My humble contribution to the feeding frenzy of the entertainment-industrial complex that is the Oscars. If you want predictions for who'll scoop the main prizes, you'll have to look elsewhere. The words 'Avatar' and 'Hurt Locker' will not be appearing anywhere in this post. (Except just there, obviously). I've seen precisely one of the ten films up for Best Picture - pathetic, I know - so have nothing remotely sensible to say. Other than that the one I have seen - District 9 - is a good, unusual piece of sf, which it's great to see on the list, and that it is obviously not going to win in a million years (and to be honest, much as I liked it ... well, I liked it, quite a lot in fact, but I didn't think it was an earth-shattering masterpiece or anything).
No, this is all about one category we can get some properly good moving images for: short animated film. Here are three of the nominees in full, for your perusal. I would have said 'for your amusement', but the humour on display here is pretty dark stuff, so your mileage may vary.
First off (and winner of my personal Oscar, I think) some nicely grim fairy tale-telling:
And next some nifty French animation:
And finally more thoroughly macabre goings on (just a bit too macabre for me to find it terribly amusing, to be honest):
The other two nominees, by the way, are Logorama, which its creators seem to have removed from most of the video sites that let you embed stuff in blogs, so I got bored trying to find a version to include here, and A Matter of Loaf and Death, which is similarly not easy to get hold of the full version of - but it's Wallace and Gromit, so you know more or less precisely what it's like already.
I have a confession to make. I don't know if this disqualifies me from my membership of geekdom or something, but ... The Dark Knight wasn't my favourite superhero movie experience of 2008. Shocking, I know. Just shocking. I liked it well enough, and obviously thought bits of it (mostly Joker-related bits, I suppose) were brilliant. But I'm pretty sure I derived more simple enjoyment from ... Iron Man. It was a straightforward, slick, pretty confection that didn't really try to be anything more than what it was, and as far as I was concerned it succeeded pretty triumphantly. Which is not in any sense damning with faint praise: I seriously think it's an impressively well put together package, with the directing, acting, scripting and effects all working in near-perfect harmony towards a clear and shared goal. Sure, it's some way from being perfect, but I left the cinema wearing the dumb smile of the satiated seeker of eye candy.
Dark Knight, by contrast, was an altogether more complicated and ambitious beast. And perhaps because I'd fallen for the pre-release hype, it seemed to me to come up just short of the lofty targets it set for itself - aside, as I said, for some passages of seriously accomplished film-making. It's clearly the more interesting film of the two, but it just didn't deliver quite the entertainment kick to me that Iron Man did.
All of which is a convoluted (and believe me, I could go on and on, making it more and more convoluted, because I've thought about this particular compare and contrast exercise far more than is healthy) ... anyway, all of this is a convoluted way of saying that of all the big budget, sfx-heavy films promising to grace our cinema screens in 2010, this is probably the one that tickles my fancy most of all:
Second, I do the fantasy casting for the movie-of-the-book thang at My Book the Movie. Not something I actually gave any thought to while writing the Godless World, but I think some of the casting possibilities I came up with are quite promising. And - I only realised after I'd finished - it's shaping up to be an all-Brit cast, which either means I'm terribly parochial or that we've got all the best actors. I incline towards the latter possibility.
Third, someone else does the review thing for the small press anthology Rage of the Behemoth I've got a story in, over at The Cimmerian. A fitting home for a review, given the anthology's focus on heroic fantasy of the sort Robert E Howard excelled at. Nice, too, that the book gets the thumbs up. I've been gradually working my way through my author's copy, and can confirm there's some fun stuff in there for fans of this kind of thing (i.e. warriors, monsters and mayhem). Copies still easily available for purchase in both the UK and the US.
Sometimes it's hard not to be a bit despondent about the way bookselling is going. Latest manifestation of the increasingly uphill slog bookstores are facing in the UK is that Borders UK seems to be heading for the exit. (Not the same company, incidentally, as Borders in the US, which is having it's own possibly even more severe problems). I know this is just the market doing what it does, and I know online book sales, and the brutal discounting of best-sellers in supermarkets, and eventually - even in the laggardly UK - the rise of e-books all have their pluses for the consumer, but it still feels regrettable that it's becoming so difficult for even those with some scale on their side to make money out of bricks and mortars bookstores. I can't help but think that the domination of the mass bookselling market - online and offline - by so few players is not going to prove an unreservedly good thing (to put it mildly) for either readers or authors in the long run.
On a more cheery subject, one of the entirely unpredictable amusements the internet offers is provided by the mindless working away of the automatic translation gremlins. Latest manifestation I've noticed is a version of an sf signal mind meld I was involved in the other day, on the subject of gloominess in sf. It's clearly been translated into French and then back into English again, with the results that I apparently said, amongst many other similarly weird things:
The unhurt put candid, in its chichi quieten, is a youngster of the 20th century
When writers are more interested in how lavish shades of bloodless they can reproof up with than in hellish and unblemished, you inevitably aim up with a more less rose-tinted phantom of charitable possibilities.
