Thursday, 25 December 2008

S&A Live


If (like me) you've been to Rush gigs, seen the videos, got all their albums, and know the band's songs backwards, then watching Snakes & Arrows Live - on blu-ray or DVD, might feel a bit like having some old pals around for the afternoon. Filmed over two nights in Rotterdam, this epic concert movie features more than 30 tracks, and runs for over three hours, plus bonus material (such as Geddy playing the fool as Harry Satchel). Many older groups with a similar 30+ year career and loyal international following, have been called rock dinosaurs, but Rush are giants in the arena, with legendary musicianship, and this is certainly their best-filmed gig, to date (especially on the 1080i hi-def blu-ray format disc). Strongly recommended to all fans of hard rock, whether you like chicken, or not!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

desktop dead again

It's heat-death-of-desktop-universe, again... as my PC keeps freezing and only works for 30 seconds. Windows starts up, okay, but system fails to operate. Hope this is just an easily-fixed power or cooling-fan problem (both of which I've had before on that machine), but - argh! - it would happen at Xmas, when repair shop's closed for the week.

Glad that I bought this laptop, so I'll be able to continue working on certain writing projects over silly season.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

BS8


Yet more transmissions from beyond... My column, Blood Spectrum, of DVD reviews for Black Static magazine (published by T3A Press), covers Zombie Diaries, Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!, Days Of Darkness, Tokyo Zombies (notice a Halloween theme?), Death Note and Death Note 2: The Last Name, Strait Jacket, X-Cross, While She Was Out, One Way, Skinwalkers, Doomsday, Seed, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Reeker 2: No Man's Land, Creepshow III, plus a round-up of Asylum, Santa's Slay, The Tattooist, and Driftwood.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

SF Site

There's a mini-interview by Sandy Auden, on the SF Site (scroll down that page a bit).

Friday, 21 November 2008

Laser Fodder


My latest DVD review column appears in December's issue of Interzone magazine (published by T3A Press)...

This month Laser Fodder has reviews of Charlie Jade, Flash Gordon, Lost In Austen, The Colour Of Magic, Starship Troopers 3, Spooks: Code 9, Futurama: Bender's Game, The X-Files: I Want To Believe, The Princess Bride + a round-up commentary on superhero movies.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Quantum theories


Quantum Of Solace

This sequel to ‘franchise reboot’ Casino Royale is just average entertainment, really... Honestly, I was disappointed, yet again, that such OTT-editing of action sequences is nowadays considered ‘good’ film-making technique or artistry. How can such a blurry blitz of snapshots and multi-angle close-ups (more like a slide-show than moving images!), and obviously CGI-enhanced background scenery be any kind of worthwhile replacement for convincing stunt-work? Where’s the real drama in the hero’s brisk and frequently brutish slaughter of valueless villains? I thought all the main characters seemed to be nothing more than circumstantial props (now, even M talks of Bond as if he’s a useful gadget, not a charismatic rogue agent), juggled by 007’s producers and director (Marc Forster), while annoying inter-cutting of racing with a rooftop chase, and staged opera with back-stage fighting, prove too boringly arty-farty, and distracting from the principal action, as if designed to hide gaps in story logic, and conceal the ridiculously fanciful situations in a supposedly more realistic kind of adventure than the previous outings. Now that our new James Bond is so clearly imitating Jason Bourne (himself merely a blatant 007 clone, despite amnesic twists), that his Cold War screen-presence has become a tragic parody of former glories, perhaps the ultimate British super-spy’s forcible retirement is long overdue?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Classic rock


It was Hocus Pocus for a Halloween treat, at Winter Gardens venue in Ventnor, where a triple-bill of classic rock acts provided a great evening's musical entertainment. The Groundhogs were a fine warm-up band, milking the horror theme with suitable props and costumes, and tech change-overs by the road crew replaced gear quickly so Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash (not that other band!) were on stage by about 9 pm. Although I failed to recognise or remember any of their material (the last time I heard Argus was 25+ years ago!), they put on a really great show that fulfilled all expectations, despite being a rather short set-list, and fetched out the air-guitar loons and geriatric rockers from a mixed audience (including 'Fred and Ginger Travolta', providing a not-very-amusing distraction).

