October 2012 Archives
October 30, 2012
October 29, 2012
October 28, 2012
October 26, 2012
October 25, 2012
October 24, 2012
October 23, 2012
During the Coode Street podcast Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe often refer to other authors by their last name. Not always, but enough to make me notice it. It is also despite them knowing, or having, met the people in question. For example one week they interviewed Paul Kincaid then in episodes after that they switched between using "Paul" and "Kincaid" when referring to him.
During the nodeup podcast other people are referred to by either their first name or their Twitter name. That may sound a bit strange, using Twitter names, but it's amazing how it feels like a much more personal reference even with names like @substack and @dshaw. This may be because they literally do know everyone in the node community, it's relatively small and young and the open source nature of much of the software encourages collaboration. Not sure. But I can't imagine anyone on the podcast ever calling someone by their last name.
Why does it matter? Well, it reminds me of horrible teachers at school. Being called "Bloomer!" is just not very friendly is it? Maybe in "professional" fields that's just what you do? Maybe when a community gets too large you can't get away with using first names? I don't know.
Is a field bigger than a community? On the Coode Street podcast Jonathan and Gary often talk about the Science Fiction field. I'm not sure how you define the difference between a field and a community? On nodeup, which has quite a varying selection of contributors, the people who use node are always referred to as the node community.
It might just be that the interaction when using software is greater. Github enables software developers to immediately interact, fix bugs, use software, converse. The relationship between an author and a reader is perhaps more passive, you get a book you read it, you might tweet them.
I don't know the answers, perhaps it's nothing, but it struck me as interesting: how do you engender a feeling of community in a far flung ad hoc collection of people? Node seems to be succeeding at that.
October 22, 2012
For anyone over the age of about nineteen The Amazing Spider-Man was more than likely met with the reaction "They're rebooting it again?! They just did that!" Whereas the Sam Raimi happened more than half a lifetime ago for anyone a teenager right now. Ten years, a very subjective amount of time.
So that's the first difficulty, forgetting the last set of Spider-Man films, particularly the rather good second instalment with Doctor Octopus. The second difficulty is accepting Andrew Garfield as a geeky Peter Parker. Actually he does a pretty decent job acting awkward however Peter Parker: is an awesome skateboarder, is great at Science, a brilliant photographer and wears a pair of big glasses like all the cool kids are doing these days. The only thing he can't do is play basketball. Which in my eyes makes him extremely cool and not geeky at all. Entire films have been constructed around characters like that as the heroes. I hate those films that reinforce the stereotype that only people good at sports are "cool" (and anyway, anyone could get at least proficient if they wanted with a bit of practice, they probably just have better things to do).
The first half of the film is entertaining enough though. Martin Sheen is great as Uncle Ben, the origin story is interesting, and Spider-Man's cheeky reckless insolence is captured well. Things appear promising. It all goes downhill in the second half when Rhys Ifans turns into Lizard Man. It's like the writers gave up (or got fired) and some stupid focus group wrote the last half. It's full of cliches. And there's probably the worst scene I've seen all year when the crane workers of New York unite to provide Spider-Man a way to swing down the streets. Let's have someone unexpected(!) turn up! Let's have someone die! Let's have some angst! Clunky and unoriginal.
Thankfully I saw the film at the end of its run and so was able to see it in 2D and not annoying 3D.
Initially promising, fading rapidly to bad.
October 21, 2012
I'm not a big fan of horror, it feels to negative to me, to focussed on short term survival, often lacking in hope. Plus I scare easily (the curse of an active imagination?). So I wouldn't have guessed that The Walking Dead would be something I'd watch: it's painfully tense, the outlook is continually bleak, the story has no emotional attachment to its characters so you can never be sure who will die next, the music is haunting, it's gory and there are endless zombies. The relentless zombie horde.
But I do like it. I like it a lot. Despite the gore (which for a TV show feels quite radical) the story is focussed on the characters, currently on their survival. Anything close to a long term plan has so far fallen to pieces, the survivors are still trying to live day to day and yet there is a glimmer, a promise of the chance to rebuild the world. That's what I'm interested in, that's what I'm always interests me about apocalyptic fiction: out of the ashes how do we make a better world, then how can we take those lessons and apply them before modern civilisation ends?