There seems to be some kind of poetic, profound wisdom hiding in there somewhere: much more poetic and profound than what I said in the original interview. Perhaps I should put all my answers through a couple of rounds of online translation before submitting them in future?
And finally, I was pleased to discover that one of my favourites amongst the innumerable cgi shorts that show up on the internet these days is moving towards expansion into a full movie. Here's the original short, a fun slice of sf:
Item 2: According to this review of Fall of Thanes, it appears I might have made someone cry. Good. I mean that in the nicest possible way, obviously.
Item 3: I did an interview at a slightly more unusual venue than my usual online habitat of sf/f book blogs: Grinding to Valhalla, which as far as I can tell is a sort of mass interview site for mmo bloggers/podcasters. As a result, there's a little bit more in there about my gaming habits/history than is usually the case.
Item 4: And finally ... well I'm not really sure what to say about this (found via CBR), other than that I am at once strangely fascinated and strangely repelled:
Call me a grumpy, glass-half-empty, misanthrope of a worrier, but I fear, in my bones, that the Hollywood machine is about to chew up one of my (and a great many other people's) favourite ever sf books, Hyperion by Dan Simmons.
Little snippets of info about the planned film adaptation have been turning up here and there for quite a while, with the most recent batch - which plunged me into my current gloomy apprehension - showing up on the invaluable sf signal blog.
It's not so much the naming of the potential director that alarms (I've never heard of him, my movie director geek fu being much shrivelled in recent years - although a quick check of the IMDb doesn't suggest my ignorance is exactly appalling). It's the distant sound of the butcher's knives being unsheathed as another genre classic heads into the studio slaughterhouse. It's The Dark is Rising all over again. (And we all know how that turned out, right?).
It would take, I suspect, a genius to cram Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion into a single movie without pounding into a homogenous pulp much of what is distinctive and accomplished about them as novels: the Canterbury Tales mosaic of overlapping stories that flesh out the world and the characters, the literary allusions, the wanton firework display of exotic ideas and images, the balancing of extreme violence with much more personal, somewhat philosophical and existential, struggles. Seems pretty probable that the worries expressed over at sf signal - that the Hollywood instinct will be to excise much of the subtlety and elegance to turn it into a more accessible, action-packed event movie - will prove accurate. And I love me some accessible, action-packed event movie fun, it's just I don't particularly want it marching under the Hyperion banner.
I guess it's the nature of things, given the huge cost of getting this stuff to the screen, but it always makes me wonder why the movie moguls don't just go for more of the (equally high-selling, surely) flash-bang-wallop type of books in the first place. You'd think the less reductive surgery required to turn the original text into a movie, the greater the chance of a positive outcome. That's probably my hopeless naivety talking, though. It likes to make itself heard now again. Shameless, it is.
On any entirely different subject, I'm going to work up a couple of blog posts in the not too distant future talking about writing-, book- and getting published-related stuff, taking as a starting point some of the questions folks have asked me by e-mail, over on Facebook, or in person (poor misguided souls, asking questions of me, but there you are). So just in case anyone's got any questions of that ilk, now's your chance to send me an e-mail, or ask it in the comments to this post, or head on over to the Facebook discussion board and ask it there; I'll add anything new into the pot and stir it around for a while. Like porridge.
World's briefest interview! In terms of the number of questions asked, at least; not in terms of my answer. While you're at that site, check out the huge library of links to online reviews of fantasy novels in the sidebar. Very handy if you're wondering what to buy next.
I've got to admit I'm not a big fan of Torchwood. Not even a small fan, really, though I kept watching the occasional episode in the vain hope of falling in love with it. But I quite like this idea: a special radio episode to mark the switching on of CERN's now famous Large Hadron Collider. You can download the mp3 of it here, but only for the next five days or so. It's not remotely enough to turn me into a fan, but it does make me wonder: might I actually have liked it more if Torchwood was a radio series instead of on TV? On this evidence, I think there are ways it benefits - or could benefit - from the different constraints and opportunities of the audio medium. And from having to comply with the requirements of a pre-watershed broadcast slot, for that matter.
And this is my idea of a top quality movie trailer: Quantum of Solace. I'm looking forward to this more than I've looked forward to a Bond movie in ... well, ever. Although there were a few doubting voices when he was first cast, Daniel Craig now looks - to me, anyway - as though he was born to play the role. The tuxedo fits.
EDIT to add: the youtube clip may get yanked at any time, I guess, so here's a link to the official trailer, which unsurprisingly is vastly better quality and really rather pretty. (Still got slight reservations about how well this is going to work as a movie, though ...)
