Sunday, July 31, 2005


Title: 3-Iron [Bin-Jip]
Cast: Seung-yeon Lee, Hyun-kyoon Lee, Hyuk-ho Kwon, Jin-mo Ju, Jeong-ho Choi
Director: Kim Ki-duk

A man spends each morning taping take away menus to doors. Each night he returns, and if the menu has not been removed then the house is empty. So he breaks in, feeds himself, does his washing, finds something to fix, and stays the night. And so on.

One day he enters a house and goes through his routine. Not realising that in fact the house is not empty. A battered wife has been hiding in her bedroom, and follows this stranger who has entered her house. From room to room, silently observing his daily rituals.

In a meditative fashion 3-Iron follows the relationship that forms between the two. As with other Kim Ki-Duk films 3-Iron is sparse. The film has been going for several minutes before we have any dialogue at all, with the question for most of the film being whether we will hear a single word from either of the leads before the end.

With this Kim Ki-Duk relies on his actor’s ability to perform, to demonstrate mood through expression. Something that was just as evident in Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... And Spring Again and The Isle. Location wise, 3-Iron is more urban than those 2 films – all set in a series of different flats, in some way offering a series of snapshots of Korean culture. Though he does manage to get an inner city lake in there, so that the greens and water recall those previous films, and that kind of image he does so well.

Those previous films by Kim Ki-Duk that have had UK distribution so far have had some problems. Both Spring and The Isle having elements of animal cruelty, with Korea and Korean cinema having different standards on this matter. Perhaps because 3-Iron has a more urban setting it doesn’t have the same problem; though that didn’t count with a film like Old Boy.

For me 3-Iron is the most enjoyable piece I have seen by Kim Ki-Duk. The balance of enigmatic characters and moody drama stand out. There are a number of memorable scenes – the woman’s treatment of her photograph, the man’s shadow dance, the way the pair interact. With Kim Ki-Duk you tend not to know what to expect throughout, with 3-Iron he gets in his shocks, his twists, his way of providing a wilfully unique film.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Title: The Algebraist
Author: Iain M. Banks
Publisher: Orbit

The Dwellers have not been around since the start of the universe. But they certainly have been around since not much after that, and longer than any other species that is still around. This gives them a pretty unique position in inter species culture. As such quick species, like humans, have been keen to gain access to Dweller libraries. Which while chaotic and incomprehensible, are vast and cover such a wide range.

Fassin Taak is a Slow Seer, one of the guild members who immerse themselves in Dweller culture and the slow speed of Dweller life, in order to learn as much as possible. What the Seers retrieve isn't always legible, so years can be spent studying and deciphering the material that is gained from each delve with the Dwellers. Of the human run of Seers, Fassin has gained a reputation, spending more time with the Dwellers than other Seers, and going for physical delves in immersion pods while others prefer to use remote pods.

While on the longest of his delves Fassin has come back with an important piece of information. Unfortunately he didn't know that, it has taken years to translate, and the repercussions have triggered a large-scale war in his home system. The translated data points to something that could change the structure of society. Fassin Taak has to go to the Dweller planet and see if he can find the item in question, but nothing is ever that simple with Dwellers.

I have had mixed experiences with Iain M. Banks work, having never quite got round to completing his last novel Look to Windward. However The Algebraist is much more of the kind of material that he does that I enjoy. Material like Excession and Against A Dark Background, the Dwellers recalling the Affront to some degree. Banks speciality in big, obnoxious, and blustering alien races coming through more than his tendency to go into great detail about terraforming, which is a turn off. The Dwellers are a joy, you can see how much fun Banks is having writing them with all their dialogue, and how for all their bumbling, distracted approach to life they are in fact absurdly powerful - as you would expect from a race so old.

The Algebraist on the one hand is a quest novel, with the hero setting off on his journey to try and prevent imminent war. However that is only the entry point really, for me The Algebraist is about alien cultures and having fun with large-scale science fiction. The material/characters follows the kind of mould Banks seems to tend towards with his SF work, but for me this is an example of where the combination of elements works.