Top billed Focus were slower to get started, but at 10 pm, larger-than-life Dutch maestro Thijs van Leer was perched behind his nearly-antique looking Hammond organ and blasting out eclectic prog-rock milestones that bought back many happy memories. In addition to classics like Sylvia, the band also performed newer composition Aye-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee, and medley-sounding Eruption. It's funny now, but I used to consider Focus, with their combo of flute and electric guitars, were a poor man's Jethro Tull... However, last night proved that van Leer's powerhouse band are not a poor version of any such thing. Focus are simply brilliant live, kicking up a storm of energy, yet making it look so effortless. (And, yes... I bought a T-shirt, of course.)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Black Static


Issue #7 of this horror fiction magazine from T3A Press has my Blood Spectrum column sprawled across eight pages... and includes reviews of Who Saw Her Die?, Wizard Of Gore (remake), Lost Boys 2: The Tribe, Shutter (another remake), B.T.K., Otis, Chemical Wedding, Day Of The Dead (yet another remake!), Dante 01, Dead Space: Downfall, Vexille, The Happening, Tin Man, P2, The Flock, The Vanguard, The Outpost, Solstice, and Eraserhead plus the collected short films of director David Lynch.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Premonitions


Delayed for years (actually four years... argh!), a new issue of Premonitions is finally with the printer, and due for publication in nifty paperback, next month!

Here's the press release:

Premonitions: Causes For Alarm
Magazine-anthology of science fiction, horror stories, and genre poetry

Now in A5 paperback format, with nearly 57,000 words of 1st class writing!

Fiction by Matt Bright, Andrew Darlington, Waldo Gemio, Peter Hagelslag, David Howard, Patrick Hudson, William Jackson, Sue Lange, David McGillveray, Matthew Pendleton, Steven Pirie, Cyril Simsa, Jim Steel, Julie Travis, and Fred Walker.

Poems from: Cardinal Cox, J.C. Hartley, John Hayes, Steve Sneyd, and J.P.V. Stewart.

Cover artists: Chris Moore, and Caroline O’Neal.

UK only: £5.95
Prices for overseas orders will be announced, shortly

Order direct from the Pigasus Press website at
www.pigasuspress.co.uk

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Southbound

Made very good time on road journey back home, from England yesterday... leaving Nottingham just after 8 am, to catch the 1 pm ferry over to Wight-land. I crash-slept through teatime and evening, but was awake - or something quite like that - by 11 pm, for checking email and sorting weekend's postal deliveries.

Fantasycon was great fun! Its lively tone and friendly mood, for various panel events and nightly sessions in the main bar, were so consistently enjoyable I find it very difficult to pick out a highlight. Doubt that I will be going to F'con again (unless it moves venue to London or south coast..?), but I would strongly recommend that everyone with any level or degree of interest in fantasy, horror, and even science fiction, genres attends one of these weekend events.

Now considering the Redemption 2009 multimedia con (Coventry, in February), and the World Horror con (Brighton, in March 2010) looks to be a dead cert for me.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sunday

Running on 4 hours sleep, I lurched along to breakfast, and then wrote a blog post to report on yesterday. The main hall's morning panel on 'When Does Fantasy Become Horror' had Chaz Brenchley, Tim Lebbon, and James Barclay, moderated by Steve Lockley, during which Ramsey Campbell contributed much to the debate, though – as expected - no conclusions were reached, leading to only tentative agreements to disagree. (I met Stephen Volk after this!) Due to various distractions, I missed half the Gallery suite panel about 'Opportunities In The Small Press', with Christopher Teague, Ian Whates, and David J. Howe - moderated by Andrew Hook, each editor giving a good account of their respective ventures' publishing aims and practices, and offering sound advice to hopeful new writers and authors.

After lunch, I neglected programme item 'How To Run A Literary Event' for advice panel 'How To Publicise Yourself' with Darren Turpin, Lee Harris, and Sam Stone, moderated by Allen Ashley, whose scepticism about online social networks provided both contrast and balance to panellists' varied expertise and experience. I really had no time for refreshments provided at 3 pm event 'Monster Small Press Launch' (but I did order another book), as my planned trip into Sutton, to visit local relatives, was bought forward from teatime.

