Sunday, December 27, 2009


It’s not very often I come out of a movie speechless, but it is challenging to put the way I felt about Avatar into words. To put it mildly, I had several * BLINK * BLINK * moments trying to convince myself I want to be plunged back into the real world again. Coming out of the Avatar cinema, you kind of feel like the main character Jake who is forced to wake up from his dreamlike experience in the body of a Na’Vi (his avatar).

A breath-taking visual feast, Avatar might be described as World of Warcraft and Mech Warrior meet Last of the Mohicans and Fern Gully. It combines some of the most popular elements from fantasy and sci-fi stories of all different mediums; comics, novels, movies and especially computer games. With so much to offer Generation Y and younger--the digital natives who thrive on virtual realities--you might think Avatar cannot deliver on storyline and character development as well. But it does.

There were so many interlinked components to the film, it seemed likely to fail at one or more of them, but Avatar delivers the goods. Setting aside the jaw-dropping CGI and 3D technology that made it seem like the movie was happening right in front of you, the characters and storyline are truly riveting. It’s not a new story—the nasty boys with the big guns want to kill the technologically under-developed natives and mine their ore—but it is vibrantly and uniquely told.

[Director James Cameron] wanted a picture as big as the epics of his youth, like The Man Who Would Be King or Lawrence of Arabia, and one that dealt with a similar clash of cultures. “A person comes in contact with a different culture and has to make changes,” Cameron explains. “He must change his perceptions, learn how to assimilate and prove himself within that new world.”

In today’s staid environment of sure-things in movies (aka comic book and novel adaptations), Avatar is a breath of fresh air.

The forest scenes, creatures and the Na’Vi themselves are exquisite, providing an orgasm of colours and light for your eyes. I could barely blink when the wide open panoramas of the flux zone, with its floating islands and waterfalls came into view.

About 95% of the visual effects were done by WETA, the New Zealand based company that brought Lord of the Rings to life and put NZ on the map for visual effects wizardry.

Cameron says WETA has the largest computer “farm” in the world. It ran continuously for three years for Avatar, as the staff in Wellington grew to nearly 900, even with ILM in San Francisco doing a few extra shots.

The battle scene at the climax of the movie is indescribable. Who would have thought that with all that was happening on the screen, you could still keep up and feel intimately engaged with what was going on? This is unlike Transformers 2, a movie which I felt went too far with the fast-paced action and enormity of what was happening on screen. Avatar balanced the close-ups and slow-motion with the rapid, distant shots perfectly.

As the soaring imagery of the end credits gave way to black, I turned to my husband and said simply, “Well, I think I have a new favourite movie.” Nuff said.

Avatar knocks The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia and the Star Wars series right off their perches on my top slot, effectively saving me the embarrassment of not being able to decide on just one favourite movie. Avatar is it. Incredible. Bravo.

Here are some more free wide screen Avatar desktop wallpapers for your personal enjoyment. Designed by me, so I thought it OK to add my logo for my Brisbane-based graphic design, layout and email marketing business Greenslade Creations.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why do people love Edward Cullen?

Edward Cullen is one of the main character's in Stephanie Meyer's teen angst vampire romance saga, which begins with Twilight. I haven't read anything in this genre before now, and I must say I did enjoy the series. The characters in Twilight connect with each other, and with the reader. Instead of being tormented by what I read on the page, despite the angst the characters go through, I felt pleased and gratified by each turn of events.

At one point, Edward must face the fact that the love of his life, Bella, has feelings for another man, albeit different feelings than the ones she has for Edward. As I was reading this section of the saga, I was preparing for the onslaught of jealous rages, hurt and bitter disappointment you would expect. But it never eventuated. Instead, Edward's love for Bella and her best friend Jacob outshone the jealousy, and he gave her the space she needed to work out her feelings for them both.

Of course Bella freely chooses Edward, the only man she has ever loved with such soul-shattering loyalty. It's so easy for readers to love Edward Cullen, but he's also frustrating because he's so perfect. People in real life simply aren't like that, so why put a character in a novel who is? It's like Stephanie forgot that little rule to give your characters some flaws to help make them well-rounded and believable. Or she wants us to believe that Edward's unique character, prior to being bitten, lent him to be able to use the gift of immortality to work out how to be a better person than most.

