Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Gratuitous Doctor Who Blogpost

A work colleague told me that, as a rule, blogs containing Doctor Who content get more hits than those that don't. So I have an ulterior motive for writing about the new series of the programme which started last Saturday on BBC1.

Actually there is so much written about Doctor Who on the web that I don't really want to blog too much about it. If you want good reviews of both new and classic Who as well as discussions about other cult and vintage TV programmes may I suggest you bookmark Frank's Cathode Ray Tube blog. It's an excellent site with meaty, informative articles which discusses old TV and film from a cultural and historical perspective.

I'm a big fan of Doctor Who. I was born the same year the programme began and I watched it from an early age. I was never really scared of the monsters (although I wasn't too keen on the Axons) but loved the SF and horror aspects of the show.

The recent revival has been a joy and it's very gratifying to see Doctor Who mania sweep over the country again. I'm pleased to say that the golden age continues with a wonderful new Doctor in Matt Smith, an intriguing new companion (I'm sure Amy Pond isn't all she seems) and a fine script by Steven 'I-never-think-in-a-straight-line' Moffat. It was dead good.

This will be my last word on the matter.

Unless I need to improve my hit count.

Monday, 5 April 2010

As the World Dies: The First Days by Rhiannon Frater

As I've bought an ebook reader I thought it might be a good idea to review one of the very many independent novels to be found on the web which bypass the usual publishing formalities. These books are usually genre novels and can be downloaded for very little money at various internet bookstores.

Riannon Frater's zombie trilogy As the World Dies first appeared as a serial novel on various internet forums before being revised and edited for ebook publication. Since then the books have appeared in hardcopy from Createspace books. It looks like the only ebook now available is in Kindle format.

The First Days begins with a haunting image of a small child's fingers pushing through the gap underneath a door desperately trying to reach for his mother. It turns out that the child is dead after being bitten by his undead father and now wants to do the same to his remaining parent.

His mother Jenni is rescued from the clutches of her zombie family by Katie who happens to be driving by in a truck. We soon learn that Katie is escaping her wife who has also turned into one of the living dead.

The first part of the novel deals with the two women coming to terms with the zombie outbreak and their picaresque adventures driving through Texas. It also chronicles the growing bond that develops between Jenni and Katie. In the second half of the book the couple find themselves holed up in a small town which has been fortified against zombie attacks. There they meet Travis who Katie realises she is falling in love with.

The whole book is punctuated by many lovingly described zombie attacks. As in most zombie films and novels the creatures can only be killed by destroying their brain. Graphic details are not spared and Frater doesn't flinch from scenes of carnage and gore.

So far, so good then. Except that it isn't at all. The book is so badly written that I found it a chore to get through. Frater doesn't use one word when five will do. A sample paragraph:

Katie and Jenni looked at each other and that (sic) gaze steadied each other. They were ready. Backpacks adorned both their backs. Katie slung the cooler by its long strap over her shoulder. Each had a gun in their hand. In Jenni's extra hand she carried another backpack, that she would drop if she had to. Katie held the truck keys.

There's far too much description too. Characters never just smile, they do it 'affectionately' or 'goofy' (sic). Jenni doesn't draw her gun, she does it 'dutifully'. A man's voice is full of 'disbelief, despair and terror'. None of the characters in times of stress say 'God' but use the word 'gawd'. It becomes apparent that Frater doesn't like to use too many contractions when writing dialogue giving conversations a painfully stilted air.

If I wasn't writing this review I would have closed the book on page 100 and moved on. I wasn't even going to blog about it for another few days but after doing a little research on the internet I actually find that this book is well liked. The novel gets four and a half stars on Amazon. It's been described as an "awesome read" and "a must have zombie novel". Only a few brave souls have talked about the abominable prose or the poor characterisation.

So I must be wrong. Do people not care about good prose any more? Is plot all that matters to them? If that's so we might as well bypass editors and conventional book publishers and have a free for all.

For a first foray into the world of independently published fiction this was a disappointment to me.

P.S. Reading Frater's blog it seems that Tor books have picked up the trilogy and are going to publish a revised version. I'm sure an editor will improve matters but I can't help thinking of silk purses and sow's ears.