Saturday

Tony Lee, Sam Stone, Chaz Brenchley
Spoke to book-dealer Bob, and Gary Couzens, at early breakfast. There at glam Sam Stone's book launch for Killing Kiss (Murky Depths), first novel in the Vampire Gene trilogy, and heard rumours about financial problems of a certain publisher of UK media magazines... Went to morning panel, 'To Boldly Go...' (are there any new frontiers in SF?), in the main hall, where I met Paul Barnett (alias, John Grant), and listened to 45 minutes of amusing and illuminating chat by him, Christian Dunn, and the great Ian Watson, moderated by Ian Whates. 'Crafting The Short Story', with Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Jones, Christopher Fowler, and Tony Richards, moderated by Peter Crowther, was very well attended, offering a fascinating discussion that packed out the 'Gallery' suite with standing-room only. After, Gary Couzens told me about the disappointing farce over his morning reading in the Trent room, where everyone was locked out of 10th floor access, but – as con-going veteran - he seemed unfazed by this lack of organisation.

Very pleased to meet Simon Clark, the author I'd interviewed - via email - for a BFS 30th 'birthday bash' publication, several years ago. Following the lunchtime break, I bumped into Chaz Brenchley in the foyer, and was very soon the proud owner of Northern Gothic intriguing ghost stories collection Phantoms At The Phil: The Second Proceedings (Sidereal), which is complete with readings by the writers, on two CDs. Having already decided on a money-saving strategy not to buy any paperbacks, this hardcover was my first purchase at F'con. Attended launch of Pendragon anthology We Fade To Grey with fiction by Paul Finch, Mark West, Mark Morris, and Simon Bestwick, edited by Gary McMahon (a VideoVista regular whose taste in horror films is remarkably similar to mine). The editorial seminar by Jo Fletcher (who I remembered gave a talk at Worldcon in Glasgow) was as entertaining as ever with tales of hilariously bad fiction submissions collected from slush pile reading. In the main bar, Stephen Jones' launch of Best New Horror #19 had an impressive line-up of writers signing paperback copies. Had a great chat with artist Vincent Chong (who later won a BFS award).

While the banquet was going on, I went to dinner in the hotel restaurant (serving steak, but with no steak knives!) with my brother Stephen, and got the latest news about my uncle. While the BFS awards ceremony was ending, a very British queue formed at the typically understaffed main bar. Scheduled against the main hall's popular raffle, my panel 'Nothing New Under The Sun' in the Gallery room was a non-event, despite the presence of Christopher Fowler, Nicholas Royle, and latecomer Ramsey Campbell, but 8 of us had a good chat about film remakes, anyway. Midnight's panel item 'Forbidden', had Joel Lane (another BFS award winner!), Adam Nevill, and Nicholas Royle, discussing taboos in genre fiction, moderated by Conrad Williams. Despite the late hour, it proved an interesting discussion, especially with audience involvement. Back in the main bar, I failed embarrassingly to recognise Sam Stone's sister, but had a lively chat about something, um, whatever... After 5 pints, I just can't remember any details today.

Thanks to David J. Howe for the photo.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Friday, good & bad


Good breakfast, all-you-can-eat full English, walked off morning lethargy, viewed the local picture-book castle, while avoiding tourism hotspots, lurked in hotel's lobby and lounge bar, found no sign or trace of con organisers. No wifi in rooms but - as advertised - it works okay, if not perfectly, in public areas. I looked around the city centre, where a street market served ostrich burgers (among other such northern delicacies!), but my early afternoon was spoiled by a couple of rather incompetent pickpockets, who tried weaselling out of my grip when caught, and who eventually threw my wallet back and scurried off. My shouting at them both caught attention of helpful passers-by, who stayed to help with descriptions for police. Having calmed down after that bit of aggro... I returned to the hotel, and – on my 2nd attempt navigating to Britannia's back room suites of conference rooms – I found the Fantasycon committee (Marie, Paul, Vicky, Martin, etc.), and discovered that volunteering to help stuff carrier-bags of goodies (in readiness for convention registrations at 3 pm), enabled me to get a badge and freebies pack ahead of the big rush. In the dealers room, I spoke to Andrew Hook (Elastic), and Christopher Teague (Pendragon), both remembered from Glasgow's SF Worldcon, and this year's Eastercon. I also met several new friendly faces in the bar and around the hotel - all of which made up for my unwelcome encounter with Notty Ash's lowlifes.

