Saturday, January 28, 2006
Title: The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 18
Editor: Gardner Dozois
Here are some more links to stories included to this volume which seem to have gone online since i did my search, hopefully of some interest to those without physical book, must be getting to a stage where more than half of the stories in the book are available online:
Albert E. Cowdrey: The Tribes of Bela
Benjamin Rosenbaum: Start the Clock
James L. Cambias: The Ocean of the Blind
here are some additional stories, which have been posted online, and are by some of the people that are pretty reliable in these collections, all 3 of these writers have stories in this particular collection:
Nancy Kress - My Mother Dancing
Paul Melko - Strength Alone
Daniel Abraham - Flat Diane
-not read any of these yet, but hopefully some good stuff.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Title: Someone To Watch Over Me
Author: Tricia Sullivan
Adrien arrives in Zagreb having been beaten worse than he has ever been beaten before. Mistaking Sabina for a taxi driver he enlists the young Croatian musician to help him recover from his injuries. Adrien is a Trans, someone with a "plant" in their head, which uses HIT (human interface technology) to allow a remote Watcher to interface and experience what the Trans does.
Adrien knows his Watcher only as C, and C is becoming increasingly unpredictable. If C had its way Adrien would have killed a man in Moscow, and it is C's fault that the tech that he was in Moscow to buy attracted the attention of Max. The HIT comes from the Deep, an organisation or group mind, no one is entirely sure. For the most part HIT is illegal, except for in Russia, where Max works as a kind of PR/enforcer for the Deep.
With the events in Moscow and his meeting with Sabina, Adrien decides he has had enough. Its time to get out, if he can get enough distance from Max and C to achieve that. But the technology that Adrien was supposed to buy in Moscow is the next big thing. Something so important that Max must get a handle on it, and that C needs, and if Adrien won't do the job, then C will use Sabina.
Tricia Sullivan's current novel is Double Vision, published in over-sized paperback in 2005. Someone To Watch Over Me is an earlier work, from 1997, and the third novel by Sullivan that I have read. This novel is perhaps the strangest of the three, probably because it feels in someway like it is set in 1997 and yet is so removed from what we know. On the one hand there is a discussion of King Kong, the version with Jessica Lange, and how it could be remade - which immediately dates it - along with the Croatian angle, and the war that happened there in the 1990's. On the other there is the whole HIT and Wire technologies, Wires being a kind of experiential/virtual experience that in its legal form is given away, but includes subliminal adverts.
Its the strangeness, the undercurrent of Sabina's music woven through the text, the shifts in narrative points of view, and the play with fonts and first/third person that make Someone To Watch Over Me such a rush. Unfortunately I suspect that only Sullivan's 2 most recent novels, Maul and Double Vision, are readily available, making something like probably harder to find. Though if you do stumble across a copy of Tricia Sullivan's Someone To Watch Over Me then it is worth a read.
Title: Wolves In The Walls
Author: Neil Gaiman
Update on Wolves In The Wall, the Glasgow run starts on Saturday 25th March, perfromances 8pm each night and tickets £12 each. Dates:
I think at the moment I would say the Saturday 8th April is the best night for folk travelling from outside Glasgow, though being the last night might make it trickier.
Event: Glasgow Film Festival
Dates: 16-26 February 2006
The second annual Glasgow Film Festival is on from the 16th to 26th of February, showing a range of new films across three cinemas. Perhaps of particular interest, a one day event within event, a FrightFest special - 5 new horror films all showing together on Saturday 18th of February.
The Great Yokai War - New horror film from Japanese director Takashi Miike.
Oija Board - Bullied school girl seek revenge in Korean horror in a "ring-style".
Reeker - A new UK supernatural slasher.
Wild Country - Described as "Gregory's Girl with werewolves".
Boy eats Girl - Described as "Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets American Pie on a Dublin housing estate", though its zombies rather than vampires.
Title: Running Scared
Cast: Paul Walker, Chazz Palminteri, Wayne Brady, Vera Farmiga, Johnny Messner, Cameron Bright, Shawn Hatosy, Alex Neuberger, Ivana Milicevic, Michael Rappaport
Director: Wayne Kramer
Ah, Paul Walker, now there is casting for you. If you want to make a film that is so bad it is funny, then Paul Walker is your man. Look at the Fast & Furious films, particularly the second one, which is quite hilarious. So what is he doing in Running Scared, the latest film by Wayne Kramer, the man who wrote and directed The Cooler? The Cooler was quite a cool film, a twist on gambling gangsters, a down on his luck man finds some luck kind of deal.
There is no doubt that Running Scared is the performance of Walker's career to date. The film starts with Walker in his boss negotiating a drug deal. Armed and masked men burst in, determined to steal the drugs and the money. But things go wrong and the shooting starts. Walker's boss shoots a couple of the masked men, who are then revealed to be corrupt cops, but cops none the less. Walker is given the gun to dispose of.
Walker takes the gun home, where his son and the kid from next door watch him hide it. Next there is shooting from next door, the kid has stolen the gun, shot his abusive, drunk father, and fled with the gun. The police are already on their way, and this shooting will link to the other shooting. Oh, and the man who was shot was Russian, and has connections to the Russian mob. The rest of the film is a mad dash to track down the gun, keep it out of the wrong hands, and prevent everything crashing down in the worst possible way.
Running Scared is charged. Once it gets going it is pretty non-stop. Effects heavy and over stylized the film spins your head around. A film that becomes increasingly grimy and sinister as it goes on. To a degree there is the aspect of a fable to that, made most explicit from the animated end sequence with a child lost in the woods. The idea seeming to be that The Night is a scary thing and bad things happen in The Night. Though like the use of effects that becomes a little over the top. There are some effects which are nicely used, adding to the atmosphere, but I suspect that the viewer at points becomes so saturated that we stop noticing some of the efforts that are being taken.
