December 2009 Archives

December 31, 2009

Top Posts Of 2009

The Dumbies 2009 - The Winners

And the winners are....

I'm not sure if it's Science Fiction, but it's definitely William Gibson: cool and zeitgeisty and strange within the familiar. It's about the people on the edge. Writing that makes me want to read it again and again, and a plot that left me hooked and wondering (in a good way). Loved it.

Film : Moon
Moon wins easily. It's stylish, cool and surprisingly takes the Science Fictional fork in the plot path. Great stuff and destined to be a classic.

Short Fiction : Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers by John Lanagan (read in Wastelands: Stories Of The Apocalypse)
It's the sort of story that hints at more, keeps you hooked and makes you care about the characters. Great writing, taking the well worn apocalypse and crafting something new.

Television : Lost
Yes, Lost again. Even more bonkers, with added time travel. Great fun, characters I love and yes, it's Science Fiction. I cannot wait for the last season, then I will be sad.

Comics : xkcd
I forgot to mention it in the nominations, but it still wins because xkcd makes me laugh. A lot. Still.

Videogames : Guitar Hero
For those about to ROCK! we salute you. Plus you got lots of kids playing real guitar. No Science Fiction but lots of ROCK!

December 30, 2009

The Dumbies 2009 - Film

There were some excellent Science Fiction films this year and I actually got to see some of them.

Monsters Vs Aliens was fun, with monsters and aliens and 3D. Not quite Pixar quality, but decent.

Up was true Pixar. Quality all the way through. Touching, tender, fun and thoughtful. I saw it in 3D but it didn't really add much.

Star Trek was the film that JJ Abrams made for people who weren't Star Trek fans. And it worked. I am firmly on the Star Wars divide of the genre split, but I loved the new film. No technobable, lots of lens flares and Simon Pegg.

Moon was class and classic. Brilliant styling and a wonderful awareness of the Science Fiction that has lived before it. I thought the film wouldn't have the guts to pull of the story I wanted, but it did and it delivered. Overshadowed by the District 9 hype, but in my opinion much better.

District 9 started out well and then degenerated into an action film. It got mainstream audiences talking about (and watching) Science Fiction which was good, and it was by no means a bad film, I just wanted more. I prefer the short film upon which it was based.

Where The Wild Things Are was muppets with angst. I liked the visual style but was bored by the story.

Avatar arrived with ridiculous hype, and didn't do anything to convert me from my first opinion on seeing the trailer. Ho hum.


December 29, 2009

Day Of The Triffids, BBC1, 2009



The Day Of The Triffids has been adapted quite a few times from the novel. My first experience was of the original BBC TV series, which scared me as a kid, but since I have also read the novel which I liked. So why another adaptation?

For a start it allows the visuals and style to come bang up to date. Which has it's pluses and minuses.  On the plus side the show looks slick, the Triffids are scary and the apocalypse looks real. On the minus side the spacious, low(ish) budget, original TV version seemed to match my mental image of the book more. That low key disaster, with space and subdued fear. Of course, I saw the original TV show first, so it's all a bit subjective.

The new version has a few plot additions and changes. The Triffids are set-up as the saviour of the world, replacing petroleum as oil and providing a rather unnecessary reference about global warming. Consequently, due to nasty multi-national corporate control, the general population doesn't know how dangerous the Triffids are, until it's too late. None of these changes really add or detract from the story and are superfluous back-story.

The general gist of the novel's plot is kept the same. Good guys, bad guys, Triffids, survival. A solution for the neutering of Triffids via genetic manipulation is new, but really just a plot device to get some characters together and provide a couple of action sequences.

The Triffids themselves are much scarier than any other version, their roots are dangerous, creeping, grasping, tendrils - they go after you! The poison of a Triffid sting alone can kill you, although they do still tend to go for the eyes. Their design in this new version was good, tall and brooding, shambling but menacing. The only question left was whether they could climb stairs (because that's what I would have tried to escape them), and why so few people used fire as a weapon.

