A North-South Divide audiobook now available
Alysha audiobook now available
My Best of 2019
The Honour of the Knights : Spanish Edition
My Best of 2018
An interview with freelance editor Olivia Wood
What comes next
My (current) writing routine
Project Starfighter - The game vs the book
My favourite video game couples
A North-South Divide
Welcome to the personal website of Stephen J Sweeney. You'll find plenty of random bits and pieces here, mostly related to books I've written.
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A North-South Divide audiobook now available
Less than two weeks after Alysha was released as an audiobook, A North-South Divide is now also available! You can find it on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. The book has been narrated by Sam Atlas, who has done an incredible job and was wonderful to work with. You can find a full list of region specific stores to buy the book from via the link below. I do hope people enjoy listening to the book:
Alysha audiobook now available
Alysha is now available as an audiobook from Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. The novel is narrated by Cassandra Arnold, who has done a spectacular job. It was great working with her on this. Hopefully, listeners will enjoy it just as much as I did. You can find a full listing of where to purchase a copy, including stores in specific regions, using the link below:
A 'writing of' Alysha will come some time in the new year.
My Best of 2019
Every year, I like to create a list of my favourite books, movies, games, and music. I try to keep the items as current as possible (i.e. from this same year), although that does not always hold true (due to me missing stuff from past years or only just getting around to something I've neglected for quite a while). Below are my favourites from 2019.
Best Book: 11/22/63 - Stephen King
Honourable mentions: Cross Her Heart - Sarah Pinborough, Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky
11/22/63 was one of those books that I didn't want to end. Following Jake's adventures in the 1950s was exciting, entertaining, and very informative. I could tell that King very much enjoyed researching the period and writing a story set within it. Often, I would find myself becoming less interested in Jake's goal of preventing the Kennedy assassination, being quite content to live in the late 1950s and explore the period. At 850 pages, it's a long book, but never feels so; I would have been happy for it to go on longer.
Sarah Pinborough's Cross Her Heart is one of my favourite books of hers. Following the story of Lisa, a single mother to a girl called Eva, we slowly begin to uncover a very disturbing secret from Lisa's past. It's hard to talk too much about this one without giving a lot away, suffice to say that the life that Lisa thought she'd escaped and left behind comes back to haunt her in a terrible way. Sarah slowly bleeds these details in and the book comes to a very satisfying finish. Unlike a lot of Sarah's other books, there are no supernatural or horror elements to be found here, and the novel works just fine without them.
Children of Time is the first novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky that I've read, and he produced one of the most original stories I've come across in quite some time. It's no wonder that it won the 2016 Arthur C Clarke award. The plot of spiders being (accidentally) uplifted by a scientist aiming to accelerate the evolution of monkeys made for a fascinating read; seeing them move from stage to stage of their evolution, learning new technologies, and fighting a war against ants was even more exciting than the parallel plot of the struggle of the last remaining humans in the universe, trying to find a way to survive on a spacecraft suffering its own upheavals.
Best Album: The Specials - Encore
Honourable mentions: Lost Girls - Bat for Lashes, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 1 - Foals
The Specials latest album was one that was exceptionally well timed for the period we live in. Essentially a protest album, there were several standout tracks to really caught my ear; Vote For Me is especially timely, and I can see it as a track that may well show up and be played for many years to come during elections. Embarrassed By You is another such track that could do the rounds for similar reasons. The Specials aren't a band that I could say I follow a lot, but hearing songs from this new album being played on BBC Radio 6 Music, I decided to pick it up and give it a go. I wasn't disappointed. The album also came with a second disc that contained a number of The Special's classic tracks recorded live at various venues in England. What was brilliant about this was that the tracks had been cleverly mixed to make it sound as if they were all part of the same set. Great stuff!
I've always loved Natasha Khan's voice, and Bat for Lashes turned out another great album this year. Lost Girls feels like the soundtrack to an 80s vampire movie that exists in another universe (and one that I would love to see if it's anywhere near as good as the songs on the album). The 80s theme is quite clear throughout, including the instrumental track Vampires. At 38 minutes, it's not a terribly long album, but this is certainly quality over quantity.