Title: Sky Blue [aka Wonderful Day]
Cast: Marc Worden, Cathy Cavadini, David Naughton
Director: Moon-saeng Kim, Park Sunmin

Sky Blue is a South Korean animated science fiction film, with the version that is currently playing in the UK being the US voiced edition. The story follows a post-eco-apocalyptic future, where society has been split in two - those who survived the apocalypse within their purpose built city Ecoban and those that were forced to shelter outside, who have become workers, digging to support the city's needs.

Jay is a member of Ecoban's security forces, who has become increasingly concerned about the excesses of those in charge. When Shua breaks into the city's security core, he is confronted by Jay before he can escape the city with the stolen data. However with Jay's doubts he is able to get out, though the fact that the two of them knew each other as children throws the two of them into turmoil. This sets up a conflict between the city dwellers and those outside, with a kind of love triangle formed between Shua, Jay and one of the other security agents.

Plot wise Sky Blue is pretty light, people in city wear tight uniforms, consume resources and are bad, people outside the city are hard working, a bit punk and are abused by the people in the city – though there is also the assertion that people inside the city are believers in order, while those outside are shiftless criminals. The plot has clear parallels with material like Princess Monoke and the evil iron city, or Final Fantasy and the city dwellers holed up against the outside. There are also references to Akira, the way the security forces zip about on their motorbike contraptions. Early on there is a celebration of the city's centenary, which recalls scenes from Spirited Away.

With the interaction of the key characters we get impressions of a past, which goes someway to providing the film with a little depth. But with all the side characters we only have the slightest grasp of the culture and the nature of the disaster that happened in the past. Which is a pity, because that is more of the kind of material that could have made the film more memorable. An extra half hour of material used in a clever manner to flesh out the background, the context and the conflict would have served Sky Blue well. One plot element that is included relates to a myth, that of the mythical island of Gibraltar, where the sky is always blue - a curious inclusion, though I guess Gibraltar seems more remote and mysterious from Korea.

The most interesting thing about Sky Blue is the animation. The film uses a range of styles, layering it together into a dense visual demonstration. The characters are animated using cell animation – which ranges from having a quickly drawn feel, to having more detail, depending on the shadowing effects that have been added - though for the most part the characters have a kind of comic book feel in the line work. Much of the environment - the vehicles and structures - seems to have been done using model work, giving a particularly solid and tactile sensation, especially with the vehicles since we see them move. A peculiar contrast is created between the characters and the vehicles, since we are fully aware of the two different techniques being used. There is also an element of CGI, this is most clearly being used with some of the internal city scenes - energy ripples and strange lights, kind of thing - though more subtlety there is the manipulation of shadows, and no doubt a gelling of the whole.


Title: Fantastic Four
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington
Director: Tim Story

Reed Richards is a brilliant scientist, he has discovered that a cosmic event is imminent, one that mirrors the one he believes is responsible for the creation of life. He is keen to get into space and study this, but his business is crumbling and his ex-room mate, the successful Victor von Doom, seems to be his last chance. Victor agrees to help Reed out, bring along Reed's ex-girlfriend the genetic scientist Sue Storm and her pilot brother Johnny Storm, reducing Reed's pilot Ben Grimm to back up. The five go into space, preparing to observe the event safely from behind strong shields. However, the event hits early, and the group are bombarded with cosmic rays.

Back on Earth the accident has been bad for Doom's business and he is furious. To make matters worse, something has happened to each of the people on board the space station. Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny have all developed strange abilities, which have turned them into celebrity super heroes. Doom doesn't shame the same bond that the others do, blaming the Fantastic Four, as they have been branded by the media, for all his problems. The result is a destructive show down.

The Fantastic Four is one of Marvel Comics longest running and most classic comic books. After a troubled production history, which includes a previous version being completed only to be shelved and never see the light of day, the Fantastic Four joins an increasing list of material from the comic company to hit the big screen over the last few years. While their big rival DC seems content to stick with only Superman and Batman (and of course the recent Catwoman spin off), Marvel are keen to exploit every opportunity.