The cast was good, Eddie Izzard standing out as the creepy bad guy. It's strange seeing Izzard acting, because there is a tendency to expect him to be funny, which sometimes works against him, but sometimes adds an extra tension.

There are a lot of action sequences, fighting Triffids and people, which I can understand, but it would have been nice for some more of the psychological aspects to be explored, some of the recovery from the apocalypse. For example in the book there's a section about trying to create a sustainable life in a farmhouse, which fails to make this version.

All in all a competent and enjoyable adaptation, but do read the book as well.



The Dumbies 2009 - Short Fiction

Usually I read some of the award short lists and then say "I must read more short fiction", however this year I did read more. I read some anthologies, some awards lists and other stuff (inspired at the end of the year by the Torque Control Short Story Club).

Wastelands: Stories Of The Apocalypse contained some excellent stories, including a couple that I still find myself thinking about (The End Of The World As We Know It by Dale Bailey and Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers by John Lanagan).

From the awards short lists Paul McAuley's story Little Lost Robot stands out. It was fun and thoughtful and entertaining. 

Elsewhere Lavie Tidhar was making a name for himself and I really liked two stories of his that I read: Spider's Moon and The Shangri-La Affair.

My reviews of most of the stories I read this year are filed inconsistently under short or shorts.

December 28, 2009

The Dumbies 2009 - Books

The first half of the year started with a flurry of novels but then seemed to die off, resulting in a disappointingly short list. 

Novels
The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick
Makers by Cory Doctorow (review TBD)

Anthologies
Non Fiction

Before compiling the list I didn't think it was a particularly good year however there are some good books in there, but not much new and shiny (except for Makers and The Quite War). In fact the books I liked the most were edge SF: Spook Country, This Is Not A Game, The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Whilst the most SF of all, The Quiet War, is a good book, but I just didn't like it that much.

A novel a month doesn't sound like very much to have read, however I console myself with the fact that I read a reasonable amount of short SF this year and even some non-fiction.

December 27, 2009

The Dumbies 2009 - TV

There was a lot of Science Fiction television in 2009, so much so that I couldn't watch it all.

Dollhouse started disappointingly, seemingly just a Joe 90 rehash, but by episode five it started to take off and Joss Whedon's true intentions were revealed. The show was not about the Dollhouse and the actives reoccurring "adventures", it was about what happens when the technology goes wrong. Out of all the TV this year I think it's the most Science Fiction, in premise and execution. It starts discussions, it asks difficult questions and it explores what happens when cool shiny technology is exploited. It's a shame that it's been cancelled, because once again Joss Whedon delivered.

Being Human took what sounded like a clichéd crazy joke: a ghost, vampire and a werewolf share a house, and turned it into something great. The story focussed on how the characters were trying to cope with their exceptional conditions, and produced some emotional plots. The vampires were lead by the scariest vampire of all, a policeman who looked normal. No gratuitous effects or flashy but unnecessary detours. And, as is usual with UK TV shows, there were only six episodes making the story arc tight and finished. It's back in January for a second series, having been a big hit for the BBC, and I'm looking forward to it.

Battlestar Galactica finally ended, thank goodness. Two great seasons then the down hill slide, resulting in a truly terrible finale. Really terrible. Although by that time I just didn't care, the whole show had been lost in its own self importance, going all mystical and, well, not Science Fiction. Whereas the original appeal of the show was the gritty true SF feel and stories of survival in a rag-tag fleet. And because of the rubbish ending it's stained my memory of the show. Sad.

Also ending was The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It was a strange show in many ways, quite low key despite dealing with time travelling killer robots, but I liked it. Every time I thought it was going to do something stupid (the singer from Garbage as a T1000!) the plot defied my expectations. I enjoyed Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, quiet and hard, even the story of John Connor as a difficult teenager steered away from cliché. Nothing mind blowing, or genre changing, but good, enjoyable Science Fiction that went out with a woah

Heroes didn't go out with a woah. Is it still going? I stopped watching it because it was terrible.

Late in the year FlashForward started with the hype out stripping the reality. The core concept was interesting, as indeed it should be taken from a SF novel, but the execution was poor and flabby and I didn't care one bit about most of the cast, except for saying what else they'd been in: it's Jack Davenport from This Life!

