Saturday 31 December 2011

To The Moon (Game Review)

For those of us old enough to remember the original lineup of Power Rangers (Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini), it is a well-known fact that the golden age of action-adventure RPGs was during the 16-bit era. This is why (till date) I consider the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) to be my favorite game console. Some of the best games in the genre came out on SNES; classics like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger and Secrets of Mana. But until recently, the only game that has managed to recreate the look and feel of these classics was Eternal Eden by Blossomsoft (an indie game developer). Now, another indie developer has crafted quite possibly the finest throwback to the classics yet.

That developer is Freebird Games, and their game is called To The Moon. But before you hop over to their download page, eager to start customizing characters and leveling up, please be warned that this game contains very little (actual) gameplay. Apart from a slightly-out-of-place shoot-em-up  sequence towards the end, the bulk of your time would be spent exploring the beautiful 16-bit world, looking for mementos. Each memento contains a picture puzzle which must be completed before you can progress. This simplified mechanic allows you to fully enjoy the games true calling card: the story.

To The Moon tells the story of an old man's desire to visit the moon. His name is Johnny, and he lives in a mansion close to a lighthouse by the edge of a cliff (real eccentric fella you see). The problem is Johnny is presently in a coma, dying on his deathbed. But before getting to this state, he had contracted an agency known as the Sigmund Corp. This agency, through the manipulation of a client's memories, is able to create an alternate reality in which the client achieves their ultimate goal in life (in John's case, to travel to the moon), thereby allowing them to experience one last moment of true happiness, before, well, kicking the bucket. It's a unique (though somewhat absurd) premise that sets the stage for one of the most emotional adventures in years.

You assume the roles of Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, two agents from the Sigmund Corp, and together you must move through John's memories, in reverse order, in search of the catalyst to John's present obsession with the moon. Each memory is linked to an earlier memory through the previously-mentioned mementos, everyday objects that hold some kind of sentimental value to John. The adventure begins with John as a senior citizen, and climaxes with memories from his early childhood, by which time the player is guaranteed to be in or close to tears. Not to risk exposing too much of the plot, but know that "coming to terms with a loved ones medical condition" and "dealing with death in the family" are just two of the powerful themes explored in this game. The mood is further set by a piano score, and a ballad composed and sung by Laura Shigihara (Plants vs. Zombies).

To The Moon is one game that begs to be experienced. So whether you grew up in the 16-bit era or not (or you enjoy playing video games or not), you owe it to yourself to experience this game, if only for the unforgettable storyline.

Friday 30 December 2011

2011 in Review: Looking Back

Today marks the end of my week-long "2011 in Review" series of posts. If you're just joining in, then I suggest you go back and read my earlier posts. On Monday, I set the stage for what was to come. I also gave a nice list of my favorite songs over the last eleven years; so that post is worth going back to see for that reason alone. On Tuesday, I gave a rundown of my favorite songs for 2011. On Wednesday, I did favorite albums. And yesterday, I did movies. Right now, I am going to give a rundown of the year as a whole.

A lot of things happened this past year. There was the much-talked-about "fairytale wedding" between Prince William and Kate Middleton. I still don't know why that wedding generated the level of buzz that it did. I mean, people get married all the time, right? The only thing that wedding did was to make sorry bachelors the world over feel even more sorry for themselves. Not me though. I'm still good for another 5 years at least. Oops. Make that 4.

Then there was the unexpected death of Apple founder and CEO, Steve Jobs. I have never been a Mac user, but iTunes has for years been a staple of the list of running programs on my Windows computer. Just think iPod, iPhone and iPad, and you'll get a sense of what I am trying to say. I can't even imagine where we'd be today without any of these gadgets. Probably dusting off our Sony Walkmans (remember those?) or trying to steal (I mean, share) music through Napster. Mr. Jobs has influenced an entire generation, and one can only hope to get to impact as many lives as he has, before the curtain closes.

But of all the stories that made waves this past year, I think the most significant (at least as far as the writing community is concerned) was that of Miss Amanda Hocking. In January alone, she sold 450,000 copies of her ebooks, all self-published through Amazon. She would later go on to sign a $2 million book deal with St. Martin's Press. Her success has inspired many writers to buck the traditional publishing route in favor of self-publishing. I am one of that many. My books (The Mediator, The Host and The Second Rebellion) were uploaded to Amazon on the 9th of December. Since then, I have sold a whopping... wait for it... wait for it... two copies! Not one. Not one and a half. But two whole copies!!! Woo hoo. Someone pour me a drink.

It's been a wonderful year. I have fulfilled my dream of having my work put out there. 2012 looks even brighter. At least until the Tsunamis come crashing down. See you on the other side.

P.S: I couldn't end my 2011 review without leaving you with something special. Something that has set the internet on fire this past year. Do you know what that is?

Thursday 29 December 2011

2011 in Review: Favorite Movies

Let me start by conceding to the fact that I didn't watch nearly as much movies this year as I would have loved to. This is why I am limiting my choice of finalists to just 5 movies. It's not that they weren't that many good movies to choose from. It's just that most of the truly great ones (the Oscar-worthy ones) typically come out at the end of the year. And to include them in this list would be a disservice to the movies that had held us captivated over the months. That said, I'm sure you'll agree with at least some of my choices. So sit back, relax and let the rundown begin.

The Finalists

Sucker Punch

From the very moment I saw the trailer for Sucker Punch in August 2010, I could instantly tell this film could only go either of two ways. It could be utterly brilliant or piss poor. Well, majority seem to believe it falls in the latter category. But I feel they are simply missing the point here. This is a film that cannot be assessed on surface value alone. It is a work of art, something that could only be crafted by a skilled director like Zack Snyder. It tells a multilayered story where things are not as they appear. It also boasts some of the most spectacular action sequences seen all year. And while I would have preferred a less anticlimactic conclusion, I still feel the story in its present form more than achieved what it set out to do: to leave the audience dumbfounded, wondering what just happened. Hence the title.

The Adjustment Bureau

This is one of those rare movies that turn out way better than you anticipated. I went into The Adjustment Bureau expecting to be mildly entertained at best, but came out just shy of blown away. This movie manages to tell a decent love story, without sacrificing any of its source material's otherworldliness. It is partially responsible for my current obsession with all-things Philip K. Dick, and I feel it is one of the better adaptations out there. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt also put forth decent performances as the star-crossed lovers.

Source Code

I remember having an overwhelming desire to see this movie earlier this year. Looking back, I can't seem to remember where that desire came from. But I'm sure glad I listened to that desire. Otherwise, I might have missed one of the year's finer science fiction offerings. Reminiscent of the 1993 movie Groundhogs Day, Source Code tells the story of a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who must relieve the same eight minutes of another man's memory, over and over again, until he finds a terrorist planning to detonate a dirty bomb, mere hours away. He is backed by the beautiful Vera Farmiga, and together they must try and foil the act of terrorism. Come to think about it, I think I now remember why I really wanted to see this movie. Two words: Vera Farmiga.

Super 8

I still feel all warm inside just thinking about this movie. Quite simply one of the film-making triumphs of the year. With Super 8, J. J. Abrams proved that you could make a suspense-filled action roller-coaster of a movie centered around a bunch of kids. What really surprised me though was the level of emotional development between the characters. This should be attributed not only to the wonderful script, but to the superb job done by the actors themselves. There isn't a single weak character in this movie. The special effects were also top-notch, especially the spectacular train wreck sequence. The fact that the audience was kept guessing until the final minutes is also worth noting.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Coming straight off the path paved by the incredible Deathly Hallows Part I, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II brings the franchise to a satisfying close. Even as a Potter fan who has never been satisfied by the movie adaptations, I could tell from the way Deathly Hallows Part I was handled that Part II was going to be hands down the best movie of the lot. After all, it was still just one single movie split in two. Well, not only was it the best of the lot, it was also one of the best movies of the year. Period. This movie reminded us of everything we loved about Harry Potter, whilst securing its place as the highest grossing movie franchise (well, at least until Avatar 2 and 3 get made and released).

And the winner is...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

I admit that I was a wee bit skeptical when I'd found out the final book's adaptation was to be split into two separate movies. It sounded like a money making ploy to me; like Warner Bros. was trying to milk their Harry Potter license dry before moving on. Now I see how silly I was being. If only other movies in the franchise had gotten a similar treatment (With the exception of Order of the Phoenix. That book was just plain bloated to begin with).

I think the most remarkable achievement the Harry Potter movies have made is allowing us witness the cast members grow, not just as actors, but as individuals as well. I remember going "Holy Sh*t" when I saw young Daniel Radcliffe in the flashback sequence. And then in the final epilogue sequence, where they were made to look 17 years older (or closer to their actual ages, depending on how you look at it). Those were the moments that made us aware of the 10 years it took to make these movies.

This final movie is a well-realized adaptation that remains faithful to the book while taking some liberties. I like the fact that the spectacular duels weren't dampened by the good guys muttering disarming spells, when the bad guys were obviously using unforgivable curses, one of my little nitpicks with the final book.

All in all, the filmmakers and cast members gave the final effort their all, and the result is a movie as Oscar-worthy as anything else out now. This movie deserves a Best Picture nomination at the very least. And in this day and age of 10 available slots, there simply is no excuse.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

2011 in Review: Favorite Albums

The Finalists

My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

I'll admit, this album shouldn't (technically) be on this list, since it came out all the way back in November last year. But in a month filled with big name releases from the likes of Rihanna and Kanye West, this release was all but eclipsed. So it wasn't until early this year, after all the dust had settled, did I finally discover this record. And I've been smiling ever since. If you're a fan of the band, or a headbanger looking to add new music to your collection, then look no further. Highlights include Sing, Bulletproof Heart and Party Poison.

Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne

Easily one of the most anticipated albums of the year. And boy did it deliver. The fact that the first single, H.A.M., was relegated to a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition should tell you something about the caliber of sounds on this album. Put simply: there isn't a single track here that you wouldn't immediately love. Feeling more like an extension of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy than anything else, this album is my favorite collaborative album since Jay-Z & Linkin Park's Collision Course. Highlights include No Church in the Wild, That's My Bitch and Made in America.

Various Artists - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

The one thing I've always loved about the Twilight movies is the associated music. Some of my favorite songs in the past three years have been spawned by these movies. Songs like Decode by Paramore, I Belong to You by Muse, and Ours by The Bravery. This most recent addition to the franchise is no different. And while I am still yet to see the movie (been avoiding it like the plague you see), I can honestly say that the soundtrack is every bit as solid as anything else out there. Highlights include Turning Page by Sleeping At Last, It Will Rain by Bruno Mars, and A Thousand Years by Christina Perri.

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

Ever since the song The Pretender became one of my all-time favorites, I'd been sold on getting the next Foo Fighters record, even if they had recorded it inside a well, in the middle of a snowstorm. Thankfully they hadn't. Still had to wait four years though. But it was well worth the wait (no pun intended). And from the very first listen, I could already tell this was a major contender at next year's Grammy Awards. Highlights include Rope, White Limo and Walk.

LMFAO - Sorry for Party Rocking

While it can be argued that this album was nowhere near as praise-worthy as their Grammy-nominated debut, I still feel it was a step in the right direction. If you can look beyond the borderline ridiculous lyrics and subject matter, what you'll find here is an overall well-made collection of club bangers. And I think the success of Party Rock Anthem more than proves my point. Highlights include Sexy and I know It, Champagne Showers and With You.

Foster the People - Torches

This is one album I can never get tired of listening to. After the breakaway success of Pumped Up Kicks and their self-titled EP, many wondered if this band could deliver the goods when it came to a full-length album. Quite possibly the most impressive debut I've heard in years, Torches is an album that begs to be kept on constant repeat. What first struck me was the fact that every single song was instantly catchy, a slight departure from the norm when compared to offerings from other indie rock bands. In retrospect, it is clear that this is due to lead singer Mark Foster's songwriting (he used to write jingles) and an impressive lineup of big name producers (Paul Epworth anyone?). Highlights include Helena Beat, Pumped Up Kicks, Call It What You Want, Waste and Miss You.

Adele - 21

Relationships gone bad: that's one of the most heartfelt subject matters in popular music. Because let's face it, we've all had our hearts broken by a special someone at some point in time. And I believe that no other album this year captured that sense of heartbreak as sincerely as Adele's 21. It immediately became apparent that every single song on this record is a retelling of her experiences with love, heartbreak and everything in between. I mean, why else would it resonant with so many people, translating into one of the most successful albums in recent history. Highlights include Set Fire to the Rain, Someone Like You and I'll Be Waiting.

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

If ever considered overrated or under-talented, then I think this was the record where Lady Gaga proved to the world her success was no fluke. After all, three consecutive Album of the Year Grammy nominations have to count for something, right? And by the way, Grammy board members, if she fails to take home the big one this time around, then you'd be directly held responsible for starting World War III. I am not a Little Monster myself, but I've been a fan from the moment I watched her ascend from the swimming pool at the beginning of the Poker Face video. This album is filled with such epic moments, so much so that I can't even list any in particular without risking leaving out another.

Example - Playing in the Shadows

Every once in a while, a record drops and you find yourself up at two in the morning, singing along at the top of your lungs. And then you wake up in the afternoon, only to resume where you left off (subjecting your next door neighbors to more torment). For me, Example's Playing in the Shadows was that record. The British rapper's third album is much darker than the light-hearted Won't Go Quietly, but still manages to be every bit as infectious, perhaps more so. Highlights include Stay Awake, Changed The Way You Kiss Me, Natural Disaster and Midnight Run.

Florence + The  Machine - Ceremonials

This was the record that cemented Paul Epworth's position as one of my favorite producers. He produced every single track, resulting in an album that sounds miles ahead of its peers. Add to this Florence Welsh's pitch-perfect, arena-filling vocals and you get something close to sonic perfection. This is how you make a follow up record; bigger, bolder and every bit as ground-breaking as the critically-acclaimed Lungs. Highlights include Breaking Down, Heartlines and Spectrum.

And the winner is...

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

What? Don't tell me you didn't see this coming? Well, what can I say? No other album delivered on all fronts like this one. First off, there's Miss Germinata's songwriting, which has never been as strong and as heartfelt. Then there's the production, spearheaded by none other than Gaga herself, with the likes of Red One and Fernando Garibay helping define the 80s-themed instrumentals. And finally, her vocal prowess, which is on full display and always on point. All these things come together beautifully to create the definitive Gaga record. Don't believe me? Then I suggest you give a listen to the opening instrumentals on Black Jesus † Amen Fashion, then tell me if you still feel otherwise.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

2011 in Review: Favorite Songs

The Finalists

Maroon 5 - Moves Like Jagger

Ah. Maroon 5. Beautiful Maroon 5. You guys left us with yet another winner this year. My only question is why wasn't this song on the Hands All Over album. Although, I admit it would have been a bit out of place, since this is quite a departure for the band. In fact, that is the only nitpick I have about this song: it didn't sound like Maroon 5 at all. It could as well had been touted as an Adam Levine side project for all I could tell. That said, this has arguably the best instrumentals of the year, powered by the production work of two current generation geniuses: Shellback and Benny Blanco .

Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks

I confess that the very first time I heard this song, I didn't even know what to make of it. The first thing that struck me was the contrast between the spaced out instrumentals and the disturbing subject matter (a kid about to go on a shooting spree). But upon subsequent listens, the song grew on me like vines on a post. Now, I can't imagine what my 2011 playlist would have been like if this gem from 2010 hadn't found it's way to mainstream success.

Jessie J - Domino

While I really loved her breakthrough single Price Tag, I feel this was the song that did it for me. This was the song that made me a fan. Sure, there are those who would say she's stepping into Katy Perry territory with this, but I think that has more to do with the writing/production work of the exceptionally-talented Dr. Luke than anything else. I'm really hoping she can keep the ball rolling like this in the years to come.

Hot Chelle Rae - Tonight Tonight

In a year, like recent years, teeming with songs with the word "tonight" in their titles (Enrique Iglesias - Tonight (I'm Loving You), Michael Jackson - Hollywood Tonight, Pitbull - Gimme Everything (Tonight), Outasight - Tonight is the Night, just to name a few), it is rather inevitable that one of them make it onto this list. Hot Chelle Rae's Tonight Tonight is by far the catchiest song I've heard all year, one that sounds just as wonderful on your gazillionth listen as it did on your very first listen.

Benny Benassi - Beautiful People (feat. Chris Brown)

Yes. This was the first song to really blow my mind this year. All the way back in January. Seems like ages ago now. It was the only reason I bothered to grab a copy of Chris Brown's F.A.M.E. I couldn't wait until Benny Benassi's Electroman dropped. It baffles me greatly why this didn't get a Best Dance/Electronic Recording nomination for next year's Grammy Awards. Really baffled, I am. I can't say enough wonderful things about this song, so just give it a listen and let the song speak for itself.

LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem

I can't really imagine having this list of finalists without including Party Rock Anthem. It's that simple. There. I said it. So deal with it. "Everyday I'm Shuffling."

And the winner is...

Foster the People - Pumped up Kicks

I am picking this song as the winner for the mere reason that it sounds like nothing else on the list of finalists. I'm sure that 10 years from now, when I think back to 2011, this is the song that would perfectly capture the year in music. It was quite sad that it wasn't nominated for Record of the Year for next year's Grammy Awards. But at least the album as a whole was nominated for Best Alternative Album, after all, it was hands down one of the most enjoyable albums of the year. More on that tomorrow.

Monday 26 December 2011

2011 in Review

Ah. Boxing Day. The day set aside for opening all those wonderful presents. I know a lot of you are probably still hungover from Christmas, so I'll keep today's post as brief as can be.

I'll start with a minor aside. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of granting my very first interview (hosted by yours truly). To check this out, head over to:

Okay. Back to business.

One thing in particular that I love about this time of the year is year-end lists. This is where various publications, websites and bloggers list their picks of the very best of the year. So in keeping with this trend, I am going to spend the rest of the week blogging about the things I loved about 2011. Tomorrow, I reveal my favorite song from a list of 5 finalists. On Wednesday, I talk about favorite albums. On Thursday, favorite movies. And on Friday, I'll talk about my personal achievements for the year; resolutions that were met... that sort of thing.

And so, in preparation for tomorrow's post, here is a rundown of my favorite songs since the year 2000. Enjoy.

Eminem - Stan

Daft Punk - One More Time

Avril Lavigne - Complicated

Linkin Park - Somewhere I Belong

Muse - Time is Running Out

Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.

Panic! at the Disco - I Write Sins Not Tragedies

Gym Class Heroes - Cupid's Chokehold

Sara Bareilles - Love Song

Owl City - Fireflies

Lady Antebellum - Need You Now

Disclaimer: By listing these songs as my favorites over the years, I am in no way suggesting that they were the best songs released in their respective years. It's just that when I think back to the years in question, these are the songs that immediately come to mind. In other words, I find them most memorable.

Saturday 24 December 2011

The Spirit of Christmas

Would you believe it? It's that time of the year already. I clearly remember reading the Mark Zuckerburg Person of the Year article in Time Magazine, this time last year. Where in God's name did the intervening one year go? Oh. Right. Reading, writing, chasing women. Note to self, stop chasing women.

Like everyone else, my fondest memories of Christmas time are from my childhood. The fondest one for me by far was the Christmas of 93. Don't know why I'd choose that particular Christmas, but between getting a new puppy, a few teddy bears (even way back then I had such high tastes) and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on the awesome Cartoon Network, I can't see why not.

In recent years though, Christmas has grown increasingly uneventful. Christmas 2008 was spent watching horror movies (The Ring, Final Destination, Sleepy Hollow etc). 2009 was spent listening (and singing along to) La Roux. And 2010 was spent, well, reading Time Magazine. This year's already looks prime to follow this trend, with the exception of having some family members over and listening to the Rick Dees Christmas Special.

The thing is over here in Nigeria, where the temperature is well above freezing point all year round, we don't get the benefit of snowfall. So no snowmen, snowball fights or carolers wrapped in scarves and sweaters. The closet parallel we have to winter is something called harmattan, which is, according to my Encarta Dictionary, "an extremely dry dusty wind that blows from the Sahara toward the western coast of Africa, especially between November and March."

So to get into the Christmas spirit, we are relegated to slotting in a nice VHS copy (don't ask) of one of the classic Christmas movies, like Home Alone for example.

Another surefire way of conjuring up some of the good ol' Christmas spirit is listening to Christmas albums, the most popular over here (by no small margin) being Boney M's Christmas Album. If you've never heard this, or you're wondering who the hell is Boney M, then I suggest you head over to an online music store of your choice, and put on your dancing shoes.

Ah. Yes. I think I feel it already. Merry Christmas and God bless everyone.

Saturday 17 December 2011

The Lost Children (Music Review)

I was never really a fan of Disturbed, until I listened to the phenomenal Asylum. I don't think I'd played any band's record as incessantly since Linkin Park's Meteora. Don't know what did it for me exactly, but from the moment Remnants started playing, I just knew it was going to be an awesome record. If you haven't already listened to that album, then I suggest you drop everything you're doing and head over to the iTunes store. But only if you like loud music with sweet, sweet melodies. Otherwise you might wonder what the hell I'm going on about.

Strange enough, The Lost Children slipped by me unnoticed. It was only through my customary glances at the Billboard 200 charts did I notice this gem just outside the Top 10. And the first thing that drew my attention was the awesome album cover. Todd McFarlane has clearly outdone himself with this one. A quick trip to wikipedia told me the new record was actually a compilation of B-sides, meaning it wasn't a new record per say, but a collection of songs spanning their whole career. For this reason, it lacks the coherence found on Asylum, where songs like Remnants bled into Asylum (the title track) seamlessly. But it is also a testament to the fact that they sound just as awesome now as they did in 1999.

The record obviously has its highs and lows, with some of the tracks sounding like filler material. But it never truly loses momentum, from the amazing opening track (Hell) to the decent Judas Priest cover (Living After Midnight) that brings the record to a close. Worth mentioning are the tracks Run, Leave It Alone and Sickened, where frontman David Draiman shines with those sweet melodies and sing-along lyrics of his. If like me you thought Crucified was the best song on the previous record, then you'll certainly love Sickened on this one.

Overall, The Lost Children is an awesome compilation album that is sure to please fans and hold them over until the next studio album drops.

Friday 16 December 2011

Hollowland (Book Review)

Let me just start by clarifying one fact: I absolutely love zombies. I love the telltale moans they make when there's one lurking just around the corner. I love the way they shamble along in search of their next meal/victim. I love the sound it makes when their heads explode in Resident Evil (the original Playstation game), and the way the Michael Jackson/Thriller zombie moonwalks onto the screen (before summoning some backup dancers) in Popcap's Plant vs. Zombies. In fact, if I had my way, I'd swap my dog for a zombie, and together we'd go around terrorizing drug dealers and prostitutes.

This love for all things zombie comes from a childhood spent in fear of all things undead. Now though, I realize that these zombies were actually nice chaps, and were just trying to survive like all other species on the planet. Like Darwin said. But there's still this level of satisfaction you derive from seeing one run over by a truck. Zack Synder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead immediately comes to mind.

I confess that prior to reading Hollowland, I never knew books were written about zombies. The closest parellel I could remember, about a dystopian future with man-eating cannibals, was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. And so it was with equal parts anticipation and dread that I approached Hollowland, the first book in Amanda Hocking's The Hollows series. In her blog, Miss Hocking states that she wrote Hollowland in a mere 21 days. And I must say that it shows. The writing/editing is inconsistent, and there are some recurring mistakes that seem like simple Find and Replace problems.

In all fairness, Hollowland started off okay, with zombies breaking into a government-run quarantine, and the main character, Remy, barely escaping with her life. Apparently, there's been this huge viral outbreak and now Remy is on a quest to reach her little brother, who is being held in another government-run quarantine, many miles away. But things get really weird when she discovers a lion chained to a tipped-over caravan. She decides to set the beast free, and from this moment onward, the reader is forced to suspend all disbelief.

For reasons that seem to defy all logic, this lion, quite adept at hunting, seems to prefer rotten zombie flesh to that of its uninfected counterpart. I mean, if you must have a zombie-killing lion in your story, then at least come up with a decent backstory that explains the unusual bond between the beast and the main character. In its present form, the story lacks credibility because of this. A lion doesn't just hop into a car and take a ride with a bunch of complete strangers, no matter how domesticated, not without ripping their throats out. Also, there were several moments in the book when the lion seemed forgotten all together, only to reappear just in time to kill some zombies.

As the character's journey across country, the reader gets a glimpse of the world Miss Hocking was trying to build. I've always been a fan of dystopian settings, but I was left wanting more by way of description, even though I've never been a fan of page-long descriptions. If only she'd spent less words describing frivolous items like clothing, and more depicting the extent of desolation, the reader would have been better immersed.

The book is rife with other such missed opportunities, like letting the reader know about the possibility of immunity to the virus a little too early, making the story a lot less suspenseful as a result. I also felt zero emotional attachment to the side characters, so that when they start falling victim to the ever-present zombies, I failed to shed a tear or even bat an eyelash. And to cap things off, the book has the most disappointing ending since Breaking Dawn. I know its just the first book in the series, but at least she could have given readers a nice, little cliffhanger. As it is, there's nothing compelling me to read Hollowmen, the next book in the series.

Wow. This review has sure turned out a lot more negative than I intended. I guess that is what it means to be a writer: the ability to question the choices of your fellow writers. But that said, I feel that her storytelling abilities still shine through, and I wish her more success with future books in the series. Which is why I gave this book a 3-star rating on Amazon. That, and the fact that it was a free download. :)

Thursday 15 December 2011

Let's Get Digital (Book Review)

I just finished reading this book by David Gaughran, and felt I had to say something about it. This is my first ever book review, so I'll try my best not to make a mess out of it.

When I first saw this book, I was like, "Great. Just what we need. Another book about how you can make loads of money selling your books on Amazon." But having taken the time to read through the thing, I have to say I'm very glad that I did. The first thing that struck me was how well written and professional the book is. I had to keep reminding myself that this was written by an indie writer, just like myself.

