Thursday, 8 October 2015

Patchwerk Covered

As is the way, my going on holiday was an excuse for all of the news to happen all at the same time, and it'll be a while before I get up to date on everything that's been going on.  But let's start with the big - nay, huge! - announcement: Patchwerk, my novella due out in January of next year, finally has a cover, and it's a sight to behold.

So here, behold!

Gorgeous, right?  That's by the remarkable Mr Tommy Arnold, and you can find more of Tommy's artwork here ... trust me, your eyes will thank you, and then giggle to each other in a hugely disconcerting fashion.

While I won't say too much about what's actually going on in that cover, because we're still the better part of three months away from release, I will point out that those five characters there have one thing in common other than their snazzy matching white jackets.  Which is that they're all the same person.  Because - yes! - sometimes all you need is an infinite number of heroes.  And sometimes all you have to hand is one person and all of space and time.

I trust that's cleared things up?  Either way, you can find the official announcement, with details of the rest of their January release line-up and a couple more absolutely stunning covers, here.  And before I go, here's the text-free version, since - as galling as it is to admit - sometimes things do look more awesome without my name on them:

Friday, 25 September 2015

Short Story News, September 2015

I've been remiss in keeping up with my short story-related news here of late, though in fairness that's been not entirely because I'm easily distracted and at least partly because not so long ago it looked as though a number of things would be coming out at more or less the same time; it seemed like sound logic to post all of that news together, but publication dates wandered as publication dates will and in the meantime other stuff has been happening and, boy, this is a lot of unnecessary preamble, isn't it?

Short Story News, September 2015.  Take two.

I have a story out as an e-book!  It seems decidedly weird that this should be the first time this has happened outside of novels, but there it is.  Digital Science Fiction was an immensely good professional-rate market that lasted not half long enough around four years ago, published my Black Sun in their excellent debut issue First Contact and were scheduled to publish my Across the Terminator when things went south.  So I was overjoyed when owner Michael Wills got in touch to say that Digital Science Fiction was getting reincarnated and would I still be up for him publishing it?  Across the Terminator - probably the nearest thing I've ever written to hard SF and perhaps the nearest thing to a proper love story - is part of a rapidly expanding e-book line-up that's well worth checking out, and you can find it at Amazon UK here or Amazon US here.

Elsewhere I've been making a dint on my finally almost-vanished backlog of somewhat older stories.  Which sounds a lot like "trunk stories" if you're the suspicious sort but they're honestly not that, and in fact quite the opposite; if I'm still sending out anything more than about five years old then I've had to be pretty damn certain of its merits, and it's probably been polished beyond an inch of its life.  Of no story is that more true than Children of Deadways, a profoundly strange slice of sci-fi gothic zombie horror that I feel like I've spent forever getting right and has finally found a place with one of my favourite print markets, Space and Time, who published my In the Service of the Guns way back in 2009.

Perhaps a little older even than Children of Deadways, if memory serves, is my contemporary ghost story Knock, Knock, which has been one of those tales that I never quite understood how it wasn't selling; a stupid question ultimately because the answer is always the same and always that the right home just hasn't come along.  Anyway, it's a creepy little thing based immensely loosely on events and places from my time in York, and that home turned out to be Pantheon Magazine, whose Gaia: Shadows and Breath 2 anthology I was being impressed by so recently.  It's lined up for their Hestia-themed issue, which is a perfect fit for at least a couple of reasons - neither of which I can touch on without spoiling a story that hasn't even had a chance to get published yet!

Fortunately it hasn't just been older work selling; possibly the best news I've had lately was in regards to A Killer of Dead Men, which I wrote specifically and rather optimistically for Beneath Ceaseless Skies as a follow-up to my Ill-Met at Midnight, published there back in August 2013, and which to my delighted surprise is actually going to appear in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  This was a huge relief because it would have felt weird to have Otranto Onsario, master assassin beyond compare and possessor of perhaps the most twisted conscience in fantasy literature, appearing anywhere else.  I really like this character, it seems that BCS editor Scott Andrews does too, and I should probably start thinking about writing another Otranto story, shouldn't I?