Defying Gravity was cancelled before it was even shown on the BBC, however I enjoyed it immensely (as I type I have yet to see the finale). I liked the intertwining of the back story and the current time line, the back story actually being worthwhile an interesting. The space scenes were nicely rooted in reality (or at least attempting to be) and the stories of the characters was genuinely interesting. Nice journey, ended too soon.

Doctor Who, the staple of the last few years, only appeared with a couple of specials. One not good, one pretty good. I'm hoping the Christmas Day episode was good, I will write my reactions once I get back to this blog.

And then there was Torchwood Children Of Earth, going from the biggest groan inducing show in history to something dark and difficult and primetime and actually pretty good. The tactic of showing one episode a day for a week worked really well, generating a lot of viewers, a lot of press, a lot of attention and tight, complete story arc. It wasn't perfect, but it was proof that five hour stories are better than one hour stories, and actually left me wanting more.

Stargate Universe began. I think there was some disquiet amongst Stargate fans but I didn't really follow it too much. Unfortunately it's still Stargate, just now with Robert Carlyle, who is excellent, but the stories are nothing special and there's magic stones to communicate with the rest of the Stargate franchise.

Last, and most of all, there was Lost. I love Lost. I have always loved Lost. I love Lost even more now than I used to. Season 5 turned into a time skipping mosaic that was immensely enjoyable. What is great about Lost is that it contains not only awesome bonkers fun plots, but also characters that I care about and hate and love. The last episode of the season was really emotional and a great payoff for all the craziness. It's fun and clever and great and I have every faith that it will conclude in 2010 in the most awesome way.


December 26, 2009

The Dumbies 2009 - Comics

Once again I didn't read too many comics this year. Well, I say too many, I mean hardly any. I read Tom Strong, a couple of issues of Red Herring and a couple of North. All of which WildStorm sent me.

The Dumbies 2009 - Videogames

It appears that 2009 was a good year for SF videogames. However I didn't play any of those games, instead I dedicated myself to Guitar Hero and Tiger Woods Golf. The only remotely SF game I played was Galaga, downloaded to a Wii, which brought back memories of arcades and WarGames and games that were straightforward but difficult.

December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

A very happy Christmas to everyone.

I hope you have a wonderful day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

December 24, 2009

The 5th Annual Dumbies Awards

Big Dumb Object is pleased to announced the fifth annual Big Dumb Object awards, known as The Dumbies.

The awards follow the now traditional format (thanks to cut and paste)...

Media are eligible for nomination if they have been seen or read by the judges panel in the year of 2009, no matter when they were released. Categories include Best Film, Best Book, Best Short Story, Best Television Series, Best Comic and Best Videogame. There are no worst awards in The Dumbies, life is too short to consume bad media and the judges therefore try to avoid such matters.

The nominations will be announced over a few days (for no other reason than to string it out a bit and provide content when the judges are in fact eating and drinking and playing with toys). After the nominations have been announced the judges will be open for bribes for an unspecified period of time. Once they are satisfied that the best offers have arrived and have cogitated on the nominations, the judges will then make their decision and announce the awards in a grand ceremony that involves a single, but important, blog post.

The judges are selected in a secret and mysterious process and their names are kept secret to protect their superhero identities. (In other words, it's just me, James.)

Please feel free to speculate on the nominations until they are announced.

December 23, 2009

Avatar

The hype for Avatar has been immense.

Nothing can live up to that. And Avatar doesn't. It's long, clichéd and completely predictable, with design that reminds me of non-SF Disney films. No matter what people say, I can't stand the blue aliens and glowing plants. Yuck. Meanwhile the design of the military half of the film is just a copy of Aliens, from all those years ago.

Lots of people seem to be amazed at the 3D, personally I find it distracting. It doesn't help that I wear glasses, and putting 3D glasses over normal glasses is uncomfortable and results in the odd reflected glare, less than ideal. But then for each shot, half of it is out of focus, to gain the 3Dness. It takes my eyes an good hour or more to settle into it and relax, which is not fun. And although the CGI shots in Avatar had decent 3D, it wasn't any more spectacular than Monsters Vs. Aliens, with the non-CGI shots looking achingly annoying and jarringly different.

