Following ‘Deep Space Accountant’, this is the second book in the Sphere of Influence series.
Bob Slicker and his navigation officer, Florence McConnachie, are blamed for the open-ended jump that dropped their battle fleet into deepest, uncharted space. They attempt to make amends and are pushed together into an unlikely alliance. Can they find a way home to the Sphere of Influence? Nobody ever managed it before, so they couldn’t make things worse.
Or could they?
Back in October 2016, I did a review of Deep Space Accountant, Mjke Woods first in the trilogy – The Sphere of Influence.
I had been eagerly awaiting this second book in the Sphere of Influence trilogy, and Mjke Wood does not disappoint. Following on from Deep Space Accountant – we have left Elton Philpotts behind – literally – and travel with the erstwhile slimy accountant, Bob Slicker into deep space. When I realised that the story had moved on from Elton, I was momentarily piqued, I liked Elton Philpotts, I had become irrationally attached to him – even though he is an accountant. However, Wood has managed to transfer my loyalties as smoothly as an Eddie Stobart entering a SLOG; smoother.
And so to Bob Slicker; Bob is a spineless, sweaty appendage to the hideously megalomaniac Martin Levison, can he REALLY be our new hero?
Can Bob find home? Can Bob find a girl? Can Bob find a spine?! Whilst Bob is spineless, Martin Levison is heartless. Bob wants Eccles cake. Martin wants Cognac. Bob wants to go home. Martin wants the world!
Along for the ride with Bob Slicker, is Florence McConnachie, second navigation officer. Florence is quick-witted, independent, dexterous, and no navigator. Like Bob, she has a boss who ensures that the blame is passed onto and firmly held by their subordinates, unlike Bob, she is about to get married. She dislikes Bob Slicker due to his association with Levison, and refers to him as ‘The Slicker’; he is a sweat machine of great magnitude. And alas for Florence, she is going to have to work with the man.
Some of the characters are beautifully awful; Lieutenant Commander Kurasov is an excellent portrayal of an American style military officer; but with a private life back home that is worthy of its own story! Meera, the navigation officer, is a preening, self-promoting egotist who will undoubtedly get what she wants. And although these are characterisations that we recognise, Wood somehow manages to NOT make them feel clichéd.
A couple of characters are who you would want on your side in an emergency; Winker Watson especially fits the bill (I am presuming the name was taken from the schoolboy who played pranks on his teachers and classmates in the popular British comic, Dandy). Watson is a bow-tie wearing, coffee-making, cake-eating Payroll officer, who enjoys tinkering with spacecraft in his spare time. I suspect that Wood is quite attached to this Watson chap, as he is more fully depicted than any other secondary character.
Although the story takes part in the vastness of space; where many American movies have been set, and some American language features are use, this is a quintessentially British story; the tone of writing contains no ice or vinegar like so many American novels do, by this I mean sarcasm or nasty wit (not that I don’t like a bit of sarcasm and bite), the reactions to emergencies, behaviours, idiosyncrasies and flaws strike as ‘terribly English’, small things matter; as Bob discovers when the kestrels power system is drained!!! (Beer anyone?!) – I love that.
I haven’t seen one of these for a book before – or maybe I just lead a sheltered life – If you get British humour, you understand that the YouTube trailer has it’s lollipop licking tongue firmly in its cheek; all those big movie trailers, influenced by American film industry, that we have become used to are pastiched here in a short space of time – the dramatic music, the panoramic views of space, and the bold text.
Do read Deep Space Accountant first, it gives background to Slicker and Levison – which gives the ‘Lollipop’ story it’s tension.
And what is a lollipop of influence anyway? I hear you ask – well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!
The Lollipop of Influence has
Spaceships! Alien Planets! Bad Guys! Good Guys! Cake!
If you have not yet seen this film, you may want to give this whole article a miss.
“Wonder Woman” is yet another origin story, but so what? I’ve had to sit through decades of testosterone to get to this point.
I enjoyed that the movie took it’s time to introduce the warriors of Themyscira; a lush city-state and island nation (Somewhere hidden in the Aegean according to some sources). Where we learn that Diana is not unique in her abilities; we get a real sense of where she is from, that although she is semi-divine, Diana is very much an Amazonian, and those women ALL kick ass. For me, that was one of the wonderful things about the Wonder Woman movie, they were all wonder women.
I felt that the story contained a good balance of action and drama. There is nothing worse than sitting for an hour or two, being bombarded with scene after scene of fast-paced-look-we-got-multiple-cameras scenario and bellowing sound – this, I think, is the film-makers version of an extended guitar solo played by an unaware man-child. ‘Wanking off’, a muso friend of mine used to say. I think there are loads of directors who have become over excited by the CGI and ‘exciting’ bits.