Fantastic Four is probably most comparable to the Spiderman films, in that they are light hearted and easy going, suitable for the whole family. Though comparisons to the X-Men are also valid, since to date the X-Men films are the only real example of a super-hero team film. While Spiderman focuses on the secret identity and the vigilante notoriety the Fantastic Four follows the flip side, the public persona of the celebrity super hero, being mobbed in the street and appearing in TV interviews. A similar contrast can be made to the X-Men, an underground organisation of mutants that are deemed to be dangerous to the public.

Effects wise Fantastic Four is pretty impressive. The manifestations of powers like Mr. Fantastic stretching ability and the Human Torches flame ability being the most evident example of this. With the Fantastic Four we have one of the least blatantly CGI effects films. Both Spiderman and X-Men films were let down at points by reliance on CGI that just looked too fake.

The casting of the parts is decent, the actors performing in a way that almost makes them caricatures. Exaggerating the obvious character traits as much as possible in order to define their comic book derived material. With that the Fantastic Four is comic book material, the characters don't really have much depth past the obvious and neither does the plot. But it does what it is supposed to do - the Fantastic Four is a big glossy film, which recreates a sense of comic book wonder.


Title: Festival
Cast: Amelia Bullmore, Billy Carter, Jonah Lotan, Stephen Mangan, Raquel Cassidy, Stuart Milligan, Daniela Nardini, Chris O'Dowd, Lucy Punch, Clive Russell
Director: Annie Griffin

Festival is a film about the Edinburgh Festival, a series of 7 individual festivals which take place every August in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. In particular, Festival focuses on characters involved in the Comedy Festival and The Fringe (a range of theatre/art performances that take place anywhere from a theatre to a porta cabin). The film is something of an ensemble piece, following a range of characters through the period of the festival, going through their ups and downs and the points where the storylines cross paths.

The film starts with the arrival of a young actress in Edinburgh, she gets off the bus, emerging into the chaos of the festival. Immersing the viewer in the feel of the city, as she immediately becomes involved in promoting her one woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth. Which she is performing in the same theatre as a man performing a show about sexual abuse with in the Catholic church. The two become friends, watching a show a by a Canadian art/dance troupe, also performing in the same theatre. A troupe who have rented a flat in Edinburgh for their stay, and form strange relationships with the woman who owns the flat, and a random Scotsman who comes in off the street.

Then we have Britain's funniest comedian, who is in Edinburgh to judge and present the comedy award, but is more interested in securing a high profile role in Hollywood. His long suffering PA, who is trying to co-ordinate his career, while trying not to stop him driving her to drink. The young blonde he is having a fling with, who is also a struggling young comedienne trying to make her mark. There is the Radio Scotland art's critic, who he has an argument with and who is also on the panel for judging the comedy awards.

Mixed in there, we have the two Irish comedians, one who has lost his glove puppet, and feels that he isn't funny without it, and his veteran friend who is on the edge of a breakdown. They have an inside on the comedy panel, an Irish woman from a small theatre group, who won a place from a competition. Trying to increase his chances the veteran comedian sets about seducing the radio critic.

Given an 18 rating in the UK, Festival could quite easily have been a 15, giving it access to a wider audience. The reason that Festival is an 18 is clear - the penis shot. There is one scene, where you very briefly and actually quite unnecessarily see a penis, a rubber one at that. Given the nature of the scene, the performance suggests everything it needs to without that shot.

The cast of characters provides ample material to work from, perhaps too much. Festival almost feels as though it has been hacked to bits in the final edit, trimming it down to get a cinema release. The team behind the film were involved in the Glasgow based sitcom for UK's Channel 4 The Book Group, and Festival shares some of the sensibilities of that series. Which leads to the suspicion that the material might have worked better as a series of 6 half hour TV episodes, allowing more time to get into the characters.

Instead Festival is a curious mess. A chaotic assault, jumping from strand to strand, while at times pushing the limits of decency. There are moments that work quite well, characters that have a certain potential, and the film manages to catch Edinburgh as a city and the Festival as an event - though there is at least once where I was sitting thinking that a character was obviously taking the wrong route to where they were supposed to be going. Some of the chaos is deliberate, as evidenced by the brash and grating soundtrack which is used to punctuate individual scenes.