Episode one of season three opens with an exquisite example of exposition. No stodgy voice over telling us it is six months later, no text on the screen, just our heroes running away, again, looking tired and weary. Mentions of surviving winter. Glancing at a map and seeing red ink around the zombie herds, knowing from that that they're running out of places to hide. Lovely stuff. And then the promise, a prison. Up there in the top few places to try and occupy in a zombie apocalypse. So we get zombies in body armour and ruthless, efficient killing of zombies, and a scary chase through dark corridors. And still nothing feels safe, the tension never dropping despite being locked in a cell.
Brilliant writing. Great acting. High production values. I want these characters to survive, I want them to have a chance to settle and recover and heal their relationships. I don't reckon that's going to happen soon, but I'll keep watching in hope.
October 20, 2012
I grew up reading 2000AD. It was a distant beast to the other comics I was aware of at the time: not foreign and difficult to get hold of and expensive like the Marvel and DC comics, not full of cliched daring-do boys own stuff like Eagle, not aimed at young kids only striving for simple comedy like Beano. 2000AD was, and still is, an intelligent, sometimes complicated and often challenging comic. Something thta perhaps we've come to expect of modern comics, but in the early 80s it was like a revelation to me.
At the core of every 2000AD episode was Judge Dredd, a biting satire on the state of Britain, of Americanisation, of increased police powers and crowded cities. The Judges were the law, judge, jury and executioner. The city was crowded and desperate. The film Dredd throws us into this.
A quick note: forget the Stallone version of Judge Dredd, it didn't happen, just like there was only one Highlander film and one Matrix film. Okay? Let's move on. This is Dredd.
The representation of Mega City One is shown from the start of the film and it's frighteningly realistic. Not a Bladerunner clone but instead New York magnified, with towering mega blocks and endless urbanisation. Just like Mega City One was always meant to be. At street level it could be New York. In the blocks it's like 50s built tower blocks in Britain scaled up a thousand-fold. The atmosphere of the film was instantly gripping and tense, the soundtrack electronic and grungy, futuristic and pessimistic. We're thrown right into the action, great scene setting with Dredd chasing down some drug takers in a van. Immediately the violence is highlighted. This is not a smoothed out and frindely family version of Dredd, it's the real thing, an 18 certificate in the UK (which takes some doing these days), it's incredibly violent. But that's the point.
The story is that Dredd visits a block on a routine homicide call out, accompanied by rookie judge Anderson, who has psychic powers. Judge is sceptical of a mutie. (If you're familiar with the Dredd canon it appears that the film is set before the establishment of Psi Division.) Of course the routine call out escalates as the block is controlled by a gang who produce the slo-mo drug. It quickly becomes Dred and Anderson versus the entire block.
The effects of the slo-mo drug, which mae the user experience time in slow motion, are actually shown in slow motion and a colour-saturated tinge, a really interesting slide into the narcotic haze, then snapping back to the dark, real, violent world.
Karl Urban is absoloutely perfect as Dredd. Grim and stoney faced with the perfect small doses of black humour. And of course he doesn't take his helmet off. Lena Headey is intense and scary as the head gangster Ma-Ma. And not least Olivia Thirlby does a great job as Cassandra Anderson, an outsider as a Judge yet extremely capable of earning Dredd's grudging respect.
I have two gripes. Firstly the Lawmasters didn't look like the comic version. Yeah, one for the geeks. Secondly I'd have preferred to see it in 2D as I find 3D irritating, wearing 3D glasses over normal glasses is uncomfortable and the light loss is drastic. Hopefully 3D is on the way out.
Overall though I was really, really happy with Dredd, it's the perfect encapsulation of a single prog Dredd story. These are the stories that created Dredd, short, sharp, brutal but making multiple (often political) points. The stories that created the foundation of Dredd and allowing it to then branch out into long and epic story arcs. I'll also reiterate that it was extremely violent, so don't take the kids.
If you're a fan of Judge Dredd I don't think you'll be disappointed. It left me with an urge to read and re-read loads of Dredd.
What I'd like now is a mega epic Dredd TV series tackling one of the huge story arcs. Please?
October 19, 2012
The hero is a young man called Wade who has no friends, except in OASIS where his avatar is handsome and fit. The bad guys are a corporation constructed with the entire purpose of winning the quest.
Written in black and white like that it now feels even more unoriginal than when I was reading it.
In many ways it feels aimed at a YA audience who have never read anything about virtual reality, because although the Metaverse is name-checked, as are other classic virtual realities, nothing at all is done to make OASIS original. In fact it's far, far less original, and exciting than the Metaverse in Snow Crash.
