December 2010 Archives

December 31, 2010

The Dumbies 2010 - The Winners

And the winners are...

Books : The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
In any other year The Windup Girl would have won. And in a year other than that Moxyland, Gardens Of The Sun or The City & The City would have won. However The Dervish House was Science Fiction written for me. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Just like I loved River Of Gods and Brasyl. It's a familiar trope imbued with freshness and 21st century style and proper characters and a wonderful story. Did I mention that I loved it?

 

Films : Monsters
I thoroughly enjoyed Inception, Toy Story 3 and thought The Road was brilliant (hard to say I enjoyed the stomach twisting apocalypse), but Monsters is the film I'd want to see again and again. It's cool and stylish and very Science Fiction, with beautiful cinematography and a focus on real people. Proof that story and execution and vision and passion is worth more than a hundred million dollars. I can't wait to see more from Gareth Edwards. I'd also like to mention The Social Network, not SF, but a supremely entertaining and intelligent film, everything you'd expect from Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher, with one of the best cinematic hacking scenes ever.

 

Television : Lost
It has to be doesn't it? Lost finished. Six years and a hugely enjoyable ride. It was crazy bonkers brilliant. It even played with us in the final series and offered some form of afterlife that everyone had be counting on and discounting for years. It was never about the answers. Perfect ending. Perfect television.

 

Short Story : ?
I honestly can't pick a single winner. No one story stands above all the others. Is that a cop out? I don't care, I can't pick one.

 

Videogame : Super Mario Galaxy 2
It's in space. It's 3D. It's Mario. Wonderful gameplay.

 

Comic : xkcd
It's got to be xkcd. More geek than SF. Makes me laugh. A lot.

 

Music : Tron Legacy
Slightly biased as it's current to when I'm writing this, but despite all the faults of Tron Legacy it got one thing right, a great soundtrack from Daft Punk. All the other soundtracks nominated are worth a listen to as well, loads of atmosphere.

 

 

I hereby close the Dumbies for another year. Bye bye 2010.

December 30, 2010

The Dumbies 2010 - Music

A new category this year. The nominations are going to be Science Fiction related, rather than my general music listening (if you're interested in that, go here. It's not everything, just everything that was scrobbled.)

And, what can link music to SF? Film. So here's a list of my favourite soundtracks that I listened to this year.

Tron Legacy
Moon
Monsters
The Road

The Dumbies 2010 - Comics

Another category that always falls by the wayside. I read almost zero comics this year. If I get sent comics, I read them, I hardly ever buy them. When I visit shops I flick through graphic novels and go "oooh" that looks good, but I can never justify spending the money.

I did read:

Ball, Peen, Hammer

xkcd.com

and watched a video of  2000AD covers a few times, bringing back memories of when I used to read it weekly.

The Dumbies 2010 - Videogames

I'm not sure why I bother keeping videogames in as a category, because let's face it I hardly play games any more. Here's some I did play:

Super Mario Galaxy 2
Just Dance 2
World Of Goo

 

Erm, was that it?

Yep I think so.

I avoided playing Minecraft because I was scared it would take over my life. I did however talk about it a reasonable amount.

December 29, 2010

The Dumbies 2010 - Short Fiction

It felt like I read a reasonable amount of short fiction this year, until I listed it. One a month isn't that great. I really should read more. And I say that every year.

The fiction that stands out were those in DayBreak Magazine. Of course I had an interest because my story The Rules Of Utopia was published there too, but the selection of near future optimistic SF was very enjoyable. (And no, I still haven't got around to reading Shine.)

As usual the magazines that publish SF came and went. The iPad was touted as the saviour of books and short fiction, but presumably only for those people who can afford a 500 quid walled garden gadget. The online magazine seemed even prettier this year than ever, with quite a few touting original artwork.

Most sad for me was Futurismic ceasing to publish stories, years of submitting and I never sold one to Paul and Christopher. Personal fail.

Here's the list of the short fiction I reviewed. I more than likely read a few more and forgot to review them. Perhaps.