Bit a shock, however, to find that for my Saturday night panel on genre remakes, I will be moderating (or trying!) a line-up of Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Fowler and Nicholas Royle. Gulp.... Later on, I met Allen Ashley, and we agreed about Kubrick's 2001, but disagreed about other films, TV, and music... Got some bad news about my Uncle having a heart attack, struggled to write sympathetic text message sent to my cousin. Missed seeing people I was keen to meet, and only caught last 20 minutes of convention's 1st panel, but the rest of evening was going well, anyway... Heard from Martin Roberts about tonight's film shows, and tomorrow's evening programme, and the short films do sound interesting. Time spent talking in the main bar meant that I missed the 10 pm 'Crossing The Streams' panel, but my brother found me with some good news about my uncle's condition in hospital. Went to see the 11 pm film show, but sitting in the darkened room watching stuff that I realised, belatedly, that I had already seen before, some-when... made me suddenly aware of how extremely tired I was, so that was Fantasycon Friday over and done, for me, and I staggered back to my room.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

F'con arrival

Made car journey from the Island in good time, arriving in Nottinghamshire just after midday. Decided on a hurried tour of my hometown Sutton-in-Ashfield... having an enjoyable wander through strangely unfamiliar surroundings - that I used to know so well, going back in time for a look at our used-to-be family house - how tiny every street and back lane looks now after decades away, and then stopping off in nearby Mansfield for another leisurely walkabout - part nostalgic, half traumatic - around busy marketplace streets - now much-changed, with bolt-on extras, seemingly retro-fitted infrastructure, redeveloped commercial sites, and eyesore of M1 bypass - that I fondly remembered from a couple of years worth of connecting-bus journeys during my schooldays.

Finally, reached Britannia hotel in Nottingham city centre, and checked in, more than ready for a nap and quick shower to recover from brain-taxing memory-lane fatigue build-up & time-warp overload flashbacks. Went for an easy stroll, twice around the block in cool evening air, which cleared away that snare of cobwebs.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Sunday races

A day at the races... but only go-karts in Gosport, on the speedy indoor track operated by Team Sport franchise.

Negotiating two ferry crossings, and ordering a minibus taxi, planned well by our trip organisers, Stephen and Sally. After signing-in on arrival, a quick orientation for our group of a dozen racers (aged 15 to 70), included brief chat and explanatory video, but safety rules were generally obvious and necessarily basic – if this was going to be any fun at all, despite observable risks of 175cc machines doing 30 mph on a clearly slippery track – featuring a flyover bridge and some hairpin bends. Of the go-kart novices, Brian (a long-time microlight flyer) said he wasn’t especially keen at first, but was persuaded to have a go, anyway – and he actually did very well in the final race.

Team Sport staff were mostly young but seemed cheerfully competent, mindful of the dangerous environment yet keen to ensure that all visitors would enjoy the racing. It appeared turnover of groups was brisk, throughout morning sessions, having several cars always on the go created a quite noisy ambiance, with pit stop downtime limited to routine maintenance and refuelling between races.

Overalls, crash helmets and gloves were supplied in various sizes. However, none of the apparel was in good condition, gloves were sticky or damp, and the clammy full-face helmets (no disposable liners were available) soon became rather smelly, even before the adrenaline heat of actual 15-minute races. Marshalled into the pits, we got into the tiny go-karts, and were off. Skidding around on tight corners proved to be a harder trick to master than I’d thought, and the down-slope off that little bridge was a juddering ride at any speed.

I was slowest during time-trials (I haven’t driven for about two and a half years, is my only excuse), but that put me in starting line’s pole position on reverse-order grid for our main event. The race itself was mostly a crazy blur (don’t think I noticed warning lights on a couple of early laps!), as everyone overtook me, eventually. Chequered flag appeared sooner than expected, but probably just in time...

Reigning champ Dave remained undefeated, as expected. Sally’s friend Carly won 2nd place, and Dave’s girlfriend Rhiane finished third. Prize tokens duly awarded, but where’s the champagne? Group photo-op essential... I’m not really competitive, so was happy enough finishing a barely respectable last (at least I didn’t spin-off into sidings), except for teenage Jake who admitted he kept crashing.

