Friday 29 October 2010

Stross attacks "trashy, derivative" steampunk

A rather interesting article on the problems with steampunk, from author Charles Stross.

The opening paragraphs are little more than a rather tetchy rant at the current popularity of steampunk - "the category is filling up with trashy, derivative junk and also with good authors who damn well ought to know better than to jump on a bandwagon" - but it's the argument that follows which is interesting.

"We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good. If the past is another country, you really wouldn't want to emigrate there. Life was mostly unpleasant, brutish, and short; the legal status of women in the UK or US was lower than it is in Iran today: politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats: it was a priest-ridden era that had barely climbed out of the age of witch-burning, and bigotry and discrimination were ever popular sports: for most of the population starvation was an ever-present threat. I could continue at length. It's the world that bequeathed us the adjective "Dickensian", that gave us a fully worked example of the evils of a libertarian minarchist state, and that provoked Marx to write his great consolatory fantasy epic, The Communist Manifesto. It's the world that gave birth to the horrors of the Modern, and to the mass movements that built pyramids of skulls to mark the triumph of the will. It was a vile, oppressive, poverty-stricken and debased world and we should shed no tears for its passing (or the passing of that which came next)."
Stross goes on to argue that steampunk's failure to acknowledge the darkness and horror of the historical era that it is 'riffing off' is a major failing of the subgenre, and questions how different steampunk would be if it more accurately reflected the actual time period:

"Forget wealthy aristocrats sipping tea in sophisticated London parlours; forget airship smugglers in the weird wild west. A revisionist mundane SF steampunk epic — mundane SF is the socialist realist movement within our tired post-revolutionary genre — would reflect the travails of the colonial peasants forced to labour under the guns of the white Europeans' Zeppelins, in a tropical paradise where severed human hands are currency and even suicide doesn't bring release from bondage. (Hey, this is steampunk — it needs zombies and zeppelins, right? Might as well pick Zombies for our single one impossible ingredient.) It would share the empty-stomached anguish of a young prostitute on the streets of a northern town during a recession, unwanted children (contraception is a crime) offloaded on a baby farm with a guaranteed 90% mortality rate through neglect. The casual boiled-beef brutality of the soldiers who take the King's shilling to break the heads of union members organizing for a 60 hour work week. The fading eyesight and mangled fingers of nine year olds forced to labour on steam-powered looms, weaving cloth for the rich. The empty-headed graces of debutantes raised from birth to be bargaining chips and breeding stock for their fathers' fortunes. In other words, it's the story of all the people who are having adventures — as long as you remember that an adventure is a tale of unpleasant events happening to people a long, long way from home."
This gives rise to a number of interesting questions. Does steampunk fail to effectively deal with the horrific detail of the historical period it is so influenced by? Is the subgenre effectively a romanticism of what was actually a brutal time in history? If so, how much does this truly matter? Is Stross's argument even valid - after all, we're talking about speculative fiction here, not historical fiction (in which an attention to historical detail is vital). To what extent does a genre book based loosely on a real-life historical period need to reflect the zeitgeist of that era? More importantly, perhaps, do readers even care?

Questions, questions. Too many for a Friday, but food for thought. I've not been nearly well enough exposed to this subgenre to be able to comment, but if any of you have any points you'd like to make, then please go right ahead.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Save our forests

I grew up in a semi-rural area, and spent many hours in my younger years exploring the woodland near my parents' house. Whenever I go back, I always try to steal some time to walk those same woodland paths. I find the solitude of the woods almost intoxicating; it's a priceless respite from the rush and hustle of modern life. I've always found woods to possess a certain mythic quality that harkens back to a more ancient time - perhaps the same sort of quality that inspired the much-missed Robert Holdstock to write the classic Mythago Wood, in which he riffs on the mysteries and secrets of ancient British woodland.

So I was utterly dismayed recently to discover that the UK government plans to sell off much of our precious woodland to private developers, who will then no doubt build adventure parks and golf courses on this old land.