I feel bad now for not having mentioned here the stuff that's come out recently or due imminently - like the Second Contacts anthology from Bundoran Press, or Purple Sun Press's Coven - but I'll get to those in the near future, I'm sure.  This post is already long enough and has achieved its main objective, which was to remind me that amidst the lousy news there's been plenty of good stuff happening.  Putting it all together like this, it's actually been a pretty great few months, and while it's probably far too much to ask, I'll be immensely pleased up things keep up like this for the remainder of the year.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Film Ramble: Franklyn

Here's the thing: Franklyn is a British movie that isn't a gangster film, a romcom or a low budget
horror.  And if there were no other reason to talk about it six years after its release than the sheer difficulty of placing it in the depressingly restrictive landscape of British cinema then I for one would still consider that sufficient excuse.  Because tell me, when was the last time you saw a British film that intertwined four disparate stories across two parallel realities, one of which was a deliriously Gothic fever-dream of a fantasy world?

Those four stories go something like this: A man named Esser (Bernard Hill) hunts for his vanished son; a jilted groom (Sam Riley) circumvents his grief by convincing himself that his childhood sweetheart has reentered his life; performance artist Amelia (Eva Green) attempts to deal with family traumas by filming herself committing a series of escalating suicide attempts; and in a steampunkish fantasy burg named Meanwhile City where faith is mandatory but denomination arbitrary, vigilant Preest (Ryan Phillippe) hunts for his child-murdering nemesis, the Individual.

One of those sure does stick out like a sore thumb, doesn't it?

Let's get this out of the way nice and early: Franklyn is by no definition a flawless movie.  It has, in fact, at least two failings that could easily have been crippling. One - and, astonishingly, this is the more minor - is that two of its four stories just aren't very compelling.  Up until about the two-thirds point, Hill's Esser simply wanders around having cryptic conversations about his son, and any interest in the mystery of just what and why he's doing so has evaporated long before that point.  And our time spent with Riley is, if anything, worse; we're given little reason to sympathize with Milo, a perfectly typical and typically obnoxious spoiled urbanite, and Riley's performance brings out everything that's worst about the character.  Then his twist, the entire reason we've put up with him all this time, comes along, and it does nothing to make Milo more bearable; quite the opposite, in fact.

Though the impression is that writer-director Gerald McMorrow is at least aware of these problems, he's not capable of resolving them in any satisfactory fashion.  It's a fact of these Magnolia-esque overlapping narrative thingamajigs that not every story can be interesting at every point and you inevitably have to squeeze character development and exposition into places where they won't comfortably fit, but McMorrow seems unreasonably determined to give each thread equal weight.  Or maybe he doesn't, and all of this is primarily the fault of that second major flaw, which is that the editing is plain abominable.  Editor Peter Christelis, who bafflingly has quite an impressive CV, barely manages to keep up a narrative flow within individual scenes and fails utterly to contrive the kind of whip-smart construction that an anthology film like this lives and dies by.

Now, I realise I'm not making Franklyn sound very good.  I may, in fact, be past the point where I can justifiably turn around and try and convince you it's worthy of your time, and that in fact if you have any interest in genre cinema then you should be going out of your way to hunt it down.  But you should, and there are precisely three good reasons for that fact.

One is Eva Green, an actress whose ability to turn underwritten parts into living and breathing characters should be legendary by now.  Emilia, so unbearable a collection of visualized neuroses in theory, becomes in her hands by far the most compelling of the four protagonists.  Like much of Green's work, it's a hypnotic enough performance that if it was the only thing of value in the entire film it would still be worth a watch.

But it isn't, and it doesn't even quite take pride of place.  For number two, and coincidentally the
entire reason I'm talking about Franklyn here when my rule is to only discuss genre cinema, is Meanwhile City.  Meanwhile City is one of the greatest fantasy locations ever put to film.  It's relatively easy to see how it was achieved - a combination of CG matte backgrounds, cleverly picked locations and some superb costumes and mise en scène - but for all that, the cumulative effect is damn near perfect.  Meanwhile City feels real and physical and at the same time resolutely impossible, and every moment spent within its confines is a unique experience.

Which brings us neatly round to number three - which is that Franklyn is just preposterously ambitious.  I mean, who even tries something like this for their first film?  McMorrow is clearly a lunatic, and it pains me to no end that he hasn't made a feature film since.  In a better world, this kind of brave, boundary-shredding insanity would be rewarded rather than punished.  Hell, in a world where British cinema stretched past those endless aforementioned romcoms, ganster flicks and crummy horror movies, it would be.