Running Scared is like a roller coaster, while you are on it you are all "ooh and ahh". Which is all good and fine, as long as you don't look back at a plastic cart on tracks going exactly where it was always going to go, with flaking paint and a certain shabbiness. The end in particular lets Running Scared down, where it rolls onto that flat track of sad predictability.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Title: Touch The Sound
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer
Evelyn Glennie is a Grammy Award winning classical percussionist. She is also mostly deaf. As an 8-year-old Evelyn started to play piano, around the same time her hearing started to deteriorate. By the age of 12 she was looking to diversify musically, and came upon percussion. By then her hearing specialists were telling her that as far as they were concerned she was deaf, should be taught in a school for the deaf and would never play music again. With her parents support she remained in mainstream education and continued to study music.
In theory hearing is about sound waves and vibrations in the ear. To a degree what Evelyn has done is to use the organ of skin to replace the sense of hearing. So instead of explicitly hearing sound with her ears, she feels sound with her body. The result is a remarkable sense for sound and acoustics, as demonstrated in this documentary Touch The Sound. Evelyn describes being a musician as being on a sound journey, and the film follows her on part of her journey. As she travels from New York to where she was born in Aberdeenshire, to working with Japanese drummers in Fuji City, to recording an improvised album with Fred Frith in Cologne.
Throughout the film we have a mix of performance and commentary from Evelyn about her life and her beliefs in sound. From a cavernous train station in New York to a crumbling ruin in Aberdeen we go from extreme to extreme. But it is the recording session in Cologne that forms the centre of Touch The Sound, the film keeps on coming back to that. In Cologne she meets Frith for the first time and the two improvise together. The studio for their performance is an abandoned factory, a huge place full of railings, girders and concrete, which they incorporate into the free form of their sound.
While in Japan, we have a comment from one of the drummers, he explains how the taiko sounds came from working in the fields. How music is influenced by life, and that the Japanese word that means "to live" comes from the word for "to breathe". From which he suggests that the journey of the musician is about learning to breathe. At another point in the film, Frith asks Evelyn whether she was taught to breathe as musician, suggesting that breathing is central to music. Ideas of breathing suggesting another facet of what makes sound an experience.
Improvised music is mixed bag. An area where it is easy to fall into the mundane, regurgitating the kind of wildly experimental dross that a thousand others have done exactly the same before. For me, music is something that you feel, something you experience some sense of joy from when it is at its best. The recording sessions in Cologne sum up the ideas of breathing music, of creating and experiencing a sense of joy, allowing the viewer in some way to Touch The Sound.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Title: Underworld: Evolution
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Bill Nighy
Director: Len Wiseman
I quite enjoyed the first Underworld film. Sure, it had flaws. But it was fun action movie. The anticipated Underworld Evolution has finally appeared, and perhaps the lack of publicity should have been taken as a bad sign. I don't really recall having even seen a trailer for Underworld Evolution before I went to see the film - though trailers are notoriously unreliable.
Underworld Evolution is an anticlimax. Having established some kind of cliff hanger at the end of the first film, the second jumps straight in. From the start it feels like the viewer has been dropped in the middle of something. Which of course they have, this is a sequel. But even having seen the original film, and the fact that this film starts straight from the end of that film, one is still left with a sense of missing something. From the start Underworld Evolution pretty much hits the ground running and keeps running without pause.
With that the film becomes a total anti-climax. Within the first 10 minutes the vampire-werewolf thing is fighting the werewolf-vampire thing, and then 5 minutes later they are fighting again, and then 5 minutes later they are fighting again, and then 5 minutes later they are fighting again, and then 5 minutes later they are fighting again, and you get the picture. The 5 minutes in between are spent with the vampire Selene (Beckinsale) pouting and swaying her PVC clad hips, with Michael (Speedman) looking rugged and out of his depth, Marcus (Curran) pouting and looking for Michael and Selina, and a man (Jacobi) sitting in a room, pouting and staring into space in a significant manner. Through this there is an attempt to bring in a twist, but one should remember that in order to have a plot-twist one must have a plot. Of course it helps if having made an effort to have a twist there is some significance or point to it, and it isn't cast into the abyss of anti-climax.
With little publicity to hype Underworld Evolution up it isn't as though I had any particular expectation for this film. Which is normally the best way to approach a film. But I just found myself bored, never really settling in, or enjoying the film. The end looks like it should be the end of it all, but after the first film there was talk of a trilogy, and Selene's voice over at the end suggests there is more to come. Oh dear. I can only suggest that after Underworld Evolution the only suitable name for a third film is Underworld Masturbation. Here we go!
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Title: VW Guardian Angel
I have been meaning to post this for a while, and stuff like this, some of the smartest and most interesting imagery is used in advertising. Despite the branding and all that kind of stuff, the results can still make for nice little clips. This is a car advert, but forget that, and watch an angel at work...
bruno is back - i'm rooting for brautigan!
Title: A Bittersweet Life
Cast: Lee Byeong-Heon, Sin Min-ah, Kim Young-cheol,Kim Roi-ha, Hwang Jeong-min, Eric Moon, Oh Dal-soo, Kim Han, Oh Kwang-rok, Jeong Yoo-mi
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Sunwoo Kim is Mr. Kang's enforcer. So when Mr Baek's men cause trouble, trying to pressurise Mr. Kang to stop using Russian girls and use Mr. Baek's Filipina girls instead, it is Sunwoo that deals with them. The morning after as Sunwoo briefs Mr. Kang, Kang explains that he is going on business to Singapore and has a special job for Sunwoo to do while he is away. Mr. Kang, a rich and shady older man, has been seeing a young musician. Kang suspects that the girl, Hee-soo (Sin Min-ah), is cheating on him - he wants Sunwoo to watch her. If Hee-soo is just friends with this other man, then fine, otherwise Sunwoo is to take care of them both.
Sunwoo spends the three days that Kang is in Singapore watching Hee-soo. Delivering gifts from Kang, driving her about, having lunch with her. All of which is outside his usual work remit, but spending time with a young attractive woman isn't a big deal. Unless she is cheating on Kang? At the same time, Baek claims that Sunwoo's treatment of his men has caused him to lose face. To a degree this is just an excuse to put more pressure on Kang, but Sunwoo starts to recieve threats - apologise or suffer.