Now weighing over 200 lbs, I’m hardly a suitable candidate for winning this activity. It was an enjoyable distraction, simply great fun. Only slight injuries were sustained, to elbows or egos. Walking off the industrial estate, unwinding in cool afternoon, we then had lunch and beer at nearby Hoeford Inn.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Moon hoax


It shouldn't really need such effort, and certainly doesn't deserve further attention - beyond a scorn for its absurdity, but conspiracy-theory nutters' ridiculous claims that the Moon landings were faked gets a debunking episode on the Discovery Channel's TV show MythBusters, as reported here. The very idea is farcical. How can any thinking, or vaguely science-literate person give the 'Moon hoax' credence? Does even a casual TV viewer seriously believe that all those Apollo missions were faked? Are the lunar-buggy chase sequence in James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever, and the cover-up plot of Capricorn One, mostly to blame for popularising the joke? The whole 'hoax' thing is simply an insult to basic human intelligence, but some people will believe anything, no matter how stupid it clearly is.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Vista

There seemed to be a lot of criticism aimed at M$ Vista o/s, with techie users saying they preferred XP (if they had to use Windoze!), but I have not found any problems with the system. From activation of pre-installed version on my laptop, it's been easy to make adjustment from XP, and the interface appears to work somewhat better than XP, certainly with its start-up cycle. Downloading service pack 1 - for my Vista laptop, was less troublesome and worrying than adding service pack 3 to my XP desktop.

Bells and whistles stuff that's new for Vista, include significant practical things like ReadyBoost, which uses plug-in flash drive (up to 4 GB) as extra memory for RAM or disk cache, and hard drive defrag that runs in the background when computer is idle. There's also fun items like a free chess program (yes, I beat the machine at its lowest setting!) in the games section.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

New blood spec


My Blood Spectrum column in Black Static #6 (T3A Press) starts with an interview with Spanish film-makers Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, co-directors of siege horror [REC]. This issue's DVD reviews include: Exte, Sick House, Diary Of The Dead, Frontiers, Ghost Game, Hell's Ground, The Orphanage, Bloodbath At The House Of Death, Eden Log, Unearthed, and Awake.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Laptop


Latest item for current gadget-buying spree is an Acer Aspire 5920G (my first laptop) with: Intel T7300 dual core Centrino processor, 250 GB hard disk, 15.4-inch WXGA wide-screen, dedicated Nvidia graphics card, two GB memory, web-cam, built-in HD-DVD drive, and Vista home premium edition. It's last year's model (latest version has blu-ray drive, of course), but was praised by several computer magazines, when first reviewed by techie critics.

Bought a Logitech trackball mouse to overcome anticipated problems with the fiddly touch-pad, a four GB flash drive to transfer data from my laptop until home network is set-up, and then I installed some favourite stuff - like Firefox 3 browser, AVG free anti-virus, and decided to use Open Office for documents, and Thunderbird 2 for email (if only to avoid relying too much on various M$ programs). Managed to get online at my brother's place and I was pleased how easily wireless connections work, to quickly download Windows patches, and update AVG software, etc. Got linked up via HDMI cable to my Sony Bravia hi-def TV set, and happy with extending monitor view onto a 40-inch screen.

Having difficulty with email, as Thunderbird seems incompatible with Vista, although Windows mail (apparently a replacement for Outlook Express..?), works okay for POP3 downloads, if not sending of 'test' messages. Meanwhile, I upgraded my ISP account, switching package from a broadband 'plan' to a wireless 'bundle' (evening & weekend phone calls included so I get more for same monthly fee), but still waiting for delivery of a router kit ordered from Virgin media site.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Laser Fodder


My column for Interzone #217 (August 2008 issue) has review coverage of: Yesterday, Chrysalis, Sliders, Torchwood, Painkiller Jane, Bionic Woman, Species IV, Andromeda Strain (TV remake), Forbin Project: Colossus, Appleseed: Ex Machina, and X-Files Essentials.

Monday, 30 June 2008

HeliNews


I'm interviewed about Rotary Action (www.rotaryaction.com) in the latest issue (July 2008) of HeliNews magazine... www.helinews.com.au, and this Australian publication of Niche Media, also includes a fascinating top 10 listing about helicopters in the movies.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Library Thing


Ah! Yet another fascinating online time-sink, and displacement activity for constant readers...
http://www.librarything.com/

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Outlook

Just recovered from an Outlook 2000 inbox meltdown...

Although I managed to fix problems (got speedy and helpful advice from Mark Voss...) with that email program, I lost all messages from last month, and the folder-sorting rules turned up DOA (and will need writing again).