Title: Torremolinos 73
Cast: Javier Cámara, Candela Peña, Juan Diego, Malena Alterio, Fernando Tejero, Mads Mikkelsen, Ramón Barea, Thomas Bo Larsen
Director: Pablo Berger

As the title suggests, Torremolinos 73 is a Spanish film set in Torremolinos in 1973. It follows Alfredo (Javier Cámara) and his wife Carmen (Candela Peña), and their life together. Alfredo is a struggling door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman. Carmen is desperate to have a baby, but since they can't even pay their rent, Alfredo is dead set against it.

With plummeting sales the publishing company has to do something if they are going to stay in business. Educational videos covering the reproductive habits of ordinary people have been doing well in Scandinavia. Leading to the ultimatum, stay with the company and help re-launch by filming "educational" home movies, or start looking for work elsewhere.

With a certain reluctance Alfredo and Carmen set about making what are essentially home made porn films. The money is too good not to, and the alternatives don't bear thinking about. With money coming in Carmen can start thinking seriously about children. While, at the same time Alfredo becomes bored with making the same film over and over again. So he starts planning to make his masterpiece, an art film called Torremolinos 73.

Javier Camara takes the lead role, an actor who has been in a number of prominent Spanish films in recent years. Though this is perhaps the first to get this level of distribution where he has so clearly been in the lead role. In Sex And Lucia and Bad Education he was the sidekick to the lead, while in Talk To Her he was one of 4 leads. His leading lady here is Candela Peña, who like Camara has a Almodovar link, having been in All About My Mother - though more recently she was the lead in the film Take My Eyes. A film that was ironically made after Torremolinos 73, even though it got distribution here first.

Torremolinos 73 is a curious mix. A period film, it has a real feel of actually having been made in the 1970's at points, the colour of the film stock complimenting the clothing and decor to create a real sense of the time. The film starts in comedic mode, droll and a little farcical - presenting this somewhat absurd plot and running with it. Increasingly surreal, as we follow the transformation from encyclopaedia salesman to pornographer to auteur. In the end though there is a melancholy, the darkness creeps into the material, bringing the consequence of reality with it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Monday, July 18, 2005


Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Alex Reid, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Saskia Mulder, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring, Molly Kayll
Director: Neil Marshall

The Descent is the new film from writer/director Neil Marshall. Who made his name with the film Dog Soldiers, which pitched a group of soldiers against werewolves in the wilds of Scotland. The Descent starts in Scotland, with a semi-Scottish cast before moving to America, and with that darker territory.

Sarah, Beth and Juno are white water rafting in Scotland when something happens. This has a deep effect on the characters – unbalancing them and defining the tensions that will emerge later. A year later, Sarah and Beth travel to America to join Juno and friends for another adventure holiday. This year 6 women will go caving, in search of thrills and in the hope that it will bring them together again.

Going in there is a discussion of the problems that people can experience in caves, dark and confined places, which serves to provide some definition to what follows. The film becomes increasingly paranoid and claustrophobic as the girls crawl through restricted, water logged spaces, hanging from ropes over precipices. For the first half of the film this is a tense action adventure, about the sport and the physical tensions. But as things go on, the dark starts to move, previous problems coming to the fore. So that things start to get out of hand, especially since they are not alone.

The Descent is a progressively nasty film, for all the lighthearted banter that starts the film, this is darker material than Dog Soldiers. With that, this is not especially a “horror” film in the sense of ghost stories and scares. Though the film certainly works to manipulate that sense of uncertainty and discomfort at every opportunity. The Descent is more of a Chainsaw Massacre type film, viscerally nasty. A genre which has seen something of a resurgence in the last few years, but The Descent feels less restrained – probably more comparable to the French film Haute Tension than something like the American Wrong Turn.

Marshall’s approach is interesting. At times the dialogue/performances feel amateurish. Suggesting a low budget approach, which it probably is, comparatively. Though in the quality of film and composition there is a definite ability at work. The soundtrack is one of those which is integral to the mood and the way the film flows – borderline excessive with it’s intrusive presence, but in some ways the soundtrack is taken to a conscious excess that takes the mood to a striking level.