A trailer for A Bittersweet Life was shown a week before the film opened. From which one would have expected a straight forward gangster film, two gangs fall out, lots of shooting. However, A Bittersweet Life is more than that, coming more from the new generation of Korean Revenge cinema rather than the more standard Asian gangster flick that one can so readily find in Hong Kong, Japan and Korean cinema. A more extreme and charged kind of film.
The film is in three parts. The build up, the introduction of Sunwoo as a kind of Clint Eastwood character - you need to feel pretty damn lucky if you think you are going to face him down. Sunwoo is taut, fast and deadly. The middle of the film is the turning point, where things are transformed, where what we had been lead to believe was impossible is proven to be quite possible. The middle bit is the bit that is hard to watch, the degradation and destruction. And what is left from there but the aftermath and the question, how did it come to this?
A Bittersweet Life is the latest film to be written and directed by Kim Ji-woon being shown in UK cinemas, the director of A Tale Of Two Sisters and The Quiet Family. From the black comedy of The Quiet Family through the Ringu style A Tale of Two Sisters to A Bittersweet Life. A film that seems to come off the back of the success of fellow Korean director Chan-wook Park, the clearest comparison for something like A Bittersweet Life is Oldboy. Both films imbued with that senselessness and vicious intensity.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Title: The Hidden Blade
Cast: Masatoshi Nagase, Takako Matsu, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Tomoko Tabata
Director: Yôji Yamada
A low caste samurai finds that his life gets quiet all of a sudden. One of his best friends has gone off to find adventure, another has married his sister, his mother has died and the maid has been married off to a merchant family. He goes about his life, threadbare and lonely - until his adventurer friend comes back a traitor in chains and he discovers the maid, who he has always secretly loved, has been mistreated.
Of course, despite being a low caste samurai it is suggested that he and his traitor friend are the best fighters in the clan; perhaps he even knows the secrets of the deadly hidden blade? As such the senior samurai want him to deal with his friend. And while he can help his love, a samurai cannot marry a maid. So his life has gone from solitude to being problematic.
The Hidden Blade is 2005's cinematic samurai film for the UK. Following on from the success of the previous year's The Twilight Samurai. The fact that The Hidden Blade is directed by Yoji Yamada, who did The Twilight Samurai, should be obvious to anyone seeing the two films - since they are essentially the same film. Both following low caste samurai, down on their luck, at a period of growing westernisation and political turmoil, who fall for women that they shouldn't.
Between the two Twilight Samurai is the better film - partly because you are seeing it done there first, and partly because the titular samurai is a more interesting character, with more depth and conviction. The introduction of guns/cannon, and disciplined marching in a western style is what really gives The Hidden Blade any kind of edge - describing a real turning point in a cultural age, while also providing some light relief in an other wise down beat film.
Title: The Quiet Family
Cast: In-hwan Park, Mun-hee Na, Kang-ho Song, Min-sik Choi, Ho-kyung Go, Yun-seong Lee
Director: Ji-woon Kim
The Quiet Family are a family who have taken the decision to move from the hectic life of the big city to the quiet life of the country. Opening a hostel in prime hill walking country, an area where a new road is about to be built. The whole thing is a great business move. Except the road has been delayed and they have no customers. When a lone traveller turns up one day looking for a room, they think their luck has finally come in! Unfortunately he is dead by morning and things just spiral downward from there.
The Quiet Family is balancing act, part black comedy and part creepy horror. Given that it is directed by Ji-woon Kim, who's A Tale Of Two Sisters featured in the 2004 Asia Extreme season. The two have some similarities, the large house in the country, the isolation that results and a certain atmosphere. But this earlier effort does have a comedic undertone that something like Two Sister didn't, at least not intentionally.
Ironically The Quiet Family influenced the more widely shown The Happiness of the Katikuras. Takashi Miike's Japanese remake of the film showing around the same time as A Tale Of Two Sisters - though it was made three years after 1998's Korean original. Between the two Katikuras is over the top and a little out there, but one would expect that from Miike, who is prone to being more "challenging" than Ji-woon Kim.
The Quiet Family is a quiet black comedy, currently available as a 2 DVD edition, with card slipcase and an array of extras.
NOTE: For those in the UK reading this - Ji-woon Kim's new film A Bittersweet Life is currently showing in selected cinemas, a Korean revenge drama for fans of Old Boy. More on A Bittersweet Life shortly.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Title: Iron Sunrise
Author: Charles Stross
Moscow has been destroyed. Wiped out with illegal WMD. The wave of radiation is sweeping slowly through Moscow's outer lying moons, satellites and the like, each of those far enough out being evacuated to another system. The holocaust happened in the midst of a trade dispute with New Dresden, so it was assumed that they were responsible. So it is assumed that the slower than light speed stealth deterrent bombs that were launched were targeted at New Dresden. Unless something can be done another planet and her entire population will be destroyed.
Wednesday lives on Old Newfoundland, one of Moscow's space stations, when the iron sunrise hits. Before the evacuation, the imaginary friend that has been talking to her since she was 10 tells her to go for a walk. There she finds a corpse and a set of instructions that are so secret they've been hand written on paper. Instructions that are evidence of the crime. With members belonging to a group with a sinister new ideology on her tale on one side, UN special agents on the other and a traumatised warblogger the only obviously friendly face, Wednesday is on the run.
Iron Sunrise is the second novel in what Charles Stross seems to be referring to as his Eschaton series. Set in a future where an AI occurred, realised that the set up on Earth was dangerously unstable and that certain technological developments threatened its continued existence and took appropriate steps, attaining a certain godlike status in the process. I suppose the whole AI vs humanity thing suggests similarities to Ian McDonald's Ares Express that I read recently, though the two are entirely different novels. The characters Rachel Mansour and Martin Springfield were the leads in the first Eschaton novel, and reappear here in the sequel, providing a greater continuity than just setting another novel against the same background.
Singularity Sky was the first novel by Stross to be published in the UK, a novelist who is developing a strange career by managing to publish different sets of novels in different places. Reading Singularity Sky I had a background of reading some of his short story work - the material that became the novel Accelerando being particularly promising. At that point instead I found Singularity Sky disappointing, it wasn't a bad novel, but somehow it just didn't satisfy entirely. In the mean time I read Accelerando and it had exactly the material and potential that I was looking for from Stross. Giving me enough impetus to give Iron Sunrise a go despite any doubts. Which is just as well, as Iron Sunrise is far superior to Singularity Sky.