Maybe it has something to do with the director of this Wonder Woman being female? Maybe she just enjoys a good story? Maybe she is just a little more grown-up in the emotional department? Whatever the reason, it works.
I have to admit, I was also rather apprehensive about going to see this film. I love the comic book/super hero genre (see my earlier post on Female Super Heroes) But I grew up with that garish 1970’s WW, and have seen very few women lead in an action film. (Yes, I know you’re going to name a couple. People always do, but balance it out against ALL the films you’ve ever seen – then go away)
I think directors and producers have become lazy when making this genre, after all they have a ready and willing audience who will go and view it whether its shite or not. Now, thousands of women, like me, of my age, must have been waiting for this film. Where ARE all the female comic/superheroes??? So again, a ready and willing – if cautious and cynical-by-now audience was waiting for this film. Thought’s that passed through my mind in the build-up and trailer overload included – ‘I bet it’ll be overly moralistic’. ‘If she’s showing her cleavage…’. ‘It’ll be something for the boys really’. And finally, ‘I bet it’s shit.’
I went with my 19 year old daughter – so a broad age range to cater to – I’m 52. We both enjoyed it (apart from the sound of crisp/sweetie/nacho crunching dolts that surrounded us) It was not shit. It was not ‘for the boys’ and I almost wept to see women, actual women not youngsters, playing seriously physical roles. The fight scene on the beach is truly astonishing and deeply sad. For no matter how fast you run, or strong you are – bullet beats bow every time.
Let’s just take a look at those women –
Ages and Nationality
Robin Wright, plays Antiope – or should I say General Antiope! She trains and leads what could be termed, the militia of the Amazonian. She is hard as nails, can fight with fists, sword, and bow (in fact, she doesn’t even need a bow!!!) And get this, best of all, Robin Wright is 51 years of age – I am just gonna have to say that again – FIFTY ONE people.
Gal Gadot, plays Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta. Diana wants to be a warrior from very early childhood. She does not know, and we the audience learn as she does, that she is not quite like every other Amazonian (in fact, at the end of the film, Diana still does not know the full extent of her origins and abilities) Diana works hard; she strives for perfection and to impress the General; her Aunt. Gal Gadot is 32 years of age, not a ‘slip of a girl’. And best of all, she is NOT American!! Gadot is Israeli and I thank director, Patty Jenkins for making this decision.
Connie Nielson, plays Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and Diana’s mother. She is regal, cool with a restrained passion. She is engaging as a loving mother and ruler, and you can feel her anger and pain as her only child makes the decision to leave their island home to head off with a man, to save the world of men. Can you imagine the homecoming?! (I think I’m gonna cry) Two best of all’s; Connie Nielson is also 51 years old! And she also is NOT American, she is Danish.
And some of the others –
Elena Anaya, plays Doctor Poison. She is Spanish and aged 41 years.
Lucy Davis, plays Etta Candy. English and aged 44 years.
Lisa Loven Kongsli, plays Menalippe. Norwegian and is aged 37 years.
For me, a fantastic multi-cultural selection of women who are not girls.
That costume –
Some of you might remember that awful, hideous outfit that poor Linda Carter had to wear in the 1970s TV series of Wonder Woman.
But take a look at what Queen Hippolyta originally gave her daughter to wear in the earliest comics –
Gal Gadot’s costume seems to have had the current trend for ‘dark costumes’ applied to it. The semiotics are not lost on film buffs and media students – still the red, white and blue are evident for all to see.
I have to be honest; I have an issue with American and how it perceives itself as the ‘policeman of the world’. It feels as though it foists its ideals on the rest of us. Most of the superhero costumes bear the colours or imagery, or both, of the ‘good ‘ole US of A’. Except Batman (huh, never realised before, maybe THAT’S why he is my favourite) I balk at the way many costumes imply an association with a country and it’s values/governmental policies. Captain America being most guilty of this – however, he is called Captain America.
And yes, I know other countries use red, white and blue as their flag colours – but we all know, don’t we, that ‘they’ mean America.