Our forests have been protected by the Magna Carta since 1215, so it's likely that ancient laws laid down over 800 years ago will be scrapped to make way for the sales. The British Isles used to be covered in vast swathes of forests, but over the last two thousand years we've lost most of it. Now we stand to lose a lot of what we have left - hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland, enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people - just so the government can make a quick buck.

This should not be allowed to happen. I'd urge anyone who feels similarly to sign this petition.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Cover art, blurb and excerpt for The Ritual

I really enjoyed Adam Nevill's Apartment 16 earlier this year, so am excited for his upcoming novel The Ritual. Here's the gorgeous cover.

Not sure about the tagline, but I love the atmosphere that oozes from this cover. Wonderful stuff.

Here's the blurb:

When four old university friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect with one another. But Luke – still single and living a precarious existence – cannot identify with his companions any more. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, Luke figures things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artefacts decorate the walls; bones are scattered upon the dry floors. The residue of old rites and pagan sacrifice for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. Death doesn’t come easy among these ancient trees . . .

Sounds very interesting, rather Blair Witch-esque, which is a good thing in my book. Apartment 16 was notable for the excellent prose and sense of terror that Nevill managed to evoke, so I'm expecting good things from The Ritual in this regard.

You can check out a short teaser excerpt here. And here's a very short story that Nevill wrote for the Tor website.

Tor UK author updates

Plenty of interesting news in the recent Tor UK newsletter.

First up, good news concerning Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series:

"First up we’ve just signed another three books with author Adrian Tchaikovsky as he continues his Shadows of the Apt series. This insect-kinden world has been receiving fantastic praise since the first book Empire in Black and Gold was published so we’re thrilled that Adrian will be continuing his epic fantasy adventures with us."

Tchaikovsky has done tremendously well to keep the Apt books coming thick and fast, and it's great to see Tor tie him down to a new contract. That reminds me, I must get around to the two Apt novels I've got on my reading pile...

Next up, more good news, this time concerning Col Buchanan's sequel to the highly enjoyable Farlander:

"We just had the delivery of the second book in Col Buchanan’s Heart of the World series, carrying on the tale of the solitary Rōshun warrior, Ash. The book is full of action, pace, new characters and some wonderfully exciting plot twists. We’ll be publishing this second novel in August next year with the paperback of Farlander publishing in March 2011."

Farlander was something of a surprise for me; I enjoyed it far more than I had anticipated. Looking forward very much to the next book in the sequence.


Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. - George Eliot

Sunday 24 October 2010

Gollancz Halloween Party 2010

I had a fine time at the Gollancz party last Thursday. Just about managing to navigate the frenetic London rush-hour and inevitable tube delays, I (eventually) met up with Gav from NextRead near Marble Arch, before linking up with Liz from My Favourite Books and Mark from Walker of Worlds. Together we made our way to the party, braving the sardine-esque crush of the underground.

A suitably bloody Chloe from Tor UK, Mark from My Favourite Books (he had rather unnerving eyes that sadly don't show up here), and a ghostly Gav from NextRead.

The Gollancz party is quite the popular event these days, with plenty of industry folk crammed into the October Gallery. As is always the way, it was a struggle trying to find time to speak to everyone I wanted to see, but I managed to grab a few minutes with the lovely ladies from Tor UK, Voyager and Orbit, as well as the fine chaps from SFX magazine/Future Publishing. I was also pleased to meet Rob Grant, creator of classic British SF comedy Red Dwarf. It was also great to see my blogging comrades Wert (Wertzone...naturally) and Amanda (Floor to Ceiling Books), as well as various authors - Stephen Deas, Gav Smith, James Barclay, Chris Wooding and Joe Abercrombie. 

I stole this photo from Wert, but I'm sure he won't mind. That's yours truly on the left (with demon eyes that resist any attempt at red-eye reduction, apparently), a rather contrite-looking Gav Smith (with steampunk eyepiece), and blogger Mark Chitty.

