Sunday, 30 January 2011

It's that Time of Year Again

See that wordometer thingumawhatsit over on the right hand side there?  The one showing a rather depressing 0% of 92'500 words?  Well that's significant, that is.  And what it signifies is that I'm about to kick off work on a new novel.

This may seem a bit of an odd decision, what with last year's effort, Funland, still languishing at the first draft stage.  Well, perhaps it is.  All I can say is that I have my reasons, some of which make plenty of sense and a few of which probably don't.  High on the list in the former category is the fact that after the gruelling battle against all the odds, my own stylistic limitations and common sense that was Funland, I'm sorely in need of a project that will be fun to write, (and hopefully, of course, to read.)  Based on the ideas I have, I think this definitely has the scope to be that book.

But fun or no, there are arbitrary targets to be met!  Because what's a writer without arbitrary targets?  This time around, the deadline is the end of August, which works out at 3000 words a week, give or take a few.  This time, too, I don't have the luxury of three months out of permanent employment.  So that measly 3000 words may not be as easy as it might seem.  Still, since I'm not starting until Tuesday - the first of February, again for reasons mostly capricious! - I only have to get down 2000 words in the first week.  Also, this time around I have a proper chapter plan, which for me is an innovation akin to the discovery of fire or the invention of table tennis.

I will, of course, be posting random updates on how I get on.  And that wordometer?  Expect it to go up some over the next few months.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Bull Spec #4 Out to Buy (Or Read For Free)

I've mentioned at least a couple of times before now that there are plenty of things other than financial incentive that make me want to publish work with a given market.  Sometimes a good experience, such as knowing my work's in the hands of an editor who genuinely gives a damn about what happens to it, can make all the difference.

With Bull Spec, and editor Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, I've somehow managed to have both.  Bull Spec is a pro-rate paying market run like a fanzine, a really professional fanzine that's actually pretty much like a professional market in every way except for how damn nice Sam is, and how much he's willing to share his creative processes and apparently boundless energy.

My story The Burning Room was one of the first Sam accepted at the back end of 2010, when Bull Spec was little more than a twinkle in his eye.  Since then I've gotten to watch the magazine come together, often in ways I would have been hard pressed to believe possible.  Pretty much from the off, it was clear Sam had a vision of what he wanted to deliver - one definitely influenced by existing markets, but not entirely like anything already out there - and that he believed in it as far more than just a hobby project.  That impressed me from the beginning.  What's really startling, though, is how close he's come to bringing those ideas to fruition in the space of hardly more than a year.  Twelve months down the line, Bull Spec is as good as anything out there.  It's a genuine pleasure to have a story within its covers, an even bigger one to have watched the journey from its outset and even been allowed to have a little bit of influence in its outcome.

Lest this post begin to seem like sucking up or mere ranting, I should probably say something about how great The Burning Room is too.  Boy.  Well.  The The Burning Room, huh?  So, it's kind of my stab at a full-blown Gothic ghost story.  I think it probably owes a little to H. G. Wells's The Red Room, although I've never been entirely sure what except for the title.  And the fact that it's a ghost story.  Except that, if I remember rightly, there wasn't actually a ghost in the The Red Room.

Oh crap, I've just ruined a really great story for everyone who hasn't read it, haven't I?  Well, given the state of my memory, it's actually entirely possible that The Red Room contains a whole army of ghosts, including a ghostly wildebeest and an entire phantasmagorical cricket team.

Either way, The Burning Room definitely has a ghost in it.  Early in the last century, a young woman moves into a rented room, only to find that the previous tenant hasn't entirely vacated just yet.  Instead of doing what, let's face it, any sane person would do and getting on the next train for Anywhere Else, she sets about adjusting the room to suit its phantom visitor.

To find out whether that's a good move or a bad one, (hey, no guessing!) you should probably just go buy issue 4 of Bull Spec.  Or, you know, download it for nothing - since one of those many awesome ideas that Sam had from the off was that the 'zine should be free to anyone who wanted it.  Although it's perhaps worth pointing out that every time someone takes him up on this woefully generous offer, Sam shoots a kitten with a 12-gauge shotgun.

No wait, that's a lie.  A possibly libelous one, now that I think about it.

Bull Spec ... completely great, potentially free, and 100% kitten-friendly!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Comet Press Release Great Book That I'm Not In

While it's totally against the unstated policy of this blog and everything I personally believe in to praise any magazine or anthology that doesn't contain my work, I'm going to make a brief exception to mention the most recent release from Comet Press, the delightfully titled Deadcore, because a) it's was really good and b) I was published alongside fifty percent of the featured authors in Comet's last collection, The Death Panel, so in a way, I figure I'm kind of honorarily, or perhaps spritually, or maybe just emotionally, in this one too.  Or some damn thing.

Anyway, while I'm breaking one age-old rule, I'm strictly adhering to my other, oft-stated policy, which is to find things to post about here in the most lazy ways imaginable.  So here, word for word, is the review I recently posted on Amazon.