Another thing. Superhero females, at least in comic art, are invariably ‘sexy’. They have the tightest fitting clothes in the history of clothes manufacturing. They have more curves than an Italian mountain road. Their breasts could act as twin dirigibles. Women have railed against this for so long, we’re hoarse. In Wonder Woman 2017, Gadot’s costume has had the colours toned down, and although we still see bare legs, arms and shoulder, it is not sexy (I guess some men would argue against that, but it isn’t out-and-out-here-it -is –for- the –male- viewers sexy)But that’s it. No cleavage in sight. Curves are mostly concealed. The Amazon ‘uniform’ is more reminiscent of the Spartans. Look at Hellenic period armour; the bare arms and legs, the leather ‘flaps’, the moulded breastplate. It is practical and believable, whilst remaining true to the original design.
The physicality of this new Wonder Woman made evident in this lasso scene.
There isn’t any. HALLELUJAH!
99.9999% of films have a romance. Dull, dull, dull. Men and women can and do have relationships without becoming sexually or romantically entangled. And yes, there is a suggestion of Diana and Steve being ‘interested’, but this is clearly more him fancying her. Diana is here to do a job, she is focused and love isn’t getting in the way. She may have grown up in a glorious paradise inhabited only by females, but she is not ignorant of how sex works, and even suggests that men have become irrelevant and unnecessary except for procreation. Steve’s mental squirming is soon forgotten when they get to the nub of who is doing what in the war. Thank goodness.
The Men –
I suppose I should say something; I wasn’t going to write anything about the male stars at all. There’s enough information about ‘the great white male’ (as Grayson Perry puts it) without me adding.
So a quick nod to Chris Pine, Danny Huston and David Thewlis – the ‘good guy’, the ‘bad guy’ and the ‘badder guy’ in that order. Pine was great, Huston good, but, as much as I love Thewlis, he simply seemed wrong for the role of Ares.
Was it a great film? No, it was good; possibly in the Top 3 of this genre of films. Again down to lazy directors relying on a ready and willing audience, most of whom have become so desperate that there discerning monitor seems to have broken.
The storyline was simple, but that works as it is almost an ‘intro’ to Wonder Woman and her world. However, I did guess who was who quite easily.
It’s beautifully shot with the holiday brochure scenes of Themyscira; where you can almost smell the aroma of blossoms on the warm breeze, contrasting with the misery of brown and grey of London and the battlefront.
But I do believe this film will be talked about for years to come. When Sigourney Weaver first appeared as Ripley in Alien, a generation of women cheered and said ‘At last!”
Now I believe we are doing it again.
It is 2017 people.
50% of the world population is female.
Wonder Woman is the first female-led superhero film since 2005, when Jennifer Garner played the lead role in Elektra.
‘Good morning, good morning, good morning, it’s another lovely day in the village’
Surrealism was founded by the poet André Breton in Paris in 1924, it was an artistic and literary movement that proposed that the Enlightenment—the influential 17th and 18th century intellectual movement that championed reason and individualism—had suppressed the superior qualities of the irrational, unconscious mind. Surrealism’s goal was to liberate thought, language, and human experience from the oppressive boundaries of rationalism.
I believe that the Surrealists were the Punks of their age, they were non-conformists, experimental, breaking the boundaries of the social, political and creative order of the time, and not giving a toss what people thought in the process.
Surrealism rejected logic and reason and prized the depictive, the abstract, and the psychological with startling juxtapositions. Through the use of unconventional techniques such as automatism and frottage, Surrealist artists attempted to tap into the dream-world of the subliminal mind.
The Mystery of The Fireplace – Andre Breton 1947 – 1948
This is not a Pipe – Rene Magritte 1929
Surrealist cinema was a modernist approach to film theory, criticism, and production with origins in Paris in the 1920s. They shocked the world with their imagery, sometimes absurd, often confusing, but always fascinating. Throughout, there is an obsession with sex and death and our relationship with them.
Une Chien Andalou. Luis Buñel. 1929
L’age D’or. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. 1930.
Surrealism fell off the creative radar for some time; the Second World War (1939 – 1945) and the dreary, tight-laced, emotionally paralysed 50’s made the country an incredibly dull place. Children were seen and not heard all over again, men worked, women cooked. Nice girls did not smoke, did not have sex before marriage, did not drink, did not go to pubs, did not show their knees, they learnt to be nurses and secretaries, carers and comforters. (All rather Victorian).
Then Surrealism took an odd turn, it became comedic, or at least a kind of mushroom or LSD stoked journey through the director’s mind. TV Shows such as The Prisoner, 1967 and Monty Pythons Flying Circus 1969 (In the UK, not sure about elsewhere)
I absolutely loved The Prisoner and Monty Python – though I must have been watching them second time around (I was too young when they were originally released), both had an impact on my child’s mind; I think a Surrealist worm crawled in and laid an egg, and waited to be born in my adulthood.
