover the con is definitely on!

Returning to S J Watson’s work, the premise behind the plot has resulted in the sale of the novel in over 30 languages worldwide and sale of the rights for the film to Ridley Scott’s production company, in addition to promotion via Richard and Judy’s Book Club.  It has also won accolades such as Best Debut Novel within crime writing circles.  Combine that with the “rags to riches” element of a first novel completed as a result of Faber’s first ever Novel Writing course which happened to result in introduction of the author to a literary agent on the final night and this also makes for an interesting author back story, particularly in light of its overall commercial success.
Clear prose and lack of distraction aside, it’s also easy to step into the character’s shoes as a result of the first person perspective.  The reference to memoirs by Watson adds further reality to the premise, addition of the crime element and further fictitious aspects aside.

If you’re interested in learning more, you might want to hunt out a copy of the text to decide for yourself whether or not you agree it deserves its bestselling status.  For me personally, it was an entertaining read.

Hullo! Hullo!

A couple of people have been looking for book recommendations from me over the past couple of months or so.  I thought this would be a decent opportunity to shine a little light into the pages of various titles and hopefully expand a couple of horizons, mine included.  On that basis - hold fast.  There will be books; maybe even writing and whatever else may present itself in the spaces and shadows in between.  Feel free to make yourself comfy if you like.  (Additional kudos if you are a kindred spirit nodding along in recognition at the shout out to the first book reference of the blog.  There are sure to be more if we journey together awhile.)