After a couple of hours at the October Gallery, the party as usual moved to the Swan pub around the corner (I imagine the casual drinkers in there must have been rather unnerved by Stephen Deas, who was in full Ming the Merciless regalia). Various things were discussed, with the topic of embargoes cropping up again and again like a bad penny. Wert and I (rather slyly, it must be admitted) ambushed Amy from Voyager and subjected her to a 20-minute verbal assault regarding GRRM and A Dance with Dragons, which it must be said she handled extremely professionally(!).

So all in all, a very enjoyable evening. A special mention must go to Jon Weir, Gollancz publicity guru who heroically pulled the entire evening together and worked hard to make it such a success. Jon was also kind enough to let me crash at his place for what was left of the night, and he bought me breakfast the next morning. In fact, Jon was so good to me that I'm going to repay him by posting a picture of him once he had consumed plenty of alcohol.

Cheers Jon! Roll on 2011...

Friday 22 October 2010

Cover art and blurb: Among Thieves

Here's the cover art and blurb for Among Thieves, a debut novel from Douglas Hulick due from Tor UK next year in April.

Rather like this cover. I think the figure's arms are a little rigid, but I love the colour scheme and overall I think it's a stylish cover with good commercial appeal. Here's the blurb:

Drothe is a Nose, an informant who finds and takes care of trouble inside the criminal organization he’s a part of. He also smuggles imperial relics on the side.

When his boss sends him to Ten Ways to track down who’s been leaning on his organization’s people, Drothe discovers hints of a much bigger mystery. Someone is trying to stir up trouble between lower-level criminal organizations, including the one Drothe belongs to. And there’s a book rumored to contain imperial glimmer (or magic) that a lot of very dangerous people seem to be looking for - including two crime bosses known as the Gray Princes.

When Drothe discovers the book, he finds himself holding a bit of swag that can bring down emperors, shatter the criminal underworld, and unlock forbidden magic…that's if he can survive long enough to use it.

From what I've been hearing, thieves are the new assassins, so be prepared to see plenty more novels like this. But Among Thieves seems interesting, even if the 'Grey Princes'  sound like almost a carbon copy of the 'Grey King' from The Lies of Locke Lamora...

One to watch, especially given the high quality of Tor UK debuts in recent years.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Book review: The Heroes

The Heroes

By Joe Abercrombie

(Gollancz, 27 January 2011)

Joe Abercrombie has undoubtedly been one of the fantasy genre's success stories in recent years. His debut, The Blade Itself, may not have generated the pre-release buzz that accompanied The Lies of Locke Lamora - another notable Gollancz debut - but word eventually filtered through the fledgling blogosphere and soon rave reviews were sprouting up all over the place. Fast forward a few years, and The Blade Itself has allegedly sold more than 100,000 copies in the UK alone. The other two books in The First Law trilogy - Before They are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings - met with similar acclaim and cemented Abercrombie's status as a big hitter in the epic fantasy genre.

Then the much-anticipated Best Served Cold arrived, and seemingly split opinion right down the middle: some readers loved it, others less so. I fell in the latter category, feeling that the book was ponderous, over-long and often lacking the wit that made the earlier novels such a success. There were good aspects of course, but for the first time it did raise a question in my mind, as I imagine it did in those of others: had Abercrombie peaked too early? Would all of his subsequent books gradually decline in quality, as happens with so many authors? Unfair questions perhaps, on the basis of one book, but questions that needed to be answered nonetheless. Questions that could only be answered when The Heroes arrived.

While Best Served Cold whisked the action away to Styria, marking a distinct change in setting compared to The First Law, with The Heroes Abercrombie turns the focus back on the wilds of the north where plenty of blood was previously spilled during the earlier books. This simple geographical change immediately made the novel more appealing to me; aside from the chapters featuring Glokta, it was the story strands that featured the northmen that I enjoyed the most when reading The First Law. Those readers that felt the same should be more than satisfied with The Heroes then, since the novel has more northmen than you can shake a stick (or a huge, bloodstained axe) at.

The novel focuses on a battle fought in the shadow of the Heroes, a ring of stones atop a hill near the town of Osrung. Black Dow, self-installed leader of the northmen, gathers his forces on one side, while the Union forces - led by Marshal Kroy, a familiar face from the past - prepare themselves on the other. Over the course of three days, the future of the north will be decided. There will be blood. And, as with any Abercrombie novel, a healthy dose of treachery.

