Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas and Other Horrors

A little under a month ago, Lee Harris, editorial fleshy part of the Angry Robot, approached me to see if I'd like to contribute to a "twelve days of Christmas" series of blog posts, wherein the Robot's newest converts would get a chance to introduce themselves to a captive (not to mention soon-to-be-enslaved) audience.  Well, what could I say but yes?  (Assuming I wasn't looking for an early trip to the rehabilation factories, that is?)

Then, for some preposterous reason, I decided the best thing I could do would be to write a brand new story.  Because, with the deadline for Crown Thief rapidly approaching, the release date of Giant Thief even closer and a new day job on the horizon, what else would I possibly be doing with my time?  The truth was, though, I'd had an idea for a little seasonal monstrosity bouncing round my brain for months - ever since the name "the Santa Thing" had somehow washed up on those squishy pink shores - and I'd never had time to throw together more than a few lines.  Nor was it the kind of idea I really wanted hanging around there for too long.  What better opportunity to extricate the icky little blighter?

It was touch and go for a while (most of the last three weeks, to be exact) but I got my story done.  It's called A Study in Red and White, and you can read it here.  It might not make your silly season any happier or brighter, but it should exponentially increase the odds of you violently attacking and / or running screaming from the next supermarket Santa you see.  And for me, that makes it all worthwhile.

If I had one sensible idea throughout the whole episode, it was approaching my brilliant artist mate Duncan Kay to lend me his talents for an illustration.  Because nobody in the whole wide world draws monsters better than Duncan.

You want proof?  Here's your proof, whiskers.

Also, while we're here, quick thank you's to the ever-reliable Tom Rice and the ever-writing-great-stories-that-everyone-should-just-go-read David James Keaton for their lightning ninja proof reading skills.

And if you happen to go click on that Angry Robot link up there, why not maybe check up on the other eleven Christmassy blog posts?  They're rather good, y'know.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Read Giant Thief For Free*

*Well, discluding chapters four from twenty four, that is.

But that's still an entire eight for nothing, right?  Nothing much happens in those last twenty-one chapters anyway.  The big battle, the actual giant-thievery, all the good stuff, that's all there in those first three chapters.  After that it's pretty much just plot and running around and a bit of character interaction that, truth be told, you can probably live without.

No, wait ... I'm joking.  Really.  Joking.  There's lots of fun to be had in chapter four and onwards.  You'll laugh!  You'll cry!  You'll wonder how Easie Damasco gets through each chapter without getting the good hard kicking he so richly deserves!  I'm not actually trying to talk people into just reading the first chunk of Giant Thief and then giving up, convinced it's all downhill from there.  That would be stupid.  I see that now.

Truth was, I figured if I could get you to read those first three chapters, you'd be so caught up that you'd buy Giant Thief without even thinking about it.  You'd be all "what's in the bag?" and "has he seriously just stolen that giant?" and "when is someone going to give this Easie Damasco guy the good hard kicking he so richly deserves?"  And I'd be chuckling all the way to the bank.

So ... I'm sorry.  It was cheap and manipulative, and it demeaned both of us.

D'you know what I do when I feel demeaned?  I read the first three chapters of Giant Thief!

Incidentally, if that awakens your taste for reading just the first three chapters of books then ... well, that's not the effect I was going for, obviously ... but those wonderful fiends at Angry Robot have got you covered nonetheless: here's where I pilfered the Giant Thief sampler from, and you'll find similar previews of the latest from Dan Abnett, Adam Christopher, Lavie Tidhar and Ian Whates.  Good company!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Film Ramble: The Beginner's Guide to Anime (Part Two)

Time to get part 2 of that Beginner's Guide to Anime article I started last week out of the way - lest I get distracted and never finish it and years from now, some poor orphan child looking for a handy guide to ease him into the weird world of anime finds himself short changed and goes and watches a load of Jerry Bruckheimer movies instead.