The cast is remarkable, in that all the lead characters are women. Meaning that the range of characters in this kind of genre have to be amongst the women – those that will panic and run, those that will be picked off easily, those who will stand and fight, the ruthless, the brave, and so on. With this there is a certain level of exploitation, though the scream queen/horror girl is an established standard. Again this is a done in a conscious manner, early on when faced with the cave entrance one of the girls make a comment about “tomb raider”, and thee is a sense at points that Marshall is going for an iconic image. The way a character will stop and pose, climbing axe in hand, or drenched from head to foot in blood – something else which recalls images of Cecile De France in Haute Tension.

The cast predominantly comes from a TV background, with some limited film experience in most cases. To a degree Shauna MacDonald (Sarah) is the lead, familiar from her role in the Glasgow based comedy Late Night Shopping, as well as the BBC’s spy drama Spooks, while Alex Reid (Beth) was in ITV’s Special Forces drama Ultimate Force. Saskia Mulder was in the film The Beach, along with Channel 4’s Glasgow based comedy series The Book Group, while MyAnna Buring who plays her sister and medical student has been in the BBC’s medical drama Casualty. Natalie Jackson Mendoza (Juno) was in the films Code 46 and Moulin Rouge, though at least in Code 46 it was a minor role, while Nora-Jane Noone who plays her prodigy Holly was in Ella Enchanted as well as the Irish film The Magdalene Sisters.


Title:War Of The Worlds
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins
Director: Steven Spielberg

Spielberg directs and Cruise stars in this new film version of H.G. Wells’ classic War Of The Worlds. Cruise is a divorcee, landed with the kids (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) for a long weekend, while his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) goes off with her new husband. As he tries to deal with his domestic drama, it becomes clear that there is something strange going on, from background news clips and increasing environmental disturbance. It is not too long before massive alien machines are breaking through the ground and killing everyone in their path. The result is a massacre and mass panic, with Cruise and his kids desperately trying to the kid’s mother.

From the start I found this adaptation unconvincing. The way that Cruise fills the screen for so much of the start of the film is excessive and becomes almost pornographic – distracting from the action going on around them. With that the film feels overly choreographed, such that at all times it seems like people are reacting to Cruise and how they are interacting with him rather than reacting to events. They were times where I was either open mouthed and appalled or covering my face with my hands in an expression of despair – reacting to just how bad this film was.


Title:Kung Fu Hustle [Gong Fu]
Cast: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Qiu Yuen, Kwok Kuen Chan, Hsiao Liang, Zhi Hua Dong
Director: Stephen Chow

After the success of Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, we have his follow up Kung Fu Hustle. It is interesting that Kung Fu Hustle is showing in the UK at the same time as the Swedish film Evil; given that they have a certain thematic parallel. Both featuring a lead character, that reacts to event in their life by becoming “evil”.

As a child Chow’s character wanted to be a hero, but when he stood up he was quickly knocked down. He decides that if he became an evil gangster then he will get respect. Unfortunately when he poses as a member of a feared gang he picks on a community where martial art masters have been hiding incognito. Even more unfortunately real gang members happen to be passing and are drawn into events. Thus starts a feud between the residents of Pig Sty Villas and the Axe Gang, with Chow caught between them, faced with good and evil, and what choice he should make,

Like Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle is an over the top martial arts film, going even further to take the action to a more carton like level. Mimicking films like Crouching Tiger in a consciously parodic fashion. Certain scenes remind of the Matrix Reloaded, without the over reliance on computer graphics – though they certainly make use of them.

Chow’s film is a striking piece of cinema – taking state of the art special effects to push the limits of slapstick comedy, while keeping an eye on being able to produce a convincing final product. Part of that is his eye for detail, visually and sonically, adding up to create the finished picture – a total and gleeful piece of cinema. Kung Fu Hustle is an outrageous comedy absurd and excessive, entirely over the top, and just damn good fun with that.