It could have been much worse if I had needed to un/ re-install Outlook from scratch! Who'd have thought M$ would stick a 2GB size limit (after which it simply corrupts!) on Outlook's PST file? Looks like I will have to get back into the auto-archiving habit, to prevent a repeat of this Outlook failure.

So... 10,000+ messages (many with xMB attachments). Where else to store them?
I just knew someone would suggest Gmail (and they did).
;D

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Watching


Since my old Hitachi TV set had recently developed quite annoying faults, I decided it was overdue for a 21st century replacement. After failing to get a Toshiba special offer (which sold out, very quickly!), I eventually chose a Sony D3500 series 40-inch digital LCD panel (model # KDL40). Product reviews had nothing but praise for the Sony TV range's 'Bravia' engine, and its screen contrast ratio 16000:1 was greater than specs of several other brands and models I considered. Sony also offered more connections, including two HDMI sockets, two SCART, one for a PC, various amps, and other components.

This new high-definition widescreen television certainly looks impressive, as a piece of consumer tech (taking up much less space than old bulky CRT), and for watching movies on. Adding to my existing kit of Sanyo multi-region DVD player, Orion DVD recorder, and trusty old Hitachi VHS machine, I also bought a Samsung BDP1400 blu-ray player, which does a fantastic job of automatically upscaling standard DVDs (region 2 or region-free discs, only!), but really comes into its own when outputting the content of blu-ray discs (region B only) at full HD 1080p to Sony's TV.

Picture and sound quality is astounding, which takes some getting used to (having so many tiny details now clearly visible on a big-screen TV can be distracting). As others who've converted to blu-ray and HD TV have said, there's simply no going back to cathode-ray viewing after experiencing hi-def digital at home, and the differences in viewing quality are particularly notable when looking at the playback of old video for comparison. Even a first-generation VHS copy looks quite fuzzy.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Cloudbusting

Intriguing New Scientist article here about clouds spotted before earthquakes. Amused by added comments, too, which include one from 'Cloud Appreciation Society' (I wonder about their attention span)!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Clarke RIP

Arthur C. Clarke was one of 20th century literature's three giants of science fiction. (The other two were Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.) Clarke died, at the grand age of 90, on Wednesday 19th March (though news reached UK while it was still Tuesday) and it's a very saddening thought for genre fans reflecting on how the author of classic novels - like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Childhood's End, produced such powerfully imaginative books that he was largely responsible for introducing them to SF in the first place, and making his readers life-long fans and followers of the genre's unique sense-of-wonder. (When I was a kid, it was Clarke's Earthlight which got me hooked on reading SF!)

When reading (and reviewing for Starburst #171), Odyssey, Neil McAleer's authorised biography of Clarke, I noted that it presented an essentially positive view of Clarke, without any muck-raking (Clarke's autobiography Astounding Days paints a similarly rosy picture), but that did not - and still doesn't - suggest that any negative comments were due, anyway. And it's worth remembering it was Clarke who attained a "cosmic eloquence" in his SF books and lectures that still remains unequalled in the field and the genre canon. With that in mind, I think that any number of human flaws and character faults should be overlooked. Clarke's single-volume Collected Stories is a treasure house of imaginative SF lore and it's changing focus over decades, and it reveals much about the genre's development as fantastic literature.

I've always found it fascinating to compare the film 2001 with the novel version, one being a genuine work of art by Stanley Kubrick (see here), and the other being a kind of distillation of Clarke's views on some of the big questions (about life-as-we-know-it, the ever-surprising universe, and everything..?), some of which remain unanswered in 21st century. Although it's obviously a great shame that so little of Clarke's boundless optimism has survived the various social changes of the millennium, there can be no doubt that his visionary input into SF is a vital guiding light as we lurch towards whatever future state (or complete mess?) the world gets into next.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

MindFlesh

Revelatory sequences concerning the protagonist’s boyhood underscore the incandescent psycho-eroticism of MindFlesh by Robert Pratten (the maker of London Voodoo, interviewed for The ZONE). Any prĂ©cis probably sounds laughable, incomprehensible, or worse… London taxi driver, Chris (Peter Bramhill, ‘bugboy’ in LovecraCked!), inexplicably magicks up his own dream goddess (Carole Derrien), and incurs the wrath of nasty aliens policing dimensional rifts. The demons start killing Chris’ friends. Enthralment. Kinky sex. Body-horror. Explicit pleasure/ pain, and blah. See?