Something that never fails to impress me is taking a genre that looks as if it was mined out years ago and making it feel completely fresh and new.  In about 45 minutes, Blood: The Last Vampire does more to make vampires cool and interesting than a thousand lesser movies put together.  Putting aside the fact that it's superbly executed in every aspect, what Bloods brings more than anything is ambiguity, along with hints of a rich history that we'll never quite know or understand.  For proof of how well they pulled it off, see the live action remake's attempts to fill in the blanks and cringe at how dull it all suddenly becomes.

Last time I featured Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke,  but no anime top ten of any kind could be complete with just one Miyazaki movie.  It's hard to think of a more consistently brilliant director, and equally hard to pick favourites from such a consistently stunning catalogue.  But Laputa - renamed by Disney as Castle in the Sky for its international release, for fairly hilarous reasons - was the first anime I ever saw, way back before I had the faintest clue what anime even was, and it blew my mind.  Then I rediscovered it years later, and it blew my mind all over again.

Satoshi Kon's death last year left a small but incredibly impressive body of work behind.  Again, it's hard (and pointless) to pick out one of his four completed features as his best, since they're all great, but Millenium Actress is my personal favourite.  When a documentary filmmaker and his cameraman attempt to interview an ageing actress, they find themselves carried along in her recollections, which jumble in turn with her decades-spanning movie career, and Kon smashes reality, fantasy, history, memory and imagination together into one dizzying whole.  Millenium Actress should be incredibly pretensious; in Kon's hands, it's the smartest romantic action comedy ever made.
The third film here from Studio Ghibli, and the first not to be directed by Miyazaki, Grave of the Fireflies is probably the ultimate weapon against the old "animation is just for kids" argument.  Set in World War 2-era Japan, Grave follows brother and sister Setsuko and Seita as they try to survive alone after their mother's death in an air raid.  If that sounds like tough watching then, well, it is, but there's an innocence and kindness to Takahata's film that always keeps it clear of miserabilism.  Which isn't to say it won't break your heart a few dozen times before the credits roll...

Because every anime top ten needs at least one movie where school kids pilot giant robots.  And because Evangelion: You Are [Not] Alone is so good, it doesn't matter that it's practically a check list of genre cliches.  Anyway, in fairness that has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first of four films remaking and reinventing one of Japanese animation's defining series.  But even if it wasn't, Evangelion would still be thrilling.  Like Blood, it takes a familiar concept - in this case, the uniquely Japanese notion that the best way to defend against alien (in this case, angelic) invasion is to force school children to fight them in giant robotic suits of armour - and tells it so earnestly, brilliantly and blisteringly oddly that it feels like the first time all over again.

Friday, 9 December 2011

First Giant Thief Reviews Shockingly Positive

One of my more self-explanitory post titles there, so I guess I might as well skip the usual beating around of bushes...

Publishers Weekly's is actually more of a plot summary than anything,but it's a very positive plot summary so I'm not complaining.  Our robot overlords have cleverly ellipted it into the following, more blurbable quote:

“Best known for an eclectic variety of short stories, Tallerman debuts with a breezy novel of a man with his eye on the prize … Tallerman’s charming, devil-may-care hero has plenty of swashbuckling roguishness to carry him through the planned sequels.”

Which is certainly nice.  But it didn't make my day quite as much as this from blogger / writer / culinary historian Gill Polack.  This is actually pretty much my dream Giant Thief review, so everything from here on in will likely be a disappointment, but I suppose I can't blame that on Gill.  Of the many quotable bits, I think I'm going to pick this out as my favourite, if only because it looks like it might be pretty negative until you get to the end:

 "It's an old-fashioned novel. It's not big and it's not pretentious. It's non-stop and full of incident (often bloody incident, but incident). It is, however, entirely charming."

Then, yesterday, I found this from Fantasy Nibbles, which is almost as positive, but does actually list a criticism ... and a fair one, damn it all!  Still, how wounded can my pride be when I get quotes like this?

