Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bookshelf: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

As you all know by know, I love classic books. I've read a lot of different authors but I have just finished my first Jules Verne. I don't know why I put it off for so long, I think it must have been a combination of my bad memory and long list of books people keeping telling me I must read. I'm just happy I finally got around to it.

My overall reaction to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is that it is fantastic. Verne had a lot of imagination going into it and a knack for story telling. That doesn't mean I loved everything about the book, but overall it was a great read. If you like science fiction that isn't space ships and time travel, or if you're a fan of steampunk, I highly recommend this book.

Now, I just want to take the time here to clarify something that I found a bit confusing: the title. At first glance, I (and I'm sure many others) thought that the title was saying that Captain Nemo's magnificent ship would be able to dive to a depth of 20,000 leagues. As I knew next to nothing about how deep the Earth's oceans are, I had no problem thinking that. But after reading the book (and some research), I found out that the deepest part of the ocean (Mariana Trench) is only 10.911 kilometers deep, which is equivalent to 1.96 leagues. Obviously, unless Verne had a great imagination, the Nautilus would not be able to reach that deep. Actually, the title means that, throughout the entirety of this story, the Nautilus would travel a total of 20,000 leagues (111,120 kilometers) while being under the ocean's surface (aka "Under the Sea). This is by no means a rant that Verne should have given his book a clearer title, just a bit of confusion I'd like to clear up.

Enough of little technicalities, let's talk about the book as a whole. I won't include any spoilers here, so some of this might seem a bit vague. I'd say come back and read this again right after reading the book to see if you agree with my opinions.

First, I'd like to cover what I loved about the book. As I've probably mentioned before, I love good description. I'm a very visual person and enjoy a lengthy description about how the landscape looks. Jules Verne does this very well. He gives a lot of description of the wonders of the ocean: the terrain, the fish and critters, the interior and exterior of the submarine. I could see it all in my mind. Of course, if you don't like pages of description, I'd saw it does get a little draggy after a while (more on this later). Also, I thought the basic premise of the story, as well as the initial set-up, was great. The idea of travelling around the world's oceans and discovering all the fantastic sights and animals is a great idea, but Verne adds another layer of tension and excitement by making our three companions prisoners on the Nautilus. The set up for the encounter with Captain Nemo's ship was done well. I thought it was very interesting that Verne decided to make the false assumption of a destructive animal a global affair, even into a hunting competition. That made the reveal of the man-made ship that more fantastic, especially since the only people that knew this information would never see humanity again. The characters were great as well. They felt fleshed out and different from each other. Even though some of them definitely had some similarities of interest between them, after just a few chapters you could look back on what the character said or did and think, "Yes, that is definitely what ____ would do." The characters also kept the plot going and always brought something to the table. Finally, just the imagination of Verne is wonderful. From the great speed of the Nuatilus to descriptions of parts of the globe that were still a great mystery. Verne was able to bring all of this to life and made it seem real.

Of course, I didn't love all of the book. I believe that all books (with the very rare exception) have their low points. Even if I can't find anything wrong with a book, someone else will. For me, I found some of Verne's description annoying and boring. Me? Find description boring? Yes, if it happens to be dry scientific classification of animals with names I can hardly pronounce. Verne, with his love of science, felt the need to go on and on about the specific species and classification of many animals. After a while (half a page or so), it got very boring and tiring. I even skipped some of them entirely, and I usually hate skipping any part of a book. But it was not just animal classifications that got to me, Verne also talked in length about latitude and longitude, mathematics, and dry geography. It was a good thing most of these were discussed separately from each other, otherwise I would have skipped a lot more.  Another thing, I felt that many of the events that occurred in the story that were intended to be high points were resolved too quickly. I have a few in mind, but I won't include any here to avoid spoilers. I just felt that the main reason I was reading was to find out how our three companions would escape Captain Nemo's ship, not for the events in between. Also, I felt the ending fell a bit short. Instead of telling us exactly what happened, the point of view character falls unconscious and later the other characters can't tell him what happend. They don't know how they escaped, so the readers are left in the dark. I just felt that there was no pay-off for the amount of anticipation I had going into seeing them escape.

Once again, I'd like to say that I did greatly enjoy this book, even with it's short comings. Overall, it was a great reading experience and an interesting story. If you love classics as much as I do, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is a must.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wires and Clasps: Jewellery Making!

I've always wanted to make jewellery, but have no experience with it. I do plan on taking some classes at my university, but until then I've been dabbling in it on my own. My sister used to make jewellery so I know some basics already.

The theme of my jewellery is steampunk. I've always really enjoyed taking random things apart (not much luck in putting them back together...) and I find the innards of machinery and electronic devices beautiful. I also love steampunk (probably since it combines scifi, Victorian era/history, and machines all together) so that seemed to be a great fit. I've only made a few pieces right now (some are much better than others) but if I make enough pieces I might open up an Etsy store and see how that goes. All the pieces I make are one of a kind (at least for now) and handmade. The jewellery is either metal or plastic (which I paint in metallics, sometimes I paint the metal to highlight and diversify).

This is the first piece I made. It's ok, but not my favourite. The pendant of the necklace is a speaker that I removed from some crappy portable speakers I had.

My favourite piece so far. It's a ring made from two gears I found while breaking apart a music box. The ring base is from Michael's.

These earrings are just three chains I linked together and stuck screws into. I had all these extra screws lying about and didn't know what else to do with them. I think these turned out quite well.

I absolutely love chokers so I made this. I love it a lot. Like the other necklace, this is made from a speaker (same set of speakers, actually), except I removed the dust cap on this one.

