Arrow Season One Review

vamersarrowposter1With the impending release of the second season of ‘Arrow’ on DVD and BluRay here in Australia, I thought it about time I share my thoughts on the first season of one of the best non-cable channel shows of the last decade.

I have been a big Green Arrow fan for years now, so when I heard that the vigilante of Star City was coming to TV, I was stoked. I didn’t know anything about the actors, but having missed a lot of the CW-style TV shows over the preceding few years, that wasn’t much of a surprise. Mamma Queen and Pappa Lance were known to me, and Thea Queen was a memory from my ‘The O.C.’ days, but everyone else was a beautiful mystery (because, yes, everyone on this show is ridiculously beautiful).

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Reviewing an entire season of TV is tricky at the best of times — worse when it’s as good as Arrow season one was. Many TV shows struggle through their first season — ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ anyone? (Or pretty much every Star Trek TV series ever.) However, from the very first episode, I was hooked on the stories of these re-envisioned characters.

One of the most impressive accomplishments of the show, however, was the wonderful use of flashbacks. Many shows use flashbacks as an ad-hoc info-dump, and irregularly, making them seem more like a failing in storytelling and writing rather than an interesting plot device. In Arrow, however, the flashbacks are absolutely integral to the overall story, and a number of the individual episode-length stories.

Slade

The season-length story-arc was everything I have ever desired from my TV shows. Ever since the I fell in love with the overarching story lines from ‘Star Trek: Deep Space 9’ I’ve wanted continuing stories in everything I watch — a TV show which is nothing more than ‘monster of the week’ stories bores me in a few weeks. And while Arrow incorporates its fair share of monsters each week, the real story is what happens around that. From the growth of Diggle as a character, and his relationship with Oliver; the almost pathological inability Oliver and Laurel have to make things work; to how Tommy became one of the most impressively written and acted characters on TV, thanks in large part to actor Colin Donnell: Almost every aspect of Arrow has depth and three-dimensionality to it that helps make this show one of the most watchable and entertaining shows ever.

The last few episodes of season one really ramp up the storytelling and match it strength for strength with intense drama and action. By the time the last episode rolls credits, you’re left feeling emotionally devastated — and desperately wanting more.

There’s little more that can be said, other than to implore any fan of good TV and storytelling, DC’s Green Arrow, and very beautiful actors (I think I can understand Felicity’s issue whenever Oliver works out on the salmon ladder) to go out immediately and buy season one of Arrow.

Children’s Laureate out to find UK’s best young writers

This week saw the launch of Project Remix – current Waterstones Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman’s nationwide competition to find the UK’s best young writers and creatives. Blackman’s second, and final, major Children’s Laureate project celebrates the art of storytelling, in all its forms, and is being hosted on the teenage story-sharing community Movellas.com. The competition, open to UK residents aged 13-19 years, will be judged by Blackman, with entries published on the website and the winners announced at an exclusive event in April 2015.

Project Remix banner

To enter, teenagers are asked to make their own creative work in response to a selection of acclaimed literature – featuring fiction, poetry, graphic novels and short stories from some of the bestselling contemporary and classic authors, including: John Green, Suzanne Collins, Philip Pullman, Benjamin Zephaniah, Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker. Entries can be submitted into five categories: Music, Book Cover Design, Book Trailer, Creative Writing, and Comic Strip.

The aim of the competition is to engage young people with literature, using it as a creative springboard into other storytelling mediums, and to open doors to the arts and the creative industries. It was inspired by the growth of online fandom, including fan fiction and fan art and the surge in related digital communities.

“Teenagers are some of the most passionate, dynamic and creative people I know. Yet too often this creative spark is left to flicker precariously and sometimes fade entirely.  Project Remix is all about fuelling that inventive spark, encouraging young people to view literature in fresh and exciting ways, putting creative control directly back into their hands.  Imagine Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remixed into a drum and bass anthem or saxophone solo, Collins’ The Hunger Games reimagined as a vibrant comic strip, and Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go brought to life as a suspenseful book trailer,” commented Blackman.

”As well as celebrating story in all its forms, I hope Remix will shine a light on the vast range of opportunities that there are in the creative industries for our young people – so often overlooked within traditional careers guidance.”