For the first time, we're given a map inside the book (the closest we've come previously were the artistic flourishes that adorned the cover and certain title pages in Best Served Cold), and a very nice map it is too. In a nice touch, the map is repeated at the start of each section of the book, with markers showing the positioning of the various forces. It's probably not strictly necessary, yet it certainly adds a bit of depth and helps the reader get some flavour for the locales involved.

The main complaint I had with Best Served Cold was that I didn't care for any of the characters - they were, as far as I was concerned, a bunch of scumbags so totally lacking in anything vaguely resembling morals, that I found it extremely hard to care one way or another what happened to them. Abercrombie made his name by inverting various tropes and painting his world in varying shades of grey, but for me he took it too far in Best Served Cold. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy reading about ruthless, uncompromising figures...but I also like to have one or two characters that I can empathise with and root for, and the latter were distinctly absent in Best Served Cold.

Thankfully, this is not the case with The Heroes. There are a lot of characters in this novel (in another first for an Abercrombie novel, we're given a cast list - and it's needed) and while there are plenty of figures for whom morals are an alien concept, there are a fair few who readers can root for and - perhaps surprisingly - even find sympathy with. Craw is one such figure; the leader of a band of northmen, he's tired of war and just wants to abandon it all for a quieter life. He's also a figure that believes in doing 'the right thing' (whatever that might be), and the weariness he shows towards violence and treachery is something that the reader can easily appreciate and identify with. Bremer dan Gorst - a minor character from the earlier trilogy - is another figure who is easy to empathise with; once the king's most trusted guard, he's fallen from grace and must go against his king's orders (by taking part in the fighting, rather than just observing) to win his former glory back. Worse, he lusts after a young lady that he has no chance of wooing. And just to top things off, he has an embarrassingly squeaky voice. Gorst's personal story, as the novel progresses, is an interesting one, mixing humour with bleakness and violence, and he serves as a good example of Abercrombie's unquestionable talent for bringing his characters to life.

Of course, there are plenty of less desirable types too: 'Prince' Calder being one of them. He's another character that Abercrombie portrays very well, somehow making him curiously likable despite the fact that he's as slippery as a snake. Beck, too, is a character with a strong - if predictable - character arc, while there are numerous other interesting figures - Whirrun of Blythe, with his apparent death-wish and huge sword, and Corporal Tunny, with his uncanny ability to avoid actually doing anything resembling professional soldiering, to name but two. If I have any complaints, it's that due to the extensive cast-list, certain people had a habit of blending together (the generals Meed and Mitterick, for example, I repeatedly struggled to tell apart). In addition, the female element is arguably rather lacking as well. Now of course, this is a war novel, so given this fact - and the structure of society in Abercrombie's world - it was inevitable that there would be a lack of female characters. Yet I still feel something more could have been done here. It has been remarked on before that Abercrombie's female characters have, to date, consisted mostly of pyschopaths and alcoholics. The main female interest in the The Heroes doesn't fit in either of those categories, yet her undiluted ambition and the coldness she often displays to her husband don't exactly make her an endearing figure. That said, another female character on the northern side, Wonderful, perhaps redresses this by establishing herself in a position of power solely on the basis of her martial and leadership qualities. Yet Wonderful's a character we regrettably don't see often enough.

The story itself is something of a slow burner - the first 100 pages are more or less used to move all the characters - and troops - into the places that they need to be in. Yet once the action gets going, The Heroes makes for an absorbing read. One aspect particularly worthy of mention is the technique that Abercrombie employs of jumping from one POV to another, often using several different perspectives in the course of a single chapter. We'll see events unfold, for example, from the viewpoint of a Union soldier. That soldier then meets a sticky end on the edge of an axeblade...and the action immediately switches to the viewpoint of the northman that swung the axe. This technique makes for a fluid portrayal of war, lending a very personal aspect to the action. Abercrombie has always been good at battle scenes, and he shows that ability again here with some violent, graphic sequences, that importantly always keep a close focus on the characters involved. It's not all just blood and guts though, as there's plenty of behind-the-scenes maneuvering going on: power-struggles on the northern side and petty politics on the Union side. And invariably there's treachery, and the odd surprise. Nothing comparable to the shocks that Abercrombie served up in Last Argument of Kings, but these twists nonetheless keep the story compelling. My only real criticism here is that I felt the novel could have done with a bit more mysticism - the background struggle between Bayaz and his opponents is hinted at, but doesn't really solidify into anything substantial. A touch more magical chutzpah would perhaps have been a pleasing counterpoint to all the gritty, physical violence.

