My Dublin2019 Schedule

July 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Here is a list of panels that I will be on at Worldcon in Dublin next month. You can catch me there or during the convention. I’ll be around at various parties, gatherings and watching panels also.

YA book to film adaptation
16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:00 – 10:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)
We all know text to visual screen adaptions are hard. What unique difficulties does the YA genre present in the translation from print to screen?

Can technology save the world?
16 Aug 2019, Friday 15:00 – 15:50, Wicklow Room-3 (CCD)
Elon Musk and others believe that technology can and will save the world. Can tech handle growing demands on the earth for resources? Can we invent our way out of climate change? We talk GMOs, nanotech, geo-engineering, and also our faith in tech as a ‘get out of gaol free’ card. I am moderating this one.

The Cost of Comics – What Format works best?
17 Aug 2019, Saturday 10:30 – 11:20, Odeon 5 (Point Square Dublin)
Roy of the Rovers went from a weekly strip to a book and is now being relaunched as quarterly graphic novels. Shonen Jump (the world’s most famous weekly comic) is moving to a free online model with downloads on subscription. As costs increase for individual issues, should we move to larger publications released at longer intervals? Is it possible to balance what is best for readers, creators and the publishers? I am also moderating this one.

Anime and the west
17 Aug 2019  Saturday 13:30 – 14:20, Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)
Alongside the resurgence of the popularity of anime, more and more western cartoon creators are citing anime as their inspiration and are starting to incorporate the style into their own shows. What has been the impact of this in the western world? If an animated work was created in the west but is stylised like anime, can it be called an anime?

D2019

Dublin 2019 Worldcon Logo

 

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Brave New Words Award 2019 / Edge Lit

July 14, 2019 Leave a comment

Well that’s another Brave New Words Award done and dusted. The winner is Tasha Suri. The judges felt that her book, Empire of Sand, was just the sort of thing the award is far. It’s brave, it’s new and the words are absolutely lovely.

The award itself is on it’s way to Tasha. Expect to find the award’s journey appear on the Brave New Words Instagram sometime soon.

The actual statue is called ‘The Roboto’ and it modelled on the original Starburst Fantasy Award from the 70s. It’s the same model that get’s given away during the Starburst Film Festival, but with a slightly different base.

The judging process was fun. This time round we had more time go through the short list. Last year we had to work with a March deadline, as the award ceremony was a the Starburst International Film Festival. 2019’s award ceremony happened at Edge Lit in Derby, so we had ages to read all the books.

It was still an extremely tough list choice though.  The final judging process was fun though. A long chat with lovely, intelligent well read people where we beat out what we liked about each work. As the chief judge I get to say ‘why’ a lot to the jurors, which was both fun and frustrating.

brave-new-words-award-nominees-announcedThe short list was: Aliya Whiteley – The Loosening Skin , Tasha Suri – Empire of Sand, Rachel Armstrong – Origamy, Claire North – 84K, Micah Yongo- Lost Gods and Tade Thompson – Rosewater.

Genre fans might notice that some of these nominations have appeared elsewhere in other award lists; The Brave’s mission statement tends to have some cross-over with The Clarke and The Kitschies after all.  I think the nominations nail the very strong state of genre thus far, and the winner is totally spot on.

The final announcement happened at Edge Lit and was on just before the legendary raffle. Thanks massively to Del who came up with some genius slides and I think I wasn’t too boring. The audience seemed amused at my terrible puns, I think.  I did leave the Roboto on the podium and had to rescue it just before the infamous drunken raffle occured and now it’s on it’s amazing voyage.

Starburst Editorial have given the okay to do this again next year, and Edge Lit is going to be a two-day affair next year. And yes, the podcast is coming back. It’s been a busy year.

Oh, and Edge Lit itself was awesome. I got to hang out with some of my favourite people, attend a couple of useful workshops and here some of the best writers in the industry talk about their work. Looking forward to next year.

Categories: Books, Brave New Words

On Starfury Speed and other stories

February 3, 2019 Leave a comment

One of the things about spending a chunk of your life writing about other people’s fictional tales is you think a lot about how stories get put together. And if you’re me, you then get kind of annoyed when other people miss the point and try and pull a good tale apart for all the wrong reasons.

