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Category: SF (page 2 of 3)

The Hugo Awards

So, the hugo awards are done for another year.

This year, there were two somewhat unpleasant voting slates, one of which I feel a little (but not very) sorry for, and the other I feel a sort of delightful glee at its whiny little head having been stomped on. There are certainly authors and creators I feel sorry for, as they found themselves caught up in it when they could have been on the hugo nominations without the slate, and have suffered as a result of being there.

I didn’t vote, partly because a) I’ve not read enough of the nominees and b) my arse was firmly in neutral, and I couldn’t find the clutch to get it into gear.

But mostly, I’m pretty happy with how things have come out.

The Two Slates

The Sad Puppy slate’s stated goals include a promotion of more blue collar, action oriented SF.  I can see where they’re coming from with that.  I don’t agree with it, but I can see their point from where I’m standing. There has been a lot more “worthy” than “wonder” in some of the recent lineups. I personally don’t see that as a problem, but it is a trend that’ll alienate some folks.

The Rabid Puppy slate’s stated goals were to take down the hugos because RAR! I AM SHOUTY ANGRY PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS RACIST MISOGYNISTIC DICKBAG! EVERYTHING NOT WHITE, MALE AND SIMPLE IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR! THIS CHAIR IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR AS IT SUPPORTS BROWN PEOPLE AS MUCH AS WHITE PEOPLE! PURIFY IT WITH FIRE!

The Awards

BEST NOVEL – The Three Body Problem

Cixin Liu (Translated by Ken Liu)

I’ve not read this one.  I tried, but my brain chemistry decided to be obstructive and awkward.  I’ll give it another go when my brain is cooperating again. However,  Katrina has read it – it wasn’t to her taste, having too much of the feel of classic-era American SF.  It wasn’t to her taste, but was declared to be totally hugo-worthy all the same.

What I managed to get through before my brain chemistry decided to throw its toys out of the pram again backed that up.

The Sad Puppies who want a return to SF like Asimov or Clark would probably have loved it.  The Rabid Puppies… not so much.

The only thing I think was unfair in this category was Jim Butcher’s SKIN GAME coming in below no award as a reaction to the slate. It’s a good book. I don’t think it should have won, but I think it firmly deserved the nomination and was beaten by no-award as a result of having ended up on the sad puppy slate rather than on its merits.

BEST NOVELLA – No Award

The Sad and Rabid puppies had taken over this category. I tried reading some of them.  They were bloody awful.  Not even in terms of content – in terms of writing standard.  They read like early 1990s schoolboys writing Warhammer 40,000 or Aliens fanfic… badly.

BEST NOVELETTE –  The Day the World Turned Upside Down

Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt (Lightspeed, 04-2014)

Haven’t read.  I have it somewhere in my Lightspeed back issues, but I’m pretty  sure I didn’t read it. If I did, I don’t remember it.  Not going to comment beyond that.

BEST SHORT STORY – No Award

I’ve not read them, so won’t comment further.  Generally I’ve found the authors nominated to be firmly not to my taste.

BEST RELATED WORK – No Award

See “Best Short Story”.

BEST GRAPHIC STORY – Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)

This is totally and utterly deserving.  So were the other nominations, and I think this one may have pipped it on the grounds of having a non-traditional protagonist in Kamala Khan – a teenage pakistani-american.

It’s also action oriented and a hell of a lot of fun.  It ticks the sad puppies boxes quite nicely – I think, if their stated goals are taken at face value, they’d love it.

The Rabid Puppies… not so much.

In terms of what it beat:

  • Saga Volume 3 – Saga is excellent, and has a raft of believable characters, all of whom are relateable in some way.  It also has action, adventure, sex, love, violence, people of all shapes, configurations, colours…  It’s what I’d have picked to win, but am not disappointed that it was beaten.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics) – Rat Queens is great, but I wouldn’t peg it for hugo-ish-ness – mostly because the flow didn’t quite work for me and a lot of it felt a bit superficial.  Not badly so, and it’s ahead of a lot of other comics, but enough to put it behind Saga and Ms Marvel in my mind.
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics) – Sex Criminals is weird and fun.  I’m glad it got a nomination.
  • No Award
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation) – not read it. I’m not going to discount it based on slates, but I’ve had my fill of zombie stuff for a fair while.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM – Guardians of the Galaxy

Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)

This was actually a sad puppy slate item which won anyway.  Because it was good enough to deserve it, and was clearly going to get nominated anyway.

I don’t think it was the best of the nominees (I’d put that as Edge of Tomorrow, followed by a tie between this and The Lego Movie), but it’s far from undeserving.

It also supports the Sad Puppies stated goals whilst remaining good, so I can see why they backed it. I’m glad it didn’t get the same treatment Jim Butcher got in best novel, but also sad that he got blocked when this got a pass.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM – Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

Totally and utterly deserving.