Iron Sunrise is far from perfect by any means. To a degree it seems that the first half of the novel is spent setting everything up, though the momentum for the second half of the book keeps you turning the pages. The narrative switches between the characters, so that at times you get a sense of repetition, as the thoughts of one character echo the thoughts of a previous. Which like the sense that there are perhaps some minor inconsistencies niggles a little as you read. But on the whole, any issues with Iron Sunrise are really on an editorial level.
Iron Sunrise is at the fore front of space opera, mixing in a heady dose of social commentary and politics to give it a more solid contemporary and relevant feeling than much of the competition. Including more of the elements that make Accelerando essential reading and less of the flaws that made Singularity Sky underwhelming.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Title: The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 18
Editor: Gardner Dozois
This is my 8th annual collection of the Best New SF stories - Volume 18 covering 2004 and being the UK equivalent of Volume 22 of the US edition. As always Gardner Dozois selects his favourite stories of the year and presents them along with introductions and notes.
Inappropriate Behaviour by Pat Murphy starts the collection with a shipwrecked man, on an island populated only by crabs and a remote presence robot. If he can communicate with the person operating the robot then he is saved, if he can't then he will die, but communication isn't always as straight forward as you might expect. A nice story about social interaction, expectations and fairy tales.
Set in a world where people have stopped aging, frozen at the one age, Start The Clock by Benjamin Rosenbaum follows a group of Nines - people who have been physically 9 for the last 40 years, and are looking to buy a new house - shaped like a pirate galleon. But when one of the group goes missing it brings up the underlying tensions and takes us on a wander through a weird culture where odd things happen with stunted growth.
The Third Party reminds of Ken MacLeod to some degree, David Moles putting political beliefs against each other. Representatives of a "cooperative" planet infiltrate an isolated world, keen to influence the political/economical structure of the young planet. But they find that an organisation with opposing views has arrived, and they've gone for the front door rather than the back.
The Voluntary State in Christopher Rowe's story is a group mind of Tennessee kind of place, which is under attack by agents of Kentucky. A Tennessee artist is attacked and drugged and used as a means to infiltrate the state. On the whole this is an utterly incoherent piece, something which can work for some writers as the post current mental state can be a strange and interesting place, but for me this doesn't really work.
Nancy Kress is pretty reliable with her contributions to these collections, this year her story is the clever Shiva In Shadow. Which alternates between two narrative streams, two versions of reality, both featuring the same characters – but one in the flesh and the other in upload digitised format. Following the success and collapse of the same team - a superior and dismissive scientist, inferior and competitive scientist, and the manipulative and nurturing captain who is supposed to ensure that everything remains balanced.
The People of Sand And Slag by Paolo Bigaci is his second contribution to this series, and I would say I enjoyed this one more than the previous year’s story. It follows post-human tribes that eat sand and fire slag, who are entirely transformed into a pollution consuming race designed to survive in the wasteland we have made of the world. One small group make the freak discovery of a surviving dog, an old Earth animal that has somehow inconceivably made it through the changes. The interaction between the group and the dog being a vehicle to follow the weirdness of old versus new.
The Clapping Hands of God by Michael F. Flynn is a story that takes some classic ideas and gives them a contemporary edge. Follows a mixed race/religion exploration team from a gateway culture, humans who have found gates through space to other worlds. On this latest mission they find a planet with an intelligent race and are engrossed with studying them from a distance. But they are soon confused as the locals start to prepare for war, and in the end witness something that challenges their role as neutral observer.
M. John Harrison hasn’t appeared in a lot of these collections, though with his novel Light he has returned to the SF scene. The story Tourism, which originally appeared on Amazon of all places, is clearly set in the same background as Light, referring to some of the same characters and background detail. Tourism is set in a bar near a zone of flux, where a tour guide bases his operations, though on the whole this is a bar tale. Like a lot of Harrison’s short material this can tend towards the abstract, but manages to wow while he is at it.
In last year’s collection Terry Bisson’s Dear Abbey was a time travel story into the future, this year he returns with a journey into the past with Scout's Honour. A man receives a series of emails piecing together a man who has gone into the past and met with Neanderthals. Initially he thinks it is a joke, someone who knows that the study of Neanderthal man is his speciality, but as the story goes on he has his doubts.
James Patrick Kelly sets up a future where we have been invaded and the aliens have wiped out men. Leaving a woman only society in Men Are Trouble, where the devils maintain the population by making women artificially pregnant, and post-man religion is cropping up. In particular this smart story follows a private detective in the aftermath of a missing persons case gone wrong, where a devil has suggested she look closer, to uncover conspiracy.
Kage Baker crops up most years in these collections, usually with a “Company” story. The company are a group of time travellers who pop up through out time to preserve and steal artefacts. Mother AEgepyt doesn’t seem to explicitly be a Company story, though Dozois suggests that it is, and there is an undercurrent that could back that up. Though if you were unfamiliar with Baker’s work this would just seem to be story about Medieval Europe, with suggestions of mystery and magic. As usual Baker is a decent writer, but her work just does little for me.
I have to admit that I wasn’t especially familiar with Vernor Vinge before last year’s collection. Like Cookie Monster, Synthetic Serenity is a particularly nice piece, even if it especially short. A short snap shot of a story depicting a kind of post-singularity where bleeding edge kids go to school with future shocked adults who have life extensions, but have to go back to basics just to keep up.
To a degree Mary Rosenblum’s Skin Deep is a story about stem cell and clone tissue research helping to give a burn victim a face. But the depth of story is more about perceptions, relationships and the like – how we rely on our faces, how we interact with people, and the motivations that affect those things.
Vandana Singh’s Delhi initially reminds strongly of Robert Silverberg, the peripheral overlaps of reality/time. Though as it builds it perhaps progresses more towards something that recalls works by John Shirley, Simon Ings or Kathleen Ann Goonan. While at the same time the piece is also partially a history of Delhi with some comment on that. The story of the man who looks across the overlaps, and the strange encounters he has is memorable, particularly as it reaches conclusion.