Project Remix will go live on the Movellas website at www.projectremix.co.uk, with further information about the competition, plus resources to help young people create their entries, including guidance and insider tips from top industry experts from each category.

The full list of Project Remix selected works of literature:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Vintage Classics)
  • Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Random House Children’s Books)
  • Tamsin and the Deep comic strip by Neill Cameron and Kate Brown (The Phoenix Comic)
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
  • ‘Hear and Now’ poem by Laura Dockrill (unpublished)
  • Say Her Name by James Dawson (Hot Key Books)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (Vintage Classics)
  • Heroic by Phil Earle (Penguin Children’s Books)
  • If I Stay by Gayle Foreman (Random House Children’s Books)
  • Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin (Egmont)
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin Children’s Books)
  • ‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad’ short story by M. R. James (Vintage Classics)
  • ‘The Alumni Interview’ (short story from How they Met) by David Levithan (Egmont)
  • Split Second by Sophie McKenzie (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Walker Books)
  • Wonder by R J Palacio (Random House Children’s Books)
  • Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Scholastic)
  • (Un)arranged Marriage by Bali Rai (Random House Children’s Books)
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion Children’s Books)
  • ‘Ozymandias’ poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Vintage Classics)
  • Geek Girl by Holly Smale (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (Vintage Classics)
  • ’We Refugees’ (poem from Wicked World) by Benjamin Zephaniah (Penguin Children’s Books)

Competition category requirements:

  • Creative writing: write your own piece of fiction inspired by your chosen book, story or poem. Word limit: up to 2,000 words
  • Comic strip: create your own comic strip inspired by your chosen book, story or poem. Limit: up to three A4 pages
  • Cover design: design or illustrate your own alternative cover for your chosen book
  • Book trailer: produce a book trailer – a short piece of film, like a film trailer – for your chosen book, story or poem. Limit: up to 2 minutes
  • Music: write and perform a song or a piece of original music inspired by your chosen book, story or poem. Limit: up to 3 minutes

‘The World of Ice and Fire’ is Everything You Wanted!

When George R. R. Martin announced that he would be penning a “The World of Ice and Fire” book, fans around the world rejoiced. New information, new history, and maybe some spoilers — what could be better?

I’ll tell you what could be better — the actual product in your hand.

‘The World of Ice and Fire’ is everything fans of the series — both book and TV — could have asked for.

World of Ice and Fire 1

The book is big and heavy, just as it should be, and pretty much every page is highlighted with artwork, with the book boasting “more than 170 original pieces”. Each page is really quite stunning to just look at, never mind the fact that Martin has written a heap of new material for this book.

The book starts out looking at the ancient history of Westeros — the Dawn Age, the building of the wall, and any number of stories and characters vaguely referenced in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ books.

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We get individual bios the Targaryen Kings, and a massive history of the Seven Kingdoms.

All in all, this book deserves a lot more said about it, but with no real story to underpin it, the best I can do is highlight some of my favourite parts of this monstrous history of one of the best series of books around.

If you ever wanted to know about what came before ‘A Game of Thrones’ and what made the Targaryens so … eccentric, then here’s your chance!

Virtual Science Fiction Festival–Nov 15 and 16 2014

A free Virtual Science Fiction Festival called #BFIVoyager will be taking place on the 15th and 16th November. A collaboration between HarperCollins and the BFI, the festival takes place as part of the BFI’s major three month celebration of Science Fiction, Days of Fear and Wonder. The festival takes place at BFI Southbank and venues across the UK until December, full of science fiction films and television, including Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, Barbarella, the cinema rerelease of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a programme of talks, lectures and discussion with film and TV directors, actors and screenwriters.

Virtual Sci-Fi Festival logo

The aim of the BFIVoyager Science Fiction festival is to explore the link between Science Fiction literature and film and the program will reflect the 3 main themes of the BFI’s film season:

  • Tomorrow’s World – from post-apocalyptic wastelands to megacities to far-flung dystopia
  • Altered States – the science fiction of ‘inner space’ mad scientists, mutants, man-machines and mind-bending trips
  • Contact! – time to explore life from all corners of the universe and across multiple dimensions

The festival will be free to ‘attend’. Register now to be sent the full programme closer to the time and receive 2 free science fiction ebooks.

