Sci-fi

Nine Worlds

6a00d8345295c269e201901e93506c970b-800wiNext weekend (this weekend? I always come unstuck at the start of the week. Unstuck in time, unstuck in reality… all of that. Anyway. Moving on) I’ll be at the new Nine Worlds convention near Heathrow, along with many, many awesome people.

The convention runs from Friday afternoon through to Sunday, with pretty much everything you could think of on the programming somewhere: books, games, TV, film, cosplay… the works.

There are also live-gaming streams happening and – somewhere – I’m sure I saw mention of a gin appreciation session. Now, I don’t need anyone to teach me to appreciate gin (can do that quite well myself, actually) but I may well pop in there just in case they need a professional, as it were…

The full programme’s online here.

Uh… wow.

In terms of what I’m actually going to be doing, you can find me here:

Friday, 10.15pm: NEW VOICES SLAM SESSION, in the Lobby room. I’ll be doing a short reading, along with other writers like Adam Christopher, Emma Newman and my Agency Group stablemates Liz de Jager and Jennifer Williams. It’ll be fun. Bring a drink, bring a friend.

Saturday, 3.15pm, NEW VOICES, OLD GHOSTS: REINVENTING MYTHOLOGY AND THE SUPERNATURAL panel along with Kate Griffin, Ben Aaronovitch, Barry Nugent and Jo Fletcher.

Saturday, 5 – 6pm: SIGNING at the Forbidden Planet table, along with Ben Aaronovitch. I know. You may have to nudge me…

If you’re around, come and say hi. It looks like a brilliant line-up, and it would be fantastic to see a new convention get off to a flying start.

So. Nine Worlds.

Come for the programme…

… Stay for the Loki.

 

 

 

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Postcards from the Edge

My friend Will Hill went off on a big American road trip last year, and while this still leaves me gnawing my knuckles in envy, he’s written an amazing blog post on one part of his trip, over on his blog: his visit to (or as close to it as he could get!) Area 51.

So if you’ve ever wondered just what Dreamland really looks like, head over and have a read…

Paranoid Android…?

I held off watching the trailer for Prometheus until very recently – but once I did, I couldn’t keep myself away from the viral marketing videos. Mostly because they’re so incredibly well-done…

And if I wasn’t already desperate to see the film, I think that would probably decide it for me.

Slick, slightly unnerving and everything we’ve come to expect from the Weyland Industries wraparound mythology…

The Dark Glass of Memory

This is one of my more rambling thinking-out-loud posts, I’m afraid, which was in part prompted by Twitter.

Last week, Adam Christopher (@ghostfinder) mentioned he’d  just seen Dark City for the first time. I love Dark City: it’s probably the only film I’ve seen twice at the cinema – and this was the big old theatre/cinema in the town where I grew up, where you could sit in the balcony a floor and a half up and lean over the rail to drop popcorn on other people’s heads. Not that I ever did that, of course, because that would be childish and irresponsible and… yeah. Where was I? Ah, yes.

And boy, but that trailer makes it look like one of David Lynch’s bad dreams, doesn’t it?

I remember this film getting deep under my skin when I first saw it – it was that central conceit of memory and its effect on identity which did it. I was reading a few psychology books around that time – I was a strange teenager, I really was – and had come up against the concept of false memories (go here for a slightly less dry explanation) and Dark City really tapped into that idea.

It must have been out about the same time as The Matrix – another film which messes with reality and memory, and blows stuff up as it goes (full disclosure: I really, really, really don’t like The Matrix.) so there was obviously something in the water in Hollywood at the time.

As Adam quite rightly pointed out on Twitter, it’s a common concept in SF: after all, Blade Runner hurls itself into mind as a perfect example – and that’s without even stopping to think about others out there. But it’s one of my favourites: keep your spaceships and your FTL (leave me the big guns and plasma cannons though, please) because I like getting my head around whether we’re more than the sum of our memories and our experiences.

Plato’s cave; Russell’s “five minute” hypothesis (or “Last Thursdayism“)… they’re ideas which are simple to grasp, thanks to much cleverer people than me doing all the intellectual heavy lifting, but they blow my mind. It’s one of the things I love about Inception: beneath the heist film and the cities that fold up on themselves, there’s a discussion about the imperfection of memory going on. Maybe on the second level…

Do memories make us who we are – and if our memories turn out to be false, does that mean we’ve gone wrong somehow, followed a path that we shouldn’t have? Does a badly-recalled or deliberately falsified memory ripple out to change everything we are, or could have been?

And what happens if they’re turned against us?

Interestingly, I was watching Push again over the weekend – I saw it a couple of years ago and had largely forgotten it – but I realised it was another “doubting your memory” movie, at least in places. It’s maybe not the greatest film ever (although I loved the idea of it using Hong Kong as a modern-day Casablanca: the place where everyone washes up when they don’t want to be found) but I’m surprisingly OK with that. Amazing what I’ll let you get away with if you drop some mental shenanigans into the mix.