But that isn't the world we live in, and so all we get is Franklyn.  It's hopelessly flawed and wonderfully unique, it gives Eva Green a chance to be great in something that isn't dross like 300: Rise of an Empire and it offers a glimpse into one of the most compelling fantasy worlds ever put to film.  Not half bad for a debut feature, right?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Eldritch Press - Some Words of Warning

You get good experiences and bad experiences in this trade, just as in any other.  Yet still the bad experiences always surprise me a little.  Stupid I know, but there's always a naive part of me that insists that people get into publishing - be they writers, editors or whatever - because it's something they basically love, an even more naive part determined to believe that because of that fact people will be more inclined to behave with a degree of decency and respect.  No matter how often I'm proved wrong on this front - and this year, I've been proved wrong a lot - I still find myself feeling shocked.

The minor bad experiences, the rude e-mails, late payments and such, I invariably let slide.  When people behave in a spectacularly crappy fashion, however, that I try to flag up here.  Because it's safe to assume that a publisher that's acted unprofessionally towards me will do so to other people too, and as writers we have little enough defense against that sort of thing.

Which brings us around to Eldritch Press.

In late June of last year, I submitted a story called Br(other) to an anthology Eldritch had opened for, Our World of Horror, and to my immense surprise it was accepted that same day.  This seemed like hugely good news, since Eldritch were paying good money, and things only looked more positive when the contract came through a prompt four days later.  That was tarnished ever so slightly when the table of contents went up the month after and I noticed they'd managed to misspell the one-word title of my story but, hey, no biggie, and they got it fixed quickly enough.

Four or so months went by.  2014 rolled on into 2015.  With no recent news and half of the twelve month contract period elapsed, it seemed like a good time to check on progress.  I was told that edits were in progress and that they were "waiting on a couple of high profile authors" to send stories.

Five more months passed.  In that time, Eldritch had revamped their website and Our World of Horror had vanished from it.  I wrote again pointing this out and got a form acknowledgement but no reply.  May became June, the last month of the contact exclusivity period, and I had little doubt that something had gone badly wrong.  I wrote once more, highlighting the fact that my story would soon be out of contract and this time got an apology.  I was told I was welcome to withdraw my work but that the book would definitely be out in July.  I suggested a three month contract extension to cover the additional delay and was advised that it would be along shortly.  It never materialized, but about a week later I did get copied in on a mass e-mail announcing the addition of a story by a 'big name' author to the collection.  It was late July by this point, and I was gobsmacked that Eldritch would use the one and only mass e-mail they'd sent out to point out that they were still adding material mere days before their promised release date.  Had they really kept eighteen authors waiting for over a year, just for this?

Apparently not, since things then went quiet once again.  Finally, a few days ago, I got a second mass e-mail, this one announcing that Eldritch were pulling the plug on Our World of Horror.  It didn't come as much of a shock.  Despite the protestations to the contrary, I'd been confident for about six months that the anthology would never see the light of day.  The tone of that e-mail did, however, annoy me to no end.  There was a deal of self-pity in there, yet no apparent awareness that they'd just screwed twenty or so authors around for well over a year and failed to honour payments that surely totaled somewhere in the thousands of dollars.  (I'd illustrate with quotes here, but wouldn't you know, they stuck a confidentiality clause on it.)  I wrote back and pointed out that no part of that e-mail contained an apology of any kind; I further suggested that, having tied up the work of so many writers for well over a year they should probably be thinking about some compensation.  Needless to say, I didn't get a reply.

Now this is hardly an atypical story, and it's not the first sale I've had collapse from under me.  There's no question but that the quality of communication was atrocious, but if it had been that alone then I wouldn't have taken the time to write it up here.  What bothers me particularly is the suspicion that Eldritch tied up stories for this book for a period of months when they had a fairly good idea that it wasn't going to happen.  I mean, why else do you disappear a project from your website?  Why hold off on the edits, except because the contract stipulated payment on their completion?  Why else keep authors so in the dark?  My impression is that they thoughtlessly jerked a bunch of writers around because it suited them and they could get away with it, and - having had my work purchased and sat on for fifteen months and having seen not a dime for the privilege - I consider that reason enough to warn other writers to be careful around these guys.

