Month: April 2011

The Record Books

Ever wondered what your favourite Pixies, Bob Dylan or Michael Jackson album would look like as a book?

Probably not.

But someone has…

I think the Prince one is my favourite, but the Arcade Fire one makes me laugh…

More here, and more detailed pictures here.

Genius.

What JJ Did Next

 It seems a series of watermarked proofs were sent out, arriving at editor’s desks -– in some cases their homes -– at the same as they received a phone call from WME’s office informing them that “a package should be dropping through your door right now”. HarperCollins’ Nick Pearson was one who received just such a call at work and rang home to discover that yes, a package had just been delivered. In the US, it seems each proof was slightly different –- with words missing on particular pages for example – all of this done so that, if anything was leaked, WME would know the guilty party.

Ah, yes. Because no book deal involving JJ Abrams could ever be accused of being straightforward.

I love this story. I really do. Alright: I know JJ Abrams drives people bonkers (and let’s be honest – it’s not entirely without provocation, is it?) but I rather admire how this is all playing out.

Equally predictably, we’re talking “high concept” – although exactly what that means in this case, err… no-one quite knows. There’s speculation that it will be a particularly meta sort of book, and it’s been announced that it will actually be written by Doug Dorst, based on Abrams’ ideas.

Of course it’ll be hyped beyond all imagination – but the bit that really got my attention was this:

There is speculation that the book itself will be unusual as an object -– that it might be shrink-wrapped and contain photos, letters and notes. Publication is slated for 2012 in the US and 2013 in the UK and Byng feels he has acquired a unique property, one that will “work through all mediums, print and digital”.

Abrams is a multimedia master. Remember the LOST Experience, which ran online in parallel to the show? Or Slusho!, which pops up in both Cloverfield and Alias?

Apply all of this to the possibility of a novel designed by (albeit not written by) Abrams – one which could fully exploit the technology of e-readers and iPads…

Love him or hate him, it’s a brave new world – and Abrams might just be on to something.

“Swords & Mutton”

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Well done to the New York Times, and most particularly to Ginia Bellafante, who have between them managed to insult and – not to put too fine a point on it, anger – lots and lots of ladies with their review of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones.

A review is, of course, an opinion – and everyone is entitled to one. However, there’s a line between a genuine and honest opinion, and emptying the scorn-bucket:

If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

Thank goodness, then, for the fantastic response to this review posted on the Geek with Curves site – a response which manages to be entirely fair at the same time as being beautifully snarky when I would have exploded into violently pink femrage. And, for extra added bonus points, it manages to create a whole new genre: sword ‘n’mutton.

The series is hardly “boy fiction.” Where does this phrase come from?  Is it automatically for boys because there are swords and mutton?

So, NYT. You want to tell us we can’t like epics? You seriously want to say that women don’t care about fantasy – or the stories the genre gives authors scope to tell? That we’re only interested in this sort of thing if there’s a bit of shagging in it? Really?

Put it this way- in which woman’s company would you rather pass a few spare hours: one who’s read, followed, inwardly digested and understood the sprawl of stories like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Fire & Ice… or one whose favourite film was “Sex & the City 2“?

Thought so.

Genre for Japan: the week that was

I’ve been quiet about Genre for Japan for a bit – mostly because I’m still recovering. All of us are, to a degree! It turned into such a whirlwind, it’s hard to believe it actually happened.

But happen it did, and to our utter astonishment and delight, once you include the additional donations that people were generous to give us, we raised a total of just over £11, 650.

It’s absolutely staggering, and I can’t quite find the words to express how proud I am of everyone involved: Amanda, who started the whole ball rolling and was our fearless leader; Ro, who got the message out there into the Twittersphere and beyond; Jenni, who got us fantastic press and a huge amount of support, particularly from Rebellion; and lastly, Alasdair, for being cool and energetic and Alasdair-y.

It started with just us. But it grew, and by the time we closed the auctions, it had become about every single person who supported us: the publishers and the authors and the editors and the artists who donated spectacular items; the bloggers who spread the word and urged everyone to get involved; the people who placed bids on items… everyone.

