Month: August 2010

Excess Wordage

Three book-centric things for you this evening. (Did you have a good bank holiday weekend by the way, those of you in the UK? In true bank holiday fashion, I spent most of Sunday wondering how that much water could come out of the sky without it being the sea, and half of Monday afternoon on the sofa, drinking tea and reading SFX. So.)

First of all, I’d like to thank the lovely, lovely people at Solaris Books, who’ve sent me Rowena Cory Daniells’ “King Rolen’s Kin” trilogy as part of their “Competition of Kings”. While I’ve not had the chance to start on them yet, it’s a great story, and a series I was already looking forward to very much. The white covers, too, with art by Clint Langley are incredibly striking – particularly on a shelf which seems to have become an ocean of black and grey lately. I want to stroke them. Is that so very, very wrong?

Second: Fantasycon will soon be upon us (yes!) and this year, the BFS want you to do something different. We all know we’re going to come home from Nottingham with more books than we can decently store, but how about bringing some? That’s right: this year, the BFS is running a Bookcrossing event.

How does it work? Simples. See those groaning shelves over there? The ones with books now stacked two deep, and with other books slotted in sideways on the top? Go over there and dig out a couple of books that maybe you’d like to find a good home for. (Perhaps you’ve read them to death and know every last semi-colon. Perhaps they weren’t your bag to begin with – but you’ve not quite been able to bring yourself to take them to the charity shop.) Take them down from the shelf, register them on the Bookcrossing website and get them a BCID code. Write this inside the book, then bring them along to Fantasycon. There, you’ll find somewhere to drop them off – and to look through everyone else’s books for something you might want. And it doesn’t cost you a penny.

See? It’s just a giant bookswap. And if it goes well, the BFS wants to make it a regular feature of Fantasycon, uniting genre lovers with books in a whole new way. You know about the Dealers’ Room, you know about the book launches – now you can take part in the Bookcrossing.

If everyone coming to Fantasycon brings just two books, that’s… well, maths has never been my strong point, what with the numbers and the adding and the subtracting. But it’s a lot of books. But everyone needs to get involved. So start sorting through your shelves. Sign up at Bookcrossing – it’s free – (or if you really don’t want to sign up, the BFS has an account available to use) and spread the word! We want to make this the best genre book-swap out there. More details are available on the Fantasycon site.

And the third thing? Well, that’s easy. Remember I mentioned I might have some news of my own a little while back? It’s this: the story in the new issue of Hub Fiction? It’s mine.

Wanted: Reviewers!! (via Beyond Fiction )

Beyond Fiction Reviews are looking for (rather predictably) reviewers.

Of course, that’s not to say that they’re not looking for the occasional wheelwright or particle physicist too – but mostly they’re after reviewers.

So if you’ve got what it takes – namely the ability to benchpress a year’s worth of trade paperbacks, and to recite the entire Dewey Decimal system in Aramaic*, then give them a shout.

*Note: one or more of these requirements may be a lie. But if you can do either, I’m sure they’ll be dead impressed…

Would you like your name spread all over the internet? Do you like writing reviews of books, films and games? Do you sometimes think, I could do better than that when reading a review of your favourite book or film? Well, now’s your chance. Beyond Fiction is recruiting reviewers for these pages and we’re inviting YOU to send samples of your work to us. We’re looking for top quality reviewers, who can provide us with in-depth write-ups of genre ma … Read More

via Beyond Fiction

King of the Stacks

So there I was, wittering on about libraries the other day and then this afternoon, reading the 200th issue of SFX Magazine, I found someone else has been talking about them too – but much, muuuuch better.

What’s the secret of being Stephen King?