But the worldbuilding! gasped the crowd. Please. Yes it's a whole world, just like Star Wars was thirty years ago. There's plenty of films that have all encompassing worlds. Many of them even look cool.

And the story. Twelve years to write that? I don't think so. A day cut and pasting between Dances With Wolves and Pocohontas maybe.

The positives? The graphics were pretty good. In places. There were some explosions. But that's it really.

Disappointing.

December 22, 2009

Star Wars Lego Figures In The Snow

Wired has an great set of photos of Star Wars Lego figures in the snow. 
Because if you hadn't heard it snowed in the UK and we like to go on about it because it usually only happens once a year.
Nice. 
When it snows, act like it's Hoth.

I Thought The Future Would Have More Beep Boop Sounds T-Shirt

I Thought the Future Would Have More Beep Boop Sounds - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever
And....
Honey Moon - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Science Fiction And Science

In a recent comment thread over at Torque Control I said "There seems to be a common feeling with people coming into SF that you need to know real science to write good SF. Which is of course rubbish." The comment was in response to Catherynne M. Valente posting about writing Science Fiction.

Following that Athena Andreadis wrote a post titled Science Fiction Goes McDonald's: Less Taste, More Gristle on The Huffington Post and said she was surprised at the agreement with which my statement was greeted.

I think the key point here is that there are degrees of accuracy.

As an example Dr. Andreadis rephrases my statement to use historical fiction as an example:

Let me rewrite that statement for another genre: "There seems to be a common feeling with people coming into historical fiction that you need to know real history - or at least the history of the era you plan to portray - to write good historical fiction or alternative history. Which is of course rubbish."

Cell phones in a Renaissance novel? Tudor court ladies on mopeds? Why should anyone notice or care?

So first of all we'll make the assumption that the author of the historical novel is not attempting anything modern or funky or surreal and is going for an accurate historical novel. I agree that if I was expecting an accurate historical novel then phones and mopeds in a Tudor court would jar with me. However, I am not a scholar of history, or even very well versed in many periods of history. But then who is? Who is an expert in every slice of history? So when it comes to a historical novel such as The Baroque Cycle, guess what? I have no idea what Neal Stephenson made up and which bits were taken from primary sources. And I don't really care. The novel evoked the period to me, I loved the story and I could, if I wanted to, try and find more academic sources to read.

But even those academic sources have elements of doubt. Presumably much of history cannot be pieced together form primary sources? I don't know, I'm out of my depth talking about history already.

The same is true even when moving to science: this year I read A Quiet War by Paul McAuley, there's some interesting science in the novel: biology and ecology. To be honest I had no idea whether it was accurate or not. Like history, I know very little biology. It didn't really impact the story, McAuley sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

So let me switch to something I (used to!)  know about, physics.

Say you want to write a Hard SF novel. You research the state of the art in string theory, or brane theory, or whatever. You stick to your exacting research. The number of people who will know whether you are accurate or not is tiny, a small group of physicists who have spent years buried in maths. And let us not forget that those theories are just that, theories! They could be disproved within a year if the LHC delivers some nice data.

Even with experimental physics, nothing is ever really proved to be the absolute truth. Physics is just a model of the universe that we can conveniently use. You can never discount that some experiment will come along and highlight a flaw in your glorious model. Yes, of course some models have gathered such impressive experimental proof that they can be taken as "correct", but my point is that it's not black and white.

So as a SF writer you have to decide how deep you want the facade to go. The deeper you go the narrower the audience that will be able to spot your flaws. If you want a shallow facade it does not mean you can't write Science Fiction, it is after all, fiction.

December 21, 2009

Ataque de Pánico!

Ataque de Pánico! is a wonderful short Science Fiction film, with giant robots and destruction and explosions and that awesome music In The House - In A Heartbeat' by John Murphy (from 28 Days Later). So good that it's earned its maker Fede Alvarez a Hollywood deal to produce a new movie, with sponsorship by Sam Raimi. Nice. 