We wanted to raise money for a desperately important cause – and we certainly did that – but it feels like something else happened. It feels like this became a genuine community response.

It’s still overwhelming, both the scale of everyone’s generosity and the sense of unity that we saw developing.

Of course, this money won’t undo the damage done to the lives of everyone affected by the disaster in Japan. It can’t: no amount of money can – rebuilding and recovery are two very different things, and the situation there is far from stable. But hopefully, these funds can help in some way, however small that may be.

Stephen Deas, who was one of our wonderfully generous authors and supporters, recently wrote a beautiful blog post, which puts it so much better than I can. 

As for the rest of us, Ro’s blog also features a quick (but very touching) follow-up post which echoes the sentiments we all share.  

And for a full (and I do mean full!) list of everyone involved, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude, see Amanda’s post on the aftermath.

Thank you for making this happen – all of you. We started it – but you did it.

We are all Genre for Japan.

Cat & Mouse

I can’t decide if it’s “Art”, a showpiece or just plain bonkers. Even so, it’s fabulous.

 I would, admittedly, need armour myself before I even contemplated putting my cat in the same room as one of these (when he was a kitten, we tried to put one of those cat-harness-and-leash things on him… Not good. Not good at all. Still, I recovered the sight in my left eye surprisingly quickly.) but aren’t these amazing?

Cat & Mouse armour

The medievalist in me is sitting here thinking: “Want”, and the crazy cat lady is sitting here thinking, “But would it stop the endless, endless shedding… or would he just start shedding tinfoil instead?” (Mind you, crazy cat lady may be confusing armoured cats with… I don’t know, cyborg cats. Which is a whole other level of cool-slash-terrifying…..)

Un-Think-able

If you remember my post on Polly Morgan from a little while back, you’ll know that I often like my art a little, well… odd.

Step up Nancy Fouts.

Surreal, whimsical and occasionally confrontational (one of her pieces, Holy War, is a hand-grenade covered in religious iconography, and her version of Little Red Riding Hood appears to be on her way through the woods to a Klan meeting), she recently launched her upcoming London show by sending a coffin adorned with a floral tribute through central London in a hearse. Which in and of itself isn’t enough to draw attention… unless you know that the flowers spelled out “Bastard”.

She likes to re-engineer objects (take her Thinker/Degas mash-up…) to make the viewer reconsider their own prejudices and assumptions about the world – as well as towards the objects themselves.

Also: it looks groovy.

Her show, Un-Think, is on at the Pertwee, Anderson & Gold Gallery in Soho, and there’s a photo gallery of some of the pieces on the BBC’s website.

Defending the Dead

There’s a ghastly story in the news today: the story of two brothers in Pakistan who dug up the body of a young woman and turned some of the flesh into a curry.

Predictably, I heard about this from one of the horror posse–and equally predictably, everyone else (me included) jumped in with less-than-tasteful comments.

That’s not the nicest response to such an appalling piece of news, I know. The thing is, how else do you process something like that? Humour is our only real defence against the real horrors of the world–and for all their posturing, horror writers are generally more appalled by these sorts of stories than they let on. After all, they like to think that they can think up worse than you’d ever dream of; things that you couldn’t ever imagine actually happening… sadly, that’s not always the case.

It’s been a day for the dead one way and another, with the release of photos from the new archeological digs that have opened up along the route of the Crossrail construction through central London. There are currently 20 digs in progress, one of which is directly in the middle of the site of Bedlam – or St Bethlem hospital – and its burial ground.

Any major building project in London always uncovers history: the arrival of the railways at Kings Cross & St Pancras led to mass exhumations from the churchyards around the parish of St Pancras, and the Barbican’s foundations stand in the middle of a large plague-pit (part excavated, admittedly, by the Blitz). When work on One Poultry, close to the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City, began in the mid 1990s, the archaeology uncovered was so valuable to our understanding of Roman London that the dig lasted a full two years.

London is built on the bones of the dead: today’s Londoners literally stand on the shoulders of their forebears.