So that's my jewellery! What do you all think? Esty worthy?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bookshelf: Oldies but Goodies

I love classic books. Most of the time, given the choice between a new best seller or an old-time classic, I'll lunge for the old musty book. I'm not sure why, but I think part of it is the style of writing. The elevated voice of the words and sentences really resonates with me (and so do the longevity of the sentences. Gotta love those commas!). So I've made a small list of some of my favourite classic novels. It is by no means a complete list, but just a small sliver.


The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
This is by far my favourite classic (so far at least!). I love H.G. Wells. His books are amazing in both imagination and writing style. In addition to being an exciting novel about time travel, The Time Machine also has an interesting theme about social structures. It's also interesting to see Wells take on the future of mankind. While it's not exactly post-apocalyptic, the decline of humanity is definitely there. I personally find it a refreshing change from the modern apocalyptic trends with nuclear fallout and such. Here, we don't know why humanity fell and only see the last remnants of the event that triggered the decline. I also suggest checking out The Invisible Man (which is rather hilarious) and The War of the Worlds.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Yep, you knew it was going to be on here. I won't spend too much time on this one, but I will say that Stoker is great at maintaining interest and suspense. Even though everyone knows the story, the little clues that mount up to the reveal of the vampire really tease at the reader. It is a great mystery. Also, Stoker's descriptions are amazing.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This one is also a no-brainer classic. I actually read this for the first time this summer (waaaaay too long of a put off on my part) and it was great. I liked how Shelley makes Dr. Frankenstein very intriguing, especially his obsession and later regret of creating such a monster. Also, the character of the monster is fully fleshed out, not a cardboard cutout that is often seen in film adaptations of the book. I personally found the monster a little whinny, but that's just me.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
These two are crazy and creative. Definitely don't read one and not the other! I love how wacky and random everything is in these books and how Alice somehow makes them out to be incredibly normal. She is an unusual girl herself. These books are fun, incredibly silly, and also include catchy poetry. What's not to love?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I love this book. A lot. It's funny because the first time I read this book (in high school) I hated it while I was reading it. Then, the moment I finished it, I loved it. The way all the parts that seem independent all mix together throughout the story is amazing. Also, all the characters are fascinating and unusual in some way. The very character arc that Sidney undergoes is wonderful and really made the book for me. Rereading it is a lot of fun when you know where all the characters eventually end up.

The Odyssey by Homer
This one is really old! Also, not actually written by Homer, just written down first by him (actually, he was telling it aloud and someone else was writing it down, but anyway). This story is amazing and much better than the Iliad, which I find incredibly boring at parts. It is an adventuring and exploring tale, also including some troubles Odysseus faces once he gets home. I am a huge fan of Greek mythology and I really love how Athene just decides to help Odysseus out because he is clever like herself. Wonderful story. Also, if you want to watch a very loose adaptation of the Odyssey, watch O Brother Where Art Thou? It's a very very loose adaptation but entertaining (plus George Clooney, so what's really to complain about?).

That's enough of a list for now, but I will post more books later on (currently in the middle of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). And not just classics. I don't just read stuff that was written one hundred years ago ;)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Writing Thoughts: To Plan or Not to Plan

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven't been around as much lately, I've been a little overwhelmed and exhausted from work. In addition, I've been experiencing a mini-crisis with my writing. Basically, I've just felt that my writing is terrible, my current story is a mess (both structurally and content-wise), etc. But I'm trying to not put myself down because that doesn't help things at all. I'm also going to make a bigger effort to be more active on here.


Part of the reason my vampire story isn't going so well is because I think I planned too much. Planning is a great tool and I usually outline what events I want to happen through the course of the story. But here I'm talking more about world-building. For this story, I really wanted to avoid it becoming just another vampire story, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the way vampires are turned (through ritual blood magick and/or demon contracting), their physical and psychological abilities, how they interact with humans, their underground city and so on. That was all well and good, but I kind of skimped out on characters and plot. That was one really bad move. Even worse was that when I began writing, I didn't really know how to incorporate backstory and world-building details into the story along with a fairly complicated plot. I guess in summary, I was reaching for too many things all at once. I eventually want to finish this story, and will probably be continuing to write it at a slower rate, but for now I think I need a little break from it.

Now, in my experience (both from my own writing and feedback from other writers I know), everyone has a different way of prepping for a story. Some people plan out everything in a scene, from the main objective of the protagonist down to the tiny wine stain on the rug that the friend points out. Others like to have a vague idea of what is going to happen and dive right on in, letting their characters lead the way. I personally like a little of both. I like the security and reassurance of an outline, but at the same time I like flexibility just in case something arises organically from the story itself. The same thing goes for world building I've discovered. I write a lot of science fiction/fantasy/horror/steampunk stories so I usually have to at least adapt the real world if not create a brand new one. Usually, I do very little in-depth planning; I have an image in mind of what the world looks like, what the technology is like, and so on but rarely more than that. That works for me, not the deep planning that I tried for my previous story. I just get too overwhelmed. I can handle a group of characters well, but a ton of information I want to incorporate is a bit much for me. Maybe I just need practice.


Like I said before, not every writer does it this way. One of my friends really loves world building, since he comes from a background of playing a lot of table top RPGs. Another friend spends most of his time planning character motivation/backstory and vaguely sketches out what events he'd like to see. For me, plot usually comes first along with the main protagonist and antagonist.

For all of you writers out there (whether you write all the time or just sometimes for fun), how do you prefer to plan? Do you spend days creating worlds or just write on the high seas of spontaneous imagination? And for you readers out there, which types of stories do you prefer to read? Do you like lots of description of scenery, social structures, and cultures or do you prefer a brief snapshot of a place and more knowledge of characters?
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