Though frankly, I doubt that any of this will be an issue.  Reading between the lines of that last e-mail, it seems likely that Eldritch are in the process of folding.  If this is how they do business then, frankly, it's difficult to imagine any other scenario.  Still, I would personally much rather see them get their problems resolved and learn from their mistakes, because the world surely does need more small presses willing to pay decent money.  And if anyone else has had experiences with Eldritch, whether positive or negative, then in the interests of fairness please do take a minute to share them in the comments.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Good Gaia!

With a veritable flood of anthologies due out this month with my stories in - well, three at least - I didn't want to let the release of the rather lovely Gaia: Shadows and Breath Vol. 2 from Pantheon Magazine slip by unmentioned.

I haven't read it yet because, being possibly the world's slowest reader, I'm still about four contributor copies behind.  But I have at least managed to have a flick through, and it's really rather nice inside: each story gorgeously illustrated, layout easy on the eye, everything good and clear and readable.  It's hard not to make that sound like faint praise, but how many books have you read that got this stuff wrong?  (Personally I'd say most of them, and I'd go further and claim - without much evidence at all - that that's why I'm sure a pathetically slow reader.)  None of which, by the way, should be taken to suggest that Gaia vol. 2 isn't stunning on the outside too, because I've been in love with that cover image ever since I set eyes on it.  (And only putting this post together do I realise that this is my second time behind a cover by the phenomenal Daniel Karlsson; he also illustrated the issue of Nightmare I was in.)

All of which is to say that I'm looking forward to tearing into my copy of Gaia: Shadows and Breath Vol. 2, and I feel like I have grounds enough to recommend it even without having read it; the fact that I'm eager to plow though my little pile of contributor copies to get at it is surely a good sign.  And now I realise  I've got all this way and not even mentioned my own story, The Hair of the Hound.  Well, this is I'm pretty sure the first time I've had a tale out that returns to a pre-established character--that being sarcastic, laconic, not altogether competent post-rapture detective Fièvre, whose previous case file appeared in one of my earlier sales, Rindelstein's Monsters, as published in excellent anthology The Death Panel.  Something else that only occurs to me now, maybe eight years after I came up with the character: Fièvre is a pretty on the nose parody of John Constantine from the Hellblazer comics.  I consider this no bad thing.

To finish up, since I can't find a TOC anywhere, here's one I've meticulously copied from the title page.  All typos are therefore the product of my stumpy fingers and not the authors in question misspelling their own names:

The Hair of the Hound - David Tallerman
The Tentative Freedom of Clockwork Birds - Joshua D. Moyes
I Married the Valley - Zach Lisabeth
Lady Pincushion and the Circus of the Dead - Emily Slaney
A Bare Bones Outfit - Will Manlove
Asking For Forgiveness - Richard Thomas
A Mouth Full of Spiders, a Gut Full of Snakes - Rhoads Brazos
Niña de las Flores - Jonathan T. Riley
Faerie Medicine - Julie C. Day
The Mammoth Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Oh, and last but obviously not least, if you should desire a copy for yourself then you can pick Gaia: Shadows and Breath Vol. 2 up from Amazon here.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 6

Here we are at part 6, and I find myself increasingly running out of interesting things to say about nineties anime!  Which isn't the same as suggesting that my enthusiasm is waning - though perhaps it was, thinking about it, until a recent bolt from the blue reminded me of just how great some of the stuff being made at this point could be.  But that's material for the next part, (in which, excitingly I'm considering only including things that are actually some good!), so let's pretend I didn't say anything.

Mind-blowing classics aside for the moment then, that leaves us with a rather questionable bunch of misfits: Adventures With Iczer 3, Black Jack, Ghost Sweeper Mikami and Dragon Half...

Adventures With Iczer 3, 1990, dir: Toshihiro Hirano

I'm starting to think that it would be easier just to review these low-end Manga Video releases with tick boxes.  A misleadingly changed title to disguise something that's actually a sequel?  Check.  A story that makes no damn sense unless you've seen the original that Manga are trying to trick you into not knowing existed?  Check.  A plot that involves overcoming a different villain every episode?  Check.  A dub so catastrophically lazy that character names aren't even pronounced consistently?  Oh yes, big check to that.