The Tribes of Bela by Albert E. Cowdrey reminds a little of John Varley's The Bellman from the previous year, in that they are both enjoyable murder mysteries. Taking the base line of a crime/thriller and placing it in a very SF setting. Here a police officer arrives on a mining planet to investigate a series of murders only to find out he is quickly out of his depth – with all hell quickly breaking loose!
Over the years of reading collections I’ve found that the stories that often the stories that I don’t especially enjoy are the alternate history time travel pieces. William Sanders’s Sitka is a good of exactly that. An alt.history vs time travel piece, teaming up Jack London and Lenin in an America run by Russia. The pair plotting to start World War 1 and by extension the Russian Revolution. The narrative switching between the plotters and time travel witnesses. The witnesses part in the story is particularly redundant, as they are reduced to a sentence here and there and on the whole contribute nothing to the piece.
On the other hand Leviathan Wept by Daniel Abraham is very much the kind of story that makes this collection such essential reading. Our narrator is a member of counter terrorism cells that take the fight to the terrorist, using integrated technology. We follow him and his cell, all plugged into each other as they make a tactical strike, only for something very odd to happen as a result. From cutting edge action adventure Leviathan Wept switches into singularity territory.
Colin P Davies’s The Defenders must be the shortest piece in the collection at just 3 pages. Short but sweet, The Defenders is a good introduction to Davies’s writing, following a man as he goes out in boat with his grand daughter. Floating above a battle site they discuss the role of the defenders, great dragon like genetic engineered beasts that fought off a demon attack. Her view is youthful and romantic, his is more cynical and experienced.
Through the eyes of the one life extended ship master we follow a group of humans as they flee global destruction on a generation ship in Stephen Baxter’s novella Mayflower II. Following the rise and fall of the population and the path evolution takes in a captive group – the trends that survive, the genetic traits that find favour, the political/social structures that work or don’t in a closed set of people.
I am more familiar with Caitlin R. Kiernan from her comic work, having worked on a few titles for Vertigo. Here she offers a short story, Riding The White Bull, which follows specialist agents or “scrubbers” who go into infected areas to deal with the contaminated. When we reached Jupiter’s moon Europa, we found something alien there, and it followed us back, infecting those it comes in contact with. The plot follows the history of one particular agent and the horrors of the job, though in the end the piece is a bit patchy in plot terms, but it is interesting, even if it does leave you wondering about what it is really all about.
Falling Star by Brendan DuBois presents us with a post-viral technology crash America. A hardware eating virus has crashed the world, leaving people isolated, making people feel as though they have been punished. An old astronaut returns to his home town, but with the rise of an anti-technology morality, the people don’t want him there.
Robert Reed’s Dragons of Summer Gulch is a kind of steampunk western, with dragons as WMD. Dragon claws as armour piercing bullets, dragon scales as armour, but what of dragon eggs? An ex-soldier goes searching the desert and finds a batch of eggs, and it soon becomes a pitch battle as everyone tries to get their hands on these artefacts that could change the whole world!
James L. Cambias’s The Ocean of the Blind is a particularly naughty little story about the media, popularity and 1st contact. An ocean planet, a group of scientists, and an over zealous nature reporter are studying a race of aliens that are a cross between lobsters and whales. When the reporter tries to get closer than the authorities are happy with, he gets more of an exclusive than he bargained for!
Eleanor Arnason follows up her previous story The Potter Of Bones which was included in volume 16 with The Garden - A Hwarhath Science Fictional Romance. In The Potter Of Bones, Arnason followed the female side of Hwarhath culture, this time she deals with the male. The story is something of a mixed bag, following the alien race of the Hwarhath, who are at war with humans. The Hwarhath story comes with notes for human readers, which is a nice touch, but in the end the piece is patchy. The ending in particular lets it down, there are clearly other stories by Arnason that feature the Hwarhath, and the turn the end takes relies too heavily on one of those stories that wasn’t included in one of these collections.
It is 2003 and Tony Blair has taken us to war in Iraq, there are people in the streets protesting, there is an air of dissatisfaction, a helpless knowing that there is not a lot we can do about it. Then the news about New Suffolk breaks, a man has worked out how to open a wormhole, and has set up an idealised new England on another planet. The result in Peter F. Hamilton’s contemporary piece Footvote is national collapse, protestors and refugees, and people voting with their feet.
The stories by Paul Di Filippo that have been included in these collections are usually reliably quirky and interesting pieces. However Sisyphus and the Stranger steers itself into alt.history territory, which as I’ve already said I am not a huge fan of. Like Sitka earlier in the collection this is an alt.history which stems from the start of World War 1. France discovered the N-Ray, and took over the world. Some years after the war Albert Camus is the right hand man to the French representative in Algeria. He is bored and stuck in a rut when he is offered a chance to make a change by a stranger.
My first encounter with Paul Melko was in the previous year’s collection, and everything I’ve read by him since I’ve enjoyed. Ten Sigmas is no exception, again it reminds of something Greg Egan might have done, with a more human edge to it. The narrator is a multiple man, a man who can sense the multiple realities that surround him, and has used that to make a fortune – stealing songs from other realities and writing them in his own. But when he is put in a situation where he must react, his unique ability is challenged to the limit – is what occurs in a parallel reality going to hold in his, will there be a path through which he will survive the events that he decides to set underway?
The final story in the collection is a piece called Investments by Walter Jon Williams, which is a follow up to a couple of his recent novels. Humanity has fought a war with an alien race and lost, and has now been absorbed into the alien empire. An ex-soldier has made an investment in the expansion of a young planet, but becomes worried when he learns about parties who were profiteering during the war are involved in the deal. He sets about trying to catch them in the act, but the story transforms from financial drama to international rescue as things blow out of proportion.