All of this reminded me of an article the New Scientist ran back in March about legislation governing the display & reburial of bodies discovered at archeological digs. It’s an entirely sensible piece: one which recognises the importance of treating the dead with dignity; of returning identified remains to their family (where possible) and the appropriate handling of bodies which have been requested for reburial on religious grounds. But it also argues that we can learn so much more from the long-dead: those whose names have been lost to history.

It is not in any obvious sense disrespectful to display a skeleton of someone long dead, if the display has a valid purpose. After all, in Catholic countries the display of relics, often said to be bones of the saints, is still commonplace.

In this context it is important to note that the issue of consent is largely irrelevant. The long dead cannot consent to be excavated, studied and displayed, but neither can they consent to be removed from their graves to make room for roads and houses. If we relied on their consent we would be living in a static society.

Their names may be lost, but their faces are not. Thanks to modern technology, we can get a good idea of how they looked, what they ate, how they lived and what killed them. Through archaeology, they get to live again – they get to tell their stories; they get to teach and to inspire.

We’re still standing on their shoulders, of course… but this way, we get to see where we come from–not just where we’re going.

Oxycontin Genocide

I picked up on an interesting article, originally published in the Guardian, via io9 this afternoon:

A pill to enhance moral behaviour, a treatment for racist thoughts, a therapy to increase your empathy for people in other countries – these may sound like the stuff of science fiction but with medicine getting closer to altering our moral state, society should be preparing for the consequences, according to a book that reviews scientific developments in the field.

Drugs such as Prozac that alter a patient’s mental state already have an impact on moral behaviour, but scientists predict that future medical advances may allow much more sophisticated manipulations.

My knee-jerk reaction was to check the date. Nope. Not the first. All good.

My next reaction was two-part, and it went something like this: “Wait… haven’t they heard of Pax?”… followed briskly by: “So, I should start brushing up on my gun kata then?”

While I’m fairly sure this is a highly selective & leading article, it did make me think. You probably heard it: that sound like a squid swallowing a rusty chicken? That was me.

This kind of research makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. I’ve always been very open about the fact that I’ve been on anti-depressants in the past, several times, and while I know they definitely did their job, I hated being on them with a passion.

Or, actually, with an absence of passion. Because I wasn’t chemically capable of feeling any kind of passion for anything. That’s how they work, after all. So I can tell you from personal experience that you won’t find me lining up to voluntarily take any kind of pill that messes with my brain which – and here’s the important bit – I do not need.

My moral compass generally points somewhere in the vague direction of north-ish, I’ve been known to give up my seat on the bus, and I’ve only bludgeoned irritating neighbours to death with a blunt instrument in my mind’s eye. So, in this instance, why would I agree to take medication for the sake of making me more moral(again, -ish) than I already am?

And that’s it, isn’t it? I wouldn’t. Not voluntarily.

Meulen also suggested that moral-enhancement drugs might be used in the criminal justice system. “These drugs will be more effective in prevention and cure than prison,” he said.

Now, you knew that was coming. We’d start by medicating the murderers…

Kahane does not advocate putting morality drugs in the water supply, but he suggests that if administered widely they might help humanity to tackle global issues.

“Relating to the plight of people on other side of the world or of future generations is not in our nature,” he said. “This new body of drugs could make possible feelings of global affiliation and of abstract empathy for future generations.”

… then we move to medicate the masses – because it’s all for the Greater Good.

Sure.

Thank you for the venom, right?

The full article is here.

If anyone wants to tell me that this is an April Fool, that’d be grand. And otherwise? I’ll get my (brown)coat and start stashing the art under the floorboards.

They Got the Mustard Out (or… It’s Not Just Us: why we love Buffy & Supernatural)

I’ve got a theory.

It could be bunnies

Sorry.

Couldn’t help it.

No, I really do have a theory. It’s that Supernatural and Buffy have a huge amount in common as TV shows – besides the obvious escapist ghosty-vampirey-paranormalish stuff. And that, actually, they say an awful lot about us: the generation (I’m using this in a fairly broad sense, but bear with me) who watches them.

