Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hunting Monsters, by Darren Naish

I enjoyed this deconstruction of the hoaxes, honest mistakes, and arguments of those who believe that creatures such as sea monsters, bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster are real animals.  At the same time, I enjoyed the details of the mythology surrounding them, like awesome tales of "island monsters" and the intriguing supposed habits of bigfoot-like creatures around the world.  It made me think and question—while also giving me grist for the imagination mill. 
One of the most interesting points revolves around the stylized images of dinosaurs and monsters like Nessie that are so ingrained in our cultural awareness, yet our knowledge of actual animals lags behind.  Therefore when we see something we can't identify, our imaginative minds often leap to some unexplained mystery monster instead of a real animal we just don't know about.  For example (and this is my example—I think "pterodactyl" is a layman's term), everyone has an idea of what a pterodactyl is—inaccurate or not—but fewer people have any firm knowledge of real-world fruit bats.  So if you see a rare flying fox bat, for example, for just a moment, especially if you're alone and edgy in unfamiliar territory, or if you particularly like dinosaurs, you might well think "pterodactyl!"
I did find the book quite repetitive, however, not just in the details, but in the philosophy and big themes.  I got the author's main points the first time, certainly the second.  By the fifth time my intelligence was feeling a little insulted.  However, if you read this book in small sections with a few weeks between topics, the repetition would be more appropriate.  I also recommend skipping the long captions on the pictures, since they often repeat almost word for word what is said just before or after in the text.
The illustrations and photos included add a good deal to the book.  I just wish we could see a few more of the photos Naish discusses in detail.  Copyright issues and other problems probably prevented it, but it would have been nice. 
The writing of Hunting Monsters is clear and I learned a lot of new things, including many possibilities for what these supposed mystery monsters could really be.  I also really enjoyed the bits discussing the cultural, sociological, and anthropological implications of such widespread belief in mystery monsters. 
If you're interested in cryptozoology and a thorough examination of the evidence and reality of cryptids like Nessie, Bigfoot, and other less famous but no less fascinating creatures, read Hunting Monsters.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Best Books I Read in 2015

I like lists, especially lists of books.  So here is my list of 
The Best Books I Read in 2015

Cinder and Cress from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

These are brilliant YA science-fictiony takes on classic fairytales  What's so great is that Marissa Meyer stays true to the original tales while putting her own absolutely unique spin on them.  The writing is good, the story absorbing.  I also enjoyed Scarlet, the second book of the series, but not as much as Cinder (#1) and Cress (#3).

Alone; The Classic Polar Adventure  by Richard E Byrd

This is a non-fiction account of a winter spent alone in a research station in Antarctica.  Richard E Byrd, the intrepid explorer, was also a good writer.  I found it intensely interesting, despite a few aspects that dragged a little.  It's a real peak into a life completely different than mine (and probably yours).

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

This juvi urban fantasy charmed me right from the beginning, despite the heavy reliance on coincidence.  Lauren Oliver's style is clean and pure and beautiful in a simple way that looks easy—but isn’t.  The illustrations by Kei Acedera really capture the mood and characters.  It's a magical book, with moments of real emotional depth. 

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

Awesome premise.  If you don't know what it's about, get a copy of the book and read it.  You'll be glad you did.  Though the description dragged in the middle, the beginning and end were absolutely engrossing.  And Lord Henry sure had some killer lines.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mystery solved: Vulture vs Buzzard

Some friends and I had a discussion a while back in which I claimed that vultures and buzzards were pretty much the same thing and everyone else (all European) thought I was crazy because they were obviously completely different birds. Well, a couple of weeks later I saw a taxidermy sample of a "buzzard" and I was like, "That's not a buzzard!" And the light bulb went on.

So, which of these pictures is a buzzard?

Answer: Both.

First picture: turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), a common New World vulture also called a turkey buzzard or simply "buzzard" in many parts of North America.

Second picture: common European buzzard (Buteo buteo). We North Americans would call this a hawk (we apparently use the term "hawk" quite liberally)

You learn something new every day.

I sometimes wonder how much "translation" goes on for novels crossing the pond from the UK to the US and vice versa.  And then throw in all the other countries with other variations of English and you've got a really complicated, wonderful mess.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dialogue Tags: said vs asked

I am a big fan of "said" as a dialogue tag. To me, when a writer uses too many tags like "he remonstrated," "she noted," "he uttered," or "John asserted," it draws attention to those words instead of the dialogue. It can also sound very stilted, very written. "Said," on the other hand, is invisible. 

However...I just read a novel that used it for questions, like this:

 "Where are you going?" she said. 

 "Do you want Chinese or pizza?" he said. 

 To me, this "said" is jarring. Why not use "asked?" (Again, I'm not a fan of more than an occasional use of "inquired," "questioned," "queried," etc.)

 I think the main point is that you don't want the reader paying attention to these little crutch words. You want them paying attention to the dialogue and losing themselves in your invented world. 

My dear writing critique buddy, Barbara, loves suggesting alternates to "said." And in her writing they often really work. So I guess it's all about your style and voice.

 Happy writing!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Story Generators

These random story ideas crack me up, all from Seventh Sanctum's What-If-Inator:

What if Marco Polo fought Lewis Carroll?
What if the rise of Egypt involved nanotechnologists?
What if John Adams switched places with Beowulf?
What if Annie Oakley was directly responsible for WWII?
What if Confucius was a starship commander?
What if the extinction of the dinosaurs involved corporate executives?
What if Cleopatra was a botanist?

Okay, some of these might really work for Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams.  :)

Check out my post on Writers on the Move  to see what I think of these online story generators.

Saturday, February 6, 2016