 

It’s funny, really, because while I was thinking about all this, I realised I’ve even got it in my own book – the idea of memory and what it means. Admittedly, it’s pretty buried under the angels and the M1911A1s*, but it’s there. Which just goes to show, I guess, that some things stick – whether you remember it or not…

So. To ramble to the point: truth v. memory. In film, and books, and anything else you care to mention. Like it? Does it interest you, or is it just too goshdarn fiddly? Where’ve you seen it done well… and where’ve you seen it done badly? This one’s open to the floor – so make the most of it.

Or I’ll start talking again.

 

*Anyone with an eye for trivia: you might want to remember that. And don’t say I never give you anything…

SFX Weekender 3

North Wales.

February.

Chalet.

It takes a special kind of circumstance to make me even consider contemplating those three ideas in combination. It takes the marvellously over-the-top geekfest that is the SFX Weekender.

Other people have already covered the majority of big things that need to be said: Sophia McDougall‘s blog post on the gender issue within programming has already been widely discussed, and as far as I can tell, what that all boils down to is the old chestnut about visibility on a range of levels, including publisher.

On a more positive note, I was pleasantly surprised by how many women were there, and there for themselves (as opposed to wearing the standard “My boyfriend / husband / son / best mate brought me along–but in 37 hours, I’ll be out of here” expression). I frequently bang on about how inclusive the SFF & genre scene can be, so it’s heartening to  see it playing out on a larger scale.

SFX Weekender bar (photo borrowed from Jonathan Green)

And talk about scale. There were thousands of attendees, making it by far the largest convention I’ve been to, and the first non-writery one. It’s a bit of a bemusing experience for writers: we’re not quite sure what to do when a bunch of cosplayers wander past us, and I still can’t quite get my head around Darth Vader pulling pints behind the bar.

I’ve also seen more 11th Doctors than I ever imagined possible, and a startling number of 10th Doctors who were women (and while I applaud your cosplay, ladies, you’ve left me slightly… confused as to my 10th Doctor-related feelings…).

I think I handled it pretty well–particularly the moment when Anne Lyle, Amanda Rutter and I were ambushed by a Dalek demanding we open the door for it. Thinking fast, Anne and I did what every loyal friend would do, and threw Amanda to our new portal overlord. She was rewarded with the promise she’d be exterminated last, so technically we did her a favour. Stop judging.

I also particularly enjoyed seeing a Dalek aggressively refuse a massage (where do you even start?) and hearing yet another Dalek tell a passing Stormtrooper that “I am not the droid you are looking for.” Like a true Rebellion girl, I spent a significant portion of my time hiding from at least one Judge Dredd, because He Scares Me.

There were a lot of great moments: the roadtrip (because one does not simply walk into Mordor) up to Prestatyn with my fabulous chalet-mates Amanda and Anne, as well as the lovely Will Hill. Being shouted at by Amanda for “doing it wrong” when someone asked about my book. Sitting in Adam Christopher’s car with Adam, Will and Laura Lam on the way to the Tor party, driving down the narrowest lanes imaginable and trying to decide who we’d send out if a hook-handed serial killer started banging on the roof. Sorry, Will. We needed Adam to drive, and Laura and I will be required later for the role of Screaming Female #1 and #2…

I got to catch up with friends: people like Sarah Pinborough, who was incredible at the Just A Minute session–which is up on Youtube: the first part’s here, and I cannot encourage you to watch the whole thing strongly enough–and I met some fantastic new people–Joe Abercrombie is just as awesome a person as he is a writer, quite a dancer, and a bloody sight better at getting pizza than I am. Dammit.

I magicked G&Ts out of thin air, and was presented with a half-pint of wine (Johannes Roberts, you’re a man after my own heart….).

I had huge fun, too, hanging out with the Solaris, Abaddon & 2000AD crew, who are a fantastic bunch and who feel like family. I don’t get to see them in force that often, but the Weekender marked 2000AD‘s 35th birthday, so they were there en masse, and what a fine masse that was.

I danced like a loon to Craig Charles on the decks on the Saturday night, and am fervently hoping that no video of the event exists. I will also keep the photo of a certain editor and a certain author playing “Dinohunt” with intense concentration to myself. For now.

The SFX disco (photo borrowed from Jonathan Green)

I may also have inadvertently started an “Alasdair Stuart for god!” campaign. I would totally vote for that ticket, by the way.

So: I went to very little of the programming, and I’m sure I missed catching up with a whole bunch of people, but that wasn’t really the point. Part of the Weekender’s appeal is that you never quite know what’s coming, or who’s round the corner… summed up best by walking straight into Dave Monteith from Geek Syndicate on the Saturday night. Many moons ago, we used to work in the same incredibly boring office and haven’t seen each other in years–so when we did bump into each other, there was a lot of hugging, squealing and general “Ohmygod!”ing. It was nice.

The downside, of course, is that the site is so large it’s easy to lose people: there were several times I got separated from friends in the middle of a conversation, and many chats which went unfinished–but I hope they can be picked up again next time. A common complaint was that there was nowhere to sit and catch up with people, and that’s true. Hopefully it’s something that can be remedied next year. Because, yes, it’s back next year… and yes, I’m already provisionally booked in at the hotel across the road.