As usual a good number of these stories were originally printed online, have been posted for award consideration, or are included on the author's own sites, the following links lead to nearly half of the material in this volume:
Inapropriate Behaviour - Pat Murphy
The Voluntary State - Christopher Rowe
The People of Sand And Slag - Paolo Bigaci
The Clapping Hands of God - Michael F. Flynn
Tourism - M. John Harrison
Scout's Honour - Terry Bisson
Men Are Trouble - James Patrick Kelly
Synthetic Serenity - Vernor Vinge
Leviathan Wept - Daniel Abraham
Dragons of Summer Gulch - Robert Reed
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Title: Linger Awhile
Author: Russell Hoban
Irving Goodman has fallen in love with Justine Trimble. Of course, 2 problems come to mind, he is 83-years-old, and she has been dead for the last 47-years. But Irving thinks he knows a man who can help, so armed with a video of Justine's film Last Exit To El Paso he goes to visit Istvan Fallok. Isolating the magnetised particles that represent Justine, mixing them with a suspension of disbelief and some primordial soup and they bring the film star back to life. However, it isn't bad enough that Istvan has decided he wants Justine for himself, but to make her full colour takes a little blood. Which of course leads to the first body and the involvement of the police...
Through his London based novels Hoban redefines a landscape. His text filled with references to places that exist - the Victoria & Albert and the London Underground cropping up in every novel. Mixed with places and people that pop up with enough regularity that you start to believe they exist. Istvan Fallok and his Hermes Soundways first appeared in The Medusa Frequency, cropping up again in Her Name Was Lola, to be given a featured role in Linger Awhile. The same is the case with Grace Kowalski who had an influence on events in Her Name Was Lola and comes back here with her All That Glisters store.
To a degree Hoban's novels are about men and women and their relationships, at the centre of each you will find at least one romance. Often their is something in particular about the woman, in this case every man who looks upon Justine becoming caught up in the obsession. As with the likes of The Medusa Frequency or Amaryllis Day And Night there can be something darker in the relationship, the fact that the woman at the core of Linger Awhile has been created Frankenstein style and has Dracula like hungers of course makes for a certain aspect of horror. As the book progresses there is more of that, people who encounter Justine experience a certain lingering sensation of something following them, something dark and hopping.
When Grant Morrison wrote the comic series The Invisibles he described it as being a work of magic, a spell cast and boosted by his readers. Hoban has always had an element of the odd to his work, though increasingly there seems to be an idea where people can do urban, contemporary magic. In Her Name Was Lola, the title character burnt a piece of music to CD, a piece of music designed to make her ex-boyfriend forget her. In Linger Awhile we have another example of this kind of concept with the bringing to life of Justine Trimble, an image brought forward from a video cassette. There is something strange about this novel, Linger Awhile is so uncannily spot on, so clever and witty, so seductive, that I suspect that Hoban has cast a spell. An odd kind of conjuring that affects your mind as you read it, so that you end the book with a Hobanic view of the world lurking like a dark hopping thing in your head.
Event: Alan Moore on Gothic Nightmares
Venue: Tate Britain
Date: Saturday 25 March 2006 15.00–16.00
It is actually quite a few years since I was last in London, I think I am going to make an effort and go to this, meet a few people while I am down.
Legendary graphic novelist Alan Moore considers the work of Henry Fuseli and his contemporaries. Moore has worked in the comic book industry for over 25 years and is credited with redefining the genre through the introduction of adult themes, intricate plots and challenging subject matter. Best known for his ground-breaking works Watchmen (1986–7) and V for Vendetta (1982–5), several of Moore’s books have also been made into films, including From Hell (2001) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). In this talk Moore – himself a practising magician – leads a tour focusing on visionary heroism, ungovernable forces and superheroes.
Tate Britain In the Exhibition
Free with exhibition ticket, booking recommended
For tickets, call 020 7887 8888.
Title: Looking For The Possible Dance
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Looking For The Possible Dance was the first novel by A.L. Kennedy, originally published in 1993. Unfortunately this novel was out of print by the time I discovered Kennedy - with the paperback of Everything You Need, a novel which I still feel is her best work. Fortunately with the publication of her most recent novel - Paradise - Looking For The Possible Dance is available once more, this new edition from her current publisher Vintage.
Last year, when Kennedy was promoting the hardback edition of Paradise, she admitted that she was no longer as keen on Looking For The Possible Dance as she had been when she wrote it. Something you quite often find with authors looking back to their earlier works. Which is ironic given that in terms of tone and style I would perhaps suggest that Looking For The Possible Dance bares the most similarity to Paradise of all her work that followed that first novel. Lacking the kind of quirks that make So I Am Glad, Everything You Need or even the novella Original Bliss stick out the way they do.
The title comes from two events in the life of our narrator Margaret Hamilton. The first dance is one of the happiest memories in her life, one of the rare occasions when she and her father went out together - her father having raised her as a single parent. The second being a major event at the community centre where she works, a job she has just lost at the start of the novel. Having lost her job, Margaret gets on a train from Glasgow to London, and over the course of the journey she recalls her life and in particular the two men in her life. Her daddy who raised her and who was everything to her as a child, and Colin the man she met in college who abandoned her before coming back three years later to start the relationship again.
As usual Kennedy exhibits a peculiar and wry humour throughout. While contrasting that with a distinct melancholy. A growing feeling that something is going to go wrong, a darkness that is common in Kennedy's work to date. To a degree that turn doesn't feel entirely necessary, or suited to the flow of the plot, on the other hand it transforms it somewhat from being one of those literary novels where nothing happens, while introducing drama without necessarily using melodrama. Narratively Looking For The Possible Dance meanders, jumping about in time and plot. Undoubtedly this is not Kennedy's best work, she has certainly improved since, but even so, I enjoyed it for the writing, for the wit, for being A.L. Kennedy.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Title:Screaming Masterpiece [Gargandi snilld]
Cast: Sigur Rós, Björk, Múm, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, Bang Gang, Minus, The Sugarcubes, Apparat Organ Quartet, Slowblow, Ghostigital, Mugison, The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Nilfisk, Eivör Pálsdóttir, Quarashi
Director: Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon
OK. Follow up post. Here are a list of MySpace pages for bands featured in Screaming Masterpiece, each have at least one track, so everyone can get a feel for some of the bands involved:
Author: Jeanette Winterson
The Myth series from the publisher Canongate is a series of novels commissioned from an acclaimed group of contemporary literary novelists that reimagine/rewrite classic myths. Each being published in batches of 3, starting with Karen Armstrong's Short History of Myth, Margaret Attwood's Penelopiad and Jeanette Winterson's Weight. With novels by AS Byatt, Donna Tarrt and Victor Pelevin, to name a few, to appear in the next sets.