As always, everything is delivered and bound up in Abercrombie's distinctive style. You know when you're reading an Abercrombie book, and that instant recognition is a very useful thing for any author to have in their locker. There's the dark wit that was often lacking in Best Served Cold, and this humour provides a nice counterpoint to the bleakness and violence. Furthermore, The Heroes is primarily a war novel, and is full of wry details and observations about the nature of war and how it affects people in different ways. The story arc of Beck, in particular, is a good example of this (even if it feels a little contrived and predictable). Subsequently, the use of the word 'heroes' in the title has various meanings: a reference to the physical stones, an ironic play on the nature of the men involved in the struggle, and so on. War, as The Heroes ably demonstrates, is a confusing, messy business.

Verdict: A well-constructed, absorbing war novel that returns to a familiar stamping ground and improves on the flaws of Best Served Cold. Abercrombie appears to have taken the criticism flung his way from some quarters, and has this time produced a more dynamic set of characters that mostly manage to be appealing despite their clear moralistic differences. Though the novel starts slowly, the momentum gradually builds into something unstoppable. There's satisfying character development, exploration of the ironies of war, and of course plenty of blood and treachery, all delivered with Abercrombie's trademark wry humour. The supernatural elements that do feature are handled very well, but it would have been nice to see a little more of them. Still, this doesn't stop The Heroes from being an enjoyable, absorbing read.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

China Miéville Vs Facebook

I try to avoid posting things that have already received extensive coverage elsewhere (it annoys me when the blogosphere looks like a big publicity machine) but in some cases I'm happy to make an exception. China Miéville slapping down Facebook certainly qualifies as one such case.

Anyway, to the point: Miéville - who is well known for abstaining from social media - has repeatedly asked the powers that be at Facebook to remove the various fake profiles that certain sad individuals have set up, through which they pretend to be him (you wonder about some people, eh?). Naturally, Facebook couldn't give a toss, so Miéville has written an open letter that has inevitably spread like a rash through the blogosphere.

Since Miéville is a great writer and a lovely guy, and because I think that Facebook sucks grizzled donkey balls (especially when it comes to privacy and security), I've decided to re-post China's letter below.

Here it is:

1601 S. California Avenue
Palo Alto
CA 94304
6 October 2010

Dear Facebook People,


1) The short version:

At least one person, if not more, is/are impersonating me on Facebook, with (a) fake profile(s) claiming my identity. Despite me repeatedly bringing this to your attention, you have taken no action to remedy the situation. And I’m getting very annoyed.

2) The full version:

This thing you hold is called a letter. This is the third time I’ve contacted you, and I’m doing so by this antiquated method because, and I realise this may shock you so brace yourself, I have no Facebook account. Which means it is nigh-on impossible for me to get in touch with you. Kudos for your Ninja avoidance strategies.

Back when you had a button allowing me to alert you to a fake profile despite not having an account myself, I contacted you that way. I was answered with a resonant silence. Subsequently, when the problem persisted, I hunted lengthily for, found and left a message on the phone number you go out of your way to hide. Absolutely nothing happened. So here we go again: third time’s a charm.

I am being imitated on Facebook. I believe the only reason anyone is bothering to do this is because I’m a novelist (published by Macmillan and Random House), a writer and broadcaster, with a minor public profile. I think there are one or two community pages about my stuff on Facebook – that of course is very flattering and nice of people to bother. The problem is that there is or are also pages by someone(s) purporting to be me. This is weird and creepy. What’s worse is I know for a fact that some readers, friends and colleagues are friending ‘China Miéville’ under the impression that it is me, and that others are wondering why ‘China Miéville’ refuses to respond to them. And I have no idea what dreadful things or ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ are being claimed as mine, nor what ‘I’ am saying.