First up, I should probably confess that I bought this for a particular story - David James Keaton's Zee Bee & Bee - after seriously liking his tale in an earlier Comet Press antho, The Death Panel. I'm not such a fan of zombie stories these days, since the subgenre's been done to death and back over the last two or three years. So while I was greatly looking forward to one of the four novellas here, the others I approached with a little trepidation.

That bit of bias out of the way...

For me, Randy Chandler's Dead Juju wasn't a great start. Chandler's writing is sharp and stylish, but the story he presents and the targets he seemed to be aiming for just didn't work for me. Dead Juju is a string of gory, in places wildly tasteless vignettes strung together with a fairly weightless story. In terms of zombie movies, we're in Braindead and Return of the Living Dead territory here, only this isn't half so tongue in cheek. Chandler seems to be going flat out to shock, but that obvious determination in itself takes away the edge. There are also some weird technical problems, with character arcs beginning too late in the game, disappearing for too long, or ending in wildly unsatisfying fashion. All of that said, I'd be quick to admit that this just isn't my kind of thing. So if you're happy with a high gore-and-shocks to story ratio then you may find Dead Juju the highpoint of the whole collection.

I've already said that I bought this for Keaton's Zee Bee & Bee, and it didn't disappoint even a little bit. Keaton combines smart, subversive high-mindedness with flat-out genre thrills like no one working today, and Zee Bee & Bee pulls off that balance about as well as you could hope for. It works just as well as an odd, slightly silly, weirdly romantic horror comedy, a heartfelt love letter to the width and breadth of zombie culture, and a wild and witty deconstruction of everything that's come before it. It reminded me a lot of my favourite zombie story, Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead by Joe Hill, and I'm not sure if it hasn't even supplanted it.

Having read what I came for, the last thing I was expecting was to hit another novella that I liked just as much. So Edward Erdelac's Night of the Jikinki came as a hell of a surprise. Samurai? Zombies? Child-eating monks? All played completely straight? Yup, and not only that, Erdelac writes with an elegance, clarity and clear passion for the relevant history that keeps his twisted creation firmly on the rails. If Kurosowa had ever made a zombie movie - well, even that probably wouldn't have been quite this cool.

Lastly, we have Ben Cheetham's Zombie Safari, perhaps the toughest of these tales to rate. It kept me entertained, Cheetham's writing was fine and his descriptions vivid, I liked the creepily implicit back-story and there's a fantastic battle sequence towards the end. But there were stylistic hiccups that irritated the hell out of me, like the narrator's incessant to-camera exposition or the way every abbreviation was then explained in brackets, and the whole thing was dragged down by a lack of fresh ideas. So, a pleasant enough read, but not a standout.

To sum up, then: a couple of stories that didn't quite work for me, a couple that thrashed the zombie genre like a red-haired stepchild and laughed while they do it, all collected in a very nicely presented tome. Or, to put it another way - a much-needed reminder of why I've always thought zombies were the greatest of all horror monsters.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Duncan Kay Draws the Heck of My Brain Droppings (Part 2)

 The week before last, I began posting some of the concept images that artist Duncan Kay has produced for our comics work together. In that post I covered his designs for The Unleashing of the Ineffectual, the strip we collaborated on for Something Wicked, and here we have a handful of designs for another story, the alread-much-posted-about Endangered Weapon B, which ended up being drawn (and painted, and lettered) by Bob Molesworth.
 First up we have some designs for the man known only as the Professor.  Imagine a really sordid version of Allan Quatermain, or an elderly Indiana Jones with his own airship and mechanically-assisted grizzly bear - if that makes any sense.  Which it doesn't.  Did I mention the Professor worships the Norse gods and wants to summon zombies?  Anyway, I strongly recommend clicking on that second picture to read Duncan's frankly insane notes.

The last image, right, features Tilly Tobega, the Professor's Polynesian pilot, computer engineer and kidnapped prospective future wife.  Tilly is kind of the voice of reason aboard the airship Valhalla, in so much as there's any reason at all in the world of Endangered Weapon B.

Which, as you've probably realised by now, there really isn't.

Lastly, here's a link to Duncan's blog, which I have a vested interest in recommending because these days he's mostly posting concept art for our forthcoming projects.  This week: everyone's favourite irrate fish-god, Cthulhu.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Jenny's Sick Makes a Best-Of List

Responses are starting to drift in for Jenny's Sick, as published in the December 2010 issue of Lightspeed.

The good news is that the general reaction seems positive.  That goes for the comments on the Lightspeed site, anyway, this from blogger Philip Weiss (aka King Rat), and - the point of the post title - fellow writer Alex J Kane picking it as one of his favourites for the year.  Should you read this, Alex, much thanks, and I'm glad you dug it.

The actual reviews I've come across didn't go for Jenny's Sick so much.  Harry Markov's fairly negative commentary at The Portal is thoughtful and intriguing enough that I actually kind of enjoyed reading it; Lois Tilton's non-comment at Locus Online gets a mention more for the sake of completeness!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Film Ramble: Pandorum

I'm not sure why I didn't rave more about Pandorum when it first came out.  After all, it was an all-too-rare suprise when I saw it in the cinema, a movie that I went to out of vague interest and came out of completely impressed by.  I'd been expecting some kind of Alien or Event Horizon rip-off, that was certainly what the advertising campaign seemed to be angling towards, and what I got instead was so much more than that - one of those rare treats of a sci-fi B-movie that dares to plow its own furrow through the genre.