Everything else on the ballot also made me say “meh” – although I don’t know if I’ve seen the specific Grimm episode nominated.  It’d need to be a step up from Grimm’s business-as-usual episodes to match Orphan Black, though.

BEST SEMIPROZINE – Lightspeed Magazine

edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant

I have a subscription. I am rubbish at actually reading what comes in from that subscription.  When I do, I see a lot of good, but not much that’s my taste right now.

Deserving, in my book, as evidenced by the fact I have a subscription.

I have no idea about the others in the field.

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST, EDITOR (short form), EDITOR (long form), FANZINE, FANCAST, FAN WRITER

I am clueless in these fields. I lack enough knowledge to judge.  No further comment.

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER – Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao and the Deaths of Tao are great fun. Action. Adventure. Aliens. Conspiracies. Car chases. Fights (both kung-fu and gun). Helicopters (I think I remember helicopters). Pizza. Spies. Sex.

If the Sad Puppies stand up for their stated goals, they should love this book. If they’re Rabid puppies in disguise, not so much.

I’m glad Wesley Chu got it. The only other name I knew on the list of was Eric S. Raymond, who I largely know of as a software / linux person rather than a writer.

The upshot

The upshot of all of this is a wholesale rejection of the Sad & Rabid Puppies. Which is good, for the most part.  I think there may have been a baby or two in the bathwater (Jim Butcher, most notably), but a positive result from a sucky situation.

So, what’s my take on the whole mess

Do I think the process needs changing to prevent this being repeated next time? Sure.  Do I think both of the nasty slates are 100% wrong in their stated purposes?  Actually, no.

I think that the organisers of this year’s Sad Puppy slate were dangerously close to a valid point, even if that point clearly wasn’t the goal of the majority of their supporters.  I don’t think they’ve done a good job of articulating it, or a good job of advocating it.  Pretty terrible on both fronts, actually.

I’m also not convinced that their stated goal and their actual goal matched up – I think that for a lot of the supporters, the stated goal was the acceptable face of something much nastier. But the fact that the acceptable face was a smokescreen doesn’t make it irrelevant.

In the written fiction categories, there has been a trend towards the highbrow and the worthy. Towards the deadly serious and the “dealing with serious concerns”.  There’s not been much escapism or fun. There’s also been a tendency towards much more overt social commentary.

Except, this year, that’s not the case… and I think some of the sad puppies might be missing that because people keep telling them that the fun stuff isn’t good, or because they see that a lot of the good stuff isn’t fun.

So, I think that if they can get past the rhetoric, this year’s Hugos are great for anybody who seriously wanted what Sad Puppies purported to be about.

You’ve got fun, action and rip-roaring action in spades.

 

The “So you’re a dejected sad puppy” advice list

If you really wanted what you said wasn’t there, take another look at the winners and the other nominees:

You’ve got big-ideas meets aliens invade, humans fight back with SCIENCE and ACTION with “The Three Body Problem” getting best novel.

You’ve got a pile of fistfights and gunfights, mind controlling aliens, spies and high-tech in Wesley Chu’s Tao books. They remind me a lot of shows like Chuck or Alias, but with aliens in!

You’ve got entertaining action, blue-collar characters, teen-friendly themes, accessible coming-of-age, sense-of-wonder and entertaining fist-fights in Ms. Marvel – No Normal. Hell, you’d probably get a kick from Saga, too – that’s even got a strong “boy meets girl, they have kids and fight to protect their family” vibe going on. As well as some pretty kick-ass action.

You loved most of the films & TV anyway – go you.

Try some of those out.  I think you might be surprised…

 

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015 – My Sunday Writeup (no sketchnotes)

This is the final writeup of my time at Nine Worlds 2015, and unlike the previous two, it’ll be quite brief and completely without sketchnotes.  This isn’t a deliberate absence of sketchnotes – I just didn’t really go to anything that made sense to take notes at!

In fact, most of my time was spent socialising – I think the only programme item I went to was the “Night of the Trailers – Morning of the Trailers” slot in the film festival.

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Nine World Geekfest 2015 – My Saturday Writeup

This post is a follow-on to the previous one, in which I covered the Friday of Nine Worlds 2015.  Saturday continued along similar lines, with sketchnotes along the way.

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Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015 – Friday

I’ve recently returned from the thoroughly enjoyable “Nine Worlds Geekfest” – a friendly, highly inclusive, mixed media / mixed genre geek/fan convention.

Whilst I was there, I spent many of the panels I attended scribbling some sketchnotes.  For me, sketchnotes are a way to force what I hear in panels to go through different bits of my brain, and to stay in my head better than they would if I just listened.

This post is going to be a con report, but unlike any other con reports I’ve written, I’m going to include scans of my sketchbook pages. So you have some context…  my sketchbook pages are roughly 12.5cm wide by about 17.5cm tall.  If things look a bit fuzzy on bigger screens, it’s because they’ve been blown up a bit in scanning.