And yet it can't be written for a young audience because the nostalgia for the 80s in ladled on so heavily that surely no one except people like me, who lived through it, would ever care about a mention of Zaxxon. But then every time something nostalgic is mentioned the novel explains it in detail, explaining why it is so great, so that anyone who knows the references gets bored. You see that I'm going in circles here? The novel is confused. Which audience is it aiming for?
It's tempting to say the style is YA, but that may be insulting to YA as Ready Player One is just not focused and lean enough, simplistic prose style maybe, young heroes maybe, but just too long and flabby.
The plot is predictable, it's a quest, guess what will happen? The characters are stereotype outsiders lacking depth, at no time did I root for them, in fact I found them annoying. And infodumps galore.
Yes I have fond memories of the 80s and playing those video games and watching those films (on a minor tangent, music was thoroughly under represented in the nostalgia, where was all the Hair Metal?!) however the books that capture the excitement of those times for me are Neuromancer and Snow Crash. The books that did something new, not recycled a slightly more sophisticated version of Second Life. Ready Player One feels dated. If I have to wear a haptic suit in the future to interact with VR I'll consider it a failure of science and technology. All in all disappointing. A good thing about the novel was that it provoked an intense desire in me to reread Snow Crash imminently.
October 18, 2012
Just about all of the novels I review on this blog I have bought myself or I have had bought for me as presents ("What do you want for your birthday?" "Books!"). Occasionally I review a book that someone has sent me or requested that I review. For a one man blog I get a surprising number of requests from authors to review their novel. Loads on fact. A lot of them self-published ebooks. This post was triggered by Paul's reply to a request he received. So how can someone actually persuade me to review something amidst the flood of emails that come in?
The author is published by a well known publisher. If Gollancz is your publisher I'm probably interested. Of course the reality is that Gollancz don't need to me to review their novels anyway, they have them reviewed in plenty of high prestige venues. It's not a guarantee I'll like it of course, but if a publisher has decided that your novel will make them money, someone somewhere must think it's okay.
The author has published short stories that I have read or liked. It's much easier to commit to reading a short story than a novel and yet it still provides a perfect example of an author's writing. Of course the short to novel progression is not followed as rigorously as it used to be in Science Fiction but I still see it as a useful indicator. Plus I like reading great short stories.
The author has been published in well known fiction magazines. If I haven't read any of your stuff but you can point me at some of your stories published in any of the big SF fiction magazines then that will help. Whether I have time to read your short stories is a whole other thing, but if an editor somewhere, who frankly will see a whole load of slush, likes your work then that's interesting.
I have heard of the author in some other field. This of course depends on what I've heard about them, but if someone has an intriguing CV it might persuade me. Experience has told me however that, fairly obviously, being a famous software developer or engineer or scientist does not automatically translate to being a great writer of fiction.
They're a friend. If a friend asks me to read their novel I probably will. If it's really great I'd post about it. I'm not going to post a bad review of a friends work though, instead I'd give them private criticism (if they cared!) So far this has never happened.
And that's it. You can beg, send me videos, tell me how great you are, tell me how original you are, hide behind a publicist, craft a great email, have a trillion likes on Facebook or ten five star Amazon reviews, it's not going to help. Sorry.
This all may seem very unfair, you may already be shouting that your work deserves to be read, that you're a great writer, screw me anyway. Well, it's not fair. I am one person with limited time to read, I need some filters so that I don't spend my time reading rubbish. I want to spend my time reading good stuff. And that's the common thread of those items above, someone, that I have some respect for, has already done a filtering first pass. I'm not a professional reviewer, I really only blog here about the books that I've read so that I don't forget.
You might feel daunted. I know that I do, when I finish writing a story it is tempting to think "What's the point?" when you are just one amidst the endless, relentless slush. How on earth am I, and you, ever going to get noticed? Well I'm not really sure, but I know I enjoy writing stories so I keep doing it and I keep trying to get better. Then I send them off to magazines who either like it or don't (or worse like it but don't want to publish it).
The core thing within your control that you can do? Strive to write some awesome stories. If you write some awesome stories (be they short or novel length) then eventually I'm going to end up reading your work.
October 17, 2012
October 16, 2012
The first two novels in this sequence, The Quiet War and Gardens Of The Sun, followed on from each other directly, however this one is set many years in the future, thousands of years and not in our solar system but a distant one. The core idea is to take the first to novels as a set-up and extrapolate way out in the future to see where it would end up.State of the art SF. Intelligent, exciting, full of references to SF. Building on past SF. Complex. Clever and fun.