Best Song: Juice - Lizzo
Honourable mentions: The Runner - Foals, Haim - Summer Girl
Juice was my top song of 2019. Being a song about being self confident and happy with oneself, the track is full of positive energy, upbeat, and always put a smile on my face whenever I heard it play on the radio. I'm happy to say that Lizzo succeeded in her goal of making people feel good about themselves.
The Runner by Foal was a track that grabbed me the minute I heard it. There's massive confidence and swagger throughout and it never lets you go from the outset. Indeed, the lyrics speak of never giving in, no matter what happens. Yannis's signature vocals work to their fullest here.
Finally, Haim's Summer Girl was a beautiful summer song. There's a somewhat melancholy feel to the song, but what's also very clear is the theme of hope in the face of adversity running throughout.
Best Film: Avengers: Endgame
Honourable mentions: The Hateful Eight, The Theory of Everything
I did a number of things when it came to Endgame that I have never done before: I pre-ordered my movie ticket a month before release, I attended the film on the day it came out, and I went to the 10am showing. Was it worth it? Absolutely, 100% yes. For me, Endgame was the perfect conclusion to the MCU 22 movie story arc. I cheered at that moment at the commencement of the final battle (and remained silent from then on as some other cinema-goers turned to look at me!), and felt quite moved when the credits rolled. I'm not sure that a superhero movie will ever reach such heights again, but I was so very glad that I was able to be a part of it.
As many do, I caught up on some movies that I had missed over the years, only finally getting around to watching The Hateful Eight. An incredible film, so well acted and produced, it was a shame I didn't see this in the cinema when it first came out. Well worth the wait and you should definitely give it a watch if it also slipped past you on first release.
The Theory of Everything is not the sort of film that I would normally watch, but positive word of mouth when it turned up on Netflix convinced me to give it a go. The performances were sublime, with Eddie Redmayne providing an incredible portrayal of Stephen Hawking. I learned a lot about Hawking's life from the film and never realised he possessed such a great sense of humour. Again, give this one a watch.
Best Game: Spider-Man
Honourable mentions: Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone
I was late to Spider-Man, the game being a late 2018 release and me not picking it up until February of 2019. This is by far the best Spider-Man game ever made; swinging around New York City itself was such a joy, and the developers really captured Spider-Man's character, with his wit and charm. On a technical level, it is another game that pushed the PS4 to its very limits. One would never think that such an ageing system (8GB RAM, mobile GPU) could turn in such incredible results. There was enough variety in the gameplay to stop things from going stale, and chasing the platinum was an absolute joy.
Detroit: Become Human was a game that I'd had my eye on for a while, ever since enjoying Heavy Rain. In my humble opinion, Detroit exceeds that game, both in terms of atmosphere, story, characters, and (naturally) technical accomplishment. This was truly a game where I felt that my decisions made an impact, and also that the ending that I got was how the story was meant to finish (not unlike Until Dawn). My favourite character was Conner, who felt the most human of them all.
Days Gone was actually a far better game than the critics made it out to be, and I very much enjoyed my time with it. Deacon is a likeable character, who looks out for all those around him, and the missions themselves were all great fun to do. Even during the day, the Freakers instilled fear. I have yet to finish the game (one negative point is that the game is somewhat on the long side), but I'm looking forward to returning to it in 2020 to complete the story.
The Honour of the Knights : Spanish Edition
The Honour of the Knights (First Edition) is now available in Spanish, entitled "El Honor De Los Caballeros". This is a translation of the Creative Commons edition of the book and is therefore free to download and distribute (BY-NC-SA). The translation is the work of Artifacs (also known as David) - artifacs.webcindario.com.
I updated the cover art with the new title:
David contacted me a few weeks ago, enquiring as to whether I would be interested in having the book translated into Spanish. I almost missed the email at first: it ended up my spam..! I'm glad I responded, though, as David did an amazing job. He was also very, very fast (something he attributed to his enjoyment of the book).