I love good criticism. A well written review is an art in itself. And I adore it when someone takes a great story and takes it apart skilfully. What I can’t stand is when a work gets taken apart because the critic decides that the story itself is wrong. For example, someone complaining that a vampire movie is bad because the vampires can walk in sunlight without exploding1, ignoring the fact that it’s a story and the storyteller can do whatever the hell they like with the tale.

The Starfury Speed trope is a modern example of favouring story over accuracy. It comes from the 90’s TV show Babylon 5. The show featured small fighter craft that happened to be very quick and agile2. Various parts of the story had the ships turning up in the nick of time, or just too late. So obviously fans corner the show’s creator JMS and ask “How fast do Starfuries travel? Or for that matter, any of the show’s many cool spaceships?”

starfury

How does it work? Unless the story is about the science, or that engineering is part of the creators message, then rule of cool applies. And Starfuries are really cool. (Image via TMC-Deluxe )

 

His reply? “At the speed of plot.” It’s a perfect answer from someone whose job it is to tell stories. Expanding on this though, it should be taken as read that if, say, the tabletop miniatures game states that the SA-32A Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury travels at a certain speed, that doesn’t make it a rule that applies to all other media. It’s just a thing they’ve done to make the game work.

Looking for details that aren’t relevant to the story in order to criticise a story is not productive. If your argument that Superman is a bad movie because in the real world people don’t fly, you’ve missed an important step somewhere.

There are lots of examples available. My personal favourite comes from the UK LARP scene, were myself and friends happened to be playing Samurai Badger people in a fantasy setting. Various geeks wanted to impress upon us their knowledge of Feudal Japan by asking us stupid out of character questions and lecturing us at length about how ‘Samurai don’t work that way’. We had to patiently point out to people that we weren’t aware giant badger people existed in the real world.

All of this ties into another frustrating trope, called The Thermian Argument.3 You see, just because a thing works in a story, and you can justify it in the context of the story, doesn’t make you immune from real world criticism. Claiming its okay to overtly mock a whole section of real-world society because you’ve made up this thing that says it’s okay, doesn’t make it okay.

Good criticism is an art in its own right, and it’s healthy to bring stories into their real world context. It is not a contradiction to enjoy a story in its context and then pull it to bits when your pop it on the workbench that is a the real world, or even the context of another genre with different conventions. But deciding that one made-up thing is more valuable than another made up thing because they contradict each other misses the point of stories.

—————-

1: Vampiric allergy to sunlight of course, being something that’s toggled from story to story, and a clue that all vampire stories don’t share the same universe. You’d think this was obvious, but no.
2: The design was so simple that apparently NASA drew inspiration from it during their research into smaller space vehicles. I understand it was a ‘Why didn’t we think of that’ moment.
3: Coined by Folding Ideas here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxV8gAGmbtk. To be clear, The Thermian Argument is where you use a made up thing to defend yourself from criticism about problems wih the stories real world context. You justify something awful by saying ‘It makes sense in the story’.

Categories: Rants, TV

Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch

December 1, 2018 Leave a comment

If you are into both detective fiction and supernatural adventure stories, then we’d be surprised if you haven’t at least heard of the Peter Grant novels. The long running novel series has recently spawned its own comic book spin-offs, novellas and a TV show is still in development. Lies Sleeping is the seventh novel is the series proper, and we are happy to report that it’s still as fresh as ever.

Typically Peter Grant novels start with some sort of incident that can only be handled by Falcon; The Metropolitan Police’s own specialist supernatural crime division can handle. This time round though, we are pretty much dipped straight into the over-arching plot from the previous books. The mysterious Faceless Man, the villain from the last six books or so, is the focus of a major sting operation. This means changes for the team. It’s nice to see how things have developed.

In the first book of the series, Peter Grant was a humble Police Constable, still wet around the ears. By book seven he’s made it to Detective and regularly taking swims in rivers. His magical abilities are accomplished and reliable. His mentor, DCI Nightingale also feels much more powerful in both confidence and magical might. Even their cosy little base of operations, The Folly, has become a full-on operational centre, with everyday crime fighting professionals rubbing shoulders with the casual creepiness that lies in The Folly. This makes for solid development of the series; after all the characters must progress at some point and it’s been a joy so far to watch them strive through every little set-back.