Libraries are the reason that I’m here. Without libraries I’m probably working in a mill somewhere or teaching school somewhere, which is an honourable job, but probably not what I was meant to do. In the library I came by a book by Frank Norris called “McTeague” and I just lost myself in that book; and I said, “I want to be able to do this.” I came to the end of the book when McTeague is in a desert, chained to a dead man, beside the railroad tracks. I said, “I want to do this. I want to do to somebody else what I feel now, which is some kind of life-changing experience…”

I met my wife in the library. She was a librarian. It’s been over 40 years and she still holds it over my head that while I could roll books around, she could shelve… To me, books were food. They were what I ate, what I drank, what I wanted.

You know what? I’m not going to argue about that, and certainly not with Stephen King.

Stitched Up

How did I not know that you could hire costumes from the National Theatre? How? Actual honest-to-goodness proper costumes wot the National have used in productions.

This is fantastic news.

I love theatrical costumes. Maybe it stems from the time I was in a school play, aged about 9 if I remember right, and had to wear a ridiculous Victorian bathing costume on stage. I tell you, I loved that costume more than anything (particularly the little mop cap). It was cheap and itchy, and had been run-up on one of the teachers’ sewing machines, but it was so very, very important to my 9 year-old self that my parents had a hell of a time persuading me I couldn’t sleep in it.

There’s something so contradictory about a stage costume: there you have all this research, this attention to detail, this authenticity – all sewn up in something that by its very nature is artificial. Even its name gives it away; a costume is a thing of artifice, a disguise, a socking great con.

The RSC used to have their London base in the Barbican Centre while I lived there, and my route from our building to the library took me past their wardrobe department. When they were in the middle of a production, you could look through the windows and into what had to be the world’s greatest dressing-up box: racks of glorious costumes, row upon row of wigs – and the hats! You’ve never seen hats like them, I promise you.

There was magic in that room. Hats, and magic.

So maybe it’s the memory of watching the RSC do their backstage thing, or maybe it’s that bloody Victorian swimsuit, but I’ve never quite got over the idea of theatrical costumes. I enjoy a nicely turned-out TV show too, and will pay particular attention to coats (Don’t ask me why – I obviously have some kind of coat fetish. Give me a nice worsted, and I can die happy. Anyway, moving on…) and as a result, I can tell you that women draw the short straw when it comes to a nice coat on the gogglebox. However, I do seriously lust after the Belstaff coat that Benedict Cumberbatch wore in the recent BBC series of “Sherlock”, and would certainly not turn my back on Peter from “Fringe”‘s natty little pea-coat.

And all this got me thinking: let’s imagine the National’s wardrobe mightily expanded, and you could hire any costume you’ve ever seen – from any play, film, TV show… whatever. You can have anything, for one particular event, be it wedding, funeral, job interview, award ceremony… you name it.

Any costume, one night only.

What would you pick, and why?

Silence in the Library

Yesterday, the BBC News website ran a story on the continuing fall in regular library attendance among adults:

In 2005, 16.4% of adults people attended their local library once a month. New research indicates that the figure had dropped to 12.8% last year.

However, children’s visits remained steady during the five-year period.

It’s encouraging news about children’s library use, of course, but a real shame about adult visits to libraries. I love the idea mentioned elsewhere in the article about using pubs as libraries – and although I get the impression they’re referring to “retired” pubs, it seems fairly logical that a library could fit in a pub, particularly in rural areas where so many services are disappearing. Libraries should be hubs for communities, but I wonder how many of them are?

My own experience of libraries is varied: I grew up in a small town, which – in all fairness – did have a reasonable library (it was there, after all, that I discovered Michael Marshall Smith). I moved to London, and my first “local” library was just off Bayswater. It wasn’t bad: I remember checking “An Instance of the Fingerpost” out of that particular library, and reading it while I was laid up with some unspecified student lurgy or another. Don’t actually remember much of the book, come to think of it, although this isn’t necessarily the book’s fault.

Anyway, moving on. I then moved to the Barbican, which in many ways is the worst possible library you can have on your doorstep: it becomes the yardstick against which all other libraries are judged, and none of them do very well by comparison. It’s a wonderful, wonderful library – and I only wish more were like it.

