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The Siren and the Sword by Cecilia Tan

The Siren and the SwordThe Siren and the Sword (2014) is about Kyle.

Hi, Kyle!

Kyle is an orphan, living with a distant family member who hates him. Through a series of seemingly miraculous events, he learns he's actually a wizard - from a highly respected magical family. He's accepted into a magical university that's divided into four houses. He learns he's (probably) the Chosen One of an ancient prophesy. He makes friends. He fights evil. Etc.

So, yes, this is rather blatantly inspired by Harry Potter, and one of the (genuinely) best parts of The Siren and the Sword is the afterword in which Cecilia Tan discusses her influences, and how she deliberately set out to adapt them in ways that interested her. 

And, in a way, Siren - the first of the 'Magic University' series - is a distinct refinement of its, uh, predecessor. Siren is, as the series title might suggest, wholly about being a magic student. The overall plot is, accordingly, completely tangential; this is a book about late night pizza, course selection, cramming for finals and hooking up. It is a very niche area of world-building, but given the timeless appeal of wizarding school stories, a popular one. And it is fun - school stories give a method of infodumping that's inherently empathetic, much more so than, say, your typical 'wise old man exposits' format. 

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'A defence of detective stories' by G.K. Chesterton (1902)

Detection

In attempting to reach the genuine psychological reason for the popularity of detective stories, it is necessary to rid ourselves of many mere phrases. It is not true, for example, that the populace prefer bad literature to good, and accept detective stories because they are bad literature. The mere absence of artistic subtlety does not make a book popular.

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Friday Five: 5 Wonderful Webcomics Now in Print (And They Say That Print Is Dead!)

Ellerbisms-13Say hi to Jamie, who is leading us through the wicked world of webcomics...

Webcomics, they’re a tricky beast.

The spiritual successors to daily newspaper strips, given the entire scope and resources of the World Wide Web in which to spread their wings. Just keeping up with a tiny fraction of what’s available can amount to a full time job and, for luddites like me, they represent a unique problem: I want to read them, but books are just so darn nice!

Luckily, some very nice people (publishers, mostly) have collected some of top webcomics into print editions. Here are five of my favourites:

Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby (published by Great Beast) 

Ellerbisms came out in 2012, but the comic itself began way back in 2007 and charts Marc Ellerby’s own life, specifically his relationship with Anna: the girl he never thought he could have, then had and ultimately lost. Autobiography is a common genre for webcomics, the daily, or near-daily, nature of them being a great way to chart day-to-day experience. What sets Ellerbisms apart is the charming honesty of its warts-and-all storytelling. Ellerby himself is not always the hero here, but that doesn’t mean he’s the villain. There are no villains in this story, there’s just life. This honest account is tied together by Ellerby’s disarmingly simplistic artwork: simple lines construct amazingly expressive faces, with quirked eyebrows and slight frowns saying so much more than words could, the art belying the raw emotional punch this comic carries.

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Ben Smith on "The Long Way Round to a Frances Marion Kickstarter"

Frances MarionI’m a huge Howard Hawks fan.

It’s my project to see every film he ever made - and without splurging box-set style, but instead to eke them out across the decades. I go for a new one every few years, as I'm in no rush to deny myself future pleasure. So it should come as no surprise that, a couple of years ago, I was filling in time by reading Todd McCarthy’s excellent biography of the man, Hollywood’s Grey Fox. From it, I learnt that Hawks had been part of Douglas Fairbanks' circle of energetic young men.

So then I searched out a Fairbanks biography, which was pretty remarkable, and then that led me to my first encounter with Frances Marion, named as one of his screenwriters and a close confidant of Mary Pickford.

Naturally, I then happened upon another book in a remainders shop, Joseph P Kennedy’s Hollywood Years, about JFK’s father - a banker, film producer, US ambassador and Nazi sympathiser. It contained an incredible story about Frances Marion and her husband’s ill-treatment at Kennedy’s hands. So I then picked up that author's other biography, this one about Frances Marion. Without Lying Down is so called because Marion spent her whole life looking for a man she “could look up to without lying down”.

I was completely sold on her. 

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Fiction: 'I Decided That Things Had Become Too Complicated' by William Curnow

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I decided that things had become too complicated.

Understand, I did not want anything that followed from that. Like everyone else, I wanted only to be left alone, to get on with things. I was not someone who would push themselves forward. I was happy to stay in the background, to live a simple life, but I couldn't ignore facts.

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