So, the great big signedBloodheir giveaway on Facebook has drawn to a close. To be honest, until I actually signed up for Facebook I was a bit of a sceptic about the whole social networking thing. I still don't think I'm really quite on the right wavelength, but I'm starting to 'get it' a bit more. I'm prepared to concede that they do actually offer a new kind of dynamic and structure to the whole internet thing that nothing else does in quite the same way. Anyway, now that the giveaway's done, I should mention, as I traditionally and predictably do at such moments, that signed and dedicated Bloodheirs are available to all sundry - socially networked or not - from Transreal Fiction. I quite like stopping by to sign them, so don't you worry about putting me to any trouble. It's a pleasure, really. So you're buying yourself a signed book, and me a little bit of pleasure. Everybody wins.
The latest must-read blog for sf/f bibliophiles: Enter the Octopus. Lots of good content, most significantly the huge, more-or-less daily, round ups of book-related links.
Pre-release reviews and rumours about this suggest that something interesting is on the way, and I'm gradually allowing my expectations to get high enough that I'm virtually inviting disappointment to come and stomp all over me:
Rumours abound that this chapis being lined up to be the new Dr. Who. Like him very much indeed as an actor, but Dr. Who? Maybe, so long as they went the not-too-manic route. Guess we'll see in due course. Or not, these being rumours of the plausible but entirely unconfirmed sort.
Strange Maps, which is one of those sites that pretty much justifies the invention of blogging software all by its lonesome if you ask me, has an interesting post on a wildly silly proposal to drain the North Sea, put forward in 1930. It kind of sums up everything I like about the blog: fun maps and loads of semi-obscure geographical and historical info.
Funny/Clever (via SF Signal, which unlike Enter the Octopus is a long-established must-read site for sf bibliophiles):
Chances are, things will be quiet around here for the next week or more (not that they're exactly a hive of frenzied activity the rest of the time), while I concentrate on eating, drinking, caressing the many books I'll no doubt be given on the 25th (people know how to please me), wishing it would snow, and - because you can't let a little thing like a festive season get in the way - writing.
In the meantime, a little selection of treats and trifles:
For Movie Fans, the newly-arrived Hellboy II trailer:
I was a big fan of the first movie - plain old fun almost from beginning to end, I thought, and that's something not many movies can claim - and this one looks like it might be a worthy successor. For Zombie Comic Fans (that's fans of zombie comics, rather than comic fans who are zombies), a tip: I'm way behind on this, since it's been going for ages, but this year I discovered The Walking Dead. I've only read the first collected volume so far, but it was up there amongst my favourite reading experiences of 2007.
It's the homely tale of a small group of ordinary people trying to survive in a world over-run by flesh-eating zombies. Good writing, good characters and the occasional gory zombie attack: what more could you ask? Recommended for those with post-Christmas book tokens to spend and an affection for quality comics. Or for zombies.
For Aspiring Writers, this is pretty old stuff, but it's well worth a read if you haven't seen it before: from the Australian fantasy author Ian Irvine, who's sold enough books to know what he's talking about, Writing Tips, Guide to Success, and easily the best of the lot, The Truth About Publishing. Not everything in there accords perfectly with my own experience, but that's no surprise as (a) Ian's writing from an Australian perspective, and (b) these things are bound to vary on a case-by-case basis. The important thing is that in broad terms there's a huge amount of good advice, truth and common sense in there.
For Anyone who ever wondered what a nuclear detonation at sunset looks like (likely a small subset of the global population, I realise):
Okay, so it's actually just the Sun going down behind a power station just outside Edinburgh, but it looked a bit like the Apocalypse to me.
For Those Who Care About Such Things, the latest version of the Bloodheir cover. It makes me feel cold just looking at it, which in this case is a good thing.
Last I heard, UK, US and Australian publication remains on schedule for June 2008, by the way.
And since it's the season for Giving Gifts, go test your vocabulary - and marvel at the plethora of obscurities lurking like unexploded bombs in the dark recesses of the English language - while simultaneously donating (at no cost to you!) rice to those who need it: FreeRice, which I found via Patrick Rothfuss' blog.
Finally, For Music Fans, especially those who like a bit of acoustic guitar action, what I think is one of the nicest sounds to be found on YouTube:
There're plenty of other clips of him on YouTube, all equally pleasing, and his website's here: Andy McKee. Sadly, no signs of any plans to play in Scotland as far as I can see, otherwise I'd probably be busy buying tickets instead of writing this post ...
And that's it. Whatever festivities you're engaged in over the next week or two, I hope you have an outrageously happy time of it.
Contrary to the impression given by this blog in the last week or three, I have not lapsed into a coma or been stranded on a desert island without internet connection following some bizarre travel mishap. Just busy and not overly inspired as far as blogging's concerned. This hardly counts as inspiration, really, but I like the following combination.