The weight of the title is the weight of the world. A weight that rests of the shoulders of the Titan Atlas, and briefly on the shoulders of Heracles. The story follows the interaction between the pair - Titan and Demi-God, the only two strong enough to actually carry the weight of the world.
Both have been punished by the gods, Atlas to bare the weight of the world for eternity and Heracles to perform 12 tasks. Heracles has reached his 11th task, to retrieve 3 golden apples from the goddess Hera's special tree. A tree that lies in a garden that belonged to Atlas, and that only Heracles can approach.
Traditionally the story told here would be from Heracles point of view, instead Winterson concentrates on Atlas. Though the narrative alternates to a degree between the two, and uses Heracles as a contrast to Atlas. Heracles comes across as a braggard, a man of action and little thought, though his encounter with Atlas forces him to ask why they do what they do?
At about 150 pages Weight must be borderline in whether you would class it as a novel or a novella - it is a quick read either way, I read it in a day. Like the other work by Winterson that I have read there is a certain playfullness to the story, a certain aspect of what she calls doing a "cover version" and of "telling the story again". The edition is currently available in a nice hardback, consistent with the other available editions, mixing periodic text in with the regular black. Particularly striking is the way Winterson makes Atlas a sympathetic character, and the way she manages to bring the story up to date with her own unique twist.
Title:Screaming Masterpiece [Gargandi snilld]
Cast: Sigur Rós, Björk, Múm, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, Bang Gang, Minus, The Sugarcubes, Apparat Organ Quartet, Slowblow, Ghostigital, Mugison, The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Nilfisk, Eivör Pálsdóttir, Quarashi
Director: Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon
Off Beat is a series of music documentaries that are playing in a variety of cinemas across the UK. The series started last week with Crossing The Bridge, an exploration of Turkish music. From Turkey we move to Iceland for Screaming Masterpiece - to be followed by Mixtape Inc (the role of the mixtape in American hip-hop) The Nostalgia of the Future (music from a particular region of Brazil).
Screaming Masterpiece uses the recent success of Icelandic bands like Mum and Sigur Ros, and of course the long term career of Björk, as a starting point. From there the intent is to explore the depths and variety of Iceland's music scene, which it does by staggering from live performance to performance, with some commentary along the way from the various artists.
As a documentary Screaming Masterpiece is perhaps a little light on real content. Similar to Crossing The Bridge, it meanders, seeming to switch from one scene to another with no logic being applied. However, there is some attempt to explain the Icelandic music scene:
1. Reykjavik is like a lot of musical cities, it is wet and grey, leaving little else to do but make music.
2. Iceland has/had such a small scene in terms of sales, that a lot of bands decided to do whatever the hell they wanted since they had no one to cater to.
3. Iceland gained independance in the 1940's and since then the generations that followed have gradually being trying to establish their own identity as a nation.
4. Iceland has an oral history, and part of the strength of the music is the strength of the language.
Without the guidance the likes of Alex Hacke provided to Crossing the Bridge, there are points of Screaming Masterpiece that seem very much for the sake of it, serving little clear point. The inclusion of a night at the president's house is provided without comment. There is a cameo by Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz, who appears to be standing drunk in the street, and manages to make absolutely no relevant contribution.
Of course the real reason that Albarn appears is his own contribution to Iceland, his collaborative soundtrack with Einar Orn Benediktsson (ex Sugar Cubes) for the film Reykjavik 101. Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson also crops up, the head Pagan for the country and probably more well known for his collaboration with Sigur Ros on the Angels Of The Universe soundtrack. Screaming Masterpiece is full of the Icelandic landscape, sweeping panoramas and remote villages - many of the landmarks being familiar from films like Reykjavik 101 and Angels of the Universe amongst others. Like some of the performances, the scenery is breath taking.
Regardless of anything else, Screaming Masterpiece is about the music. While there are some performances, like Minus and Nilfisk, that I could have done without, there are others which are really stunning. Mum appear with a music video for one of the tracks from Finally We Are no One and a collaboration with Slowblow. Sigur Ros provide a couple of pieces, which leave me with mixed feelings as always, though the piece with Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra is striking. Björk appears with All Is Full Of Love, a live performance mixed with footage from Chris Cunningham's video, later followed by Oceania - as infectious a performer as ever. Apparat are Kraftwerkian with their 4 organists and synthetic vocals, mixing in live drums for effect. The lush string and laptop sounds of Amina. There were points through the film where I literally wanted to jump to my feet and start to applaud.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Author: Nicola Barker
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Every 10 years the Granta association select a group of writers who they consider to be the best young British writers. In 2003 Nicola Barker was selected as one of those writers. Her novel at the time was The Behindlings, a novel about a curious kind of anti-hero-celebrity and his fans who fall him, the "behindlings". Barker's pseudo celebrity was a fictional character, but then the same year she had a real life pseudo celebrity land on her door step, exactly the kind of person she had been writing about.
In 2003 David Blaine arrived in London. Shut himself in a clear perspex box, and suspended himself from a crane while he fasted for 44 days. The "stunt" pretty much taking place in the area of London where Barker lives. During that time she found herself fascinated by the extremes of reaction to Blaine, the adulation and assault - people throwing flowers versus people throwing eggs. The novel Clear was the result.
Adair Graham MacKenney is our narrator, and I do mean narrator, Clear is not a quiet first person novel, rather it is an out loud verbal stream of conscious kind of flow. At one point another character describes him as a "fop", and to some degree that seems to be fair comment. MacKenny works alongside Tower Bridge, he can see Blaine and his box from work. He spends his lunch breaks sitting in the crowd, using it as a way of pulling girls. Until he meets the curious Aphra, a girl who accuses him of using Blaine as a pimp, before practically blacking out at his feet with a migraine.