Both know that their audience is familiar with horror; has grown up watching it, reading it… stealing our parents’ Stephen Kings to read in secret, sneaking viewings of Amityville Horror or the ExorcistNightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. We know all the lines. We know the twists, we know the tropes. It’s why Scream was so successful: it’s because we’ve spent our teenage years telling pretty girls not to go up the stairs, or screaming at the jock not to go and get that beer…

We were jaded before we hit 15. Christ, we were probably jaded before we hit 12.

Both Buffy and Supernatural grew out of this. They took our confidence that we knew it all and they played with it, and came back at us with added snark.

We know the rule about the blonde cheerleader in the horror movie: she’s always the first to get Monstered. Except, in Joss Whedon’s world, it’s the monsters who have something to fear.

We never believed in Ouija boards, but we sure as hell believed the story about theaxeman on the roof. Urban legends were our bedtime stories: “the call is coming from inside the house“, the serial killer on the doorstep… Supernatural (particularly the early seasons of the show) wraps this up in the small-town Americana that seemed so exotic when you’re from even smaller-town Wales.

And, had both shows stuck to this formula, they would have foundered. What they did was to become more. Look, you’re dealing with vampires, urban legends, ghosts, werewolves… you’ve got the audience suspending their disbelief even before the titles have rolled. Use it. Make the most of it. Talk about the Big Stuff: the life and death stuff, the relationship stuff, the what’s-it-all-about stuff, the free will and destiny stuff… all of it.

Both shows stepped up.

Both shows deal with death – which many of us are likely to have to face, really face, for the first time in our late teens or twenties. Major characters have to come to terms with the death of people they love. Major characters die.

They deal with growing up: emotionally, physically, practically. They deal with accepting responsibility. They deal with dreams denied and false hopes; with triumph and disaster.

They deal with relationships (has any show ever managed a more literal version of the two-sided boyfriend than Buffy, whose beau really did turn evil after she slept with him?) and with isolation–real or perceived: the real loneliness of the Winchester brothers against the institutionalised cliqueyness of Sunnydale High. Buffy dealt with doping,bullying and even that most shocking of subjects, a high-school shooting in Earshot, a Jane Espenson*-written episode. Supernatural, ever mindful of its older demographic, has covered (amongst other things) the spectre of unexpected parenthood and addiction & intervention.

They deal with family–family which we recognise as being flawed and imperfect and all the more real for it.

Take Buffy as a case in point: it was about friends as family. Sure, Buffy has actual blood-family (who were used to great effect several times throughout the run of the show: let’s not forget The Body, or the importance of Dawn…) but it’s her friends who become her real family, the ones she turns to.

Supernatural is about two brothers: two brothers who are barely on speaking terms in the pilot – but who are drawn closer through their shared experiences, their losses and gains. They are family, and family is all they have–and family is the burden they have to bear for good or ill.

Both versions resonate with us.

The characters become our avatars, our totems. They all have baggage, they all have strengths and weaknesses. Just like us. They talk like us. They dress like us (or, more usually, like the cooler versions of us).

We feel for Buffy and the Scooby Gang because we recognise them. We know them. We all know which of them we would be, which of them we empathise with. The same goes forSupernatural: you know which side of the Winchester line you stand on–and the writers are savvy enough to understand that, and will quite happily go meta on us, making us even slightly uncomfortable about how we see the characters.

It’s not the supernatural which keeps us watching these shows. It’s a great setting, one which keeps them from getting over-earnest (how can you, when you’ve got a demon turning everything into a musical number, particularly in such a thematically dark episode… or when your protagonists find themselves gatecrashing their own convention?) but for all the horror trappings, that’s not what they’re about.

These are two shows which use paranormal as a device to show us how we build our families, however fractured or unlikely they are; how we live our lives and align our moral compasses. They’re character shows, and these are relationships we understand and believe in.

All the ghosts and the ghouls and the things that go bump in the night are just window dressing, a facade of escapism. Ultimately, these are shows about us. We see that, and that’s why we fall for them as heavily and as deeply as we do.

You see? When we watch these shows, we realise it’s not just us.

* a perpetual blog-favourite, naturally.