It's embedded below, watch it.

StarShipSofa's 2010 Sofanaut Awards

It's now down to the shortlist in the StarShipSofa Sofanaut Awards:

The nomination round has provided a stellar list of stories and contributors for the finalist shortlist, which can be voted on now at http://sofanauts2010.questionpro.com  The finalist poll will remain open until the 30th of December.  Links to past shows featuring the shortlisted stories can be found on the StarShipSofa forums here.  Stay tuned to StarShipSofa in the New Year for announcements of the winners in each category.

Have a listen then vote.

The Courage of the Lion Tamer by Anya Martin

The Courage of the Lion Tamer by Anya Martin is another story published in DayBreak Magazine.

The story tries to solve the problem of animal extinction in Africa. What do you do when the lions are all dead? Raise them in captivity, release them and televise the whole thing on IMAX screens. Like Big Brother for lions, but everyone wins.

That's only the set-up of the story which goes on to follow the release of one particular Lion, a release which doesn't go smoothly.

The writing captured a feel of Africa, and a sense of the wild animals, not overly flowery but enough to put me there. The story whilst not complicated kept me interested.

And of course the story is optimistic, the resolution leaving me feeling upbeat. Which is what DayBreak Magazine is supposed to be about, right?


December 18, 2009

Being Human Series 2 Starts On 10th January

Sunday 10th January is the date for the new series of Being Human.
See a clip embedded below.

Battle Of The Ironclads II T-Shirt

A T-Shirt for the steampunk fans!
Battle of the Ironclads II - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

December 17, 2009

Survivors Returns To BBC1 In January


The first series of Survivors was pretty good. Unfortunately the second series was postponed due to Swine Flu. Seriously.

However now it's back, in January.

The press release says "picking up moments after the thrilling cliff-hanger to season one." and "Returning for this high-octane second series are..." which doesn't fill me with hope. The best bits of the first series weren't the action sequences but the coping-with-the-apocalypse sequences. I hope the big conspiracy arc is toned down and some proper post-apocalyptic story telling takes place.

Oh and it's being broadcast in HD too.

THX 1138 Movie Trading Cards

automaticlifestyledispenser has made some very cool THX 1138 movie trading cards:






December 16, 2009

Watch The Avatar Premiere Red Carpet

If you want to see the stars of Avatar arrive at a cinema, then you can:

Ustream has partnered with Twentieth Century Fox and MySpace to host an exclusive live webcast of the "Avatar" movie premiere red carpet on Wed. Dec. 16 at 6p PT. The star-studded event will be made available worldwide and presented at ustream.tv/avatar. Cast and celebrity attendees will be interviewed live, providing unique access to the premiere of the what could be the year's most-anticipated film. Watch, chat or embed at ustream.tv/avatar.

Where 6pm PT is of course Middle Of The Night GMT.

December 14, 2009

The Wrong Grave - Kelly Link

I have said many times on this blog that there are some stories that Kelly Link has written that I love with an unhealthy obsession, and yet there are some stories that she as written that I really dislike. (Here's my review of Magic For Beginners.)

The Wrong Grave is online for free at kellylink.net, and is included in Pretty Monsters. Of course I couldn't resist reading it.

The story is about a boy who tries to dig up his dead girlfriend to retrieve some poetry he'd buried with her. In other hands this could be a clichéd story, resorting to tired fantastical horror-esque themes, however Kelly Link turns it into something strange and heart warming. The description of the main characters love and loss is wonderfully told in bitter sweet prose. Looking back on the story it reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman, except a bit more slippery. At times the point of view changes, without warning, and the narrator talks to us with a knowing voice. It's funny and sad and I liked it a lot.

I've thought a lot about why some of Kelly Link's stories strike such a chord with me, and I still haven't been able to pin it down. In fact after a while I resist the idea to be critical about these stories because they are magic to me, and I don't want to break the spell.

Recommended. 


December 12, 2009

The Day Of The Triffids BBC Remake News

[Arggh run, killer plants!]