One of my favourite contemporary surrealist directors of cinema is David Lynch. If you do not want to read reams of literature; or watch all those older films to understand Surrealism, I direct you to the world of Mr Lynch. The man is a natural; when it comes to surrealism, the man is so in touch with his own weird, that as a viewer, you are either repelled or drawn in; like one of his ants, to a severed ear!
I recommend you start with Wild At Heart, not so weird that you will be put off (if you’re one of those sensitive types), progress to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, then when you have the hang of it, dive into Eraserhead!! Go on, I dare you! This has to be THE weirdest, most Surreal film I have ever seen in my life.
Apart from Mr Lynch, there was really nobody else making surreal films. Then the 1990’s saw a kind of revival of Surrealism, and those of us who went to art schools and colleges pretty much ‘got it’, straight away. The Ren and Stimpy Show, 1991 was a cartoon series following an over-friendly, stupid cat and a neurotic, very highly strung Chihuahua dog.
After Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s – Big Night Out and Shooting Stars 1995, which is definitely art school Dada meets Surrealism, the dark flavour began to return in the form of The League of Gentlemen, 1999. Brilliantly written, stunningly obtuse, irrational or scary characters – see Papa Lazarou or Hilary Briss and tell me that’s normal!
The Mighty Boosh, 2003 was a lighter, but still very surreal series that came into our lives, and then the League of Gentlemen team returned with Psychoville, 2011 – think angry, mentally scarred clowns and you get the picture.
Personally, I like my surrealism dark and disturbing, not sure why, but it gives me the willies more than any horror film – if you like a good willie watch TLOG!
Then I began to wonder where all the surrealism was in literature. And realised; it transformed itself into Magical Realism. This can be a difficult one to define – Magical Realism is not fantasy, it is not about magic (though there may be some ‘magical’ elements), it is not escapist fiction. It portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone; so a dead grandmother is not seen as an other-worldly ghost, but is in the narrator’s here and now. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.
First, let me slide this in here swiftly; new anthology, Tick Tock, is out now on Amazon. This is an eclectic mix of poetry and prose, sci-fi, fantasy, fiction and more, from Wirral Writers. I have three pieces included – The Scream of the Butterfly, Blackbird and Farewell. I hope you will enjoy it.
Now, it’s Monday, for some reason it is looked on with misery or a feeling of bleurgh! I fell into this trap during my mid to late twenties – but why?
It’s only another day to write something amazing!!!
What are you working on at the moment?
Are you struggling to get that character with the rather bland personality to be a hero?
Is there a flaw in your timeline?
How many fluffy aliens does it really take to run a spaceship?
All relevant questions; to someone! And you know what? You’re the ones who have the answers – it’s your world, your people, grab them both by the short and curlies and shake the living daylights out of them until they comply. Bend them to your will. Be the boss, go on!
Now go write!
*Postscript – I am letting you know, so I don’t deceive my readers, some of my links now connect to Amazon. If someone buys something via my link, I get some coin, not a lot, I’m not going to be able to buy a new washing machine, but I want you to be aware.
Now that may not mean much to some people – and I do not mean men, there are plenty of females who don’t give a second thought to the plight of women around the world – but it means something to me. No, I’m not going to go all mushy on you, well, maybe just a little…
As a parent of a daughter, I am all too familiar with the patterns of disregard and derision and low expectancy flung our way. And this is a day to do something about it.
I’m not good at ‘joining in’ with strangers to hold hands and carry a banner, so instead, I’m going to suggest some female authors you should read, because you know what? MALE WRITERS STILL DOMINATE THE BOOK WORLD!
This is my little effort at ‘Being Bold For Change‘; convincing you all to read something by a female writer. I’m jotting down some of my favourite female authors. Give them a go, you will, I am sure, find at least one that you enjoy. There are links to Amazon should you wish to purchase a copy.
Read these – No really, I’m not kidding…
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Why? Because Atwood is what I would call a ‘real’ writer, she has worked at her craft for many years and the published results reveal nothing about the authors gender – and I like that – Oryx and Crake is a mesmerising novel set in a post-apocalyptic world. It is so full of imagination and wonder, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Why? Forget all those Hammer films, this is one of the original Gothic novels and so contains the style and tone of that period – might be considered dull by some. It is tragically beautiful.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Why? Any of Christie’s books are an extremely easy read, and because of that if you like crime drama, you’ll become addicted and want more. A murder? On a speeding train? You know it’s got to be someone on board, but who?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Why? Because it is simply brilliant. A story told through the eyes of Scout, a child, whose father is the town’s lawyer; a good man, an honest man, this is the one man in literature that you could truly say – ‘That’s how fathers should behave’.