So – on to the programme items for Friday – Saturday & Sunday will follow.

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A Different Flavour of SF

A while back I got a bee in my bonnet whilst I was listening to music on the train home from work.  It boiled down thusly:

I am a fan of SF (meaning science fiction, speculative fiction or whatever else you may think along those lines).  I am a fan of music – including (but not at all limited to) progressive rock.

There is a fair chunk of well known crossover between SF and prog rock, and to music in general.  So I started to think a bit more… and an couple of ideas popped into my head.

Idea #1: Host an SF music listening party.  This is a bit further off, and involves a bit more planning and whatnot, but is still something I’d like to do.

Idea #2: Create a collection of original SF in musical form. This now exists, albeit in a limited form.

Following up on Idea #2

I started out by unpacking a few terms and setting some rules, and by pinging my assorted online contacts and mining their brains for examples.  It’s their brains as much as my own which have populated the playlist so far.

Rules & Definitions

Definition: “Original SF” – Speculative Fiction which is not an adaptation of pre-existing speculative fiction from another medium.

Definition: “in musical form” – A distinct chunk of music that can be identified in some way.  A single track, a suite of pieces, an album, an EP, a performance, etc…  but in this case, standing as music alone.  Soundtracks, cast recordings and things which require you do anything other than listen to get the SFness don’t count.  There are occasions where a theme song can fit (there’s at least one in the playlist, after a fashion), but they need to stand in their own right, without the show.

Rule: No soundtracks – Stuff that exists solely as an attachment to other media doesn’t count

Rule: Scope Limit 1 – Exclude sword & sandal / sword & sorcery fantasy.  Not because it’s necessarily bad, but because there was a glut of it in the 1980s (even more than there was SF stuff in the 70s and 80s) and it’d swamp the playlist.  Creating a playlist of original fantasy in music would be a different exercise.

Rule: Scope Limit 2 – Exclude horror (unless explicitly SF horror). See above.

 

The Playlist

So you can listen along…

I’ve put this together on Spotify so you can do more than just read about the music.  The playlist is collaborative, so stuff can be added, but please don’t spam it with crap – If that happens I’ll just delete it and create a new one that’s locked down.

Spotify Playlist – HTTP Link: Original SF music
Spotify Playlist – Spotify Link: Original SF music

The Music

Rush – 2112 suite

Type: Multi-part album track
SFness: Following a galactic war, all planets are ruled by the Red Star of the Solar Federation, lead by the priests of the temples of Syrinx. They control all media & every facet of life. Protagonist discovers an ancient guitar & starts to be creative. Oppressive civilization is oppressive.

Rush – Cygnus X-1 (books 1 & 2)

Type: Multi-part album tracks from two albums (“A Farewell to Kings” & “Hemispheres”)
SFness: Space explorer is sucked into a black hole and emerges in Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are dividing the human mind, leading to conflict.  The explorer gradually takes on a role as a god of balance, bringing heart and mind together.

Rush – Red Barchetta

Type: Track
SFness: This is “inspired by” the SF story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard Foster (acknowledged by both band and author, and the author is aware & fine with it), but I’ve read that it’s quite distinct from it, so I’m going to include it anyway.  If somebody who’s read the story disagrees… comments are welcome.

Sontaag – Sontaag

Type: Concept Album
SFness: From the artist’s album notes:  “The Ancients, through a long process of trial and error, had discovered the secret of synthesizing essential energy from harmonic sound, giving them the power to reanimate extinct planets by utilising giant orbiting sonic generators. But life came at a price. The newly supplanted inhabitants of MP-5 were compelled to provide the musical fuel for The Great Harmodulator simply to stay alive.”

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Dystopian, near future SF set in an increasingly aggressive post 9-11 united states as events unfold towards (and beyond) nuclear war with Iran.

Janelle Monáe – Metropolis suite(s)

Type: Multiple albums / EPs / tracks (Metropolis: Chase Suite EP, Archandroid & Electric Lady albums)
SFness: Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android, is sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Near future / current day dystopian SF. An amnesiac drug addict starts to recover memories of his time as a drug fuelled, mind controlled assassin.

Keldian – Heaven’s Gate / Journey of Souls / Outbound

Type: Multiple Albums
SFness: They’re specifically an SF themed power metal band

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great)

  • Heaven’s Gate – Album of SF songs
  • Journey of Souls – Album – ideas around souls travelling through time & space (as opposed to bodies). Mostly original SF, except:
    • Hyperion (based on Dan Simmons’ Hyperion)
    • The Last Frontier (based on Battlestar Galactica)
  • Outbound – Mostly original SF songs, except:
    • “A Place Above the Air” (based on Dan Simmons’ Endymion)
    • The Silfen Paths (based on Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books)

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great) is turning out to be based on other works, so I might have to move some more out of this list.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Type: Album / Tracks on album
SFness: …less than is immediately apparent, but still fitting

  • Not actually about battling robots.
  • The “pink robots” of the title (and title track) are apparently a metaphor for cancer, and the story of the title track is an analogy to the fight against illness, presented in an SFnal way.  Still SF, because it doesn’t have to be about robots to be SF.
  • “Do You Realize” – about precariousness of existence.
  • Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have themes that can be considered SFnal – particularly “soft SF” (SF based on the “soft sciences”).