Adapted from William Scheinman’s novel White Light, this is a double-sleaze Hellraiser dish with a side order of Society madness. Cronenberg weirdness? Ah, yes, old Crony might well be proud of his obvious influence here. He might even drool. Not too many horror films are daring enough to prompt fans to wonder, however briefly, about the sanity of the filmmakers. Even fewer new auteurs manage to hit the ground running with only their second feature. Writer-director Pratten allows his imagination free rein here (breaking with good taste like a bulldozer in a china shop), and the mature cast play along, bravely.

If you want to experience a raft of darkly whimsical surprises, acid-head flavoured grotesquery and perversion, in a mere 75 minutes of jaw-dropping fun and crazy sense-twisting games, here’s a 21st century brand of SF atrocity exhibit X that contrasts pretence with honesty, balances delight and disgust, exposes the shadowy aspects of human souls, and opens up the head of its main character with unflinching surgical precision.

Checkout the maker's website at zenfilms.com for more info, trailer, and latest updates.

Friday, 29 February 2008

flame on/off

Posted comments on some forums today, but managed to avoid getting drawn into latest random flame wars. Usually somewhat bemused by such online arguments because, generally, I don't want people to agree with me. At least, not too often. Well, yes, it's good to find busy communities with common fandom interests, where board members can enjoy all the pros & cons/ back & forth of various topical discussions. Indeed, this can be great fun, and it's very satisfying to join in some informed debates, but why do some opinionated people fail to accept that contrary views may be just as valid as their own?

There's no reason that fans - of whatever, in particular - should have to agree about everything or anything, really. I'd strongly suggest that a little bit of respect for other people's thoughts wouldn't go amiss. However, my opinions are just mine... So get your own!

Monday, 18 February 2008

new collections



Skimming off the cream? Mopping up the scum? Either way, the 13 stories in Andrew Humphrey’s second collection of short fiction, Other Voices (Elastic Press), are a fine collection of literary SF, urban terror, weird crime, melancholy noir, and bloody pessimism. It’s an engaging sampler of whatever sorrows float in the deep vats of cross-genre slipstream. There are dramas of cruelty and candour, sociopathic affairs and broken marriages, but the various characters’ estrangements might actually be from reality, and some protagonists find their sense of identity is undermined by curious events. Just like the urgent messiness of real life, happenings are frequently beyond explanation let alone human control.

When this volume came along I was partway through reading Joe Hill’s expansive collection 20th Century Ghosts (Gollancz), and must admit that the American author’s constant engagement with wraparound sentimentality was just starting to bore me (a little bit!), so the unexpected opportunity to review Other Voices for Starburst #360 provided a welcome relief. Okay, so maybe there’s a little too much of Norwich in Humphrey’s work, but this book frames an ample dose of satisfyingly British doom and gloom, with an appealing minimum of the mushy, the woolly, and the tritely condescending. Actually, there's nearly as much 'hope' in Humphrey's fiction as there is in Joe Hill's, but whereas hope seems like an essential ingredient in most of Hill's work, Humphrey's hope is fleeting at best or plays really hard to get. If you’re after dark fiction that quietly stockpiles optimism and settles happily into maudlin comforts after a hard day’s night practicing survival tactics, shop elsewhere.

Published by Serpent’s Tale books, Old Devil Moon is Christopher Fowler’s 10th collection of short fiction, exploring an impressive range of themes and styles from urban horror to whimsical fantasy, packing in much contemporary wit, literary flair and satirical insight. Compared to Humphrey’s finely-honed accounts of domestic disaster and laments for wrecked psyches, the grumbling quality of Fowler’s high-contrast offerings might be somewhat variable, but the sheer diversity of material reaches levels of pure astonishment, perhaps to the extent that readers might be left questioning whether all these disparate chillers and comedies were indeed composed by just one mind (latent evidence of Fowler’s um, apparently well-managed, multiple-personality disorder?).