No Time Like the Present by Carol Emshwiller
Elegy for a Young Elk by Hannu Rajaniemi
A Serpent In The Gears By Margaret Ronald
Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra By Vandana Singh
The Things - Peter Watts
Riding In Mexico By Brenda Cooper
Dalí's Clocks by Dave Hutchinson
Biting The Snake's Tail by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Language Of The Whirlwind by Lavie Tidhar
She's All Light by LaShawn M. Wanak
Fembot by Carlos Hernandez
White Swan by Jason Stoddard
Bruce Sterling - The Hypersurface of this Decade

December 28, 2010

The Dumbies 2010 - Television

Despite the continued hype and whining about television series ending and being cancelled and blah, blah, blah (doesn't everyone online have other things to talk about?) I saw some good SF TV this year. Yes four of the TV shows ended and aren't coming back, but that's fine everything ends. It's the journey that matters. Not the destination.

Once again, proper Science Fiction here: space, mind viruses, viral apocalypse, vampires, zombies, time travel and (bonkers + emotion)^2.

And yes, I haven't watched Fringe. And yes I should do. The problem, as always, is time. Watching a TV series these days takes commitment, especially the long 22 episode US seasons. I think I prefer the UK size of 6, or 13 if you're Doctor Who. Easier to watch.

Defying Gravity
Dollhouse
Survivors, Series 2
Being Human, Series 2
Lost: The Finale
Doctor Who
The Walking Dead


December 27, 2010

The Dumbies 2010 - Films

As usual I didn't get to the cinema that much this year, however when I did I made sure that it was to see some Science Fiction films. And looking at the four I reckon that's about 80% awesomeness. Proper, great, Science Fictional films, not just bangs and special effects and no plot. (I'm still counting toys that come to life as SF.) In fact they all had great special effects, but the key differentiator is a good story and great characters and some intelligence. Tron lacked these characteristics but the other three had them in buckets.

Even more impressive was how the films broke moulds and bucked trends: The Road was a bleak, uncompromising story; Inception required rejected dumbing down to the audience for high budget films in spectacular style;  Monsters proved (again) that great Science Fiction can be made on tiny budgets; Toy Story 3 proved that it was possible to make a wonderful trilogy.

Quality over quantity.

The Road

Inception

Tron Legacy

Monsters

Toy Story 3

 

December 26, 2010

The Dumbies 2010 - Books

As usual the year started with a flurry of reading, then slackened, then I read a few on holiday then it tailed off again. Not for lack of things to read just for lack of effort really. I read some good books this year, out of the fiction list I was only negative about three of them, and the rest are easily contenders for book of the year. Which means that it was a good year, in reading terms, in publishing terms most of them were published the year before but there's always that lag with my reading (and most other people too?)

Also worth noting is that all of the books were full on Science Fiction, meaning that a Science Fiction concept was at their very core. And most of that SF felt new and fresh and cool. The death of SF is, as usual, completely untrue.

I only read one anthology, but made up for that by reading quite a few shorts (see another post).

And I read two non-fiction books about writing, both of which provided a jolt of inspiration

Fiction
Small Miracles - Edward M. Lerner
Transition - Iain Banks
Yellow Blue Tibia - Adam Roberts
Generation A - Douglas Coupland
Moxyland - Lauren Beukes
The Restoration Game - Ken MacLeod
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
The Dervish House - Ian McDonald
Gardens Of The Sun by Paul McAuley
How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu
The City & The City - China Miéville

 

Anthologies
Vermilion Sands - JG Ballard


Non-Fiction
Booklife - Jeff Vandermeer
On Writing - Stephen King

 


December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, whatever it means to you.

For me it means family and happiness and memories and community and the turning of the year back towards summer. 

December 24, 2010

The 6th Annual Dumbies Awards

Big Dumb Object is pleased to announced the sixth 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 2010, no matter when they were released. Categories include Best Film, Best Book, Best Short Story, Best Television Series, Best Comic, Best Videogame and new this year, Best Music. 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, 2010

Tron Legacy

 

Tron Legacy has a lot of things going for it: a lot of people remember Tron with great fondness, it’s core idea is cyber groovy, it has a great soundtrack by the uber cool Daft Punk, it has stunning design and it stars Dude become reality Jeff Bridges.