In her videos on YouTube, Stephanie Meyer says she doesn't know why her series has been such a hit, other than the fact that she loves her characters and other people do too.

The character of Edward can be used in discussions on morality, humility, selflessness and love. He goes from cold to hot in a heartbeat, but its only because he wants to hold himself back from Bella to protect her. For someone with no heart, he has the most love to give out of all the characters in the book. One of my favourite lines in Twilight the movie is Bella's,
"Your mood swings are giving me whiplash."
It is Edward's tormented sense of self-deprecation that leads him to leave Bella for a time. This is the only moment in the saga where Edward causes another person so much pain, but, as Bella realises later, he was only doing it out of his great sense of love and selflessness, wanting to protect her from a life of danger and evil.

Even after he returns to be by Bella's side, he remains conflicted about her desire to become an immortal like him. He is afraid that vampires have no soul, or no afterlife. But Edward is one of the most soulful characters of all, and his hesitation and torment about Bella demonstrates the depth of his soul. He is almost perfect in every way, almost godlike (as Bella describes him).

Edward is conflicted about the sins of his past—even though Carlisle was the one who turned him, Edward admits to having killed humans before. He finds it his duty and his burden to work out his redemption by being the best that he can be. Perhaps there is a little of Edward in all of us, as we each seek our own personal salvation.

Copyright in images I have made for this post belongs to the film producer/photographer etc. This is purely a work of fan-art.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fantasy genre paradigm shift

I was having a conversation with a fellow fantasy fan recently, who also likes to write, and we were laughing about the way some people compare all fantasy to Tolkien's work. Don't get me wrong--I think The Lord of the the Rings is a phenomenol series and I loved the movies. On a certain level, it makes sense to compare other epic fantasy writing to arguably the most famous epic fantasy series ever written.

But here's what my friend had to say about someone who was reading his writing:
"It's funny how we perceive things, especially when we're so close to the issue. She compared it to Tolkien and I had to laugh out loud! I don't think she's ever read all the way through The Lord of the Rings."
And I replied:
"Yeah well people who don't know much about fantasy usually do compare any fantasy they do come across to Tolkien. It may be a valid point or it may not. It's kind of like if someone had never seen any flowers before, except a bird of paradise and a rose. Then one day they saw a dandelion and said it was like the rose. The thing is, a dandelion may be more like a rose than a bird of paradise, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of other flowers that are even more like it than a rose."
My friend is probably being too humble about his work in the above conversation, but the point remains that people will compare one work to another even though such comparisons are skewed by the limitations of how much reading they have done in the genre. I read a lot more fantasy than the person my friend was talking about, but even so, I admit to not having a broad enough perspective to be able to make the best comparison between one fantasy work and another. All I can offer is a limited viewpoint.

When it comes to my series, The Astor Chronicles, I would consider it an honour to be told it was like Tolkien or Lewis, but I would also have a sneaking suspicion the person making such a comparison was not very well read in the genre. Fantasy has come a long way since those two great epics, and there are countless thousands of great books to choose from, some more epic than others.

Another problem with comparisons is that the series you would most like to compare another series with may not be as famous as The Lord or the Rings, and what point is there in making comparisons for people if they've never heard of the work you're referring to? For example, I could say that The Astor Chronicles is somehwhat like The Chronicles of the Cheysuli meets The Chronicles of Narnia. But that comparison would only be useful to someone who was familiar with the latter series by Jennifer Roberson.

It occurs to me that what I'm writing about here is a paradigm shift. "Paradigm" is one of those wonderful words you generally don't learn until after High School and then you can't seem to have an academic conversation without it. Pronounced "PARA-DIME", it refers to a class of elements with similarities--a philosophical or theoretical framework of some kind. See the Wikipedia definition for "Paradigm" here.