Title:Evil [Ondskan]
Cast: Andreas Wilson, Henrik Lundström, Gustaf Skarsgård, Linda Zilliacus, Jesper Salén
Director: Mikael Håfström

With the start of Evil we are introduced to Erik, going from him being beaten by his stepfather to him beating a fellow school pupil. This beating leads to Erik’s expulsion and the headmaster’s insistence that he has never seen such violence and that Erik is clearly “evil”. The result is that unless he can finish his school year somehow he’ll never get to go to college. To this end his mother does all she can to get him into a private school – the domain of the rich and upper classes. So Erik finds himself in a difficult position, he can’t get expelled again, but can’t allow himself to bullied and crushed by the brutal disciplinary system.

Thus we have a school drama, following the theme of good and evil. Is Erik evil, or can he learn restraint? Evil is a Swedish drama from last year, which I gather was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Although it isn’t made explicitly clear, the sense is that Evil is set in the 50’s or 60’s – the frame of reference particularly coming from the music and film that is referred to through the film.

At one point Erik talking to his roommate discuss James Dean. From which point it becomes clear – Erik has been cast as Dean, and we become conscious of his role as emulation. When faced with his dilemma his roommate suggests that Erik should follow in the footsteps of Ghandi. So we have an attempt to balance these aspects. Though on the whole, Evil is a pretty average film, filled with clichés from any number of previous school dramas. The progression is too obvious – the fact that he will clearly become involved with the only young member of the kitchen staff and that he will strike back eventually. Evil is watchable enough, and the character has a definite intensity, but as a film it is nothing special and too full of its own sense of drama and importance.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Title:Mondays In The Sun [Los Lunes al Sol]
Cast: Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar, José Ángel Egido, Nieve de Medina, Enrique Villén, Celso Bugallo, Joaquín Climent, Aida Folch, Serge Riaboukine
Director: Fernando León de Aranoa

Mondays In The Sun follows a group of shipyard workers as they struggle to cope with redundancy. Management action has led to strikes; strikes have led to conflict, which makes what follows all the more difficult. At the core of the film we have five men – struggling to find money to support family, dealing with court cases as a result of the trouble, looking forward to marital collapse. With this kind of material this is not the most cheerful of films, though it does at times attempt to find some kind of black humour from events. The result is a decent enough film, which is reported to have done well in its native Spain. The performances are fine, the reliable Javier Bardem taking the lead. Regardless I can’t really work up a lot of enthusiasm about this film. While it is enjoyable enough, I can’t help but feel if this were a British film I wouldn’t be watching it at all.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Theme: Soundtracks
  • Yann Tiersen - La Noyee - Amelie
  • Tan Dun - Silk Road - Crouching Tiger
  • Nightmare Lodge - Awakening - Syrena
  • Angkor Wat Final Theme - In The Mood For Love

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Title:The Creature In The Case
Author: Garth Nix

The day that I picked up the Eric Brown novella Walkabout was the same day I picked up Garth Nix’s Abhorsen. Which once I had read, meant that I could read the Garth Nix novella The Creature In The Case. A 100-page book that was published for this years World Book Day, available for either £1 or with a WBD token. An agreeable offer for the page count, especially when compared to Walkabout.

The Creature In The Case fits into Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, though it is more of a spin off short story than part of the whole. Nicholas Sayre featured in Lirael and Abhorsen, a school friend of Sabriel and Touchstone’s son Sameth – who came to the Old Kingdom in Lirael and became a pawn of evil. Nicholas is the lead character of The Creature In The Case - because of his associations with people from the Old Kingdom he has been encouraged to help the secret police for his uncle, a prominent politician. However, one of the secrets that these agents is keeping is the creature in the case – a demonic and magical monster, that of course breaks free while Nicholas is visiting.

A lighter and more peripheral read than 3 novels that make up the trilogy, but you can’t really expect too much from a short. With that it is a nice enough addendum to the series, a quick little adventure.


Author: Eric Brown

I had not really been more than peripherally aware of the Web series of children’s SF books from Orion’s Dolphin imprint until I came across Walkabout by UK SF writer Eric Brown in a bargain bin. Picking it up I find a series of grouped novellas, kid’s cyber punk fiction all taking place in 2027 connected to a worldwide virtual reality network known as The Web. Many of the contributions actually coming from credible and established British SF writers, like Ken MacLeod, Peter Hamilton, Stephen Baxter and of course Eric Brown.