What we have here, then, is the six episode OVA more commonly known as Iczer Reborn, a sequel to 1985's Fight!  Iczer One.  This is a significant fact, but not so much so that you can't follow along on the back of a couple of minutes's research.  Alternatively, ignoring the wider backstory entirely is a perfectly valid option and not one likely to affect your enjoyment all that much; it leaves the tale rather lacking in backstory and motivation, but since it mostly revolves around one-dimensional characters punching each other that's not a catastrophic loss.

I realise I'm not exactly selling Adventures With Iczer 3 here, and I'm not particularly trying to.  However it's perhaps not so bad as I'm making out either.  It's brisk and proficient, much like a lot of mid-budget animation from the period, and it has one thing going for it that, say, Casshan doesn't, which is that its protagonist is thoroughly charming.  Iczer 3 is, as far as I could judge, the sister (or perhaps clone) of the Iczer from the first series.  When the original is incapacitated in an opening battle with arch-baddie Neos Gold, the only one who can counter Neos Gold's plan - which pretty much begins and ends with conquering the Earth - is Iczer 3.  The significant flaw here being that Iczer three, superhuman powers aside, is basically a small child.

In theory this should only serve to make the whole thing unbearably irritating.  In practice, Iczer 3 the character adds a level of fun that really elevates the material.  I mean, just look at that cover; where everyone else is scowling, Iczer 3, there in the bottom left, actually looks happy.  Approaching the plot with the giddy excitement of a little kid turns what might be a slog into something unexpectedly engaging.  There were points where I found myself actually concerned for poor, small Iczer, who rarely seemed to know why she was fighting and kept trying to befriend her enemies; there's something unavoidably touching in watching an excitable kid getting beaten up on when they clearly just want to have fun.  It's not enough, mind you, to turn Adventures With Iczer 3 into any sort of a classic, but - combined with some intermittently fun design work and the generally solid animation - it does at least keep it on the right side of entertaining.

Black Jack, 1996, dir: Osamu Dezaki

You don't get a great deal of anime with hotshot surgeons as protagonists, nor do you get many that function primarily as medical thrillers, so if there's one thing Black Jack has going for it, it's that you've probably never seen anything quite like it.  And novelty certainly works in its favour, especially given how much nineties anime tends to pick over a relatively small handful of themes and tropes.  Throughout its first act, in fact, Black Jack has a pleasant air of mystery and it's not at all clear where it might be going.  We know that something is producing people with superhuman abilities, that these superhumans are becoming inexplicably ill, and it's not long before the titular mysterious freelance surgeon gets drawn into events, with the strong implication that there's far more going on than is obviously apparent.

However as the plot staggers onwards - and stagger it does, at a pace that feels increasingly leaden - it becomes apparent that, however interesting some of the ideas Black Jack is kicking about might be, they're leading to fairly familiar places, and by the time the ending rolls around it's hard to remember how novel the whole thing felt only an hour before.  I wanted to be enthusiastic about Black Jack, because it's certainly different, it appears to have a good reputation and full length anime features from this period are relatively hard to track down, but in practice it turns out to be kind of a mess.  Director Osamu Dezaki has a grab-bag of tricks that he seems to trot out entirely at random, and for each occasion that freezing the frame as a Manga-like panel or cutting to thermal vision (yes, really) actually benefits the film there are a dozen where it's purely distracting.  In general, he seems determined to made the worst decision in any given moment, and to be striving for some kind of future-noir aesthetic that would be a good fit for the material if only Dezaki had a better sense of what he was trying to achieve and would pack it in with the stylistic ticks.  Nothing he does can stop Black Jack being a good-looking movie, for the animation quality is well above par for its time, but he's more than capable of rendering a flawed plot not only less intelligible but rather dull and wearisome to boot.

Ghost Sweeper Mikami, 1994, dir: Atsutoshi Umezawa

Ghost Sweeper Mikami is the spin-off movie of a series by the same name, though "movie" is perhaps giving a grand impression that it can't entirely support; the running time comes to about an hour.  It follows - yes, a ghost sweeper, (for which read exorcist,) named - you guessed it! - Mikami, and her team of disparate weirdos, none of whom are introduced here in even the slightest way besides some brief bios on the DVD, but all of whom have few enough character traits each that they're easy to get a handle on.

