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Review: Infamous Reign by Steve McHugh

An adventure full of the stuff nightmares are made of.

Infamous Reign by Steve McHugh (book cover)Infamous Reign fills in another chapter from the past of Nathaniel Garrett, hero of McHugh’s Hellequin Chronicles which so far include novels Crimes against Magic and Born of Hatred. While the novels are principally set in the present day, the centuries old sorcerer’s past, and his involvement in historical events is an integral part of the world McHugh creates.

Set 70 years or so after events covered in Crimes Against Magic, Infamous Reign is McHugh’s fantasy spin on the legend of “the princes in the tower”, the young royal heirs historically rumoured to have been murdered by their uncle, Richard III. As a representative of Avalon, Nathaniel Garrett is sent to investigate the disappearance of the two princes. He quickly uncovers a plot to steal the princes away and use them to start a war, but as he delves deeper it seems an even more insidious motive is at work. Along the way a cast of nightmarish characters make things interesting; a changeling who sucks away people’s features leaving them smooth bags of flesh, psychopathic half-spider half-human monsters and giant creatures from the depths of the sea!

The novella feels faster paced and less detailed than McHugh’s longer work. Details are sketched rather than painted, except when it comes to the fantasy elements. This perhaps suggests the author is less confident with his historical setting than the elements from his own imagination. That said, better to leave out detail you’re uncertain about than present something historically incongruous. The result is not detrimental to the story which focuses on the action, and action is most definitely the author’s strong point.

McHugh’s other work, which fits chronologically both before and after the events of the novella does somewhat limit what he can do with the character. As such there’s no sense of a character journey for Nate Garrett in this instalment, but the shorter format is carried by a plot driven story alone quite successfully. Kudos to McHugh for using the novella format to flesh out his universe this way, rather than trying to eek out the plot into a full novel.

All in all, a fast paced, action driven read packed full of dark horror getting its arse kicked by dark heroes. Excellent.

You or your muse?

On the evolution of stories and a case of unexpected philosophy.

Puppet on stringsMuse

There are those who scoff at authors when they claim they have no control over the stories that they tell, that they are a conduit through which stories are told, more like a medium than an engineer. That some external force, a muse, is directing them.

It does sound a bit artsy, doesn’t it?

I don’t believe I have no control, far from it. I have acres of axed and edited scenes which have been subjected to my control. But sometimes I do find myself surprised by the direction in which my stories evolve. And maybe that’s what all authors really mean when they claim their characters speak to them or that they found themselves dragged to a completely unexpected place. Despite your original idea or plan, you find yourself doing something completely different and sometimes it’s hard to place when you decided to deviate, why or how.

Not according to plan

I’m currently working on a romance novella called Annabelle Blue. When I first conceived of the idea I imagined the story destined to be a hot, steamy affair with just enough back story to make the characters believable. As soon as I started writing that went out the window, partially because I found myself far more interested in other aspects of the story. So now it seemed set to become a romance adventure story, with action and discovery.

The more I wrote, the more I found that even this wasn’t going to work. For one, I kept putting up barriers to my characters getting together. I’d set out to write a short, sexy liaison and now I was adding in complications at every turn. I knew I was doing it, but why? It would have been easy to claim that my characters just weren’t cooperating, and wouldn’t get together. Easier to blame it on them, perhaps.

Could it be that there was some other story that wanted to be told and was bending my will to its own ends? Spooky.

Patchy rough draft done I began picking it apart to figure out what was going on. Something really wasn’t working. I figured out that the story wasn’t about the relationship alone; it was about the protagonist changing her complete outlook on life. That realisation prompted some substantial additions to show the life she was coming from.

Unexpected philosophy

Now I was at the point where the physical events of the story formed a backdrop, even a metaphor for the mental and emotional journey of the protagonist, but now I found myself experiencing an unexpected case of philosophy. In hunting around for some interesting quotes, I stumbled upon poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and got into one of those Wikipedia loops where you lose half a day following links around the internet. Emerson was a key proponent of Transcendentalism, which is all about the power of self, fate and the relationship between the two.  I suddenly saw my protagonist’s journey as an individual example of a greater question regarding self-determinism versus conformation.

I won’t go so far as to say the result is something that could be classed as literary fiction, but I would tentatively suggest it has the legs (if not the length) to be mainstream. Whatever it is, (or will be when it’s finished) it’s a far cry from what I originally intended.

Who’s in control, then?

Doesn’t that then suggest that I am out of control? This wasn’t the story I wanted to write!

Well no, because at every point during that evolution, I was making the decisions to change tact, no matter how unconsciously.

It does however raise a question; how do you know when to go with an impulse to deviate and when to stick with your original plan? Where do those impulses come from? Those gut feelings? Sometimes it is so hard to fathom it seems believable that some external force is acting through you. Perhaps it is also easier to follow your muse unquestioningly, abdicate control and go with every impulse. If you claim the story is guiding you, then you don’t have to question why you suddenly feel the need to add a seventy-year-old hunchback called Gerald with an addiction to cheese to your sci-fi adventure. All will come clear in time, right?

It’s not a bad strategy to be honest. You gut feelings for a reason; you may not be able to put your finger on why, but most of the time your gut (or your muse, if you like) is onto something. And, at the end of the day, you’re the one with access to the delete key, not your muse (or your gut). At least if you explore every impulse you may discover the perfect solution. Gerald the cheese loving hunchback can always be surgically removed during later edits.

Giant robots and gargantuan monsters haven’t exactly had a good run over the last couple of decades. Pacific Rim combines both; I didn’t have high hopes, but I was happy to be proven wrong.