An ePub of the Spanish edition can be found on downloads section of The Honour of the Knights (First Edition) page. The novel can also be read online. Other formats are available on David's homepage, including HTML, PDF, and Mobi.
David has also translated a lot of other Creative Commons books from English into Spanish. You can find out Sci-fi novels and fantasy novels at the respective links: artifacs.webcindario.com/obras.html and artifacs.webcindario.com/obrasFantasy.html.
My Best of 2018
Every year, I like to create a list of my favourite books, movies, games, and music. I try to keep the items as current as possible (i.e. from this same year), although that does not always hold true (due to me missing stuff from past years or only just getting around to something I've neglected for quite a while). Below are my favourites from 2018.
Best Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Honourable mentions: American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis, Age of Assassins - R J Barker
We Need to Talk About Kevin was one of those books that I had heard about for years, but had never gotten around to reading. Over the summer, I then heard Lionel Shriver host a slot on BBC Radio 6 Music and remembered the novel. Although I knew that the book involved a problem child, I wasn't quite prepared for the story that would follow. Shriver has written a masterful and heartbreaking tale of a mother recounting her life before and after having Kevin, and everything she faced while bringing up the boy. It's powerful and beautifully written, the characters and events strong and believable, and the style just perfect. The novel kept me awake the night I finished reading it and it stayed with me for many days thereafter. I doubt I'll ever read it again, as I don't know if I could put myself through it once more, but it is definitely one of my favourite stories of all time.
American Psycho was another book that I had heard a lot about over the years, but never gotten around to reading. I decided to give it a go upon seeing the film adaption pop up on Netflix and figured I should read the book first. I found the book just as incredible as others have said; I have my own opinions of what was actually going on and that's something that makes the novel so remarkable is that everyone will come to a different conclusion. The book is extremely violent, though the violence soon starts to become so extreme it's as though it's making a paradoy of itself.
Finally, I picked up R J Barker's Age of Assassins. This is a wonderful fantasy debut about an apprentice assassin called Girton, that's well-written, engaging, and featuring plenty of likeable characters. I've heard many good things about the sequels, so I'll be sure to be getting into them in the near future.
Best Album: Every Valley - Public Service Broadcasting
Honourable mentions: Ruins - First Aid Kit, The Vaccines - Combat Sports
I'm ashamed to say that I missed Public Service Broadcasting's latest back in 2017, only picking it up around March of this year. I'd heard a few song played on the radio, but of course the full experience lies in the album. Set around the Welsh coal mining industry, the songs tell the story of hope and optimism for its future, only to be dashed by the closures that followed. As per PSB's style, the tracks use a great deal of samples to bring things alive and there is a lot of variety on offer. Standout tracks include Progress, All Out, and They Gave Me a Lamp. And that's not to say the others are filler, far from it! If you've never heard of PSB or have yet to pick up any of their music, Every Valley would be a great place to start.
An album that did come out this year was First Aid Kit's Ruins. Again, I had heard the sisters' music played a lot on 6 Music and so decided to give their latest album a go. As with all their songs, I loved it immediately. Their vocals are, as ever, beautiful and the Swedish folk goes from upbeat to melancholy and everything in between. You should absolutely check out First Aid Kit if you haven't already.
Best Song: Bells and Circles - Iggy Pop and Underworld
Honourable mentions: Fireworks - First Aid Kit, White Star Liner - Public Service Broadcasting
Bells and Circles was first played at BBC Music's Biggest Weekend. It was a song that I loved from the moment I heard it. Telling the story of what it was like to be able to smoke on airplanes back in the golden age of air travel, Iggy Pop's vocals gel perfectly with Underworld's beats. At 7m 30s, it's a long track but doesn't feel like it and doesn't make me want to skip on after a time. Amusing, profound, and informative, this is one hell of a collaboration.
