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Archive for January 2009

Weekend

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Saturday morning usually means two things: a) I’ve got a hangover and b) I’ve overcome this to go out and buy the Guardian. It’s doom and gloom in the main section and slim pickings in the rest of the paper at the moment though. About the only noteworthy thing in the whole of today’s newspaper is the fact they have overhauled the Weekend section. It isn’t particularly radical. In fact, it mostly consists of including a lot more white space. However, they have made everything a bit simpler and bolder and it works well despite the fact a cynic might think they were just padding out the magazine in these lean times.

The contents themselves are mostly unchanged. They still start with the relentlessly banal celebrity Q&A, for example. It does have a new general knowledge crossword but it is a bit pointless and also tricky to write on what with the paper being all shiny. Elsewhere on the same page, I got 6/15 on the quiz this week and, more importantly, learnt about the darts player with the best nickname in the world.

Written by Martin

31 January 2009 at 14:10

Posted in design

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I Heart Awards

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Adam Roberts is a man with a mission: total internet domination. By my count, he already has eight blogs of his own and that isn’t counting the myriad other venues where his views and reviews appear. Anyway, to further his aims he has just started a new column at Futurismic. His first column is entitled SF Awards – rubbish and it does exactly what it says on the tin (except it doesn’t, really.) As is my wont, I have already reduced this issue to its fundamentals elsewhere but perhaps I should actually say something a bit more substantive. I think awards are great for much the same reason lists are great. These are:

  • They generate debate and get people talking about books
  • They bring attention to work that people might not otherwise be aware of
  • They always pick the wrong work and therefore provoke slapfights
  • They satisfy my anal retentive urge to impose order on the universe
  • They are brilliant poll fodder

Written by Martin

30 January 2009 at 12:18

Posted in awards, books, sf

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“Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!”

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In his introduction to his review of Revolutionary Road, Peter Bradshaw refers to the rehabilitation of the source material:

It was a novel I first opened owing to the compelling evangelism of Nick Hornby, who made one of the suicidal characters in his 2005 novel A Long Way Down carry a copy of the book, so that it could be discovered on his corpse – an inspired continuation of the books romantic, self-sacrificial agony. Hornby almost single-handedly triggered a resurgence of interest in Yates, which led very materially to the emergence of this movie, a serious and intelligent response to the novel.

Now, I’m sure Hornby helped but I would suggest the 2000 Vintage edition of the novel with Richard Ford’s evangelical introduction had rather more to do with it. By the time Hornby’s novel was published it was already canonised in Time’s All-time 100 Novels list.

Otherwise it is a good review, although perhaps he gets a bit carried away whilst describing Kate Winslet’s face later on:

Her face, so powerful in its impassivity, yet with unreadable hints of fear and anger, has something massive and monumental about it up on screen, the sculpted form of a Roman empress: like the gigantic marble head of Faustina the Elder, famously unearthed with the colossal statue of Hadrian in Turkey last year.

Written by Martin

30 January 2009 at 11:50

As Others See Us XXIII

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David Barnett has a post up on the Guardian Book Blog about that old favourite, As Others See Us. I have long held the view that rather than just being harmless smirking at the ignorance of others who Just Don’t Get It this sort of thing is actually indicative of a poisonous persecution complex that hurts the SF community. Barnett pitches his piece in an agnostic tone, it is designed to generate debate rather than impose a view. It is mildly disappointing to see the same old suspects being brought up – Margaret Atwood features prominently – and the same old arguments being re-hashed but the comments to the article are actually some of the more balanced I’ve seen on this issue.

As it happens, Atwood will be publishing another SF novel – The Year of the Flood (Amazon have got the title wrong) – later this year. It appears to be set in the same world as Oryx And Crake or the synopsis references it, at any rate, but the events of that novel don’t seem entirely compatible so it will be interesting to see how it turns out. I am certainly looking forward to it though and hope to review it later in the year.