A shift occurs when the rules that were set down for a paradigm are changed, such as when Einstein's special relativity challenged Newtonian physics. Perhaps with the fantasy genre, The Lord of the the Rings was the most well-known, mainstream story for such a long time that it posesses the Ring of Power over the paradigm for this genre. But with such a proliferation of fantasy books, and especially movies, in the last ten years, the paradigm for the fantasy genre is being transformed.

For today's generation, the fantasy genre is starting to conjure up all manner of stories in people's minds--from Harry Potter, Eragon and Twilight to Underworld, Pirates of the Carribean, Beowulf and Stardust. In movies, fantasy is largely a genre for kids, which is probably having an effect on the paradigm as well, but in time we will see more serious attempts at adult fantasy. With such a wealth of fantastic books out there, it is only a matter of time before the fantasy transforms itself again in the mainstream imagination.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ky Vatta

I've been reading one of my favourite author's recently, Elizabeth Moon, because I finally found Books 2 through 5 of her Vatta's War series. As with Moon's other series (Paksennarion, fantasy and Serrano Legacy, sci-fi), I was waiting for every chance to keep reading. And when one book was finished I would quickly pick up the next one and devour it.

It makes me wonder why I love her writing so much. It is quick writing, with just enough description to keep the imagination flowing. Moon actually flaunts the old rule of 'show don't tell' and spends a good portion of her books telling the story! With worlds as vast and complicated as a future earth that has expanded into space, it would be painful to read slow, dreamy descriptive passages. Instead, Moon gets on with it. And the dialogue carries most of the important information.

Below is Kylara Vatta, star of the Vatta's War series. What a fantastic name, too! "Ky" for short is just lovely. It is strong, yet feminine, a perfect match for this deeply moral, gifted leader with a surprising knack for killing and space warfare.

I just love the words Moon chooses for her characters and places. They sounds just right, yet they seem believable and match with the rest of the series. The male lead Rafe (short for Rafael) reminds me of Rhett from Gone With The Wind, such a worldly-wise man yet with a patient, loving heart. And say the word "Cascadia" out loud. Doesn't it just roll off the tongue? It sounds so neat when I say it in my head. This is the name of one of the main planets featured in the series. But the names aren't the reason I loved reading the books.
Here are some unique qualities about Vatta's War:

  • Female lead character commanding a space force

  • Other characters of all different types, creating interesting clashes and differing points of view at times

  • Human beings only (no aliens)

  • Technology advancements are most notable in the fields of communications (with realistic hurdles from the limitations of light-speed signalling) and modding for the human body (brain implants, sensory nodes, growing limbs etc.)

  • Unseen enemy consistent with modern warfare - the main characters have little or no direct interaction with the bad guys (they're in space ships so they never come into personal contact with the pirate leader)

  • No mention of evolution (it just isn't needed)

  • Very low-key references to religion (all new and made up from what I can tell)

  • Slight aspect of romance
The storyline itself, and especially finding out what Kylara is going to do next, is what keeps me reading. Top that with the slightest aspect of romance and you have a page-turner. What I would really like to see is something similar to the above, but with a strong love story to it. Maybe this is something for me to consider when I'm finished writing the Astor Chronicles. A sci-f love story.
So much to do. So much to look forward to.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Controlling Your Email Inbox

Do you want to:

  • Become more productive by freeing up some time?
  • Reduce your frustration and/or stress?
  • Keep up with deadlines better by not having a too-hard basket in your inbox?
  • Present a more professional image by not ignoring important emails?
  • Reduce the size of your inbox easily and efficiently?
I have countless email addresses five of which I check regularly. At home I get 10-20 emails per day, which is fairly manageable, but it's enough to require a system. At work (Greenslade Creations) I get about 50-100 per day (more if I am sending more).

The important thing for you, when you're considering whether to use this system (or something similar) is to realise that "Do it now" is a timesaver when it comes to email and "Do it later" is a time-waster. Don't misunderstand me - I don't mean you have to action every email and every task it relates to as soon as you get it. What I mean is you need to DO SOMETHING with it as soon as you've read it. If you aren't going to action it right away, flag it, mark it unread or MOVE it to a folder called "To Do". This one critical piece of advice keeps you from having to re-read emails as more and more come in and ones you've put off move toward the end.