And yet something is lacking. I’m trying to figure out what.

The story starts with some exposition, showing Flynn’s son as a twenty year old, explaining the disappearance of Flynn (again!) and trying to lay some emotional foundation. It doesn’t work, although the real world action hacking scene is okay it doesn’t even get close to the excitement and style of the hacking The Social Network. The jokes about a megacorp OS software house feel tired and the CEO revealing their plans to the board as if they didn’t know felt unreal. It’s a dead end too, an obligatory real world story that seems to be there for the sake of it, adding nothing to the rest of the film. It results in portraying a slacker twentysomething living on the shares he owns of a mega corporation. Yeah he lost his dad, but I didn’t empathise with him.

The real world scenes are also shot in 2D, which was nice as I could remove the useless 3D glasses. Tangential rant: wearing 3D glasses when you wear real glasses is a really rubbish experience, it’s uncomfortable, glary and then there’s the exaggerated motion blur and weird colour sheen. 3D is terrible. Anyway, in not too long a time son of Flynn ends up inside the computer (and everything turns 3D, not quite The Wizard Of Oz effect I bet they hoped for though) and on the grid.

There’s a disc battle, a light cycle battle and the action is good and fun, and yes, the design is great, neon and dark and black shiny. There are beautiful people in tight fitting costumes (although more women than men) and Michael Sheen doing a crazy Bowie impression. The sound is great and the soundtrack is really great. Jeff bridges is also quite good in his Zen Dude guise. It all just lacks something. The exposition is ponderous, the emotional story fails to grab at the heart and the plot lacks that joyous excitement it should have. Compare it to The Matrix for example, a descendant of the original Tron, remember how much fun and urgency and wow that film has? Where even the exposition is great and the first time it was like a wash of something really new. Tron Legacy in contrast feels too subdued, no sense of urgency, as if the dark and neon has sucked out all the soul.

It’s not terrible. Just, lacking.

December 18, 2010

Responses To The Open Letter About The Arthur C. Clarke Award

In response to An Open Letter From The Arthur C Clarke Award:

 

What value does the Award bring to the SF community and what role should it play in its future?

I love the fact that's it's juried, not a popularity contest but an honest assessment of what was good in SF that year. It's my must read shortlist, and I know that's the same for a lot of other SF fans. It helps fans discover new novels and opens a discussion about those they've read. In the future I think that's a perfect thing to carry on doing.

 

How important is a UK focused prize in an increasingly international and digital marketplace?

The UK focus provides a great sense of community. It's something around which UK SF fans can gather and discuss and feel part of. It doesn't feel remote like The Hugos often do, it feels relevant and in touch. It's also simple, no complicated rules like some other awards. I'd be wary of opening the award up to non-UK published authors, it would loose the simplicity. Not sure how a digital publication would qualify. May be we could ignore the eBooks and hope they go away ;-)

What more could the Award do as part of its broader advocacy remit to promote science fiction?

Not sure. More press I suppose, but otherwise keep in doing the same thing and producing shortlists of quality, interesting Science Fiction novels. There's a danger in looking to expand, it's that evil capitalist idea that everything should grow. I don't agree, The Clarke Award should focus on what it does well and keep doing it.

 

How much does the success and the credibility of the Award depend on it having a cash prize?

As a fan, not a lot. As an author I can't say, but if I had to guess, I'd guess that the prestige is worth more than the money.

 

What new partnerships and opportunities could we create to generate seed funding for the future?

I don't know, but the idea of attracting a big name science or technology company as a sponsor sounds like a good idea.

 

In short, I love The Arthur C. Clarke Award as it is, yes, very conservative of me! More of the same please.

December 16, 2010

Even More 2000AD Covers

Although I introduced the last video of 2000AD covers as all of them. I was technically incorrect. Below is really all of them, past issue 1500 to the end of this year (2010). Time to watch them again!