It's moderately fun, it doesn't outstay its welcome and there are occasional elements that really land, but on the whole it's hard to pick out much about Ghost Sweeper Mikami that's particularly compelling.  I suspect that this suffered some for the fact that I recently saw Geobreeders, which has a not dissimilar concept, not dissimilar characters and a not dissimilar sense of humour, but is beyond question and in every way better.  Where that suffered from having an incomprehensible plot, Mikami has the opposite problem of not much plot at all, and I'd always rather the former than the latter.  Plus, while there's the occasional fun twist in its tale of Mikami and her gang facing off against an ancient big bad, the narrative offers little you won't have seen before.  Really its nothing besides a frame to hang jokes off, but on that note the film defeats itself by taking its non-story a little too seriously and devoting too much energy to it, when it would surely have been better to admit how paper-thin and silly it all is and go for flat out self-mockery.

For which, see...

Dragon Half, 1993, dir: Shin'ya Sadamitsu

Somehow, this nineties anime-obsession of mine has managed to avoid much comedy, and I don't know if that was deliberate or accidental, but boy did I pay for it with Dragon Half.  I mean, if its plot - which follows the unfortunate teenage offspring of a dragon and a dragon-slayer, whose relationship went south in major fashion and ended in somewhat violent marriage, and whose only dream in life is to attend a concert by her favourite pop-star, who also happens to be a dragon-slayer - had any possible hope for serious treatment then it certainly isn't the direction that the creators decided to take it in.

But let's face it, that's an insane concept right there, and Dragon Half couldn't take it less seriously if it tried.  And I mean that literally, because it's an important point: imagine the absolute silliest iteration of "half human, half dragon teenager is in love with pop star dragon-slayer" and I promise you, Dragon Half will be a whole ton more absurd.

This, as far as I'm concerned, is entirely in its favour.

What isn't is that the creators only managed to produce two episodes of an already unambitious four part OVA, which means that its decidedly short and the ending is no ending at all.  Not that I imagine for a moment that the actual ending would have been less ridiculous, but at least it might have offered some sort of closure.  I mean, fifty minutes with Mink, our titular dragon half, is enough to make you fall in love with her a little bit and kind of want things to work out for her, however unlikely that seems given the insanity of the world she lives in and the sheer number of people who decide they want to kill her over the course of a mere two episodes.

In short, this is a tricky one to sign off on.  On the one hand, there are people out there who will (and do) absolutely love it, and while I wouldn't go that far myself, I certainly enjoyed it a great deal.  On the other hand, if your sense of humour doesn't stretch to a certain level of wackiness then I can see this being absolutely tortuous.  That's typified by the animation itself, which I did adore.  It's not unusual in anime for characters to be substituted with less detailed, childlike versions of themselves for the purposes of comedy; however Dragon Half takes this hyper-deformation to a level beyond anything I've seen, with at least four different designs for its protagonist, ranging from the fairly realistic to the impossibly cute and silly, and it switches between them apparently for no other reason than that it can.  Perhaps it shouldn't have been, but frequently that alone was enough to get me laughing.

Oh, and I'd be remiss not to point out that the closing theme - credited to Ludwig van Beethoven, but he surely can't be blamed for the lyrics - is the most blissfully ridiculous thing you're ever likely to encounter.  And actually let's just admit here that I lied, I did love Dragon Half quite a bit, and you should probably just track down a copy right now.


It  occurs to me now that this was a rather rubbish selection.  The only thing I'd wholeheartedly recommend is Dragon Half, and even that's going to fall flat for anyone who doesn't enjoy profoundly silly humour.  Both Ghost Sweeper Mikami and Adventures With Iczer 3 land firmly in the "if you like nineties anime and see them cheap then you could do worse" category, which is about as half-hearted as a recommendation can get.  (Really, I'm not sure I'd even go that far with Ghost Sweeper Mikami.)  Whereas Black Jack I hated a little bit, but perhaps unfairly so, judging by the strong reviews it seems to get.

Ah well.  I'll definitely do better next time, if only because there's going to be one film in there that I unhesitatingly adored...

[Other posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5]

Friday, 21 August 2015

Nine Worlds 2015, Part 2: The Not So Good

[You can find part 1, "The Very Good Indeed," here.]