I can get all childishly excited at the propsect of a new superhero movie, if it looks like it might be at least competently done. What's currently filling me with shivers of fanboy anticipation more than any other comic book movie propsect? Not (surprisingly to me) Watchmen - given the iconic status and astonishing quality of the source material, I fear disappointment is dangerously close to inevitable when the movie version arrives. I'm hoping for a work of genius, but I'm not expecting it (although these photossuggest an almost panel-by-panel recreation of the comic on the screen, which is encouraging).
No, what's got my hopes ridiculously, absurdly pumped up beyond all realistic prospect of satisfaction is this:
And I was never even a huge Iron Man fan. But this just looks ... great to me. Everything from the casting to the dialogue to the effects looks promising. And to prove that fact is never far behind fiction, here's a little something (via the TTA Press blog) that suggests it won't be all that long before we don't have to rely on comic books and movies for our iron-shelled superheroes. They'll probably be doing urban control work in a city not all that far from you - the Middle East is only a long stone's throw away, in global terms, after all - just a few years down the line:
A quick round-up post, just to demonstrate that normal service has been resumed following the brief digression that was that Blog Action Day thingy.
First, a nice review of Winterbirth at the book review site that has the name all other bookbloggers probably wish they'd thought of first: Bookgasm.
Second, I feel vindicated. I knew the movie of The Dark is Rising was going to be a turkey as soon as I saw the trailer (here's the proof of my grumpy prescience), and the BBC's film critic of choice, Mark Kermode, has confirmed my suspicions. He can be heard dissing the film, along with several others, in the podcast here (it'll be harder to find after the next few days but probably still there somewhere). For what it's worth, I'll second the nice things he says about Once: a sweet little film with good music.
Fourthly, I'm still fumbling about on Facebook, trying to figure out what all the bells and whistles do (and whether there's any point to the damn things). So here's a Profile Badge I made earlier. Meh. But hey, at least now I know what a Profile Badge looks like.
So ... Edinburgh in August. Pretty much unlike anywhere else on Earth. Festival mania reigns. You've got the Festival, the Fringe, the Book Festival, the Film Festival, the Tattoo, and one or two minor hangers-on like the no doubt well-intentioned but, if you ask me, just plain spurious Festival of Politics.
I'll be taking in some potentially interesting stuff, including Beowulf, The Bacchae(with Dionysus played by Nightcrawler!), and Stardust. Half the fun, though, you don't need a ticket for. It's in the random blizzard of activity, and the sense of semi-organised and mostly good-humoured chaos that engulfs the city. And the dedicated performers going to great lengths to promote their shows: And that, by the way, was not the first but the second person I saw lying in a coffin on the street within a hundred yards or so. Great minds evidently think alike, though I'm not entirely sure 'great' is the operative word here.
The streets heave with tourists, performers, the famous and the not-so-famous, turning the whole city into one giant show (and, supposedly, doubling its population). I'll be looking for Albannach, who are regulars at this time of year, and put on one of the best street gigs:
All in all, it's a fun few weeks. It turns out (I discovered via the Woolamaloo Gazette) that this is the last year that the Film Festival will take place during August. They're shifting it to June from next year. I really like the concentrated insanity that results from having all the festivals going on at more or less the same time. Losing films from the August mix is a bit of a pity. Not that there's exactly a shortage of other stuff going on, I suppose.
Me Not Happy. Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence was one of my best reading experiences as a child. Great story, tinged with loss and an unsettling sense of another world impinging on this one. The prospect of a big budget movie based on the same was a pleasing one. Now the trailer's out, and I am no longer pleased.
I know a brief trailer is not really a safe basis on which to start judging a whole film, but what the hell: they're trampling all over the garden of my childhood here, so I'm going to do it anyway.
So let's see. They've taken stories that were wholly and crucially concerned with the landscape, myths and folktales of Britain ... and set the thing in the US. The books depend for much of their cumulative atmospheric power on those intimate connections with a specific land and culture, but hey, it's the box office that counts. And apparently the ancient, insidious and often rather subtle magic that runs through the books appears to have been at least partially replaced with the kind of magic that turns your young hero into some kind of telekinetic, pyrokinetic, super-strength X-men reject.
Until someone tells me otherwise I'm going to jump to (and stick to) the conclusion that what they've done here is unceremoniously hollow out one of the central works in the last 50 years of British children's fantasy writing, stuff it with the entangled entrails of Night Watch, Tomb Raider and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and clumsily stitch the wound up again. All the while assuming that if they can get enough of the Eragon/Narnia crowd in through the cinema doors, no one will notice or care that they have discarded everything that made the original distinctive and potent. Bah humbug.