Queen – 39

Type: Album track
SFness:  Space explorers depart for a year long voyage, but relativity means that upon their return 100 years have passed.

Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient

Type: Concept album
SFness:  Ziltoid (an alien warlord) travels to earth in search of something described as “the ultimate cup of coffee”.  He finds it foul, and brings his battlefleet to wage war on earth in disgust.

The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon

Type: Single
SFness: A woman tries to contact her husband who’s fighting on mars.  A connection is made, and so she has a few minutes to leave a message telling him that she misses him before the connection is lost.

Kate Bush – Experiment IV

Type: Single / Album Track
SFness: Military scientists looking to create a sonic weapon… and (unfortunately for them) succeeding beyond expectations.

Zager & Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

Type: Single / album track
SFness: Dystopian SF depicting humanity’s decline as a result of the growth of dehumanizing technology.  A modified cover version was used as the theme to the somewhat awful (yet bizarrely, regrettably watchable) “Cleopatra 2525” TV show.

Norman Greenbaum – The Eggplant That Ate Chicago

Type: Single
SFness: The invasion of Chicago by carnivorous, plant-like alien.

The person who suggested this to me was joking, but they shouldn’t have been – it fits.  SF can be silly, too.

Threshold – Clone

Type: Concept(ish) Album
SFness: Genetic manipulation of humans leads to the development of telepathy. Enhanced humans leave the earth to colonize other planets, eventually returning to Earth centuries later.

Electric Light Orchestra – Time

Type: Concept album
SFness: A man from the 1980s finds himself in the year 2095, tries to come to terms with being unable to return and adjust to his new surroundings.

Tandy & Morgon – Earthrise

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Space explorer longs to return to his one love on Earth, only to eventually find that true love has always been with him… inside. (from description on wikipedia)

David Bowie – Space Oddity

Type: Single
SFness: Features a space launch where things don’t go entirely to plan…  You mostly know the song, I’m sure.

David Bowie – Starman

Type: Single
SFness: It’s either about an alien or a deity.  Who knows?

Landscape – Einstein a Go-Go

Type: Single
SFness: Oddly cheery dystopian vision of a nuclear apocalypse.

Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Type: Concept Album
Notes: Particularly Sunrise / Have you seen the stars tonight (which are on spotify, whilst the main album isn’t)
SFness: The story tells of a counter-culture revolution against the oppressions of “Uncle Samuel”.  This leads to a plan to steal a starship from orbit and journey into space in search of a new home. Loosely based on / inspired by Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children”, but apparently different enough to be considered original SF in its own right.

Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

Type: Album
SFness: Lots of “space and time” themed songs – characters taken out of their time / place in SFnal ways.  Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have SFnal themes.

Styx – Kilroy was here

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Rock music is outlawed by a fascist government and the “Majority for Musical Morality”. Kilroy (a former rock star who has been imprisoned) escapes using a disguise (“Mr. Roboto”) and becomes aware that a young musician, Jonathan Chance, is on a mission to bring rock music back.

Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow

Type: Concept album
SFness: An alien race journeys to a new world following a volcanic catastrophe

What next?

This is not an exhaustive list.  The playlist will grow and change.  In writing it up, the playlist grew one album (a mistyped search found a result I’d never heard of, but which fitted better!) and was reduced by four or five songs as I researched them and found they didn’t fit the “Original” part of “Original SF”.

If you have suggestions, either go to the spotify playlist and add them (preferably pinging me a message somewhere explaining the SFness) or leave a comment somewhere I’ll see it and hope I can track it down to add it myself.  Either way, I’m interested in hearing more.

Contributors

Responses to my pleas for music references came from the following folks (even if their responses didn’t make the cut for some reason):

  • Ann (who was trying to be facetious but accidentally made the list anyway!)
  • Beth
  • Caz
  • Chris T.
  • @dakkar
  • Dave W.
  • Dean M.
  • Francis M.
  • Gav
  • Gurdy S.
  • Neil J.
  • Simon R.
  • Victoria S.

London Indie RPG Meetup, December 2012

The Meetup

I thought I’d talk about gaming. Specifically roleplaying. Partly because it’s always been an activity close to my heart, but also because I’ve actually done some of it again for the first time in… far too long. For somebody who still identifies himself as a roleplayer, I’ve done precious little actual playing lately.