As the novel unfolds MacKenny who had assigned himself the role of observer gets sucked in, becoming obsessed with mystery. The mystery of this girl Aphra and of David Blaine himself. By varying degree Clear covers relationships, celebrity, art and the roles of those who instigate and those who observe. The narrative wanders with MacKenny's thoughts, from his fascination with Jack Schaeffer's novel Shane, to Blaine's inspiration from Kafka's Hunger Artist, and really needs to be read in a rush that matches the way the text reads.
Clear is a contemporary pop novel, with an indie undercurrent that is at times laugh out loud funny - though certainly I suspect the particular points that amused me only serve to confirm my deviance.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Event:Michael Moorcock in conversation with Alan Moore
Date: Wednesday 18th January 2006
Some proper posting soon, honest, but my brain seems to be blocked at the moment - so you'll all just have to anticipate reviews of Best SF Vol18, Hoban's Linger Awhile and Barker's Clear!
In meantime, Blackwell Charing Cross Road London present an evening with Michael Moorcock, in conversation with Alan Moore. Wednesday 18 January at 7pm. Tickets £6, concessions £4, from the shop during opening hours (9.30 - 8.00 Mon-Sat, 12.00 - 6.00 Sun) or 0845 456 9876 (Mon-Fri, 9.30 - 6.00)
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ben Templesmith
The first issue of Warren Ellis's series Fell is now online at the Newsrama site. Fell is a series of self-contained stories about the police officer Richard Fell who has moved to Snowtown, an odd little area with a depleted police force of 3 and a half officers. The first issue is particularly memorable for Fell's encounter with the barmaid and the Snowtown tag. Art by Ben Templesmith is chaotic and crazed as ever, and particularly suited to this ongoing series.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Title:Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul
Cast: Alexander Hacke, Baba Zula, Orient Expressions, Duman, Replikas, Erkin Koray, Ceza, Istanbul Style Breakers, MercanDede, Selim Sesler, Brenna MacGrimmon, Siyasiyabend, Orhan Gencebay, Müzeyyen Senar, Sezen Aksu
Director: Fatih Akin
Istanbul and Turkey are considered to be the bridge between Europe and Asia. With the result that the city is a melting point of a cultures, a hybrid of continents. When Alexander Hacke travelled to Istanbul to work on the soundtrack to Fatih Akin's "Head On" he became fascinated by the city and it's music. With Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul, Alexander Hacke returns to the city to explore its music and culture.
Crossing The Bridge has a non-linear structure, wandering about from one musical style to another. Starting with rock music, moving on to rap, while exploring the Turkish influences on them both. Then more traditional folk music, flowing round the input of the Romany, the Kurds, the Arabesque. As Hacke journeys through sound he manages to capture both the young and the old, from those just starting out to those who are legends in Turkey. People playing on boats, in clubs, at festivals, in studios, at weddings, and in the streets. With a box full of microphones and a laptop Hacke explores and documents everything he comes across.
Alexander Hacke is a member of the German band Einstürzende Neubauten, the influential punk-industrialists, and has a very hands-on approach to music. Which is when Crossing The Bridge is at its best, when you can see Hacke in the background grinning while someone plays music, when you see him repositioning microphones and checking his laptop, or even playing along with the bands that he meets. As a documentary this is not a deep and meaningful explanation of Turkish culture and the evolution of its current music scenes, but it is Hacke's enthusiasm that propels things along.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Cast: Zoé Auclair, Bérangère Haubruge, Lea Bridarolli, Marion Cotillard, Hélène de Fougerolles, Laisson Lalieux
Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
A coffin sits on the floor. One by one a group of girls gather round. A key is produced. The coffin is opened. Inside lies a young girl. She opens her eyes to be greeted by strangers. Thus we are introduced to Iris, the newest member of House No.3.
In these dark woods there is a school. Around the school there are 5 houses. Each house has 7 girls. Each girl dresses entirely in white. Except for the ribbons that they wear in their hair. The colour of which indicates their age, and how long they have been in the school. From the youngest with red, to the oldest with violet.
Iris is taken under Bianca's wing - Bianca being house 3's violet - and we follow her as she learns to swim, to dance, and is taught about nature. Through Iris we experience an idea of innocence, this youngest child delighting in the world, while learning the rules. But is this the preservation of innocence or the shaping of young minds in someone else's mould? The girls are told of rules, and are forbidden from leaving, tempering an idyllic setting.
As the film unfolds we travel through the school year. Experiencing the introduction of a new girl to a new school. Witnessing the jealousy from the girl who used to be new and mentored towards the girl who she has passed the red ribbons too. Progressing to the girl with the blue ribbons, who will be visited by the mysterious head mistress, and from the class of blue, one will be chosen. On to violet, the end of a cycle, the culmination of mystery.
Innocence is done in such a way that the viewer is not entirely sure what is happening. Are events really innocent? There is an undercurrent to the film, which doesn't necessarily make for comfortable viewing. Though perhaps that is a comment on society and how it shapes us to expect some kind of corruption? At no time does anything "bad" really happen to the girls in the film, though there is misfortune. At the same time Innocence clings to ambiguity, and nowhere is this more so than in it's ending.
As a result Innocence splits viewers. Some will find that Innocence is a slow, French film that reminds of The Village, but where nothing actually happens. While others will enjoy the cinematography and the delivery of a fairy tale. Then there are those who will argue that it is either a feminist film or a film that sets back feminism. Though what you make of Innocence depends what you read into events. Which is no doubt as idea that would make director Lucile Hadzihalilovic, her previous work being alongside controversial director Gaspar Noe who she dedicates this film to in the end.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
Happy 2006 Everyone.
Top 10 Books of 2005:
- Her Name Was Lola - Russell Hoban
- Kafka On The Shore - Haruki Murakami
- HelloLand - Nick Walker
- Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
- The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
- PopCo - Scarlett Thomas
- Accelerando - Charles Stross
- Transmission - Hari Kunzru
- Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves - Cory Doctorow
- Omon Ra - Victor Pelevin
Top 10 Films of 2005:
- A Very Long Engagement
- The Sea Inside
- The Rage In Placid Lake
- Duck Season
- The Cat Returns