Another song that I loved this year was First Aid Kit's Fireworks. The duo describes this one themselves as being about dreams and expectation, and how they can get in the way of ourselves; sometimes we set our goals too high and expect too much of ourselves and other people. This can really be felt in the lyrics and the song itself is quite sad. But, as with their album, the vocals are beautiful and fit the tone of the tune perfectly.
And while on the theme of high expectations, another song I loved is Public Service Broadcasting's White Star Liner. First played at the BBC's Biggest Weekend in Belfast, the song is one of optimism for the future of the Titanic. Upbeat and featuring samples from the period of its construction and launch, one gets a true sense of just how proud all involved in the ship were before tragedy struck.
Best Film: Avengers: Infinity War
Honourable mentions: Solo: A Star Wars Story, War for the Planet of the Apes
Nothing quite prepared me for what I was about to experience when I came to watch Infinity War. This is the culmination of 10 years of work by Marvel, bringing together some of their most recognizable characters in one great movie. Even with the vast number of characters featured in the film, they were all given a reasonable amount of screen time. None stole the scene more than Thanos, however; Josh Brolin delivered an incredible performance as the Mad Titan. And though I had considered that Thanos might actually win, I didn't expect it to really happen. The closing acts of the film were like nothing I had ever seen and I literally had to put my hand over my mouth to stop myself from shouting at the screen when Thanos reversed time to grab the mind stone from Vision. I left the cinema feeling utterly gutted, and while it remains to be seen if Marvel will be brave enough to stand by the events of this movie with the sequel in 2019, Infinity War for me stands as the best film of 2018 and one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.
A movie that took me completely by surprise was Solo. I have no love for The Last Jedi, and so I decided to not bother seeing Solo in the cinema. This was a mistake. I caught it on the plane coming back from holiday and was greeted with a movie that vastly exceeded my expectations. The movie was entertaining, it was well acted, it felt like Star Wars, and there were lots of nice touches (such as explaining the Kessel Run and 'I know'). Do watch it if you've been on the fence.
Best Game: God of War
Honourable mentions: Nier: Automata, Hellblade
Without a doubt, for me the best game of 2018 was God of War. At its core, the game tells the story of a man heading out to scatter his late wife's ashes, fulfilling her dying wish, while at the same time having to connect with a son he barely knows. For its setting — Norse mythology, having moved on from Greek — it's an extremely touching and human story, full of powerful interactions and relatable moments. When I first read about the reboot coming to the PS4, I was sceptical. There was to be no hack and slash gameplay like in the original trilogy, the mini games were gone, and Kratos now had a son. It all sounded far too radically different and, with the original trilogy being amongst my favourite games of all time, I was worried. Upon playing the PS4 game, however, I found I had nothing to fear. The gameplay was solid, the controls and combat tight, the graphics and sound absolutely mind blowing (probably the best the PS4 has to offer), and the writing and acting of the highest quality. There is so much to do and see in the game, even after the main story has finished. And you'll want to do all of it, just to learn more about Norse mythology. If you've not played this, do yourself a favour and get a copy right now!
Nier: Automata was a game that slipped under my radar in 2017 (I think it's slipped under a number of people's radars, even today). The game was highly recommended on NeoGAF, and so I took the plunge, not really knowing what to expect. The game is an utter gem and such a joy to play. Featuring the fast and fluid gameplay that Platinum are known for, Nier casts you in the role of androids sent to Earth to reclaim it from an alien invasion. As already said, the combat is fast, fluid, and responsive, there are 26 endings(!), multiple characters to play as, and a number of different gameplay styles to enjoy. Don't overlook this one.
Finally, Hellblade was quite an experience. Playing as Senua, a Viking who is suffering from psychosis, the player must navigate a hellish landscape to help Senua rescue her dead lover's soul from Helheim. The depiction of psychosis was done very, very well, and at times I felt quite uncomfortable playing the game knowing that much of everything that was happening to Senua was all in her mind. Indeed, the game won awards and earned much praise for its handling.