Suzie is the first aboriginal Australian to be included in the national, mixed under 16’s football team. However she isn’t doing as well at school, so she has gone into the Web to find out about India for an assignment. There she meets Ana, an Indian girl from the untouchable caste, who she befriends. While playing an adventure game, things start to go wrong – manifestations of humanoid lizards are deliberately looking for Suzie, a crackdown by the Web police and the crashes that result.

Walkabout at least starts in a way that one is particularly aware that it is being pitched at a younger audience. Though as I got on with the reading, it was something I became less aware of. Thematically Eric Brown is a good choice for this series, Walkabout coming into the same kind of ballpark as the material at the core of his own New York Trilogy (NY Nights, NY Blues, NY Dreams). The other most obviously parallel material I can think of would be the work of Alexander Besher, particularly his first novel Rim, which followed the break down of a world wide virtual game system.

It is interesting to think of this kind of material being aimed at a young audience, though I suspect when I was the age that these books are aimed at I was already reading the real thing. The line up of writers is interesting, and I would be tempted to try and track down a few others in this sequence. Though I suspect with the publication date of 1999 I may well have already missed the boat, and the format of approximately 100 pages for an original cover price of £3.50 doesn’t seem an especially good balance.


Title: Lola
Author: Victoria Rehfeld Smith


Title: Gunnerkrigg Court
Author: Tom Siddell

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

But you're not a pilot. In the air you are Gossamer. You're a living rainbow: people have to be in the right place at the right time to even see you. Along the length of Gossamer's belly you feel every slight variation in texture and temperature and pace. Your ventral side is so sensitive you feel like the pea-wakeful princess in the old story; sometimes you swear you could sense the undulations in the Grid below through the very air, if you shut your visuals down. Gossamer's wings have been mapped onto your human fingertips and her tail, more oddly, has been mapped onto your lips. You think this is something to do with the density of nerves required to process the sensory information. Gossamer's tail is particularly subtle and since the Gossamer-equivalents of olfactory nerves are located there you guess that crossing it with your human lips and tongue makes some kind of sense. But it means that sometimes, after flying, you can't speak properly for awhile. It also makes food taste funny for a couple of hours.

extract from

Monday, July 04, 2005


Author: Garth Nix

Abhorsen is the third in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy, completing the cycle started with Sabriel, and launching straight in from the cliffhanger ending of Lirael. That being the case, it may be difficult to talk about the novel Abhorsen without getting into what could be considered to be spoiler territory.

Sabriel introduced us to the Old Kingdom and the role of the Abhorsen. At that point Sabriel was a 17-year-old girl, learning to come to terms with her true role in the Old Kingdom. As a novel it is pretty much self-contained. With Lirael time has moved forward, Sabriel is now something like 40-years-old, has married and has children. Giving us instead Lirael, her novel following her life amongst the Clayr, a race of clairvoyants. To a degree Lirael is the opposite of Sabriel, Lirael knows exactly what she is. Except of course, that she seems to be the latest blooming Clayr ever.

Through the second novel Lirael explores her place with in her surroundings and comes to terms with the fact that perhaps she is different from her family and friends. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that something very wrong is happening, and that Sabriel and the King, who should be dealing with it are across the border dealing with something else. With the end of Lirael, Lirael has met Sameth, Sabriel's son, and it is clear that together they are going to have to save the world. With the varying help of Lirael's magic talking dog and Sameth's magic talking cat they must fight a host of zombies and prevent the rise of something incredibly old and evil.

While Lirael covers a period of years, following Lirael's life, Abhorsen is a lot quicker paced. A somewhat mad dashed struggle to determine what is going wrong and what can be done about it. The result is energetic, and even though these novels seem to be marketed at kids, there is a real dose of the gruesome mixed in with the high adventure. This isn't the elves and goblins of safe fantasy novels, its all zombie monsters and elder gods. The result is a novel that is as much fun as the previous two parts in the series.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Title: Gashapon Shop
Author: Alex Shen

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