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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

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

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

To every generation

August 1, 2018 Leave a comment

There’s a Buffy The Vampire Slayer picture book. It’s aimed at children. Or more accurately, the parents of kids who have fond memories of the show.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a show that came out over 20 years ago. It’s more than reasonable to assume that the people who loved the show growing up have since gotten older, settled down and decided to pass on their love for the show to their offspring.

To every generation a Slayer may be born, but Buffy fans stretch across generations. Of course, it’s a pretty scary show, so how young should you start a potential Buffy fan? How about with an adorable Picture Book that has Buffy, Willow and Xander go on a sleepover? Kim Smith is no stranger to creating books firmly aimed at small hands which happen to be based on more grown-up fare. She’s nailed it yet again; this is a book that will delight kids and make adults grin in a silly sort of way.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – A Picture Book is a charming affair. Like many of the Pop Classic s before it, it reduces an iconic bit of pop culture down into its simplest form. The story is pretty straight forward. It focuses on a young Buffy Summers who’s afraid of the monster in the closet, so she gathers her friends together to figure things out. Obviously there’s also a trip to Library to meet Giles, and there’s plenty of surprises for fans. By which we mean some very nice illustrations of notable things from the Buffy Mythos.

Compared to previous works, it’s much more simplified than the other books. Smith’s version of Back to the Future had a meatier story to compress, as did the Pop Classic version of ET an Extra-Terrestial. It is however, just as fun. We aren’t convinced that this could really be called baby’s first horror though. You have to be a certain age to really get spooky stuff, and that’s what the Goosebumps books are for.

A little bit of spookiness is good for anyone. Horror (and it’s upmarket cousin, Crime drama), is our way of coping with the more mundane nastiness in the world after all. So a little bit of spooky magic fun is always welcome.

Categories: Books, Geek

Book Review – 84K

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Claire North1 is always a delight. Her book The Sudden Appearance of Hope ended up on the short list for Brave New Words Award, and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is one of my favourites, it being my short of time-travel what-if weird.

84K is anti-utopian fiction set in a near future, and extrapolates current British politics to an utterly bleak (and seemingly inevitable) conclusion. A world where freedom is just another word and every life has a price tag, assessed, stamped and added to a spreadsheet. The story revolves around a man who is called Theo Miller. He works at the Criminal Audit Office, an organisation owned by The Company. But then everything is.

Theo’s life is one spent under the radar, never running too fast or raising his voice. He assesses the cost of individual crimes for a living. This is a world where those with little or no money are sent to work menial roles to pay off the cost of the simplest misdemeanours. It also means that those who can pay can pretty much do what they like. Inevitably, he finds himself in a situation where the books cannot be balanced, and his past, long held in check, drives him to act.

It is a thrilling read; taut and well balanced. This is both literary fiction and science-fiction, in the same vein as A Handmaids Tale or 1984. 2 Given the title, comparisons to Orwell’s 1984 are inevitable, and though they are some strong similarities in tone and approach, North’s writing is brighter, sharper and much more engaging than Orwell’s.

The narrative is tighter and though the tone and message are just as bleak, the story is more resonant and relevant. 84K has the advantage of being a new story set in a recognisable world, of course, but it every bit as thought provoking as other dystopian classics such as Farenheit 451 and Brave New World.

There is no Big Brother in North’s world; instead The Company fills the omnipresent space. Theo Miller is a deeper and more motivated character than Winston Smith and so on. They are parallels, certainly but 84K is more relevant, more vital and much harder to ignore. It’s also much, much more angry. There’s a really rage underneath the page, a powerful stab at current heartlessness and greed of our modern world. This makes the work truly gripping, though if you’re in the process of despairing over UK politics, you’ll either find the cathartic or a just a little bit much.

This is a dystopian anthem for modern activist, a warning of an all to near future and a wake-up call for anyone who believes justice should not come with a price tag. 84K is an important book but also a cracking thriller and a great bit of near-future speculative fiction.

A version of this review appeared in Starburst Magazine. This is a revised version.

1: Aka Catherine Webb, AKA Kate Griffin. Writers with multiple names are always a delight, especially when we have them on the podcast, because we can claim we have multiple guests.
2: Books can of course be more than one genre; those who tell you otherwise are trying to sell you something.

Categories: Books