I know lots of people enjoy being on Facebook. Great. More power to them. Vaya con Dios. Me, though: not my thing. I have absolutely no interest in it. I am not now nor have I ever been a Facebook member. Short of some weird Damascene moment, I will not ever join Facebook – and if that unlikely event occurs, I promise I’ll tell you immediately. In the meantime, though, as a matter of urgency, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of decency, please respond to my repeated requests:

Please delete all profiles claiming to be me (with or without the accent on the ‘é’ – last time I looked, I found one ‘China Mieville’, and one more accurately rendered).
Please do not allow anyone else to impersonate me. I have neither time nor inclination to trawl your listings regularly to see if another bizarre liar has sprung up.
• And while you’re at it, please institute a system whereby those of us with the temerity not to sign up to your service can still contact you on these matters and actually get a [insert cuss-word] answer.

I appeal to you to honour your commitments to security and integrity. Of course as a multi-gajillion-dollar company I have absolutely no meaningful leverage over you at all. If David Fincher’s film doesn’t embarrass you, you’re hardly going to notice the plaintive whining of a geek like me. All I can do is go public. Which is my next plan.

I’m allowing a week for this letter to reach you by airmail, then three days for you to respond to me by phone or the email address provided. Then, if I’ve heard nothing, on 16 October 2010, I’ll send copies of this message to all the literary organizations and publications with which I have connections

some of the many books bloggers I know; and anyone else I can think of. I’ll encourage them all to publicise the matter. I’m tired of being impersonated, and I’m sick of you refusing to answer me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
China Miéville

Sunday 17 October 2010

A few words on Paranormal Activity

I find it hard to believe that people actually walked out of test screenings of Paranormal Activity because they found it "too scary" - that sounds like cheap publicity talk. "One of the most scary films of all time" is an exaggeration.

That said, there's a lot to like. The 'home-made' style (clearly influenced by Blair Witch) works well, with a convincing mix of CCTV film interspersed with footage from a handheld camera. The two leads, Katie and Micah, have a believable chemistry (although Micah's childish attitude towards the paranormal events really starts to grate as the film goes on, and seems rather unbelievable given what he has experienced). The tension is carefully cranked up - perhaps too slowly at times - and there are some genuinely unsettling moments that are handled extremely well; you feel a sense of impending dread as the lights go out and the nighttime footage begins once again. The ending (or at least, the one that was used - there are two alternative endings) has seemingly split opinion, but for me it was the most shocking moment of the film and worked well.

No doubt the hype had raised my expectations to levels that the film never really stood much chance of reaching, but nonetheless I do feel there were not enough shocks. As mentioned above, there are some really chilling moments - sometimes the tension is almost unbearable - but not enough in my opinion. I think there's too much of the 'daytime' footage, and this breaks up the tension.

Still, an enjoyably unsettling film that certainly has its moments. Kudos too to the director, who has achieved impressive things with a tiny budget, unknown actors and a tight timeframe.

Saturday 16 October 2010

A Dance with Dragons nearing completion

Or at least that's the news that came out of the New York Comic Con.

Spectra senior editor Anne Groell, when inevitably asked about A Dance with Dragons, had this to say:
"We're hoping to have a finished manuscript by Christmas. He's told me he has five chapters left and bits of each chapter are done. He really wants it done by the end of the year. We really—I mean really—want to announce the pub date in January."
Given that much of the manuscript is said to have already been 'locked' (edited and ready to go, in other words) it seems that a publication date in 2011 is definitely a possibility. While it looked at one stage that the book would be even longer than A Storm of Swords (1530 manuscript pages), it seems likely to be shorter now as some chapters have been moved to The Winds of Winter instead.

It'll be interesting to see how the US and UK editions are published; to my knowledge, A Storm of Swords was released in one volume in the US and in two volumes in the UK (in paperback), so a repeat of this is certainly possible.

