Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Talk is Cheap

Words written 9454
Stories completed 1
Rejections 5
Acceptances 0

Made the ‘what film have you not seen but should have?’ question* harder last night by catching up with Forbidden Planet and, in so doing, filled in another hole in my sci-fi list of things to make and do.

Perhaps it’s watching it through twenty-first century eyes, although I was trying to make allowances, but wasn’t this just an episode of Star Trek with a slightly crass crewing policy?: not a black or female face to be seen.

And not much of the ship made sense in spatial terms – there seemed to be just a bridge in the middle of the saucer but somehow twenty or so men lived and worked in there.  How?  Plus it was so ‘ship’-like that I suspected an early draft was actually set at sea and EXT: OCEAN had been switched to EXT: SPACE.

Yes, the effects were brilliant for the age, but if all the budget went on the effects the it’s lucky that talk is cheap, because there was an awful lot of it in between.  I may have drifted off during one of the set pieces.  And some of the worst B-movie hokum I’ve heard, the zenith or nadir being something about the planet’s former residents lack of ‘physical operationalities’, whatever they are.

I knew the film’s reputation as The Tempest in space, but I saw more of Night of the Demon in it.  That last comment probably says more about me than it, though.

* - still not that hard: The Day The Earth Stood Still

Friday, 23 January 2015

Some humble thoughts on the progress of humanity

Words written 9454
Stories completed 1
Rejections 5
Acceptances 0

One pifflingly small piece of drama from the tail end of last year was a minor battle with the ten year-old over data allowance and limits and how everything that he sees on the interweb - mainly other people playing Minecraft on YouTube - eats away at the amount of ones and zeros that we can suck from the ether each month.

There were a couple of conceptual problems for him in there.  You can tell because his eyes flick elsewhere and he tries to change the subject; no, hold on, that happens hourly.  Firstly, that data is being downloaded even when he isn’t saving it to his hard-drive.  I think he’s clear on that one now.

Secondly, that he should favour pages with text and not so much video if he wants to spend longer on his laptop.  This has generally led to the Xbox being interactive screen of choice with the laptop left untouched and unloved.

My initial middle-aged reactionary reaction was to put it down to the youth of toady, appalling attention spans, inability to concentrate or think or even read, and all this despite exemplary parenting.  But maybe he’s right.

It’s hard to spot the flow of history when you’re moving at tectonic pace, possibly even slower, but humanity is just a work in progress.  Perhaps words, text, what I’m producing right now, are a blind alley?

Think about it.  In the beginning was - no, not the Word - cave paintings.  There was no written language.  There were images.  And what came first?  The written account of the hunt, or the hunters acting it out?

Sure, written language has major advantages.  Those hunters won’t be around forever to act out the killing of the biggest, hairiest mastodon they’d ever seen.  But it seems to me that the human race and my ten year-old have a predilection towards the visual.  And that's directing the flow of history.

Some examples.  Newspapers have become websites where, increasingly, the items are videos not text.  Another, unrepresentative, youth culture example.  About ten years ago I bought a copy of the New Musical Express because it had a free 7” single on it (which I have since regularly tried on eBay without success).  In my day you had to turn the page to finish an article; in the 21st century that's no longer true even though the pages are smaller, and it’s now mainly pictures.  Extrapolating back, children of the 60s were probably faced with something like The Lancet or Nature when they picked up the NME.  Some would say it shows in the quality of what they produced.

Even warnings on packages have moved from ‘Do Not Swallow’ to pictures of people, hands held out signally 'stop', screaming.

So, will words become redundant?  Are they, like the steam engine or the hat or good manners, a meander in humanity’s progress?  I don’t think so, not completely.  But I do think generations to come will look back at us with our shelves of books and magazines as we do on the Georgians in their periwigs and think, 'why?'.

But, I don’t even think information conveyed by streamed video, even straight into your eyeballs as will surely happen soon, will be the end.  Either technology or evolution will inevitably deliver: thought transference.

And then, perhaps in the 23rd or 24th century, all forms of communication outside the skull - words on a page, moving images on a screen, or 3d football matches projected onto your coffee table - will seem quaint.

Perhaps there's not such a pressing need for me to progress with those bookshelves...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Only Rule is That There is an Exception to Every Rule

Words written: 5414
Stories completed: 1
Rejections: 5
Acceptances: 0

Thought I'd keep a little Bridget Jones-style tally of the year so far so you can see the full horror of writing at the margins...

Meanwhile, I recently posted on the slight embarrassment I often feel in the realm of sci-fi, particularly when it involves dressing up in foam rubber, giving yourself a name by pulling letters out of a scrabble bag lubricated with the odd apostrophe, and spouting hokum.

Well, I realised there's an exception to every rule by watching Armageddon.  Yes, old film; no, never got around to watching it before.  Like I've said, there's a hell of a lot of sci-fi out there.

Not only have I not watched Armageddon before, this was the first example of the oeuvre of Michael Bay that had take place before my eyeballs.  Being an adherent of the Church of Wittertainment I had a more or less fixed view on his output, but I couldn't believe how much shouting there was in the first reel.  Where are they going to go?  Everything was already turned up to eleven and not in a good way.

With story and subtlety at just as much risk as planet Earth, it struck me that Mr Bay had managed to craft a product without blokes with rubber horns or ridged foreheads, with normal names and a minimum of dilithium-crystal-hyperdrive-antigrav-transporter-beam, but that was so patently silly so as to make you squirm.  Even my eight-year old (girl) described it as 'badly filmed', by which I don't think she meant effects and cinematography.  And, if you can't get your story past an eight year-old, what hope is there?

Ten-year old boy, though, loved it - target audience. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My Year in Books

Those nice people at recently sent me a list of books I read in 2014.

At least, that's what it purports to be.  It's actually a list of books I've reviewed, having read enough of them to review in 2014.  Of the twenty-three books listed I abandoned five without finishing.  I've probably only ever abandoned ten or so books in my life, so I'm not sure what this says about me - impending mortality raising the quality threshold?

Others were tomes that got finished in 2014 - a detailed history of the shire county I used to live in; two reference works on building and property renovation; Hofstadter & Dennett's 'Mind's Eye'.

Of the twenty-three titles, fourteen were fiction.  The subject matter of the non-fiction, over and above local history, architecture and cognitive science were cosmology, economic history, the characteristics of improbable events and Alain de Botton's 'Status Anxiety', which I'm not sure how to categorise, other than as total tosh.  If I had to pick out a highlight it'd be JK Galbriath's 'The Great Crash 1929'.

Of the remaining fiction titles (and, sorry, I'm including '12 Years a Slave', but only because it's a narrative), only four could possibly be described as sci-fi (Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go'?), and one, Nicola Griffith's 'Slow River' was one I gave up on as being about as engaging as Ebola, but I'm clearly in the minority judging by ratings.

So, three sci-fi stories read.  Is that good enough for somebody writing sci-fi?

Well, here's the rub.  On the one hand, as a writer you're expected to know your genre.  On the other - and I wish I could remember who I'm quoting - a writer should know a little about a lot, preferably a little about everything.  One of my pet hates is writers having writers as their main character, because that's all they know.  And, at the same time, I'm meant to fit in everything else that a 21st century parent does.

And, remember, as I mused recently, there's so much out there that's sci-fi - or masquerading as sci-fi.

But, as we launch boldly into 2015, we all have good intentions.  I'm giving up ham.  And, I'm going to to read more sci-fi.  My reading strategy - yes, I have one, although I rarely stick to it - will be Gibson, Asimov, Ballard and Dick.  I'll let you know how I do, on both counts.

Happy New Year.