My girlfriend has been going to the London Indie RPG Meetup for a while, and it’s had my interest too.  I decided that I’d skip out of another regular SF meet I go to along.  It’s annoying that they clash, but what can I do!  I’m extremely glad I did, as I got a chance to not only play a rather cool new game, but I also got a chance to try out my first go at a GM-less RPG.

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My time at Sci-Fi London, part 4

A Change of Plan

I had planned to only see two films on the final day of Sci-Fi London, both in the evening. But my plans for the daytime were scuppered by the weather, so I decided to add an extra item to my festival agenda and head in early. The pub quiz was tempting, as was an extra screening of Radio Free Albemuth… but the decision turned out to be quite easy in the end, because of one of my (very few) complaints about the festival.

Attempting to find out more about what the deal was with the quiz just left me at a page telling me to register my team. As a newcomer to the festival and the only one of my crowd to attend, I knew exactly nobody else at the festival. When the only option for a social event is to say who else you’re doing it with… and you don’t know anybody else, that’s a nice hefty barrier to participation. So I bought a ticket for Radio Free Albemuth instead. Not a great hardship, as it’s a film I’d wanted to see earlier in the week anyway.

This seems like a good time to bring up a small gripe about the festival, but first, I should clarify: I enjoyed the festival immensely. I just had the feeling I was missing something.

There was clearly a social side to the festival that just seemed totally opaque to me. I knew things were happening, but information about it all was remarkably absent… and there was remarkably little provision for folks who weren’t already involved in that side of the things to get involved. If you weren’t already a part of the in crowd, there didn’t really seem to be an on-ramp to change that. It’s difficult to mingle and socialise whilst watching films… and when not watching the films, everybody just seemed to vanish. Having a couple of places near to the cinema called out as “meet here between films” venues would help a great deal… the cinema foyer didn’t really cut it as a social venue much of the time, although I did spend a bit of time chatting with folks at the t-shirt stand later in the weekend!

Film 6 – Radio Free Albemuth

First, a confession: I’ve not read Philip K. Dick’s original book. I have read VALIS, which is a different variation on the story, but not Radio Free Albemuth itself. So this film was going to be both a bit familiar and a bit unfamiliar. I’m never entirely sure what to make of PKD’s work, but I found this film to be both enjoyable and engaging… and quite a bit easier to follow than VALIS.

The semi-autobiographical story follows Nick Brady (a fictional friend of PKD) as he deals with what he believes to be transmissions from an extraterrestrial origin, transmitted to him via a satellite in earth orbit, and setting him against the opressive political climate of a dystopian USA.

Apparently this film was shown at a previous Sci-Fi London as a test screening, and the version shown this year was the completed version, following changes made after those test screenings. Of course, not having seen the previous version, I can’t make a comparison… but given the quality of this version, I’m guessing it paid off.

So whilst I’d still like to have been to the quiz and got involved with the social side, I have no problem with having chosen to see Radio Free Albemuth instead.

Film 7 – Exit

I’m still not sure what to make of this australian film just yet. I know I liked it, but I think a lot of it is open to interpretation… and I’ve not finished forming my interpretation of it just yet. This won’t mean anything to non-gamers, but I got definite hints of Unknown Armies from it. It’s certainly a film about obsession and it certainly shows how obsession can damage people…

The general premise is that there’s a growing number of people who’ve come to believe that their city is a maze, and they’re stepping away from their normal lives to open as many doors as they can, hoping one of them will be the exit. They see their normal lives as just more dead ends in the maze, illusions to be overcome.

Exit is certainly a thought provoking and immersive film, though. Even without being 100% sure of what the final outcome of the film was (although I have theories), the film is still visually (and musically) impressive and I recommend it highly.

Film 8 – The Sound of My Voice

I’d been quite intrigued by this film since it leapt onto the programme at the last minute. It focusses on two would-be investigative journalists who attempt to join a secretive cult to infiltrate, document and expose it. The film opens as, after months of work, they are finally brought into the cult and meet Maggie, the cult’s charismatic messiah figure. What they weren’t expecting was for Maggie to claim to be from the future.

One of the things I really liked about this film was that it didn’t provide all the answers… it leaves a lot open, whilst also still providing a pretty solid conclusion.

Now, this is a film that’s virtually impossible to discuss without spoiling it, so I’ve hastily added a spoiler-block mechanism to my site. It might take a short while to get the kinks out – bear with me if this goes a bit astray.

First set of spoilers – concerning Maggie herself, her story and how some things could make more sense:

 

[spoiler]One of the things I was initially left a little cold by was when an investigative agency of some kind (I’ll run with FBI) gets involved… because, the way the film pans out doesn’t seem to fit with why and how they would have become involved. At one point, the lead FBI agent mentions that Maggie has held other identities, and has lead other cons, but escaped… and that in each case things have lead to a request that a child be brought to her.But then I realised that the “from the future” and “con artist” personas didn’t have to conflict. There’s no reason she couldn’t be both. After all, she herself says “I’m from the future, I’m not a saint“.