My current public library is… putting it politely, focused. I do, in fact, have two within reasonable walking distance, both with exactly the same stock, thanks to the Royal Borough of Kingston’s interesting method of managing public resources. If you want to read Catherine Cookson, or books about the Second World War, this is the place to be. Anything else and… well, you’re stuffed. This pattern is repeated across all of our Borough’s libraries – rather than have one larger, central library with the funding to expand its stock, there are four or five separate ones with their own catalogues. All of which heavily feature romance: historical or non. And if that’s your bag, then great – but it does mean that if you’re after something different (SFF is notoriously poorly-represented) then you’re a bit stuck – and are infinitely more likely to throw yourself into the ever-welcoming arms of Amazon.

That’s the real shame of it. Because libraries, like bookshops, encourage us to browse; they want us to wander up and down the aisles, picking up books at random. They like nothing more than helping us discover something new (see Michael Marshall Smith). Unlike bookshops, however, they’re free. We’re only the temporary owners of the books, and it costs us nothing. If we don’t like it, we can bring it back, take out another. We can afford to take as many risks as we want.

(more…)

Fangs for the Memories

I’m going to get this out in the open. Don’t hate me for it, mmkay?

I love vampires.

There. Said it. And while that might make me one of the only people out there who’s not sick to death of them, the bottom line is that they were the first “genre” thing I fell in love with, a long time ago (you can read more on that in my posts over on Mark Deniz’s Vampire Awareness Month blog).

So this article on the ABC News site pleases me:

These charming, deadly immortals are everywhere. And as a result, they’re spilling as much green as red — about $7 billion since the “Twilight” film franchise bowed less than two years ago, according to Hollywood Reporter estimates.

What started with some ancient, hysterical myths and a pair of spooky 19th century tales — John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819) and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897) — has bloomed into an entire inexhaustible industry

“By starting with one simple mythological creature that’s been part of our literary universe for centuries, you can create a story that has it all: romance, horror, action, special effects, sex, epic love, wish fulfillment, romantic leading men, delicious bad-boy villains, female badasses, damsels in distress, death, monsters and, ultimately, the perfectly flawed hero who would give it all up if it meant they wouldn’t have to spend eternity alone,” says Julie Plec, writer and exec producer of the CW series “The Vampire Diaries.” It doesn’t get more universal than that.”

That gets to the bloody heart of it. Because they’re not specific to genre, vampires have the freedom to roam not just across mediums but from romance to horror to political commentary to humor. Their versatility is endless, swinging from chaste innocence to sexy violence, so the potential audience is everyone.

Like I say, this pleases me: I always was a sucker for a bloodsucker. And apparently, I’m not the only one.

And If God Will Send His Angels…

There are many reasons a film might make me cross. Rubbish acting, bad accents, clunky dialogue, terrible effects… the list is almost limitless, but that’s because I’m grumpy. All this, though, fades into nothing compared to the level of irritation generated by the Wasted Premise.

Legion” is a classic case of the interesting idea thrown away and, boy, did that annoy me. It shouldn’t have.

It’s not giving too much away to say that it’s an apocalypse movie: God has grown tired of humanity and has sent his massed angels to – basically – clean house. And so they come… all except one: Michael – the tattooed, gun-toting archangel played by Paul Bettany. Michael has decided that he doesn’t much like the idea of pandering to Big Daddy’s whim, particularly when he’ll change his mind sooner or later. So instead of joining the dogs of Heaven (as they’re referred to in the film), he goes renegade and heads for the middle of nowhere: specifically, Paradise Falls diner.

In the meantime… well, all hell breaks loose. There’s a little old lady spewing obscenities and crawling on the ceiling. There’s a plague of flies. There’s an ice-cream vendor whose extremities are – frankly – disturbing. And there’s shooting. Lots and lots of shooting. And some exploding trucks. And did I mention the shooting?

There’s also a zombie army of the possessed – except, of course, they’re not your traditional evil zombie army from hell. This is an evil zombie army, sure, but they’re fighting for the other team. They’re legion, alright: they’re just not that legion.