I have questioned the need to remake/readapt  The Day Of The Triffids, however the BBC press release has done it's job and I'm now interested, a lot.

Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave,Eddie Izzard and Jason Priestley star in The Day Of The Triffids, onBBC One this Christmas, written by Patrick Harbinson (ER, Law & Order).

Go and look at the stills: people with cuts on their heads, it's the apocalypse! The visuals look pretty stylish and faithful to the images that the book produced in my head. Which is a good thing.

No broadcast date on that page yet but I'm sure I heard Eddie Izzard say it was Christmas time. Mr. Izzard also seemed pretty impressed with the production.


UPDATE

Andy says that the Radio Times has a broadcast date of 9.00pm on Monday 28th December.


December 11, 2009

Avatar Pandora"Documentary"

Sigourney Weaver narrates a "documentary" about Pandora, the planet on which Avatar is set.

Ignore the French subtitles (unless you're French) and blatant sponsorship.

Everything looks blue and elf-like and very CGI. Unfortunately,

Are The Stars? Classic SF Mashup

Bombay Monkey have made a mashup of classic SF visuals and a kind of 60's tinted funky acid jazz track. The result is slightly hypnotic (and embedded below).

Doctor Who BBC One Christmas Ident 2009 with David Tennant

Doctor Who + Christmas + BBC One = Hurray!

December 10, 2009

Tron Legacy Poster

Light Cycles!

Via Dave

December 9, 2009

Short Story Club, Reflections

Well, the Torque Control Short Story Club is over (for now) and I’ve found it an enjoyable journey into analysing my own short story tastes.

I’ve read stories that I never would have read (those Fantasy ones) and whilst I don’t think my tastes have changed, I think I now have a clearer idea of what I do like. And looking at that smallish chunk of taste makes me want to push the boundaries a bit and find something surprising.

There’s so much choice when it comes to reading a short story that it was quite nice to be told what to read, and when. Having Niall pick the stories was like skiing around a resort with a guide: less time looking at the piste map and worrying whether you’ll get lost, and more time looking at the wonderful scenery and enjoying the thrill.

The regularity has also been a pleasant surprise. Usually I read short stories in bursts: an anthology, or an award short list. Reading at least a story a week has been a very good habit to get into, and, as is the way with habits, has resulted in positive feedback. I’ve found myself reaching for a short story to read these past few weeks more than reaching for a novel.

And also one can’t underestimate the enjoyment of discussing the story with others (even if that discussion only involves reading others comments). It’s the sort of discussion that doesn’t really happen online with novels, because everyone reads them at different speeds and times. There’s no deadline like in real world book clubs. Which is why conversation seems to congeal around TV episodes rather than literature. It seems like it takes an award short list to galvanise a discussion of novels.

Anyway, a success!

I think I’ll stick to reading at least one short a week.

December 8, 2009

The Branding of Shu Mei Feng By Amanda Clark

Another DayBreak Magazine story, The Branding of Shu Mei Feng By Amanda Clark is set in China and Mongolia and follows the tale of the eponymous Shu Mei Feng.

It feels like a story of two halves: part one in China which is high tech and futuristic, with combustion engines banned and vertical farms feeding the cities, part two in Mongolia which is more traditional but with a sprinkling of futurism. The first half, the setup, is the part I liked the most, although the ending makes sense and ties the story up nicely. I think I’d like more of that future China.

The writing has good sense of place, the description particularly vivid in rural Mongolia, the Chinese section less so, but that may be because it’s high tech sheen rather than landscapes.

Shu Mei Feng is clearest as a character in a flashback to before the start of the story, in other parts she becomes a little overwhelmed by the plot as it barrels along.

Overall it’s another story that I found enjoyable to read, left me feeling upbeat and also wanting more of the story’s world.

DayBreak is publishing exactly the sort of stories I want to read at the moment.

December 7, 2009

horrorhouse by David D. Levine

horrorhouse by David D. Levine is, as you would expect for a story published in DayBreak Magazine, near future optimistic Science Fiction.