What If? by Randll Munroe

Every now and again I get to read a non-fiction book which blows my socks off. Over the years the contenders have mostly been historical in nature — as is my particular bent — but this time, and completely unsurprisingly, things are a little different.

“What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” is a book by Randall Munroe, most popularly known as the creator and author of the phenomenally popular “XKCD” webcomic.What If

And it lives up to its name.

The first question Munroe answers — with some authority, as a man who started life out as a NASA roboticist — is this:

What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?

It is not a question I had ever contemplated, nor do I imagine I will ever be able to put into practice the information I have gleaned from Munroe’s answer (which, in typical XKCD fashion, starts out simply saying: “Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting.”).

However it’s damned fun!

The premise of the book is simple: Munroe’s XKCD website features a regular column in which the author answers ‘What If?’ questions. The best of these (as well as some of the more worrying — see below) are answered in detail in the book, along with Munroe’s beloved artwork — helping, illustrating, and laughing at some of his answers.

The questions answered range across the whole scientific spectrum, including my favourite:

What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?

The answer, inevitably, results in death, but the how and why is a fascinating learning experience.

And that’s the trick of why this book is so good. Yes, it’s hilariously terrifying at times (“How many houses are burned down in the United States every year? What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say, at least 15%)?” — as a note, Munroe doesn’t answer this question), and absurd (“How much force power can Yoda output?”), but in the end, the book is also really informative. Entire high school science curriculums should be built solely around Munroe’s method of education.

Periodic Table
Image Credit: Wired

So the audience for this book is many and varied: If you’re into science, young and not into science, a parent of someone young and not into science, a parent, a fan of XKCD, a fan of weird scientific questions answered …

Now I come to think of it, I think it’d be good if Randall Munroe did a What If? about who his book doesn’t appeal to. The science would be fascinating.

Pick it up at your local Amazon (or wherever).

Spotlight: Scions of the Storm by Alan Scott

‘Scions of the Storm’ is the second instalment in the ‘Storm Series’ trilogy, and covers the next sixteen years of this epic tale. It concludes the tale of Nathanial and his daughter, details the rise of the ‘Midnight Man’ and for the first time reveals hints about the two deadly, but hidden, forces that are using the Twin Kingdoms as a pawn in their eons old game of domination.

As ‘Scions of the Storm’ draws to an end, it prepares the reader for the final episode of this dark bittersweet trilogy and sets the ground work for the final story ‘A Dark and Hungry Storm.’

For more information and updates search Facebook for ‘EchoesOfAStorm’ or visit www.alankscott.com.

Amazon.co.uk buy button

Amazon.com buy button

Scions of the Storm book cover image

Learning the Language of the Dothraki, thanks to Living Languages

Every now and again a package rocks up at my doorstep, completely unasked for, and completely awesome. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, it definitely makes my day.

So last week, after unwrapping Terry Pratchett’s new non-fiction anthology, I picked up the second parcel and, low and behold, what did I find?

living-language-dothraki-a-conversational-language-course-based-on-the-hit-original-hbo-series-game-of-thronespaperback-book_500The “Living Language Dothraki” package, a “conversational language course based on the Hit Original HBO series Game of Thrones”.

Now, for those wondering, Living Language is a genuine foreign language self-study publisher, who provide very popular language packages for the more boring languages, such as Japanese and Russian. That they had branched out into fictional languages is completely new to me, though I should have known better.

The pack contains a book to help you as you work through the 5 separate lessons provided on an accompanying CD: dealing with Pronunciation, Basic Expressions, Grammar, Vocabulary, and Dialogue.

In much the same way as any language learning tool, the Living Language Dothraki takes you from the small, and then builds up as you go. I’m not an expert at languages – in fact, I have proven multiple times my inability to learn anything other than English – but this proves to be a lot of fun for fans of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, as well as “The Game of Thrones”.

You can find out more about the Living Language package by heading on over to their Dothraki website, for more reviews, the app, and more.