Another possibility that would make reasonable sense is that, as with the child she claims is her mother, the other children in other cities may well have been people she knew in the future.

All of the above could be true, without conflicting with her identity as a visitor from the future.[/spoiler]

 

Second set of spoilers – concerning outstanding questions about Abigail Pritchett:

[spoiler]This lot is very much a “things left relatively unexplained” kind of deal. I’m going to leave aside the film’s brief revelatory moment right at the very end (which I think was very nicely handled and excellently foreshadowed) and instead ask one question: What was the deal with Abigail. She’s shown as a strange child at the best of times – but the creepy weird structures she was obsessively making from her building blocks struck me as somehow important. The film never dwells on them, so she could just be an odd kid… but it struck me as too big a deal to not be relevant.[/spoiler]

Then there’s her bedtime injections. I got the impression that she was meant to be a child with some health problems, but injections between her toes? That seemed a bit odd to be left mostly unexplained.

(Frivolous edit: especially when the injections were delivered by none other than Dr. Thaddeus Venture himself [aka: James Urbaniak], another fictional character known for dubious parenting!)

So there you go, some spoilery questions and things I was pleased to be left wanting to know more about…

Festival Verdict?

I paid under £70 to see eight films and a pile of short films.  I’ll be going back, I think!

My time at Sci-Fi London, part 3

Arrival

This time I cut my time even finer, and arrived with about 15 minutes to spare before the start of the shorts programme… only to find that it had changed screens and been delayed by an hour. Oh well. I sat and read for a little bit and had a brief chat with the person behind the t-shirt desk. I set an early high score on her “name the associated film” challenge by getting all but one of them. I only missed a single t-shirt movie connection – which was apparently Blade Runner related. I’ll have to rewatch the film and see where it comes up, because it’s one of my favourite films and I didn’t recognise it even when told. Oh no, what a hardship. I’ll have to watch Blade Runner again.

Blink of an Eye: Shorts Programme 1

I’ve seen two sets of “shorts previews” at Eastercons in the past, and have enjoyed both of them thoroughly. When I decided I was going to go along to see things at Sci-Fi London, I was determined to take in at least one of the three sets of shorts. Sadly, I only managed to fit one into my schedule… but I did manage to see a few more through the festival and in the previously mentioned previews at Eastercon. If I can remember and identify those, I’ll add comments on those afterwards.

Short: Decapoda Shock

I saw this one at Eastercon, and didn’t even slightly mind seeing it again. A glorious tale of human space explorer mutated into crab-man-thing, returning to earth, fighting conspiracies and winning the day… with a rather nice macabre sting at the end.

Short: The Attic

This one was rather sweet, and not in a cloying way. It’s a story of a man and his estranged young daughter finding each other through the power of music, as inspired by a Ziggy Stardust like figure who may or may not live in the attic. I liked it, but must admit that I found it a little sacharine at times.

Short: Dr. Glamour

Another that I’d seen at Eastercon, this one is a glorious musical number that’s best described as one part steampunk, one part cthulhu, one part rocky horror. I must confess that, fun as it is, I much preferred the silent-movie style first part. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of it’s good and fun, but the first part (especially the moment that the male & female leads first really notice each other) is quite, quite glorious.

Short: This Is Not Real

I don’t really know what to make of this one, so I’ll just say it looked good and that I didn’t hate it. Then I’ll move on.

Short: Vessel

I saw this one at Eastercon too. It irked me a bit there, and it still irks me a bit now. It plays like it’s setting up for a “sting in the tail” kind of deal, to deliver a cautionary tale… and then there isn’t a sting. It feels like somebody forgot to add a story.

Short: Alchemy and Other Imperfections

I really, really liked this one… although I will admit that I’m making a deliberate choice to interpret parts of it (a memory that the female character is trying to remove from the male character) in a charitable way. If taken a different way, I’d find it more questionable. I prefer to be charitable in this instance… and either way, I can’t fault anything else about it.

Short: Robots of Brixton

I want to like this more than I do, but the references to the brixton race riots felt a little bit heavy handed to me. Either way, it’s an impressive piece of work… and I can’t fault it for having a message to it, and sometime heavy handed messages are needed. I also can’t fault the general production or the talent that went into it. It’s certainly powerful and memorable.

Short: Infinite Loop

Imagine Primer or Timecrimes, but instead of a time machine, use the bathroom of a student flat, and complicate the plot with a third flatmate who just wants a shower. Add a pot-plant as a handy macguffin and you’re golden. All good fun.

Short: Bobby Yeah

What. The. Shit. I repeat. What. The. Shit.