It seems appropriate to close this entry with this: Margaret Atwood On Science Fiction – The Great Hits.

Written by Martin

29 January 2009 at 12:46

Posted in genre wars, sf

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Lists, Beautiful Lists

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As I mentioned early the Guardian are doing a list of the 1000 best novels broken down into seven slightly odd categories. They’ve just reached science fiction and fantasy. Having seen their crime and comedy lists I knew this was likely to be a somewhat strange selection and so it proves but it is a pretty interesting and high quality group of novels of the fantastic. Here is the list in full (bold for read):

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)

Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
JG Ballard: The Drowned World (1962)
JG Ballard: Crash (1973)

JG Ballard: Millennium People (2003)
Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)

Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
Greg Bear: Darwin’s Radio (1999)
William Beckford: Vathek (1786)
Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
Charles Brockden Brown: Wieland (1798)
Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve (1977)
Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
Arthur C Clarke: Childhood’s End (1953)
GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
Thomas M Disch: Camp Concentration (1968)
Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum (1988)

Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
M John Harrison: Light (2002)

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)

Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
Ursula K Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Ursula K Le Guin: The Earthsea series (1968-1990)
Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)

Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
CS Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56)
MG Lewis: The Monk (1796)
David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
China Miéville: The Scar (2002)

Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)

Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)
Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)

Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)

Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953)

John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
Terry Pratchett: The Discworld series (1983- ) (Well, I’ve read at least twenty of them…)
Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials (1995-2000)
François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
Joanna Russ: The Female Man (1975)
Geoff Ryman: Air (2005)
Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)

José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937)
JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)

Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889)
Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (1764)
Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
Angus Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
Virginia Woolf: Orlando (1928)
John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

So I make 60 that out of 149 which is considerably better than the 15 or so I was averaging for the other lists. There are some interesting books on there I’ve never heard of like Pig Tales. There are some selections which probably won’t seem to make much sense with a coupel of years hindsight like The Night Sessions. There are several writers who don’t appear for their most important book, the maddest of which must be the choice of Years Of Rice And Salt instead of Three Colours Mars. All in all, a nice chewy list though.

The Guardian have now published the full list of all one thousand books.

Written by Martin

22 January 2009 at 15:06

Posted in books

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Johnny 5

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A brilliant collection of Polish film posters.

Written by Martin

21 January 2009 at 18:59

Posted in design, films

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Zombie Strippers (2008)

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The film opens with a news bulletin informing that us that George W Bush has just been elected for a fourth term and that due to the lack of soldiers caused by the dozens of wars the US is fighting across the world scientists are experimenting with re-animating dead tissue. We then immediately cut to a research centre where said experiment has gone very wrong, zombies are loose and an army unit has been sent in to wipe them out. In the course of this one of the unit is bitten and, not wanting to be executed by his colleagues, escapes out of a window. Into a strip club.

This club is called the Rhinocerous which – extraordinarily, bafflingly, pointlessly – is a nod to the play of the same name by Eugène Ionesco. You expect reference to this classic of the Theatre Of The Absurd in a work like The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, you are less likely to expect it in a work called Zombie Strippers. There is precious like evidence of a deep engagement with the text though, it mostly just does what it says on the tin: there are zombies, there are strippers and there are zombie strippers. After the cheap, crude but mercifully brief introduction we are treated to half an hour of pole-dancing before stripper-in-chief Jenna Jameson gets bitten. As luck would have it, zombies make excellent strippers and soon the dancers want in on the act.

That is about all there is to the film. There are some attempts at humour and some pretence of social commentary but both pitifully weak. I hoped this would be an intelligent exploitation flick like Planet Terror, instead it is unreconstructed exploitation trash with an incredibly thin veneer of postmodern justification over the top. Basically it only exists to allow you will see four pairs of exposed breasts. Once again I’m remind how hard it is to make a good B-movie.

Written by Martin

18 January 2009 at 15:19

Posted in films, sf

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