Aaronovitch melds the magical and mundane extremely well. There’s a good mix of ‘London practicality’ and ‘unimaginable terror’ here; this isn’t a world where everyone can take the idea that magic is a real thing in their stride. Fear of the unknown keeps things in the margins, which provides a back-drop for the main characters struggles. Practical policing versus existential horror, to put in another way.

Lies Sleeping doesn’t try to catch up new readers, which is quite right. (Though if this sounds like your thing, do go and read Rivers of London first.). The plot dives straight into strands from the previous serious, tying up plot threads going all the way back to book one, whilst fraying new threads to keep the intrigue going. The pace is solid and steady, the action is as thrilling as ever and the whole thing ticks along like an old yet exciting friend. It would be unfair to call this more of the same, as the story delivers many answers. And at the same time, asks plenty of questions.

A must for fans of the series so far, and as always, we can’t wait to read the next one.

Categories: Books, Old Reviews

Speed Freeks

November 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Very, very short review of this Games Workshop game would be: It’s everything GorkaMorka should have been, but wasn’t. And it’s as much fun as Gretchiniz promised to be, but wasn’t.

Of course, if you don’t know what either of those are, or what an Ork is, you’ll be a bit lost. Let me unpack it – an Ork is a sci-fi version of an Orc, the rampaging monsters from fantasy tropes. They’re gadget obssessed brutes who can’t spell. GorkaMorka and Gretchinz are both racing games (via Games Workshop), which combine dangerous and crude technological themes with rally style racing.

Warhammer 40,000’s Orks are perhaps one of the most fun things about the franchise. A perfect storm of parodies, not only of British 80’s subcultures but fantasy tropes, creating a brutish, sinister and ridiculous band of villains that you never the less root for. They tend to be at their most interesting when the story is about them. SpeedFreeks is Games Workshops latest box that’s just about the Orks. Namely, it’s a miniatures racing game about these horrible monsters trying to prove who’s the better driver whilst making horrendous amounts of noise.

The box comes with enough for two players. Six warbikes and two larger vehicles unique to the set. The warbikes are nothing special; Ork fans will have seen them before. The other two items are something else, however. The Kustom Boosta-Blasta is a nightmare beach buggy with massive wheels and a huge gun. The Shokkjump Dragsta is a race car from doom, imagine the sort of Formula One vehicle that the devil would invent. These two pieces are your main counters for the game and they fight each other. The models come unpainted, but the two mobs are in different colours (mustard yellow and bright red), for ease of distinction. You have to glue the models together yourself, and this will take most of us a couple of hours to do.

We also get some solid looking scenery which can be used in other games, and component quality is thick and solid.

Game play wise, it’s a cunning and brutal game. Stats are split into Kunnin’, Speedin’ and Shootin’, and you allocate dice appropriately. Movement is by template (or gubbinz as the game calls them) and the idea is that these vehicles don’t move in a straight line. Instead they skid, drift and spin across the board, mostly in a controlled fashion but not always.

This adds a push your luck element to the strategy, making the game a faster, chunkier and more satisfying vehicle combat game than X-Wing. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in explosions. The game comes with four reversible boards and yes, these can be used in games of Kill Team if you must. We have four scenarios, which all use the boards in a different way, including a Mad Max style chase mode that will have you repositioning the boards as you zoom across a desert landscape.

SpeedFreeks is a smoother, quicker game than we expected. As fans of the 90’s Ork racing game GorkaMorka, we were expecting something deeper and where pleasantly surprised. GorkaMorka was a gang war game with vehicle rules; SpeedFreeks is a racing game and not much else. That’s a good thing. A must have for Ork fans, and a welcome addition to anyone who likes racing board games.

Best iteration of this idea so far, a must for fans of Orks or Mad Max movies.