Fantasy / science-fiction book name crossword

Fergus found himself with some spare time on his hands so he set his deviously Moriarty-like brain to creating a crossword where all the answers are very well-known fantasy and science fiction books. See how you get on, the answers will be published tomorrow.

Box

Across

  1. Working for Jimmy ‘The Tulip’ Tudeski (19)
  2. A sunny remembrance (14)
  3. Against living, restraining Order (12)
  4. A building is constructed well on this (10)
  5. A period or state of obscurity, ambiguity, or gradual decline (8)
  6. I’m trip’n (6)

Down

  1. Gemmell’s first novel (6)
  2. Character forgets his handkerchief and is most worried (9)
  3. Copperfield and Houdini are one of these (8)
  4. Alloy-ticker (10)
  5. The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust, Track 4 (7)
  6. Skinny sleep-giver (11)
  7. Mirror, taraba (6)
  8. The Tattooed Fellow (13)
  9. Parent of the piglet (12)
  10. Finisher of Sports (10)
  11. Wyvern aviation (12)
  12. To Er is to leave (6)

Sandman Slim Nursery Rhymes

Send your child to bed the right way!

As you lay your head to Sleep (Metallica, Enter the Sandman inspired)

When I lay my head to sleep,

I pray to Samuel, my soul to keep.

Beast below the things that bite,

No more day, no more light.

Beneath my bed, eternal night, Dream of hands griping tight,

What’s that noise behind door,

Speak his name dead forever more.

Sandman Sandman, I see you there,

Sandman Sandman, have a care,

Sandman Sandman, my life you take,

Sandman Sandman, I must awake.

One , Two, Sandman is Coming for you! (Freddy Krueger inspired)

1, 2, The Sandman is coming for you,

3, 4, lock your door,

5, 6, grab your crucifix; rocket launder; tactical nuclear warhead; WHATEVER,

7, 8, better stay up late,

9, 10, never sleep again

Sleep baby Sleep (Inspired by an old nursery rhyme)

Sleep, baby, sleep, Sandman guards your dreams tonight;

His Kiss blessed arm holds the door, Gun and knife and a lot more.

Rest your head on dreams shore;

The Sandman is going to count to four.

Sleep, baby, sleep.

Review: Asterix and the Picts by Ferri and Conrad

For those of you who don’t know how the book review-gig goes, it’s pretty simple. Each publishing house generally has their own specific method of going about things, but in essence, every month or three an email will go out with a list of books being published. You can then request those which meet your specific genre or tastes, and hope for the best.

A few months ago, such an email came through, and my mind was immediately cast back to my childhood when I saw the title ‘Asterix and the Picts’.

For those of you who grew up under a rock (because I’m assuming that would be the only possible way to escape the sheer width and breadth of distribution the Asterix series of books enjoyed) Asterix (and his fat friend Obelix) is a French comic written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo that received massive popularity around the world. According to some numbers, 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making the pair exceedingly bestselling authors.

I’ll skip the rest of the history lesson, in lieu of sending you towards the lengthy Wikipedia entry, suffice to say, the moment I saw there was a new Asterix story had me feeling very nostalgic.

The story is exactly what you want from an Asterix story. Frozen Pict floats onto local Gaulish beach, discovered by Asterix and Obelix, soon the envy of all the women in the village, which inevitably leads to Asterix and Obelix being tasked with escorting the young handsome Pict back to his lady-love and the giant otter that lives in the local Loch.

As with every Asterix book, it’s all very short and to the point. 48 pages in length, and with obvious translation issues causing some at-times odd brevity. This would appear to be the first Asterix book not to involve either of the original creators – Goscinny having died in 1977 and seemingly finally passing on the baton.

I loved this. I genuinely did. I poured through the pages, reliving some very good Asterix art considering it was not illustrated by Uderzo (this time by illustrator Didier Conrad). The linework is just like it has ever been, with beautiful cartoon-style lines and shading, and the colours have always been brilliant, and are no different in this newest volume.

If you’ve never read Asterix, or if you’re a lifelong fan like I am, then Asterix and the Picts is an absolute must-read. Buy it for yourself, or buy it for your kids and then sneak a read – either way, it’s going to be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up.

10/10