To conclude, then: a good weekend, made–as always–by the people. And in this instance, quick shouts go out to Will Hill, Amanda Rutter, Anne Lyle, Jon Oliver, Dave Moore, Mike Molcher, Simon Parr, Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Sarah Pinborough, Johannes Roberts, Alasdair Stuart, Jonathan Green, Lee Harris, Adam Christopher, Laura Lam, Jared Shurin, Anne Perry, Andrew Reid… and so many more people who’ve been obscured by the post-convention fug.

If you weren’t there, and you want to get a feel for the weekend (or maybe you were there, and you’d like to relive it from the comfort of your own home…) you could do worse than to check out Jonathan Green’s fabulous vlog & slideshow here.

Meanwhile, and for reasons which I don’t altogether understand, I seem to have got this song stuck in my head as my SFX Weekender theme-tune, probably because I have a strange little ipod. Still, y’know. Let’s go with it…

Wonders & Marvels

I spent New Year’s Eve with a superhero. No, really. And try not to make comments about Other Half–you’ll only encourage him.

No, I finally got round to seeing Captain America: The First Avenger. And it was good.

 

 

So good, in fact, that I think it’s just edged out Iron Man as my second-favourite of the Marvel superhero movies. (The latter lost the top spot to Thor pretty much as soon as I realised Thor is essentially Henry V with +1 added hero-muscles and less mud… Although now I think about it, there is actually some mud going on in there, isn’t there?)

 

 

Anyway. Yes. Captain America good.

The most interesting thing about all this is that of all the comic-book heroes, these were probably the three I’ve always been the least interested in. Thor’s appeal generally only went as far as the use of Viking mythology, and I really wasn’t fussed about Captain America at all. Dude with shield, right? Big whoop.

So consider me corrected. And here’s a question: which of the recent Marvel heroes has surprised you the most? Have there been any that you really weren’t too interested in, but came away loving? What about the way their stories were handled, and how do you think they’ll fit together once the Avengers movie rolls around?

And while you’re thinking about that, I’m going to let the boys go ahead and fight it out for the top spot.

Good boys.

I’ll fetch my popcorn…

 

The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse

I mentioned briefly before that I’ve been recruited by the amazing Adele, who runs Un:Bound (when she’s not kicking seven bells out of her kickboxing training buddies or generally taking over the world…) as one of the Apocalypse Girls.

We do cheery things like discuss how to survive an undead apocalypse, how to fight zombies, where you should shelter when the Bomb drops, what weapon goes best with a clutch bag, fashion for Fall / nuclear winter…. all those things you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Well, now you can ask us.

This week on the Guide, it’s movie week. So as well as talking about how to grow your own food (provided it’s not brains), we’re posting some of our favourite apocalypse movies.

I’ve just posted two of mine: The Core and The Day After Tomorrow, so if you head on over to the blog, you can join in and tell us what you think of these particular apocalypses. Apocalypsi. Apocalypso.

Whatever.

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.

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.

Witch Bottle

Who knows what a witch bottle is?

Without Googling, thankyouverymuch (and you… yes, you at the back, don’t think I can’t see you firing up that Wikipedia app under the table).

A witch bottle, traditionally speaking, is a small glass bottle or jar (usually, but not necessarily, blue or green) filled with odds and ends: needles, pins, hair clippings and threads–all designed to draw evil away from a witch’s target. As this is a meandering sort of post, all bits and bobs and very little coherent thought, it seemed like an apt sort of title.

Mind you, strictly speaking, witch bottles were usually topped-off with urine. So, umm, moving on.

Firstly, I’m thrilled to report that “Murderess Lane” has appeared on Ellen Datlow’s “Honorable Mentions” list for 2010.

It’s a very long list, I know, but it includes many writers far better–and in most cases, wiser–than me; people I look up to and respect immensely (as well as the author who has probably been the single greatest influence on me over the years, and who still renders me unable to string together a sensible sentence–but y’all know about my latent fangirl already. Most of the time, I just hit her with a shovel and tell her to get back in the basement.) so I’m bowled over to make an appearance.

So yeah. Big list. On it. Very pleased indeed.

Next?

Oh, yes. I just finished reading Charles Yu‘s “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe“, which is brilliant in the truest sense of the word, and which everyone should read. It’s clever and funny and geeky, and surprisingly touching, and I’ll try and talk about it in a little more detail later in the week.

Moving from SF to horror: the Zompocalypse is coming. What foodstuffs would you stockpile? That’s what The Zombie Feed were asking last week. Granted, claiming that flamethrowers were a food group was probably a long shot (I knew I should have gone for rocketlaunchers: they’re higher in fibre), but I think I came up with the next best thing; a true multi-tasker. Vodka. You know it makes sense. Although looking at the other answers, Jared from Pornokitsch has a very good point.

Cats v zombies. There’s a thought. My money’s on the kittehs and I, for one, would welcome our new feline overlords.

One last thing: over on his blog, Michael Marshall Smith has turned his considerable attention to the Culture of Free. And cheese.

I do love it when he gets cross.