Ringing the changes from knockabout Sherlock Holmes case histories and catalogues of absurdity (certainly, Fowler’s The Night Museum is a lot more fun than any dozen books by Tom Holt!) to cautionary tales about foreign travel, guiding us through yet another set of fascinatingly twisted and macabre tropes which, like the chillingly primal classic Sharper Knives (1992), sagely warns readers about whatever’s probably lurking down both familiar dimly-lit alleys and the cheerfully unknown back roads of cosmopolitan landscapes.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Invasion


Not to be confused with the sci-fi TV series (shown a while back on Channel Four, and out now on DVD), or Armand Mastroianni's 1997 TV film (based on a Robin Cook story) starring Luke Perry and Kim Cattrall, or the latest version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (also on DVD now), this low-budget movie from David Michael Latt is actually a cheap version of H.G. Wells' classic War Of The Worlds re-titled for a UK region 2 DVD release.

Just like Spielberg's blockbuster, it's a contemporary adaptation, transplanted to USA, but because modern visual effects are outrageously expensive (assuming that filmmakers aim for quality, anyway), low-budget SF cinema in a serious mode such as this is forced to rely heavily upon the actors for its principal dramatic moments. B-movie veterans like C. Thomas Howell and Jake Busey deliver their best, and yet, it's still not enough to save this production from abject mediocrity. The ending is wholly predictable, and it's a film only suitable for SF completists.

Final score: 4/10

Thursday, 17 January 2008

scrabbled

There are red flags up about Facebook (FB), recently demonised by the likes of Tom Hodgkinson for no good reason (a moral panic amidst worries for FB users' social welfare?), other than the G2 journo being disgruntled with FB as timesink for users, and a big moneyspinner for the 'geeks' who created it. But who's exploiting who? Seems to me that FB is becoming a major player in the global village experiment (e.g. I can play umpteen simultaneous games of 'Scrabulous' - an online version of popular word game Scrabble - with other FB users from around the world), and - as with FB applications in general - all we really have to put up with is sundry targeted adverts (which, like the animated banners on many other commercial sites, are easy to ignore).

The virtual community of FB is a good thing, relatively, and I don't view it as some malevolent commercial entity undermining our personal freedoms. Other businesses have played the 'connecting people' card in promoting their products, before, but without offering so much potential for mindless, distracting fun. Okay, FB and Scrabulous are potentially addictive... but neither compare to the genuinely destructive power of drugs or even alcohol, right..?

Now, corporate johnnies at Hasbro and Mattel have called for Scrabulous to be removed from FB, and fans of the online game are fearing the worst. I wonder how the lawyers have regarded Scrabulous' creators (brothers, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, based in Calcutta)? On FB, fans of both Scrabble and Scrabulous are wondering if their fun is about to end, or whether a licensing deal can be worked out. I suspect there will have to be a close-down of the Scrab online servers, even if that's just for re-branding purposes.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Boston Legal


Although the second DVD boxset of Boston Legal lacks the verve and sheer freshness of the 1st season, the eccentric-lawyers partnership of Denny Crane and Alan Shore (a brilliant double-act by William Shatner and James Spader) continues to appeal, with much savagely absurdist humour (including the postmodern use of in-jokes, usually aimed star-wards), crazily unrestrained courtroom antics, and incisively constructed speeches (thinly veiled social and political commentary on various burning issues and current affairs of today). Although this season sees the exit of supporting actress Rhona Mitra (as Tara), replacement starlet Julie Bowen (as Denise) is instantly likeable, even though she's challenged by the late arrival of Parker Posey (as Marlene).

If the lively arrogant banter of Crane and Shore now becomes rather subdued in those end-of-day balcony-scene codas, the script-writers maintain Shore's unique propensity for acid-tongued yet often deeply compassionate trial closures, while Crane ('Denny Crane'), still gets plenty of great, pithy comedy lines for before, during, and after his brief marriage to Bev (Joanna Cassidy). Other guest stars include Tom Selleck (rather smug and irritating) and Michael J. Fox (too obviously sympathetic).

Perhaps the biggest surprise this season is that Brad (Mark Valley) is promoted to full partner in the company, and the actor manages to leave behind his wooden charm, becoming a major asset to the main cast, especially in his dramatic if not always his comedy scenes. The best and cleverest moment is when Wes Craven is called to testify as an expert witness about a porn video! Needless to say, I have ordered the season 3 boxset. If you like a bit of honest drama with your TV comedy, this show has excellent production values, and is quietly superior to every other law-firm series I've yet seen... although I wonder how it compares to James Woods' vehicle Shark?