Briefing For A Descent Into Hell by Doris Lessing. Why? Because this might be the strangest, most life changing book you read. Lessing was classified as a science fiction writer, but she herself called it ‘inner space fiction’. A real master of the writers craft, Lessing tells a tale of how we treat those with mental health issues.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Why? Between Dracula and Twilight, there was Anne Rice’s series of vampire books. If you read any Anne Rice, you wouldn’t need any other vampire books. Sensuous, dangerous, tragic; Interview with the Vampire takes us from the cotton fields of old Louisiana to the modern day, through the eyes of Louis. But the star of the show, is Lestat!
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter. Why? What a wonderful world of painted artistes and high-wire acts; a modern day fairy tale, is one way of describing the work of Carter. Enter the world of Magical realism, stories of the bizarre, wondrous and sometimes, magic, you cannot fail to be entertained and delighted.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. Why? How does a child look at the world when the world she inhabits is tilted at a precarious angle? Parents whom we might today call abusive, at the very least, uncaring. When you don’t fit in – when you are not an orange – what do you do? A tale about a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality.
Thank you for reading, please do try at least one of these titles, not because they’re by women, but simply because THEY’RE REALLY GOOD BOOKS!
So, you have completed your novel. You clutch the manuscript (MS) to your bosom like a child, time to release it into the world, set it free..
…but hang on there! Hold your horses! What about that blurb on the back, you know, those 200 or so words that are going to help sell your new baby? Did you know that the book blurb, or back cover text, is what will hook the reader into buying your precious thing? Were you aware that novels can rise or fall on the strength of this blurb?
I self published two small books a long while ago. A children’s story about pirates and later, a collection of stories on the theme of witches and witchcraft – I know, continuity eh? So I completed them, fumbled about to write the back blurb and released them into the wild….result? Nothing, nada, zero, zilch. Oh, one or two copies, but nothing to write home about.
I have trawled through various sites that go into horrendous detail, or give little away about how you actually write this irksome, dread-inducing, frankly pain-in-the-arse text.Then I found, via other blogs, leading to Twitter and more sites, a woman who is prepared to give her experience to those of us who don’t have a clue.
I initially read her blog, then watched her short course on writing a simple book blurb. I then attended her webinar session, Mastering the Art of Writing Catchy Fiction Book Blurb. It was a weird experience, my laptop screen was the PowerPoint part of the lesson, I could hear Glenna talking and was able, via a selection of tabs, to ‘Chat’ or ‘Raise Hand’. The hour long event was revealing in its simplicity and exposing my ignorance; for example, did you know you should begin your blurb when you begin your story?! Really!
*Glenna Mageau writes under the nom de plume of Maggie Thom.
I made a horrible discovery – the book that I self-published a couple of years ago was set at the wrong price. I wanted it to be as affordable as possible as I was more interested in people reading it than making money.
I found that after the initial set-up at £3.65,Sticks & Stones was suddenly showing as £22! After a couple of e-mails to the people at Create Space and Amazon, it has been amended. So, if you’re interested, please pop along to Amazon to purchase this little gem at the correct price.
The lesson to be learnt here (for me) is don’t leave anything to chance – and do check how your ‘baby’ is doing once sent out into the world, don’t just abandon it!
Here’s an extract from one story, ‘There’s Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance‘
‘…I confess my fault, I admit I have no vocation for a convent life, and desire to be banished from the community. This request was not listened to for a moment. The breasts of the pious sisterhood are raised in a perfect fury of indignation, and a determination to inflict immediate punishment upon me. Sister Joan suggests that I should be burnt to death, Sister Sibylla that I should be walled up alive. Others cry out that I be flayed, that the flesh should be torn from my bones with red-hot pincers.’
And a couple of reviews:
“A compact collection of well-crafted short stories on the theme of witches and witchcraft. There are some graphic and quite uncomfortable stories in this collection, but the vivid use of language makes it a very entertaining read. For me the stand out stories include Passing On, a chilling and disturbing first person account of medieval a witch trial; the vivid and poetic Sticks and Stones; and probably my favourite, the heart warming tale, Rescuing Robert.” Mike
“Unusual for this genre. Beautiful, sometimes painful, stories about witches. Not your generic, pointy hatted, hook-nosed, wicked types. All types, from all backgrounds; from a nun accused of witchcraft to a student who has to make a choice.” Elaine
“Compelling short stories, an original and intelligent take on witchcraft.” Anon