The Hobbit turned 80 this week and here is my blog post titled “An unexpected change of pace” from a couple of years ago where I re-read the classic novel by Tolkien.wp-1455455294830.jpeg

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Some of you may already have heard of Ready Player One. It is a speculative fiction novel which was released a few years ago with the name Ernest Cline on the cover.

The book is apparently being turned into a movie by no less a genius than Steven Spielberg. I see a massive box office hit.

The narrative contains a series of puzzles which need to be solved to inherit ownership of the VR system the whole world uses. There is a rival conglomerate trying a hostile takeover via attempting to win the contest.

After finishing the novel I was pondering some issues I had with it, these are around lack of depth of characters as well as a tendency towards telling not showing and it occurred to me all the gripes I had with it were the same as I had with The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

The plot of Ready Player One is straight out of the Dan Brown play book and the style of writing is quite similar in my opinion.

It is not unusual for novelists trying a different genre to be asked to use a pen name so the change in direction does not effect sales of future books back in their usual arena. Speculative fiction would be a new genre for Brown as all his works I am aware of are current day thrillers.

I may be way off base here, but did Dan Brown write Ready Player One under the pen name Ernest Cline?

If he did, is there some puzzle within the novel which can be cracked to solve the identity of the writer – from what I know of him, that would be very Dan Brown.

Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments section…

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My copy of The Hobbit

I have been reading The Hobbit to my seven-year-old son. He is loving it as his bed time story and I am enjoying re-reading the childhood classic I loved. It was one of the early books I selected for myself and I whizzed through it when I was 11.
But during the bedtime re-read I have noticed something – and it is a bug bear I have with other books – the pacing.
So, the first 10 chapters cover about 200 pages, with some chapters pretty heavy going (just before the woods, the slog through those woods, the bit with the elves) but the last 9 chapters cover about 100 pages and quite quickly zip along. Short and to the point, the plot moves much faster than in earlier chapters.
Sometimes I feel like I am reading a completely different book.
Now Tolkien has form for poor pacing in my opinion, when I was reading The Two Towers at 12 years old, I was aware of the weary trek of Frodo and Sam which went on and on and on . I nearly gave up on that book , abandoning the two of them to those marshes. Much later I would laugh heartily at Clerks 2 with the comment on the film adaptations: “even the trees walked in those movies”.
But, back to my point. It feels like two different books, kind of jammed together. The long saga of The Unexpected Journey and the fast pace of the adventures at the Lonely Mountain.
How did this happen? A fast approaching deadline, perhaps? A change of editors halfway through the job.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the book when I first read it and I am enjoying the re-read with my son. If not for this book, many of the books I have enjoyed would never have happened.
And Tolkien is not alone in having pacing issues. I often find myself frustrated at books, films and tv series for this exact reason. I may blog about another more modern example at some point, but for now, feel free to tell me if you agree or disagree with my view of this legendary and much loved book.

You may not have heard of The Martian yet, but I suspect soon enough you will have.
Matt Damon is about to star in the big budget Hollywood version of the book. Trailer here.
Damon is a big name to play the role of astronaut Mark Watney. This big name actor and Hollywood movie are an indication of the immense success the novel has had.
If the film follows the book closely enough, it should be a good film and a huge box office success.
Perhaps this blog will cover the film after it is released (or perhaps not).
The novel is a rare thing, a self-publishing smash hit. Andy Weir released the ebook in 2011 and it sold and sold and sold by word of mouth alone of just how good the narrative is.
A publishing deal followed with an imprint of Random House, hardback edition followed by paperback.
The novel is really well written in the vein if your classic adventure story of a stranded man trying to survive in a hostile environment (Robinson Crusoe in space anyone?).
The pacing is superb. You roll along with Watney at a great speed bouncing from one problem to another sharing his highs and lows.
There is a fair amount of science in the novel too. The technical challenges of growing vegetable matter on Mars should bore the pants of you, but it doesn’t.
You find yourself wanting to understand the process as it is a matter of life and death to Watney. Making you care about this biological problem demonstrates Weir’s masterful writing.
Bearing in mind the majority of the text is about one man alone in a hostile environment, the narrative races along.
definitely read the novel, if you like it, try the film when it comes out too.

JUST about everyone seems to be talking about the HBO smash hit series Game of Thrones and the unfinished novels on which it is based (five published, two more promised by author George R R Martin).

For a couple of years I have found strangers in bars and in offices talking about the latest happenings in Westeros.

Indeed, I have encouraged friends, co –workers, acquaintances and people I have just met to buy the box sets or pick up the books.

Theories abound on who the rightful monarch of Westeros is: Daenerys, Stannis, Joffrey, Renly, Jon Snow, take your pick.

But the more I watch, read and re-read the more I am bugged by something seemingly trivial in the grand scheme of all these theories.

The seasons.

Not as in television seasons, I mean winter and summer which can each last for years at a time. There is no set length of a season and no pattern to the span of seasons.

This is referred to often in the narrative, but it is all a matter of fact. No character questions why, it is just accepted.

What I know about seasons is to do with the tilt of the earth as it spins around the sun. Predictable.

How can a planet as we understand it have unpredictable seasons, wouldn’t an unpredictable spin have made it difficult for life to evolve? I don’t know tonnes on this subject, but from what I remember, it just doesn’t add up.

But then I saw the series and it all made sense, to me at least.

I have read many times the author has told the series producers names the secrets of the books. It is assumed this covers the fate of the characters and who will sit on the Iron Throne at the end of the series.

Perhaps, he has also revealed what the deal is with those odd seasons.

Certainly I watched the credits for the show roll a few times, each time thinking there was something I was missing in them.

Then it struck me.

The maps show curvature, as you would expect from what we know of planets, but it is the wrong way.

Let me say this again: the world containing Westeros and Sothoryos curves the wrong way.

With the attention to detail in the show and the books, something like this cannot be by mistake. And it seems like just the sort of trickery which would appeal to Martin – hiding such a thing in plain sight.

This celestial body is not a planet, but a Dyson sphere – this is where the habitable surface is inside the sphere not outside.

See Babylon Five, which was itself a Dyson cylinder, on a small-scale. Or Relics the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where a full-scale Dyson sphere featured.

Another telling clue about the seasons is also in the credits, the sun is shown, not that far above the ground and tiny in comparison to how large a sun should be relative to a planet.

Ian M Banks has a variation on the idea of how “planets” function in one of his Culture novels, where there are tiny suns called roll stars which follow irregular paths across the “sky” creating uneven seasons – although in these books the seasons are predictable, due to the superior knowledge of how they work.

The star in the GoT credits reminds me of those little stars in that Banks book and if one understood the route it was following, the seasons would be wholly predictable.

The Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin is a work of genius.

I just thought I should mention that as I got a bit lost reading his work in my spare time and consequently I haven’t blogged for a while.

I have now got to the end of book five of the cycle – A Dance With Dragons 2: After the Feast (a short, for George, 493 page volume) and will resume blogging.

At some point a book six and, I understand, seven will also follow. I apologise in advance for the loss of blogging service when I get my hands on them.

An article here about the issues authors have with publishers over what the book cover should be like.

Having sat on both sides of this debate – as an author and as someone who has worked with author’s on brining their books to publication, I feel the author should have their say and the publisher should listen – but the final say should go with the publisher as they have the experience of doing more book covers than the authors have (and te cover is one of the top items of advertising for any book, and needs to work on a physical object and as an Amazon thumbnail) – and crucially are not as close to the book as the author’s inevitably will be.

The same is also true of the editing process, but that may need to be another blog post!

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