This is full-on, old school, Old Testament wrath of the Almighty, and the only thing standing between humanity and extinction is Michael. Oh, and the guy who used to be Caleb in American Gothic (the irony of which isn’t lost on me, old-school AG fan that I am). Anyway, yes. More shooting and a slightly unpleasant explodey-person scene.

The really interesting thing about this film is the angels. We meet two of them directly in Michael and in Gabriel, who may not be the movie’s Biggest Bad, but he’s as big as we’re going to get – and he’s Kevin Durand, so that’s fine. Kevin Durand with wings. Kevin Durand with wings and a morning star*. Picture it. Now picture it again – only more badass. See? You’re getting it.

That’s where I got cross. This whole nifty conceit? Passed over in favour of a couple of shotguns, a handful of monsters and a sweet old lady who likes to eat rare steak and cuss. OK, you’re not going to convince me that it’s wholly original; after all, Milton covered very similar ground, philosophically speaking, three and a half centuries ago, but come on. Angels as the bad guys? And you’re giving me exploding trucks? I can get that from Die Hard. Or Die Hard 2. Or 3. Or (god help me) 4.

If you’re going to sell me angels-as-the-bad-guys, I’m kind of going to expect a decent level of, umm, angelage for my money. You know, with the wings, and the flying, and the ass-kickery?

Actual angels aside, I would have liked more from “Legion” than it was prepared to give. And that’s OK: there’s a million reasons for films to come out the way they do. It’s not the greatest film I’ve ever seen and yes, there’s a lot wrong with it. Above all, I wish it was as clever as I think it wanted to be. It could have been. It should have been.

Despite all this; all the coulds and woulds and shoulds, do I more or less forgive it? Probably.

Mostly because I’m too scared of Gabriel’s bloody morning star not to…

*Irony alert! Irony alert!

Abandon Hope

Mark Deniz left this link tucked away in the comments section of one of my posts last week – and you know what? It’s just too darn good to stay there.

So here it is: for your viewing pleasure, the entire catalogue of UK entrances to Hell.

My current favourite is this beauty: Was. It’s minimalist and yet menacing: no mean feat, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

(And as someone who used to regularly ride the 242 bus route out of Tottenham Court Road all the way to the end of the line in Homerton, I can assure you that I’m a veritable expert on gateways to Hell.)

Poxy Pilfering

The delightful Lee Harris (he of the Angry Robot horde) retweeted this link on Twitter this afternoon, and I just had to share it. Because I’m nice like that.

The article’s from a medieval blog – or strictly speaking, a medievalist blog, because they, like, didn’t have the internet back in the 1300s and had, like ohmigod, never even heard of Dooce – and it’s all about the earliest form of copy protection: the good old-fashioned book curse.

This Middle English curse is written as if spoken by the book itself:

Wher so ever y be come over all
I belonge to the Chapell of gunvylle hall;
He shal be cursed by the grate sentens
That felonsly faryth and berith me thens.
And whether he bere me in pooke or sekke,
For me he shall be hanged by the nekke,
(I am so well beknown of dyverse men)
But I be restored theder agen

[Wherever I might end up over all,
I belong to the Chapel of Gonville Hall;
He that feloniously ferries me and bears me from thence
Shall be cursed by this great sentence:
Whether he bears me in a pouch or sack,
On account of me he shall be hanged by the neck,
(I’m too well known by many men [to not be noticed])
Unless I be returned there again.]

–Found in a breviary held in the library of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

It’s a fun entry – mostly because there’s little as vengeful as a pissed-off monk who’s spent the last six months bent over a lectern illustrating this damn manuscript by candlelight, thank you very much, only to get to the end and realise that he’s gone and spelled “God” wrong on page 32.

It looks like a great blog, worth looking at for anyone with even the vaguest interest in the medieval. I’ll be checking back, anyway, and I’ll definitely not be pinching anything from the library.