Where Alien shifted the monster movie into outer space and Event Horizon did the same with the ghost story, Pandorum is, at heart, a crime thriller.  In that sense, it's actually closer to the wonderful Dark City than those more obvious reference points.  Its hero, Bower, is an everyman woken into a situation beyond his abilities or experience.  He's rapidly press-ganged into the role of detective - but it's not whodunit he needs to figure out, (though there is a murder mystery of sorts tucked away in Pandorum's labyrinthine plot), but rather where he is and why and just what the hell is going on.  Because, on top of his many other woes, Bower has amnesia, apparently too much hypersleep will do that, and the only evidence he has to begin with is his own fractured memories.
Like any good detective, Bowers's only edge in a fight is a thick skull, which is sucky news for him because - like any good detective - he spends a considerable proportion of the running time getting kicked around the screen.  In fact, just about everyone has a shot at him, up to and including the heroine and the guy who's the closest thing he ever gets to a sidekick.  But Bower keeps pushing. At first, it's the thought of finding his half-remembered wife that drives him, and it's only late on that he assumes the role of hesitant savior.  Even then, Pandorum remains decidedly un-Hollywood, and Bower's bizarre big hero moment is as unlike the traditional action finale as a scene could hope to be.

There's a ton of stuff Pandorum gets right.  The direction and photography are mostly spot on, the effects work looks like it's wandered in from a movie with a far grander budget.  The sets look real and lived in, and in places are absurdly grandiose.  The cast do good work, whether it be Ben Foster making the most of a well-earned hero part, Dennis Quaid's enthusiastic scenery chewing, or martial artist Cung Le somehow building a likable character on the back of about three lines of garbled Vietnamese dialogue.

But there were two things that really make Pandorum stand out for me, that took it from good to great genre movie status.  First is that the sci-fi elements are genuine rather than window dressing, and often imaginative: the main story runs close to Brian Aldiss's millennium ship classic Non-Stop, but the film has a few neat concepts of its own - my favourite being the wonderfully pragmatic, low-tech idea that all the ship's major systems come with manual dynamos in case of a generator failure.  Second, and related, is the way the script drops a steady stream of clues and twists, all of which organically subvert or widen the scope of the narrative and all of which come together elegantly in the end - in places it really is like watching Chandler do sci-fi. 

In retrospect, I guess the reason Pandorum needed a rewatch to convince me I hadn't somehow hallucinated a half-decent film into a fantastic one was that it took me by surprise.  It was nothing like what I was expecting it to be, and really not that much like the films and books I kept trying to compare it against.  It was only watching it a second time that I got to take it on its own terms.  Which was kind of a treat, because on those terms, Pandorum is one of the better sci-fi films I've seen in many a year.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Duncan Kay Draws the Heck of My Brain Droppings (Part 1)

I wrote a little last week about my recent adventures in the heady world of small press comics, and particularly about my work - both past and hopefully future - with the brilliantly talented Duncan Kay.  Afterwards, I realised it would have been nice to spruce up the post with some of Duncan's work (and Bob Molesworth's too, for that matter, but hopefully you'll get to see that once we get Endangered Weapon B out there).

So I checked with Duncan, and he's cool with the idea, which is good news because it would be a hell of a shame if we were the only two to get to see these.  Duncan's an excellent sequential artist, but I think he'd agree that it's concept and design stuff like this that he truly blows out of the water.

First up, then, here are some colour concepts for the strip that recently appeared in Futurequake Press's Something Wicked imprint.

Above, left and right, we have some sketches for three nerdy henchman cultists.  I gave Duncan next to no direction in the script here, but he absolutely nailed the idea: I love the thrown-together uniforms, particularly the robe / sneaker combinations.  I can totally believe that these are guys who'd practise occultism in their basement really badly.

For that matter, I can believe that this guy, the Head Cultist (aka Derek), would be the one to encourage them to do it.  I'm not convinced he'd actually be able to summon spooky green fire, though.  He may look a bit sinister, but those sandals are an even more misguided robe accoutrement than sneakers, so it's clearly all a put on.  My guess is that it's actually something he's knocked up out of lime jelly.  Or maybe he's so desperate to look cool that he's set his hand on fire - something I think we've all been guilty of once in a while.

"The Dark One will cleanse!"  Yes indeed.

Lastly, and my personal favourite - to the point where I framed it and put it on my bookcase - we have the Monster Baby. 

Again, I don't think anyone could have done a better job of capturing the script's vague concept of something at once eye-wateringly cute and completely repulsive.  I never know whether I want to hug this little guy or kick him into a ditch.  Maybe both.

Anyway, that's The Unleashing of the Ineffectual covered.  Hopefully next week I'll get round to compiling Duncan's sketches for Endangered Weapon B.