It’s like a creepy, psychosexual body-horror nightmare made of intestines and toenail clippings with an excellent dirty bass soundtrack. In fact, it’s not like that at all. It IS that.

There’s a trailer over here. It doesn’t do it justice. I want to get to another screening just to sit with my back to the screen and watch the audience reactions.

Other Shorts

As mentioned earlier, I caught a few other shorts.

Short: W.A.

This is entirely based on a very, very bad joke. It’s great if the audience are prepared to groan along with the joke at the end. When I saw it at eastercon they did, but this time they didn’t… which is a shame. (seen at eastercon and before a sci-fi london film)

Short: 8:31

Set in the last moments of light before the sun is due to go dark forever, effectively ending life on earth, a man and woman race to the hospital as she goes into labour. (seen at an eastercon preview)

Short: Blind Spot

I can say nothing here without spoiling it, but I found it excellent. Some of the physics in the background events slightly ropey, but that nitpick shouldn’t distract anybody. It’s just something that’s bugged me in so many films that now I can’t see it without it having a “gah!” moment. (seen before two sci-fi london films)

Short: How to kill your clone

A nice idea for a short, and it looked very good… but it felt muddled to me to the point of labouring it’s joke too much. As a short, I think it needed to be just a little bit shorter. (seen before a sci-fi london film)

Short: ERROR 0036

Automated call centres & helpdesk runarounds. We’ve all been there. I’ve certainly been there. I’ll even admit to having been on both sides of the call, although I always tried to be more helpful than the examples here. (seen at an eastercon preview)

Film 5 – The Last Push

The Last Push was the fifth film I saw at the festival, and it was on it’s second screening… which was packed.

First, a shout out for the lead actor. This film is essentially carried by one guy – Khary Payton – who’s more usually a voice actor for cartoon and video game work. He carries it very well indeed. It’s quite a subtle performance at times, as he’s playing somebody who’s generally fairly taciturn to begin with, and has the traditional astronaut calm about him.

Second, a shout out for the set. It’s perfect. It’s realistic, appropriate and claustrophobic whilst having just enough space to let the plot move. The rest of the cast, small though their roles were, were also universally excellent.

Third, the plot. It’s not really a spoiler to say that the exploratory mission to jupiter’s moons doesn’t go entirely as planned… but the way it doesn’t go to plan is excellent, thoroughly plausable and very nicely handled indeed.

In case you’ve not worked it out already, I loved it. So far, I’d call this my highlight of the festival… and it’s up against some stiff competition.

My time at Sci-Fi London, part 2

Day Two

I didn’t turn up quite so ridiculously early for my second day at the festival, partly by design, partly because I travelled in to London with friends and partly because the trains were utterly screwed. Still, I grabbed a nice veggie thali at Govindas (I’m not veggie, but still like veggie food) and then hurried down to the venue for film #3

Film 3 – Sol

My first film of the day was Sol – based around the “Sol Invictus” challenge, in which several teams of academy students from various colonies get dumped (via “slipgate”) on a random unknown world with equipment to set up a camp and study the heavens. Their goal: be the first to locate sol and send a message requesting pickup. The winning team get to go on to join the ruling class. The implication is that it’s very much a dog-eat-dog kind of contest, and that some of the teams are not above just killing the others to ensure they win.

Of course, things don’t go entirely to plan. The film opens with an accident at the slipgate. Virtually none of the competitors (or their equipment) make it through – and it’s outright stated that they probably died en-route.

My guess going in was that this was going to be a bit “lord of the flies in space” – and I wasn’t far wrong, although things don’t get quite as bad as that. The locations are good, and the performances from the cast of twenty-somethings and younger, are at worst servicable and at best sho real promise, even if some of the cast don’t get a chance to show much range.

I only have one real complaints about the film, which was that it strayed rather too much from “show, don’t tell” for some of the local wildlife. I can entirely understand why (budget), but that’s largely because the way it was handled pretty much yelled out “we don’t have the budget to show this stuff, so we won’t”. I wouldn’t have wanted full on CGI gribbly things (I rarely want that), but I wouldn’t have minded a bit more than people running around panicking whilst weird noises happened. The chronicler (the person who’s role on the team was to record everything and provide a lot of the viewpoint) being told “nobody should have to see that” wasn’t an adequate cover.

Still, as it goes, it’s a pretty minor complaint. I found the film watchable and enjoyed seeing it. For a young cast and (I’m guessing) a young set of filmamkers, it’s something they should be proud of.

Film 4 – Hell

I’d been lead to believe that Hell was going to be a nightmarishly bleak film… and I have to say that I don’t agree with that assessment. It was a harsh environment, with the sun having got brighter (hence the name – which is german for “bright”, and this is a german film) and the planet having got hotter and dryer, but I never got the impression that things were totally hopeless. There was always something else that could be done, or a problem that could be addressed. That said, that’s a disagreement with how the film was billed – I have very few disagreements with the film itself. In fact, I thought it was thoroughly excellent. I’m sure I’ll pick holes in it on a second viewing (and I want a second viewing), but I still really liked it.

