Monday, April 16, 2012

Richard Harland

Richard Harland is the author of many fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels for young readers, including Worldshaker, Liberator, the Eddon and Vail series, the Heaven and Earth Trilogy, and the Wolf Kingdom quartet, which won the Aurealis Award. He lives in Australia.

His reply to my recent query about what he was reading:
Right now I'm reading A Darkling Plain, which is number four in Phillip Reeve's "Mortal Engines" series. Great steampunk fantasy (or steampunk science fiction, whichever you like to call it), especially for anyone who's read the three previous novels. Airships, predatory mobile cities, underwater limpets, Stalkers—A Darkling Plain brings together all the best elements of the series; plus Tom, Wren, Anna Fang, Fishcake and even Hester coming back on stage. Maybe it wouldn't be so great for a reader who didn't know the world from the previous, but I love that world and I just want to keep reading more and more of it.

To be honest, I love it now, but I hated it when I first read book number one, Mortal Engines. Not because it was so bad but because it was so good—and because Reeve's world had a definite resemblance to the juggernaut world I'd been planning for ten years! Grrr! Gnash! I was furious that he'd snuck in ahead of me. It took me six months to get over the disappointment and realize that, in spite of similar world-features, the mood and tone of my story was totally different. Since Worldshaker came out—and this April, its sequel Liberator—nobody has accused me of copying from Mortal Engines, so I can now enjoy Reeve's books with no pangs of rivalry!

(I exaggerate: one single blogger accused me of copying, but since he hadn't read Worldshaker, I don't reckon that counts. Yes, in synopsis, it can sound similar …)

I haven't finished A Darkling Plain yet, so I don't know if it wraps up the series once and for all. I guess the novel doesn't quite have the beautifully taut story of Predator's Gold (book number two), and it can't have the mind-blowing originality of Mortal Engines as book number one. But I can't put it down …

When I say I can't put it down, I mean I can't put my iPad down, because I downloaded it for reading on my iPad. A new experience for me! I had an eye operation three weeks ago, which went without a hitch, I'm happy to report! But now I need reading glasses, and I can't have myself tested glasses until the eye has settled down. So I'm reading A Darkling Plain on my iPad in large print, super-huge font size! My wrist would be aching if I had to turn so many pages, but a tap on the side of the screen, and the story goes whizzing past!

My other favorite reading in the past three weeks has been The Spook's Apprentice [US title--Revenge of the Witch], by Joseph Delaney. (Yes, I've been catching up on a lot of YA stuff.) A great supernatural story, where the hero has to learn how to quell and control different kinds of ghosts, boggets and witches. It presents some truly eerie scenes and develops some creepy old-style tension. Not all ghosts, boggets and witches in Delaney's world are bad, but when they're bad, boy, are they bad! The story works from a relatively simple scenario and keeps on drawing new twists and turns out of it.

I think it was more scary for me because I didn't actually read it, I listened to it. After the eye op, I bought some audio books (the iPod size ones for which I use my own ear-buds, so handy!) Listening to somebody tell you a ghost story is somehow far better than reading one for yourself. Pauses, lowered voice, the kind of thrilling delivery that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck ... All I can say is, I did some of my listening when I was out walking for exercise, and I could've kept walking and exercising or hours!

Another audio book I listened to was non-fiction, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. I reckon those new discoveries are really interesting—about how the brain isn't fixed, one part for each function, but can re-wire itself. It wasn't great to listen to as audio book, though—I found myself often wanting to fast forward (which I couldn't do unless I jumped all the way to the next chapter). Too much hagiography on the academic researchers in the field—they were supposed to be charismatic, but that's not how they came across to me. Fiction is the place for characters! I'd have preferred to hear more about the ideas—not the small-grain research detail but the big picture of what it all means. I think Doidge must be very much oriented to Freudian psychoanalysis, because he consistently slanted his interpretation that way.

I did like the idea that thinking about exercises can develop muscle strength and tone to at least 30% of what you'd get from actually performing them. Now that's my sort of brain!
Visit Richard Harland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue