Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Most Extraordinary School - A Look At Tompkin's School by Tabi Slick.

Tompkin's School (For The Extraordinarily Talented Book 1)Tompkin's School by Tabi Slick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Izara Torvik thought her life was over the moment that her father sent her and her twin brother to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. She soon discovers that the school is not as ordinary as she thought and finds herself thrown into a battle against her inner demons that only have one desire...the desire to kill.

Tabi Slick's first entry into her Tompkin's School series is an engaging YA adventure that evolves into a kinetic mystery with powerful paranormal elements. After a somewhat tentative start in which Slick devotes a lot to establishing her cast, the story picks up the pace becoming quite epic in its scope with plenty of action.

Her protagonist, Izara Torvik, is a young woman who is at once vulnerable and wide eyed, having been thrust from a cloistered and privileged New York existence into a totally unfamiliar Oklahoma environment. Along with her twin brother Kain, she has to find reserves of strength and resourcefulness fairly quickly in order to face the powerful and violent forces that reside within the Tompkin's School. Her growth, in particular, is appealing and satisfying to watch.

Slick's grasp of tension and mood is attractive and she is able to infuse an unpredictability into her narrative that keeps you guessing right up to the climax.

Tabi Slick's series crackles with potential and I'm really keen to see where it goes in subsequent entries. Tompkin's School For The Extraordinarily Talented is a gem.

Tabi Slick (image credit: Tabi Slick). 

Tabi Slick was born in Chanute, Kansas, and grew up in the country where she was homeschooled for the greater part of her childhood. In middle school, her family moved to Davis Oklahoma where she attended public school for several years. Here she began her writing adventure and soon the world of Tompkin's Academy came to life. After graduating from high school in 2008, she spent a few years in Puerto Rico and wound up in Texas where she graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Arlington. She was born with an immense appreciation for literature and continues to dedicate her time to her passion of writing.

Purchase Tompkin's School here

Visit Tabi Slick here.

Connect with Tabi Slick here.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Parent Rage - Seriously. Is This A Thing Now Adelaide?

There isn't a lot that shocks me in this world anymore. I've seen enough of human nature at its best and worst that I tend to sigh and regard it all with barely more than a 'meh...'

Apparently, I haven't yet seen it all.

So, yesterday afternoon; I'm waiting in my car across from my children's primary school. I often get there about 15 minutes before the bell to ensure I can park safely and scroll the news feeds on my smartphone - because that's always the best time to do that sort of thing guilt free. 

I've got my son with me, whose been home sick with vomiting and is only just starting to feel a little brighter. 

Without warning, I'm shocked out of my Twitter-feed reverie by a sudden pounding on the driver's side window. Jumping in my seat, I look up to see a man - face pressed against the glass - hurling abuse at me and gesticulating wildly, in the middle of the street, for everyone to see.

Apparently, he had taken issue with the fact that I had parked my car in such a way that it was impossible for anyone to slip in behind my car and the car further back. The space wasn't big enough. There was a car in front of me so my moving forward was out of the question. 

This, apparently, constitutes a perfect storm in some people, where they feel it is  their constitutional right to unleash the power of Grey Skull on a fellow parent. 

And unleash that power this father did.

Not content with my shocked and stunned look of disbelief at his salvo of window punches and verbal abuse, this genius, proceeded to grab the door handle of my car and yank it open. He ordered me to step out of the car. To fight it out. In front of a Primary School. In broad daylight. 

Now bear in mind here that my 11 year old son, is in the car with me. My sick-with-gastro 11 year old son who was cradling an ice cream container just in case he had cause to vomit for the 50th time today. 

Once I got my head around the shock of what was happening, I calmly stepped from my car and suggested we move off the street, lest we get run down by the steadily building after school traffic. All the while, crazy-father-guy was actually goading me to throw a punch, in between berating me for him not being able to park his cark behind mine. 

By this time the school bell has chimed and children and parents are passing by this shit show, watching on with bemusement. Never a good look to have an audience of kids at a potential dust up.

The situation was quickly spinning out of control.

Unwilling to listen to this rant anymore, I calmly stepped forward, into his face, and whispered - because that is all I can manage vocally right now - 'If you want me to throw down right here, I guarantee you, you will not get up.' It was kinda Liam Neeson-esque - minus the Liam Neeson.

Then I calmly turned and walked away, back to my car. 

The dad continued his tirade of abuse as he retreated from my car and across the street while I slowly motored down to the gate to collect my daughter. My 6 year old daughter. Who got to witness his continuing rage and vile langauge. As did any number of other children and parents and teachers.

This happened at a Primary School in Adelaide yesterday.

Seriously. Are we doing Parent Rage now? Is this a thing?


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Virtual Reality for Writers - One Of The Happiest Accidents I've Made.

Of the many tools available to writers, I reckon the advent and popularity of virtual reality (VR) applications may be one of the most powerful additions to our author tool boxes.

I'll go on the record here - I'm a hopeless tech geek. If there is a new smart-phone or computer product or application or game on the horizon that piques my interest - (and has some relationship to Star Wars) - you can bet that I'll be the first in line.

When consumer VR was touted in the past couple of years, I was excited by the prospect and the potential of it as a piece of entertainment. But I feared that it would be out of the reach of the average consumer. Then along came Google with its entry - Cardboard. For roughly $20 bucks, you could order a foldable VR headset that would suit a variety of Android based devices and you could experience the wonders of VR at a budget price.

Google's "Cardboard" (image credit: Slashgear)

Of course I jumped in and I did so at a fortuitous time. With the arrival of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, last year there was a tie in VR app that I just had to try out. 

And it was so cool. Called "Jakku Spy" you got to immerse yourself in a bona fide Star Wars environment and interact with it through a series of scenarios that were meant to hint at plot lines and situations from the film. 

Jakku Spy in app screen shot
 (image credit: InsideTheMagic).

Fast forward to earlier this year, my phone contract was up for renewal and again, found myself in the right place at the right time. Samsung had just announced the release of its own VR headset - the Gear VR - and telcos were lining up to bundle this with the new Samsung Galaxy S7. So, I got mine and eagerly began playing with it. The Occulus Store had a few early release apps and games, all of which show off the capabailites of the Gear VR as an entertainment device.

Samsung's VR Headset in action. (image credit: Samsung).

But then I discovered something that really showed me just how powerful a creative tool this could be.

So, I'm working on a new novel and its set here in Australia. In fact, it's set in a little mountain town Victoria called Walhalla - a place where I spent a lot of my childhood. Now that I live in Adelaide - a good 12 hour drive away - it's not convenient for me to get up to Walhalla and walk around the town, making notes about the physical environment, the buildings, notable land marks - that sort of thing.

VISO places in-app screen shot of Walhalla, Victoria (image credit: Dean Mayes.)

Well, with the Gear VR, my Samsung S7 and an app called VISO Places (free within the Occulus Store) I am able to conduct my own "virtual walk" through the town, make notes about the landmarks there and even brain storm story ideas based upon what I'm able to see within the environment. It's been quite a revelation for me as a writer. I can add so much authenticity to my scenes because, within less than a couple of minutes, I can drop myself into the very environment I want to be.

The Colosseum - in-app screen shot. (image credit: VISO places).

Imagine being able to visit Rome, the Colosseum and "virtually" walk through it. You can sit by the Trevi Fountain and look at the people going by (in still life of course, but it's still cool!). You can drop yourself into Times Square, New York and interact with the streets there, see the lights of the billboards and wonder about the lives of the New Yorkers all around you. With access to Google's current library of environments, the entire world is pretty much available to you. Future updates of the app plan to include audio support which means you will be able to access sound recordings of different environments. Imagine being able to hear the lapping of the water against the buildings of Venice. 

I sound like I'm hard selling this and I don't mean to. It's just that the discovery of this has been one of the most accidental and delightful ones I have made. And I really do believe that it has helped me no-end with my current writing project.

Virtual Reality has been a boon for developers - allowing them to offer new and inventive interactive experiences for end users. For writers, VR opens up a world of creative possibilities, particularly those who can't just hop a flight and land in their favorite destination or setting for their latest novel. 

It has become a genius tool for me.

Check out VISO Places here.

Check out Samsung's Gear VR here

Check out Google Cardboard here.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Paying Debts - A Review Of Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.

Chuck Wendig's arrival among the pantheon of Star Wars authors has been, perhaps, the most significant one since the announcement of the new canonical timeline by Lucasfilm in 2012. Wendig has certainly divided opinion - as the reviews of his first entry Aftermath illustrated at the time of its release. 

Aftermath was a bold departure - both in style and substance - from previous Star Wars storiesand which many readers took issue with, but it was one that I really liked. Wendig laid the foundations for a wholly revised geopolitical environment in Aftermath that examined the fall out from the Empire's defeat at Endor - both from the Imperial and Alliance perspectives and his examination of both factions responses to the new paradigm was absorbing.

With Aftermath: Life Debt, Chuck Wendig pushes forward unapologetically, making Star Wars his own.

From the liner notes; 

The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee s homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie s capture and Han s disappearance.

Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the "Millennium Falcon" s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

Life Debt builds on those Aftermath foundations and kicks the action into high gear. The team we were introduced to in Aftermath, led by Norra Wexley and Sinjir Rath Velus, hit the ground running as a galactic equivalent of Nazi hunters, contracted by the nascent New Republic to collar and bring high value Imperial targets. Their cohesion as team remains appealing and I like how Wendig undertakes a deeper study of them as individuals and the internal conflicts they are grappling with. I have a particular fondness for the Zabrakian Bounty Hunter Jas Emari whose desire to remain a lone wolf hunter clashes with the burgeoning loyalty she has to the group and she has an extensive internal narrative surrounding that that I liked a lot.

The main game however, is the team's secondment by Princess Leia Organa - making a welcome return to form - to find her missing husband Han Solo and his loyal friend Chewbacca, both of whom have gone missing in the region of the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk. The team's reverence for Leia and the legendary smuggling duo makes the decision a relatively easy one - though Wexley does have to prick some of their consciences - and soon they are propelled head long into a conflict that represents a significant last stand for both sides. 

On the Imperial side, Grand Admiral Sloane continues to navigate her way through a veritable hornets nest of treacherous Imperial colleagues who are floundering in the aftermath of their defeats at Endor and Akiva and thus they spend a lot of time bickering amongst one another rather than unite towards a common goal. The introduction of a new, even more calculating antagonist in Gallius Rax (*cough* Benedict Cumberbatch *cough*) is a welcome one and the chess game that goes on between Rax and Sloane proves to be one of the highlights of Life Debt. 

When the focus shifts to Kashyyyk, Life Debt really comes into its own. For the longest time, I have wanted to see the liberation of the Wookiee homeworld done in a really compelling way but previous efforts to portray it have fallen flat. Wendig's approach is gut wrenching. 

He shows us the devastation the Empire has wrought upon this planet and the cruelty it has metted out to the Wookiees themselves. There are moments of real anguish and emotion here. Their plight is visceral. The Empire's evil is absolute and I became emotional reading these scenes. The subsequent battle for the planet is one that, I think, outshines the Battle for Endor. The Wookiees, as portrayed by Wendig, are a more complex species than they have ever been. 

Wendig's bringing together of his own cast with classic identities from Star Wars is seamless. He retains the cinematic qualities of those we have known and loved for 40 years and adds to nuance to them. Leia is fascinating to watch as a figure head in the New Republic and she is much more dynamic than she was in the old EU. Han and Chewbacca are like a well worn jacket with the Ford/Mayhew influence easy to access. Wendig gives unexpected gravitas to Han Solo that sees him truly evolve into a more considered human being. Without spoiling it, the Life Debt we have always known is actually kind of turned on its head. And I found Wedge Antilles presence in Life Debt to be a really strong one. Wendig does things with his character that I don't think has ever been done previously and Wedge comes off as being perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the story.

(art by blindroosevelts: DeviantArt).

The mainline narrative moves at varying speeds, but it is easy to follow and it doesn't labor. Scenes of action, both in the stars and on the ground, are kinetic and easy to access visually. And they're as entertaining as hell. The interludes - a kind of Wendig signature - remain as  enjoyable additions to Life Debt. I spent a lot of time thinking about them between reading, wondering if some of them hint at future story points and characters in the sequel saga. Others serve as mood pieces, giving the reader more of an insight into the feel of events and the emotions of the characters in Life Debt even if they aren't directly specific to those characters.

Life Debt is a thrilling, fully formed sequel to Aftermath and one that students of the new Star Wars canon era should add to their shelves. 

I loved it.