    

Create Your Space, A European Space Agency Art Competition

The European Space Agency (ESA) are running a competition looking for some great art inspired by their pictures from space. Here’s the rules (quoted directly from the ESA):

1. Click the “Like” button on the top of our Facebook page to become a fan

2. Choose one of the images on the wall of the Facebook page or in our Flickr gallery

3. Create a work of art inspired by the image – you can create a story, a poem, a painting, a video, a comic strip, a recipe, a haiku, a sculpture, whatever you like. You don’t have to stick with the image topic, if the image suggests to you something completely different … why not? Feel free to express yourself in your preferred medium.

4. Upload your creation anywhere except Facebook. You can upload your art on YouTube, Flickr, on Twitter (please include the hashtag#createyourspace), on your blog or website. Content uploaded on Facebook will not be included in the competition.

5. Tag our content with the tag “ESA_space_inspiration”.

6. Link your art in the comments of the post containing the image that inspired it.

7. You can submit your art from now until 2 January 2011.

8. People can vote for the submissions until 4 February 2011.

HOW TO VOTE

Voting for your favourite work of art is very simple: click the “Like” button placed in the comment containing the link to your favourite creation.

WINNER

There will be one winner for each image, chosen by the public, based on the number of “Likes” in the comment field.

PRIZES

Winners will receive a bag full of space goodies. The winning works of art will be published on the ESA Portal (www.esa.int)

It’s been confirmed that the winner gets an iPad, although I’m intrigued as to what a bag of space goodies is? I’ll have a space station please!

December 14, 2010

Every 2000AD Cover In One Video

Just about everyone is linking to or embedding this, but it's too good not to embed here too. Here are 1500 covers of the Zarjaz 2000AD comic compiled into one video. 2000AD is the comic I used to read when I was younger, very British, very cool. I even recognised quite a few of the covers.
 

An Open Letter From The Arthur C Clarke Award

Tom Hunter, Director of The Arthur C. Clarke Award, has an open letter to all fans of Science Fiction over on Torque Control.

Go and read it and then let Tom know what you think....

December 13, 2010

AT-AT Been Drinking T-shirt

December 9, 2010

Top SF Films Of The Decade

I was kindly asked to partake in SF Signals Mind Meld which posed the question: What are your top SF/F movies of the decade?

It wasn't an easy choice. It wasn't easy just remembering what I'd seen! However in the end I narrowed it down to ten. Twenty would have been easier, but I wanted to differentiate the ones I really loved from the ones I liked.

Go and read the list, then let me know what you think.

Monsters

There are two ways to look at the film Monsters by Gareth Edwards: the first, cold, with absolutely no knowledge of  its making; the second having seen and heard interviews with Gareth Edwards. I’ll talk about it from both angles. First, cold.

Monsters starts with the sort of exposition that is not usually a good sign, a couple of sentences typed on the screen explaining that a NASA probe crashed, carrying alien life, into Mexico, which has become the quarantined Infected Zone. The first few minutes are then reminiscent of Cloverfield, with soldiers attacking a huge alien monster, lots of night vision and chaos and guns. In fact, rather than an irritating dump of exposition these first few scenes are brilliant, because they set up the film, get it all out of the way, and let the real story come to the fore. That story is about a journalist photographer, Kaulder, who is ordered to escort his boss’s daughter, Sam, home safely.

What follows is a romantically tinged, beautifully shot, moving, Science Fiction road movie, with multiple allegories. It’s not fast paced, but it has action sequences, it lingers on beautiful scenery (terrestrial or otherwise) and lingers on the emotion of its main characters.

The infected zone can be seen as a comment on immigration into the USA, or the state of the war in Afghanistan. Either way it shows the impact on real people and real lives.

It’s refreshing and incredibly enjoyable. As soon as it finished I wanted to see it again. Highly recommended, not just for Science Fiction fans but also for those people who (misguidedly) avoid SF for fear of Spaceships and Aliens. It will win them over.

And then, if you know something about the making of the film….

Continue reading Monsters.

December 8, 2010

Google's eBook Reader

Yesterday Google launched their ebook store. Well, kind of. They launched it in the US. In the UK we are limited to free books, which consist of the usual selection of classics that have been on Project Gutenberg for years. However it provide me a chance to check out their web based ebook reader, which is worth talking about.