Another issue that remains murky but will become clearer with time, is whether the series will exceed seven books. GRRM has insisted that he doesn't want to exceed this number of books, but with chapters being shunted from A Dance with Dragons to The Winds of Winter, it's possible this will also happen with chapters being moved from The Winds of Winter to A Hope of Spring, which if course will eat up space in the final volume for fresh material. Only time will tell whether this will become a problem.

Hobbit movie finally gets green light

The problems surrounding the Hobbit movie have been well documented, but it appears that the troubled film has finally been given the green light, with LOTR director Peter Jackson firmly ensconced in the director's chair.

Shooting is allegedly scheduled to begin in February 2011, although as of yet the location of said filming has not been disclosed. There is speculation that the film will be shot in 3D, but this remains unconfirmed - as do numerous other details, such as who will play Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman allegedly turned down the role).

While there's many things to resolve, it's a relief to see that the main difficulties have been overcome and that the project is starting to creep into gear. As skilled a director as del Toro is, Jackson is undeniably a better director for the movie, and I've got high hopes that he can deliver an experience similar to the brilliance of the LOTR films.

More news as and when - a statement about the location of the filming is expected soon.

Monday 11 October 2010

The Quantum Thief book launch

I think it's fair to say that when I started this blog back in 2008, I never expected that a few years later I'd be attending a book launch in the sumptuous surroundings of the Finnish Ambassador's residence in Kensington Palace Gardens.

Yet that is exactly how I spent last Friday evening, celebrating the release of Hannu Rajaniemi's debut SF novel The Quantum Thief with a variety of people from the genre publishing world and various scientific sectors (Rajaniemi is certainly well-connected). I chatted for a while with Jon, Simon and Darren from Gollancz, before we all sat for the speeches. The Finnish Ambassador gave a short, humorous speech, before Simon from Gollancz took to the podium to say a few words (below right), followed eventually by Rajaniemi himself. In a nice personal touch, Rajaniemi's mother also stood up and said a few words, as well as playing a youthfully exuberant recording Rajaniemi made of a story he wrote during his childhood.

After the speeches, more wine was consumed and genre conversation resumed. No doubt the ambassador's residence has played host to a number of important conversations in the past, though I bet the merits of the first Tron film have never previously been discussed beneath those extravagant chandeliers. I was fortunate to grab a few minutes with Hannu to have my picture taken (above left) and exchange a few pleasantries.

My recollections of what followed after leaving are somewhat disjointed (there was lots of free wine), though I recall ending up in a gay bar with Jon and Darren from Gollancz, Dave Bradley from SFX, and Dave's boss Stuart from Future Publishing. The less said about that, the better I think. ;)

Anyway, a great night. Next stop on the genre debauchery trail...the Gollancz annual party in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

A few words on Buried

I've often found that many of the best books have very simple premises, and the same is sometimes true of films as well. I've always liked the original Saw film for its simplicity: two men awake in a filthy bathroom, chained to the walls, with no idea of how they got there. 

Buried starts with an even more simple premise: Paul Conroy, a truck driver working in a Middle Eastern trouble spot, awakes to find himself buried alive in a rough coffin, with - initially - only a phone and a zippo lighter for company. After overcoming the terror that initially engulfs him, Conroy starts to make frantic phone calls in a desperate attempt to organise his own rescue. But with oxygen - and battery life - in short supply, he finds himself in a desperate race against time. 

Ryan Reynolds excels as Conroy, turning in a very convincing display as his character flits from one emotion to another: terror, anger, frustration, sorrow. His believable performance is augmented by the sheer oppressiveness of his situation; the camera never leaves his coffin, so the watcher effectively spends the entire film locked in that cramped, dark space - Conroy's phone and lighter providing the light. The end result is an uncomfortably realistic depiction of the horror of being imprisoned six feet under. 