This really is a fun read. Saltlick is adorable, I want one! It’s straightforward, linear, smack down the middle fast-paced goodness.

Last, and not really a review as such, but The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review picks up on the opening line of Giant Thief for lavish praise, and notes that eighty pages in, it's "given [him] a perpetual grin so far."

And all that in the first week!  Bloody hell!  Will week two bring the inevitable-seeming critical backlash?  Can anyone beat that Gill Pollack review?  Guess I'll just have to wait and see...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Film Ramble: The Beginner's Guide to Anime (Part One)

A few weeks ago I was talking movies with my cousin Stuart (who, by the way, happens to be a terrific photographer - see here), and by way of me pointing out how Inception is awfully similar to Satoshi Kon's brilliant Paprika, he explained that he'd never been able to get into anime because he didn't know where to begin.

I promised I'd drop him over a list of a few films that would let him ease his way in.  Then I forgot all about it.  Then a few days later, I remembered.  Then it occurred to me that said list would make a good blog post, since I've noticed a few times that even amongst genre fans, there seem to be plenty of people who don't go anywhere near anime.  I'm not sure why that is, but my guess is that they've heard about the more cliched aspects of the genre and just aren't turned on by the thought of Japanese schoolgirls piloting giant robots.

But the truth is that statistically only 76% percent of anime feature schoolgirls, a mere 82% include giant robots, and a paltry 43% have both together.  That still leaves plenty of room for other stuff.  And I'm not talking tentacle-porn here.  There are a whole host of anime movies that don't have any Japanese schoolgirls, giant robots or tentacle-porn.

Okay, so maybe anime can be a little impenetrable at times.  So with that in mind, I've gone ahead and made my list.  It definitely isn't a top ten, since I'm hardly qualified to write one.  Instead, it's a list of ten utterly fantastic films that I'd like to think just about anyone who enjoys a good movie can get something out of.

Or at least it's part one of said list.  Because they just don't make these weekend things long enough anymore.

Ghost in the Shell

I'm always mystified when I come across sci-fi fans that haven't seen Ghost in the Shell.  Fifteen years on, Mamoru Oshii's meditative, visceral cyberpunk classic still feels futuristic, and its animation and imagery remain stunning.  It spawned a sequel and a TV series, and all of them rate amongst the finest science fiction ever put to film.


Summer Wars

The most recent movie on this list, Summer Wars is a masterpiece of  over-ambition. Director Hosoda somehow rolls together family drama, comedy, romance, a mind-blowing cyberworld and sharp social critique into one mad, exhilarating and constantly entertaining package that never loses its footing.  Perhaps more than anything here, Summer Wars is a great first step into the world of anime.


Akira's awesomeness has become a bit of a cliche, as year by year it continues to resist looking or feeling dated.  Bizarre posthumanism, ultraviolence, a lavish attention to detail and the coolest motorbike ever conceived by human minds all add up to make Akira one of those movies that can somehow influence just about everything that follows it and yet still seem completely fresh.

Princess Mononoke

Every film Hayao Miyazaki  has ever made could argue its way into a top ten of great anime movies.  But for me, Princess Mononoke was the wake-up call.  A better fantasy film has never been made, and for once the US dub did it full justice, with Neil Gaiman on translation duties and a cast including Claire Danes, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson.  Mononoke is glorious, exhilarating myth-making that makes most western equivalents look hopelessly unimaginative by comparison.


No, not that Metropolis.  Except ... well, it sort of is.  Imagine Fritz Lang's masterpiece as an animation incorporating cutting edge CGI (well, ten year old CGI that still looks cutting edge) and refracted through the weird lens of Japanese culture and maybe given a little of the heart that was missing from the original, then chuck in a couple of traditional anime tropes taken in unexpected directions and dial it all up to eleven - and you'll have something a bit like director Rintaro's modern classic.  Only not quite so brilliant.