Admittedly, most of what's in here is what any serious aspiring indie publisher should know, or what is readily available elsewhere on the internet. But I love the fact that it is all neatly collected here, making for a nice addition to an indie publisher's reference library.

I also love the fact that he included all these great testimonials by other up and coming indie writers. There's nothing like listening to how these writers struggled to get to where they are today. Very inspiring.

And the best thing is you can download the pdf version for free on his blog.

Friday 9 December 2011

Revised Book Covers & Synopses

I am finally done with another round of editing. This one seems to be my most thorough yet. Just glad that I'm finally done. Also, I have been working on improving my book covers with some free stock photographs I found online. Everything looks good to go. But let me know what you think...

A lawyer’s search for truth and justice makes him a victim of the very same criminal prosecution system he has sworn to serve.

It started with a simple phone call. Next thing John knew, he was meeting with a reporter who claimed to have the information he needed to prove his client’s innocence. But John could not foresee that its pursuit would lead him to the body of the informant, placing him at the scene of the crime and also making him the sole suspect. Now, with a presiding judge who seems dead-set on making an example out of him, John must first prove his own innocence, before he is sentenced to erasure, a form of capital punishment wherein the convict’s memories are completely erased.

A wealthy businessman is brought back from the grave with dire consequences.

It was supposed to be a straight-forward operation. Ed’s memories had been extracted without any complications. A perfect stranger had been found to play host to those memories. All they had to do was implant Ed’s memories into the brain of the host. But with most novel experiments, things never go according to plan. Not when the perfect stranger turns out to be a homicidal psychopath. Now, Ed is a fugitive, running away from a murder he cannot even remember committing.

When faced with the dominion of a totalitarian government, an entire generation of youths put their faith in a movement known as The Second Rebellion.

Growing up in the Lowlands is tough enough. But when you’re a 16-year-old orphan living with a sister who is perpetually stoned, things can get pretty messed up. This is why Jason had jumped at the opportunity to leave it all behind. He had been chosen, along with three others, to step beyond the confines of reality, and experience Gomorrah, a fully-realized virtual reality world. Little did he know though, that he was about to get caught in the crossfire, in a war fought not with guns and on battlefields, but through computers and over computer networks.

Monday 5 December 2011

The Origin of a Storyteller

It all began in the summer of 1998. Well, actually, we don’t have summers over here in Nigeria. All we get is a dry and rainy season. But that’s beside the point. It was in 1998 that I made an all-important decision: I was going to write a book.

Now, the funniest thing wasn’t the fact that I was merely 11 at the time, but the fact that I didn’t even like reading books. I mean, books were for sissy girls, right? Or guys who were routinely bullied out of their lunch money. And just for the record, I did get bullied out of my lunch money, but it was far from routine. But this too is beside the point.

The point is I was going to write a book, which was going to be titled Nowhere Near Home, and it was about this teenage girl named Jessica, who gets stranded in a top-secret research facility, in the middle of the jungle, somewhere in Africa, many miles from home as the title suggests. And the best part was they (she and a few others just as unfortunate) were to be hunted down by a group of biologically-engineered super mutants.

Talk about a mess of ideas.

What possessed me to come up with any of this? I don’t know. But between playing games like Resident Evil, and watching movies like Starship Troopers, Mimic and Island of Dr. Monroe, I’d say the seed had been sown. Oh, yeah, I forgot to say that it was going to be excessively violent and bloody to boot.

Obviously, this little book of mine wasn’t meant to set the world on fire or anything. I wasn’t aspiring to be the next Michael Crichton or Stephen King. Heck, I didn’t even know who those people were at the time. Neither did I know it was possible to make a living telling such tales. Like I said, I hadn’t read any novels, plus I was just this kid with a rather convoluted idea for a book. What did I know?

So there I sat in front of my computer that summer (and here I go saying summer again. Michael, what is wrong with you?). It was a 486 running Windows 3.1, and I had to make do with Word 2.0. But it was more than enough to get the job done, and so I had invested many hours on it, writing my story. I even went into the trouble of doing some full-color illustrations too, with none other than Microsoft Paint.

Hey, what can I say? I was living a dream and having fun at the same time.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. During a much-needed upgrade to Windows 98, our system engineer, who wasn’t aware I had been busy writing the next Jurassic Park, had opted to format our meager 300MB of hard disk space. And so I had lost all my files, including my precious masterpiece. There’s a lesson to be learnt here, ladies and gentlemen. Can you tell what it is?