The story follows Ethan, one of the main protagonists in the Twitter Revolution, as he investigates a local disturbance, known as the horrorhouse. I expected from the title for the story to be horror-ish, but not at all, I was pleasantly surprised by the actual horror, which I’ll let you find out for yourselves. Instead the story has the blanket of near future technology which I love, I’m tempted to call it cyberpunk but that’s really just because it’s where I discovered that kind of detail first. Rather than noirey and dystopic the story is bright and optimistic. If I had to say who it reminded me of it would be Cory Doctorow-ish or early Accelerando Charles Stross.

I liked the way that the story dealt with the kids and the age gap to the protagonist, inventing a coolness that felt different enough to be futuristic but not ridiculous. I also liked the problem-in-a-utopia style of the story, which is the hard bit of writing optimistic SF.

All in all, very enjoyable.

December 6, 2009

New Doctor Who Image, The Master Looking Scary

The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew by Catherynne M Valente.

The last story in the Torque Control Short Story Club is The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew by Catherynne M Valente, published in Clarkesworld Magazine. (I say last story but Niall teasingly says “(for now)” in a kind of end of season finale style.)

The story is about a movie star, who makes documentaries. I think. The story is dense both descriptively and in the semblance of a plot. It’s not really a straightforward plot but a selection of scenes from films and comments about scenes. There’s some lovely writing, big lengthy descriptive passages that take a while to digest (the sort of stuff I think I enjoy reading more with a paper book in my hand rather than on a screen.)

The feel is sort of steampunk, retro, Victorian-y, alternative universe; where Venus is a habitable planet and the digital age never seemed to arrive. I don’t like steampunk, I prefer the glossy sheen of high-tech to the Industrial Revolution technology, so I found the references to phonographs and diving bells a little distracting, but I tried to ignore them.

In the end the story felt like a glimpse into a world, in sharp cut scenes. And I think that was the point. A few beautiful vistas and a lingering feeling that there wasn’t enough there for me to decide whether I liked it. Which is kind of what the story is about. I think.

December 4, 2009

Video Interview With James Cameron About Avatar

Embedded below is a video interview with James Cameron about Avatar, from CNN.


Via Dave

December 3, 2009

Funky Retro Buck Rogers Trailer


Via Sci-Fi Wire via Ain't It Cool News Via Dave.

December 2, 2009

December's Ansible Is Online

December 1, 2009

Don't Panic: Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

My first exposure to The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy was the BBC TV series. I liked it. I laughed. I watched it on VHS quite a few times. I was never a rabid fan, but it was clearly good. It was years later when I finally read the books and didn't find them as good as the TV series. So, I wasn't sure about a biography of Douglas Adams, could it really be that interesting?

Well, thanks to some very entertaining writing by one Neil Gaiman: yes. I should clarify, this book, like Hitchhiker's itself, has been revised a few times. The first edition was by Neil Gaiman published in 1998, it was revised by David K. Dickinson in 1993, by MJ Simpson in 2003, and the latest edition 2009 by Guy Adams. This latest edition is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the publication of the first Hitchhiker's novel.

The early life of Douglas is fascinating, including the whole journey to getting Hitchhiker's onto radio. (I never even realised that it was on radio first.) Following that is the story of the many versions of Hitchhiker's and Douglas's seemingly erratic and surprising path to success. It's really interesting. I was particularly surprised by how Douglas reinvented and rewrote the story along the way, adding, removing, tweaking, adapting. He didn't seem precious of his initial idea.

The book becomes less interesting with the end of Neil Gaiman's section, due to a combination of the writing lacking something and the fact that the journey to success is more interesting than the success itself. The latter quarter of the book feels more like a tick list, counting off the achievements. I'm not sure who it's aimed at, die-hard fans will know it, other people may not care.

The appendices too seem one for fans rather than the casual reader: the original synopsis, a comparison of the variants in the texts, a who's who of H2G2, the definitive "how to leave the planet" and an excerpt from Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen.

Overall though I enjoyed the book and now feel even more appreciative of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy in its many forms. Makes me want to watch the TV series again.