Conroy's conversations with a variety of figures drives the story, and adds additional emotional depth. Some conversations are moving (his declaration of love to his wife) while others explore the cynical self-preservation employed by major corporations (Conroy's boss telling him he's fired and that the company won't pay insurance to his family in the event of his death ). The voice acting of some figures is unconvincing; sometimes the tone of the other person doesn't quite fit with the current emotion of Conroy, while the voice of 'Jabir' the antagonist is rather lacking in character - "You give one million money. Now!" - and is perhaps a missed opportunity to explore the insurgents' motives more. 

Unconvincing segments of voice acting aside, Buried makes for an extremely uncomfortable two hours - for all the right reasons. 

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Interview with Paul Kearney over at Solaris blog

Paul Kearney, compared to many authors these days, has a fairly small internet presence. Which makes it all the sweeter when he does emerge, as he always has something interesting to say.

There's a new interview with Paul over at the Solaris editors' blog, in which he discusses - among other things - his upcoming Macht books, Corvus and Kings of Morning:
"People tell me, when they know what I do, that I must have a great imagination, but I really don’t. I just get inspired by some fragment of history and then I run with it. To make up everything, and I mean everything, in the way guys like Erikson do, is unfathomable to me. I come up with the story first, and the world comes later. And I want to get that world out there as fast as I can, so that it can keep up with the story I want to tell. So for me, the worldbuilding comes last. Is that heresy for a fantasy author to admit?"

Corvus is due out on 28 October 2010, with Kings of Morning lined up for 2011.

My own interview with Paul, conducted back in 2008, can be found here.

Friday 1 October 2010

Friday linkage 4tw

Some tasty Friday linkage for y'all.

What? You want a funny? Here you go then.

Now linkage.

The first review of Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes has already surfaced, despite the ARCs being sent out barely a week ago. Naturally, it's the Wertmeister that has devoured this blood-drenched epic and managed to gather his wits sufficiently afterwards in order to write a review. I've not read it, as I don't want it to colour my own thinking on the novel, but I'm sure it's good. The review I mean. The book...well, you'll have to wait until next week to see whether I agree with Wert. I didn't last time, but the early signs are that our opinions might align a little more this time around.

Monsieur Moher recently posted the cover and blurb for The Unremembered by Peter Orullian, due from Tor in 2011. The story itself sounds very traditional (nasty monsters breaking free of inter-dimensional prison and looking to kick some human ass), which of course is no bad thing, but unless a certain freshness is injected into old tropes it leaves you wondering what the point was. One to keep an eye on, certainly. And the cover is gorgeous.

At the Gollancz party last year, after learning of Graeme's impending fatherhood, I joked that he'd be reviewing far less books as a result. Graeme smiled wryly and said, "You want to bet?" Fortunately I didn't take him on his kind offer, and a good thing too since Graeme is somehow finding time in between changing nappies (that's diapers for you lot over the pond!) to keep posting his reviews. Which include, most recently, some of Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon novels - good to see older books getting a look in. That reminds me; I must get around to that Elric book I've got on my shelf...

Elsewhere, young Sir Gavin of Nextread has reviewed Blake Charlton's Spellwright. Another book I need to get around to; I got 50 pages in and then a friend stole it from me and refused to give it back until she was finished with it borrowed it and asked whether I minded if she gave it back when she was done. To which I said "No, not at all" as I am - as anyone will tell you - a chivalrous gentleman. Unless you get water damage on any of my books, which will cause me to go from knight in shining armour to FURIOUS HULK in less time than it takes to microwave one of those godawful 'burgers' from Rustlers.

Mihai has blogged up a short interview with Mark Charan Newton - a virtual coffee break, if you will. Speaking of the bequiffed one, he's managed to get some serious debate going (as usual) by posting two potential covers for his upcoming novel The Book of Transformations and asking which one folk think is best. Quite a few of the responses match my own: I much prefer the first one, and while I love the cityscape background, I'm not so keen on the posture of the figure. Even if she's hot.

When he's not wrestling a T-Rex, Sam Sykes writes the odd article about fantasy books. Here's one, in which he explains the spark that was behind his debut novel, Tome of the Undergates.

Right...that's enough genre goodness for one Friday, I think.

Have a good one.