Categories: Games, Old Reviews

How To Invent Everything by Ryan North

October 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Ryan North is as funny and he is smart, and he is very funny. Known for things such as Dinosaur Comics, Squirrel Girl and To Be or Not to Be, a book which turned the events of Macbeth into an adventure game. North’s signature style is funny yet informative, and with his latest How To Invent Everything, he completely outdoes all his previous work.

The premise of How To Invent Everything is that it’s a copy of survival guide for a stranded time travel. Allegedly discovered by North in the fossil record, it tells the reader that there is no way to repair a time machine. Instead, it advises the reader to rebuild civilisation from scratch, this time without making as many mistakes.

The first chapter is a description of both history and Earth’s place in the cosmos, cunningly disguised as a ‘how to work out where the time machine as dumped you’. Next we are onto the very basics; the fundamental technologies for civilisation turn out not to be fidget spinners and yodelling, but spoken and written language, scientific method, numbers that work and having some spare food. We then get into farming, mining, animal husbandry and so. All the good stuff.

Though disguised as a technical manual, this is anything but. It’s a fun history and explanation of humanity’s scientific achievements so far, with an added ‘how to’ on top. One of the recurring themes is exactly how long it took humans to come up with simple ideas such as wheelbarrows or keeping infants warm. They are fascinating (and carefully researched) facts here, all relating to human nature and their relationship with technology.

The conversational tone is charming, as well as the occasional gag about time-travel. (The fictional author in the book is angry at his boss at the time travel agency, for example.) It’s filled with lovely touches, such as all the historic quotes being from you, because you’ve gone back in time and nabbed those quotes. (They are also properly attributed, as is everything else)

Clever and well observed, it’s filled with everything you need to reboot civilisation. It includes substantial notes in the appendices and a general guide to useful animals and plants. This book is an almost essential primer on the story so far when it comes to science. We even go as far as basic computing, whilst also covering music, art and medicine. How To Invent Everything follows the Reithian principles of information, education, and entertainment, though it has the latter in spades.

I’ll be installing my copy in my personal time machine, of course. And getting copies for all my adventurous friends.

Categories: Books, Old Reviews

Art Matters – Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

September 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Any type of creative work will create outliers who combine skill, talent and a sense of cool into something unique. Neil Gaiman has, over the years, become a rock star of genre literature. Though not easily pigeon-holed, Gaiman has produced a wide and varied array of iconic and memorable work. Charismatic, creative and clever, he’s easily an icon of geek culture.

As such, he has a lot to say about working in the creative industry and on the subject of being a writer. And he says it all in such a pretty way that it deserves illustration. Art Matters brings together four of Gaiman’s well regarded musings on the subject of creativity, and combines them with art from former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.

The first piece is Credo, which originally appeared in the New Stateman. It’s about the nature of free speech and how ideas are pretty hard to stop. It’s a notion that is unpalatable to some and inspiring to others, and a rallying speech about freedom of expression. Inspirational and strong.

Next up is a thing called “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”, and it was originally a lecture given to The Reading Agency. It’s a short, sharp speech on why reading is good for the soul and good for society. It’s something that shouldn’t need saying, but obviously does, and it’s wonderfully put.

Making a Chair comes from a CD called An evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. It’s about making a damned chair. Because sometimes you have to make a chair. There’s a clever metaphor here, we are sure. The illustrations are great and it is quite funny. Finally we get to Make Good Art, originally a keynote speech for The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

It’s a speech about how Gaiman got to where he is today. It’s filled with clever little observations and witty little asides, but it’s essential message is Make Good Art. It’s a good speech, one designed to make people struggling at the creative process to keep going. It’s a reminder that the task ahead is possible. It’s filled with hope, and very useful, especially when things seem gloomy.

Riddell’s artwork is delightful throughout, punctuating Gaiman’s intent and making powerful words all the more poignant.

This is a small, pocket sized book filled with inspirational words and ideas. It’s the sort of thing that can brighten your mood during a gloomy English winter, when everything is dark, work feels like it’s too hard and every time you try and do something creative, something else gets in the way. This is a lifeline of sorts, something to keep the creative spark going during a storm. Invaluable for anyone who creates, which is pretty much everyone

Categories: Books, Old Reviews