So as I suggested in part one, I don't want to rail too much against this year's Nine Worlds because I had a great time there and overall I felt, as always, that it got the vast majority of things right.  And wouldn't it be nice to just focus on the good stuff for a change?  But I can't help thinking it would be worse to skip mentioning a few complaints, many of which other people were vocally making, than to keep quiet - if for no other reason than that I'd love to see Nine Worlds thriving ten years from now and small cracks have a way of growing into gaping chasms, or some such metaphor.

But let's start at the beginning.  For the first point at which I got concerned was a couple of months before the doors even opened, when I discovered that two of the panels I'd been confirmed for on the Comics track, one of which I was down to moderate, had been cancelled.  The reasons apparently came down to conflicts over scheduling and scuffling over space, and the result was some potentially great panels left on the cutting room floor.  I won't go into the other scheduling problems that followed, if only because the parties concerned were ultimately brilliant and lovely in getting them resolved, but suffice to say that there were problems and that they could surely have been avoided.

What seemed to be lacking was a level of coordination that crossed the boundaries of the different tracks, and that was also more or less what I took away from the event itself.  Nine Worlds, as its name implies, is an entity formed of many moving parts, and that's a huge portion of its charm - though one that always threatens to end up being plain chaotic.  However this was the first year when it felt like those parts were not only not moving in unison but were actually draining energy from each other.  There was, ultimately, too much content for the space, to the point where it seemed padded.  And some of that content was so sparse or ill-considered that, for me, it just didn't warrant its existence.  (Long-term readers will know what a hopeless film and Anime nerd I am, so when I say that there wasn't a thing on the Anime or film tracks that teased my interest even slightly, that surely should mean something.)

More aggravating than any of that, though, was the rate at which the better panel items filled to capacity, and that the organisers' solution was to suggest arriving well in advance.  From what I heard, for that to work might mean turning up fifteen to twenty minutes early, and really, who wants to spend their convention time like that?  Of all the available solutions - larger spaces, more versatile seating arrangements, duplicating content - pushing the problem onto the punter was surely not the best.  I remember making this exact same point last year and I really hoped they'd get it sorted out, so that the organizers chose to go in the opposite direction and just tell everyone to accept it is flat-out disappointing.

That and the oversight issue aside, however, I think it's fair to say that most of the remaining problems this year loop back to one inescapable point: Nine Worlds is too big for the Radisson Blu.  Even if that weren't the case, the Radisson is increasingly revealing itself to be an undeserving and rather crummy venue.  The weird floor layout left entire tracks stranded, there weren't enough of the large spaces that would have alleviated the seating issues I talked about above, and in general the closest the hotel staff came to acknowledging that there was a major international convention occurring within its walls was to be a bit surly about the whole thing.

Or in one particular case, very surly indeed!  I mentioned the bar in part one, but what I didn't clarify there was how the staff were deliberately omitting the con discount of 20% and then adding on a further 12.5% service charge for some of the most dismal service imaginable, or how they were selling drinks in smaller measures than advertised for the same already-preposterous prices, or how pointedly rude they got when any of their shenanigans were challenged in even the smallest way.  Or, for that matter, how they shut up shop altogether at one in the morning, which I struggle to believe is what was agreed with Nine Worlds.  As much as it feels like a petty thing to moan about in a universe of infinite possibility and suffering, a good bar is the heart of a good convention, and in this case it proved to be a worm-ridden, vitality-sapping heart.

Now all of those venue-related issues have been manageable for smaller conventions; I've enjoyed time spent at the Radisson in the past, and even managed to laugh at the conniving antics of those bar staff.  But for this year's Nine Worlds they were outright damaging, and I can't imagine a scenario where such problems won't get worse in years to come.  Let's not forget that even in its first year, Nine Worlds ambitiously straddled two different conference hotels.  Trying to cram more and more content into a smaller space is not a game you can hope to win, and if that was evident last year, it was really achingly obvious this time around.

With all of that said, let me reiterate that I still consider Nine Worlds the best UK convention going; there are many things it gets right that no one else is even trying to do, and for that it should be applauded at every available opportunity.  It's barely possible to believe that it's only three years old, when cons like Eastercon have been around for decades and can still deliver the kind of shoddy performance we saw earlier in the year.  In the grand scheme of things, these are pretty minor concerns I've picked up on; they didn't ruin my enjoyment and they probably wouldn't keep me from going again next year.

But they do need fixing, Nine Worlds, they really do.