The cast were universally excellent (although I’m sure that somebody who speaks german will tell me they sounded stilted and awkward – as an english speaker who can only kinda-sorta follow german I wouldn’t know!). The cinematography was stunning. The costuming and attention to detail in terms of setting and props was masterful.

But for a film billed for it’s bleakness, there was an awful lot of hope in it.

If you get a chance to track it down, do so.

My time at Sci-Fi London, part 1

What The Day Was About

Today I went to see some films. I’ll be going to see some more films tomorrow, and again on Sunday, and again on Monday. I’ll be seeing eight chunks of filmed science fictional entertainment in all. I don’t say “eight films” as one of those chunks is a series of shorts. I’d have liked to get to see more of the shorts, but my two different budgets limits (the “money” budget and the “hours spend in dark rooms” budget) wouldn’t really permit more.

I went in fairly early as I wanted to go and find the new (note: not actually new) location of Gosh Comics, and sure enough, I found it. Picked up a few more TPBs. I really do need to get rid of some that I soured on after buying the complete collection to make room (Y: The Last Man – good comics, but rubbed me up the wrong way).

Anyway. The main events – the films. I’m going to see these as part of the 11th Annual Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film (aka: Sci-Fi London). I like watching weird and wonderful SF films, and don’t often get the chance to do so. I’d had my appetite whetted a bit at Eastercon by a preview screening and a few of the shorts films, and decided I needed to get out and do something that was non-stressy… so booked for the previously mentioned eight slabs of film entertainment whilst the opportiunity was there. The festival’s been running all week, but the earlier films all either clashed with other things I was doing or were at times that were awkward to get to after work or get back from once they’d finished… So I just booked today off work and an treating it as a four day weekend.

Today I saw the first two of my eight. I was quite early for both because I figured that was better than being late, especially as the programme says “no late admissions” and that the times listed are start times. The routine seems to be to show a quick short before each film, then the festival director gives a brief intro, then they launch straight into the film.

Film 1 – Extracted

First up was “Extracted” – starring recent genre TV stalwart Sasha Roiz. I’m glad I picked this one to start with as I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had its UK premiere on Wednesday night, and this was the second showing. I almost didn’t pick this as one of my eight chunks, but changed my mind to include it (instead of one of the shorts programmes) at the last minute. I’m very glad I did. It’s a very well made and well put together psychological SF piece focussing on a man who’s developed a technology to step into and work through peoples memories to repair their past traumas, but who accepts funding from people who put it to other uses.

There’s nothing startlingly original about a “going into somebody’s memories to see if they’re guilty” plot, but this one handles it pretty well. It keeps it tight, and has some interesting and new twists along the way. I don’t want to say too much, but I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to say “things don’t go as planned”. I’d certainly recommend this one pretty widely – it’s not exactly a thrill-a-minute action ride (which is good – I’d have been bored if it was, probably) but it is well put together and a fine example of this particular trope.

The performances were of a universally high standard – unusual in low budget SF films, in my experience. Not just from the previously mentioned Sasha Roiz, but from everybody else as well.

The film kept the tension up and mostly managed to avoid dragging in the middle. I also, as somebody who works in software development, find the cause of what went wrong to have a certain resonance to it.

Recommended, and if I can ever find it, I’ll be picking up a DVD.

Film 2 – Cycle

The second film of the day was Cycle.

Beyond that, I have no idea.

No, seriously. I have no idea. It’s a 70s SF & psychedelia inspired / 80s synth soundtrack bleak weirdness headfuck. In motion captured CGI. With, amongst other things, a weirdly subdued party with disco lights. In spacesuits. At the end of the world. Maybe.

I think I can kind of see what it was trying to do, if I squint a bit and turn my head sideways. It was stylishly done, and the only thing that yanked me out of it occasionally was the delivery of the dialogue, which I suspect was largely delivered by the hungarian CGI designers and animators. It wasn’t badly delivered, but it was certainly oddly delivered. Then again, I think oddly off-kilter was clearly one of the design goals.

I’m not sure what to make of it yet. I might need to watch it again one day to try to parse it.

Either way, I don’t object to having paid to see it, so it’s not a failure. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on visually and the soundtrack was pretty mighty, so it’s got that too.

Still to come

Tomorrow I’ll be seeing Sol and Hell. On Sunday I’ll be seeing Blink of an Eye: Shorts #1 and The Last Push. On Monday, Exit and Sound of My Voice. They’ve also snuck an extra screening of Radio Free Albemuth in on Monday, which I had been interested in earlier in the week but unable to attend. If there are seats still available and my brain chemistry isn’t going to go all mad science as a result of too much time in the dark, I may get a ticket for that too. I’ve heard it’s very good.

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