An event as monumental as losing your work-in-progress should have been enough to crush most aspiring writers. But not me. Like most kids my age though, I had initially gone back to doing what I do best: playing Tomb Raider, watching Cow and Chicken, and listening to Britney Spears. But the thing about dreams is that they never really go away. Still, it wasn’t until the summ – I mean, dry season of 2000 did I attempt rewriting my book, sans the illustrations.

I never got beyond the first 2-3 pages of this iteration though, and the one thing I remember from reading it several years later was how utterly cringe-worthy my writing was at the time. Thankfully, this too was lost following a hard disk failure, and a virus infestation amongst other things. There goes that lesson again. Spotted it yet?

Now, a lot of significant things happened over the course of the next few years. I had the hots for about a dozen different girls. I became a fan of Linkin Park. But most importantly, I started reading novels. Not just so I could manage a C for my literature class, but for the mere exhilaration of getting lost in a writer’s tale. And the book that opened my eyes was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

It is almost impossible to resist the urge to say at this juncture all the things I loved about that book and others in the series. But I believe that would be better served in a future blog post. For now, all I would say is that no other book had sparked my imagination, with a believable world and an interesting cast of characters, like J.K. Rowling’s seminal title.

Since then, I have read several novels by authors like Isaac Asimov, Dan Brown and Michael Crichton. I’ve also discovered that a lot of the movies I enjoyed growing up had been adapted from novels. And 9 times out of 10, those adaptations were nowhere as brilliant as the books they’d been based upon. So it was all these things that made me realize that books were indeed the ultimate medium for storytelling.

I still love movies though, of which my favorite was 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, yet another adaptation. Another movie I absolutely loved that year was Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. I. In fact, it was during the mandatory wait for Vol. II that I finally decided to once again rewrite my book (after seeing how cringe-worthy the previous draft was).

It was only during this third draft did I see any potential in my storytelling abilities, having learnt a thing or two about composition and building conflict. So I had written for the better part of a year, until my progression was halted when we moved to a new home (we’d been renting a duplex apartment for the past eight years).

At our new place, conditions weren’t exactly conducive to writing, especially during the first few months. First off, our electricity/power supply was very much epileptic, as is sadly the case in most of Nigeria. Secondly, the little power we did get was not strong enough to power my aging computer. This was why I started writing my stories down with good, old-fashioned pen and paper, before later typing it out on my computer, a habit I still adopt till this very day. So by the end of 2004, I had managed to write some 25,000 words. But the story itself was only 33% complete.

I was overwhelmed with schoolwork for the better part of 2005, having decided I wanted to learn how to program computers. It was also a year I spent writing music, composing more than 20 songs, all of which were inspired by either of two girlfriends I’d had at the time. I’d found some time for books too of course, though most of this was spent reading. I’d also started keeping a journal where I recorded ideas for prospective books.

2006 wasn’t much different, except I’d started keeping another journal. Here, I wrote about my day-to-day experiences at my new school. This I did in fulfillment of a fundamental principle I’d learnt about writing. To become a better writer, you need to keep writing. Constantly. No matter how trivial your subject matter might seem.

And so I did just that. I kept writing.

It was while watching TV though that I saw an ad for an upcoming episode of Law & Order. It was about some old, rich dude who wanted to be cryogenically frozen, until a day when science had overcome death. I never did see that episode, but that ad, and an article I’d read two years prior in a Nigerian magazine, had ignited an idea that would eventually result in the sci-fi novella, The Host.

I started writing The Host on the 21st of July, 2006 (my birthday by the way, hence why I remember the exact date), and was through before the end of the year. And whilst writing that, I saw the potential for both a prequel and correlations with another story I had written an outline for the year before. And thus The Mediator and The Second Rebellion were also born, the latter of which I wouldn’t complete until September 2008.

Flash forward to December 2011. I am now on the verge of e-publishing on Amazon. I am not pursuing this route solely to make a quick buck or two. To the contrary. My expectations have been set reasonably low. I am merely hoping to get some feedback, and to see if there’s any possibility of a future there. I’ve always been an advocate of technological advancements, and ereaders (and the ebook revolution) aren’t any different.

These are exciting times we’re living in. We have our iPads, 4G connections, social networks and whatnot, none of which was there when I started writing 13 years ago. I still listen to Britney Spears though, so I guess some things never change.