After its third weekend in the cinemas the film has struggled to break even at the box office (ComicBook.com: As Pacific Rim Struggles…) which sadly goes to show that Hollywood safe route thinking has its basis in fact. So what if you haven’t heard of it before? So what if you don’t know who’s in it? Take a chance on this one because you’ll regret missing on the big screen.

Poster for Pacific Rim*Poster image from Moustache Magazine.

The Earth is under attack. Below the Pacific Ocean, a rift in space brings forth monstrous beasts known as kaiju. When conventional weapons prove ineffectual, mankind creates a new form of defence; massive robots called jaegers. Operated by a pair of pilots linked by a neural bridge, the jaegers hold the line of the pacific coast. For a time the jaegers keep the kaiju in check, but with each wave, the attacking kaiju grow in size and strength.

One by one the jaegers fall. Driven to the brink of defeat, with only four jaegers still operational, a reckless plan is concocted to make one do or die attack to seal the rift.

Retired pilot Raleigh Becket is called back to the helm of Gypsy Danger, the jaeger he once piloted with his brother. In the co-pilot seat; prodigal trainee Mako Mori. Between them they must take the restored and upgraded Gypsy Danger to the front lines, along with Striker Eureka, the fastest and most powerful jaeger ever built, Crimson Typhoon, a three armed jaeger piloted by triplets, and Cherno Alpha, a heavyweight veteran of the early days.

It is refreshing to see a big budget, effects driven film that isn’t a sequel, remake or adaptation of some existing franchise. I don’t blame Hollywood for wanting some assurances that they will have an audience when big sums of money are concerned, but always taking the safe route means viewers rarely get the chance to enter an epic world that’s entirely new. I think this is one of the reasons that James Cameron’s Avatar was so successful. Films should be taking us to new places as much books or comics, so good on director Del Toro and his team for taking the risk with Pacific Rim.

The film isn’t populated by big stars either, another risky strategy, but one that, in my opinion, pays off. By not trying to sell the film with a big star and thus feeling the need for them to be on screen all the time, the supporting characters get the screen time they need to play out the various sub plots. The core performances from Charlie Gunnan and  Rinko Kikuchi are strong enough to carry the film, but they form one part of a compelling whole. In classic disaster movie style, this isn’t a one man show, it’s a team effort and the supporting cast, including Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Max Martini make a great team.

All-powerful titans can be something of a stumbling block for film makers; how do you make a fight interesting when the opponents are indestructible? In recently released Man of Steel the answer seemed to be to have the characters repeatedly charge each other at high speed. Yawn. Pacific Rim doesn’t make that mistake. Buildings get levelled, but only as a bi-product of some spectacularly innovative and well-choreographed fights. The jaeger pilots dish out some kick ass moves, improvise with what’s at hand and deploy a whole range of geek-candy grade weapons.

Del Toro draws influences from the Japanese mecha and kaiju genres (Godzilla being perhaps the most famous of the latter) with a confessed desire to bring these genres to a new audience (LA Times Hero Complex:  Guillermo del Toro edges …). Some previous western adaptations and interpretations have somewhat missed the mark, but not so here. It maintains a somewhat fantasy feel alongside it’s more realistic visual style, and succeeds in drawing you into emotional investment in the machines.

It’s a real edge of your seat adrenalin rush ride. Don’t miss out.

General update and “coming soon”

Along with the rest of Britain, I’ve had a bit of a dry spell recently. A blogging dry spell at least. Hopefully the two aren’t linked and it won’t start raining as a result of me posting an update.

This is a bit of a general update and “what’s coming up” before I plough back into the regular posts.

As you’ll see from the last update back in May, I’ve had my film making hat on in the run up to production of Gabriel Cushing at the Carnival of Sorrows. We were due to begin filming next week, but plans have changed and we’ll now be filming next spring. Nevertheless, I’ve been doing a lot of work with the rest of the team on script development, planning and design. Next week we’ll be doing a whole bunch of pre-production work, promo material and more and later in August  (23/08/13).

One benefit to the change of plans has been that I’ve had more time to devote to my writing over the last couple of weeks. An autumn release date for Mime is looking pretty implausible at the moment, but Spring 2014 should be possible. Before I get into the major re-writing phase I’m clearing some other smaller projects off my plate. Call it a mental warm up of the editing muscles.

One current big project is a romance novella called Annabelle Blue. I don’t want to give too much away as I am planning to submit it to various publishers; this one isn’t for self-publishing. However, the way it has evolved has somewhat taken me by surprise. Next Friday (02/08/13) I’ll have a post dedicated to that and a case of unexpected philosophy.

I’ve also got a few reviews to pen. I’m not usually a big review writer, but sometimes I come across something that defies my expectations. So the case with Pacific Rim which I saw in EPIC-3D-IMAX-o-vision on Wednesday. You can catch my review of the film on Monday (29/07/13).

I’ve also been trying to write more reviews on Goodreads, so look out for a run down on some of those next Monday (05/08/13). I’ll be following it up with a few thoughts on standalone stories vs series the following Friday (09/08/13).

So that’s what’s coming up, and now that I’ve posted this I theoretically have to stick to it!

Hi everyone. Updates are likely to continue to be a bit sporadic over the next few months as I work on Gabriel Cushing at the Carnival of Sorrows with the rest of the production team from The Great Escape. The new eight part web series will be shot this summer for release next autumn and is currently funding on Kickstarter.

I have something a bit different this week. Me. Or a video of me. Explaining why I’m excited about the project and why you should pledge your support and help make it happen

If you find my bouncy enthusiasm in any way infectious, please reward my self humiliation by visiting the Kickstarter Project page, sharing it to your friends, anything is appreciated.

 

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