First it's worth noting that I'm using Google Chrome as my browser, as well as being turbo fast it also implements loads of the new HTML 5 stuff, meaning that Google can write rather groovy web apps for it. Who know if it will work on IE, I'm not going to bother trying.

So, I clicked Pride And Prejudice and the book opens full page on chapter one. Then I F11'd the browser to go full screen. The interface is rather lovely: along the bottom a scroll bar to indicate where you are in the book, on the left and right pale grey arrows to turn pages, on the left a column of pale grey icons for help, information, settings, search contents and book store. With the default settings you get to see two pages at a time, which on my laptop is about right. The font has to be pretty big to just see one page. Overall it's a nice interface. Whether I could read a whole book on my laptop is another thing of course, I'd much prefer a physical paper book.

A downside is that there doesn't seem to be a way to get your own books, pdfs etc. into the reading interface which is a shame. If the same reading interface was implemented of Google Docs it would rather nice. Apparently the store is cross device. Unlike me.

I'm intrigued to find out what the selection of books in the store is like and how much they cost, but I'll have to wait for that. (Or presumably find a US proxy, which I can't be bothered with.)



December 3, 2010

Daft Punk, the Southbank and a Tron projection

HP ePrint & TRON: Legacy projection mapping - complete animation from Guided Collective on Vimeo.


Very d-i-g-i-t-a-l.
I hope the film is as good as their promo.

December 2, 2010

Another Monsters Behind The Scenes Documentary

I can't wait to see Monsters, which is out next week in the UK. Check out this behind the scenes video about how the cast improvised their lines. Great stuff. Inspirational for any struggling film-makers out there.

Continue reading Another Monsters Behind The Scenes Documentary.

December 1, 2010

10 Things You Need To See To Understand What I'm Talking About

This list is inspired by the current gaping age void in the office I work in: almost a couple of decades. Some jokes and quotes transcend the age gap e.g. anything to do with Star Wars and poking fun at Apple, however many fall into the black abyss of time and result in the phrase "What to you mean you haven't seen [insert film/TV show here]." Which got me thinking, what would be the ten things that someone would need to watch to understand what on earth I was talking about. And here they are:

  • Star Wars. All of them. Including the Zahn books (but you can stop there). And yes I mean the prequels too. If you don't understand Jar Jar's pivotal moment in the full arc of the six films then you need to try harder. Commander, tear this ship apart until you find those plans! And bring me all passengers, I want them ALIVE!
  • Back To The Future. Has it really been 25 years? Still brilliant. The scene with Marty in a radiation, playing Van Halen on a Walkman, saying he was Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan is a distillation of 80's cool into thirty seconds. Silence Earthling! My name is Darth Vader. I am an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan!
  • Spinal Tap. Endless quotes. Slightly bittersweet at the end. Going up to 11 has transcended the cult audience into the mainstream. None more black.
  • Bad News. Like Spinal Tap, but much sillier. ...Heavy Metal, satisfied?
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Many people prefer The Life Of Brian, but I saw this first and watched it a bout a million times on VHS with my brother. I tend to misquote it slightly, but you'll get the gist if you've seen this. ...I got better.
  • WarGames. After watching this I wanted to get a modem and try and hack Presetel on my BBC micro. Which bizarrely someone did. Still great. Hey, I don't believe that any system is totally secure.  
  • The Matrix. I'm glad there was only one Matrix film, a sequel could never have been as good as the original. Woah.
  • Van Halen : Live Without A Net. Made me want to play guitar more than anything else. Van Halen is having so much fun playing guitar. Spent the next twenty years trying to get a fraction close to EVH. Edward! You're cheating again!
  • The Day Today. Genius comedy. Not only funny but unfortunately prescient. Chris Morris, Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci. THIS IS THE NEWS!
  • Highlander. There was only one Highlander film ever made, and it is highly entertaining. Some wanted a TV series too, but I think it would have diluted the mythos. Connor McCloud from the clan McCloud.