Saturday, 28 January 2017

Film Ramble: Top Ten Anime Shows Watched in 2016

Okay, I realise I'm getting to this so desperately late that it's barely worth posting; in retrospect doing not one but two year's best top ten articles was a wildly bad idea, and one I'm sure I'll be discontinuing in future.  Or perhaps I could just learn how to write about things briefly, that would probably work too.

Last year saw a combination of seeking out new anime and catching up on a few of the acknowledged classics I've missed, and the results were pretty great, all told - certainly more successful than they'd have been had I focused on one or the other.  There are tons of classics out there, and anime is in a pretty good place at the moment, not to mention more available than ever.
(Though, the story of the blood, sweat and tears I had to shed to find a copy of my number one show for a reasonable price could fill this post all by itself, so there's still plenty of room for progress!)

At any rate, here are my ten favourite anime shows watched in the whole of 2016:

10) Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions

It's easy to fall into the trap of favoring older anime over newer anime, just as it is to fall into the trap of favoring older anything over newer anything - and I suppose that in a sense that's what I'm doing by placing a show I adored in such a lowly spot.  That's the problem with watching a lot of absolute classics, I suppose; and there's also the fact that it's been months since I watched Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions, and though I remember I adored it, I can't remember exactly why.  It certainly had something to do with how it made me laugh out loud, before sucking me in by degrees into genuinely caring about two deeply flawed but adorable characters, before punching my heart right out of my chest.  And why is it only anime that can do that?  Suckering you in with comedy until it has you right where it wants you and then laying on the emotional hurt?  At any rate, Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions finds that perfect balance between romantic and comedy that eludes so much Western entertainment, just as its skewering of geek culture is hilariously cruel and affectionate in exactly the right blend.

9) Chaika the Coffin Princess

And here we are again, another recent show - by my current favourites, Studio Bones - and another thirteen episode-er, which seems to be about the perfect length for novel, out-of-left-field shows these days.  Of everything here, Chaika the Coffin Princess is the only show I've watched where I felt the need to track down the Manga, and if that's not a recommendation then I don't know what is.  It's a weird, giddy fantasy with a fabulous premise, which starts with the daughter of a defeated evil lord dragging around a coffin and hunting down his dismembered body parts and just gets odder from there.  It has splendid lead characters and a dark sense of humour that still manages to be laugh-out-loud funny; oh, and the action sequences are rather good too.  Really, this is just about everything I want from a fantasy TV show, and it's immensely frustrating that there's no legal way to see the concluding season in the UK.

8) Knights of Sidonia

Ah, Knights of Sidonia, how many and copious are your flaws - that never-not-quite-wooden CG animation for a start! - and how distrustful I was of you at first, and how much I fell in love with you the more you went off the rails, until by the time one of your recurring cast was a cute-voiced alien tentacle with a face like a cat's bum I was wholly sold.  You might come for the harder-than-usual sci-fi plot, and, for example, the fact that for once we have a giant craft moving in space that behaves something like how a giant craft moving in space might behave, with all the problems of stopping and turning that might well entail.  But if you stay, it'll likely be for the show's distinctiveness and steadily increasing eccentricity, perhaps best exemplified by the gloriously mad opening theme tunes.  Think that combining Japanese dance pop and military marches is a remotely sensible idea?  Then you might just have a lot of fun with Knights of Sidonia.

7) Eureka Seven

From the aforementioned Studio Bones, creators of last year's favourite Xam'd, and considered one of the high points of that studio's landmark-studded output, I had high hopes for Eureka Seven.  And, in fairness, most of them were met: the production values are top notch, the music is among the best in any show I've comes across, and over the course of fifty episodes, the show tells a one-of-a-kind romance unlike anything in anime or elsewhere: one that feels genuine throughout its many highs and lows, and especially in those moments when you really just want to bash our young lovers' heads together.  Eureka Seven is that rare work that tries, with genuine imagination, to take an established trope - in this case, the perennial anime favourite of giant robots - and turn it into something fresh and new-feeling, partly by pillaging from surf culture and partly by building a meaningful sci-fi universe from the ground up.  There aren't many really epic science fiction stories, in anime or elsewhere, with this kind of breadth and depth - and with that in mind, the fact that it maybe doesn't contain quite enough story for its prodigious running time is an easily ignored flaw.

6) Ah! My Goddess

I think probably my favourite anime franchise of all time?  Yeah, why not.  I don't know that I've ever come across anything so fundamentally sweet-natured and basically likable as Ah! My Goddess at its best.  Spend much time in the company of well-meaning nerd Keiichi and the goddess, Belldandy, who he inadvertently summons to be his live-in girlfriend, and you find yourself having a little more faith in human nature almost by osmosis.  Their relationship, and the fact that they're both legitimately nice people, is the absolute heart of the show.  Then again, perhaps the reason that it works so well is the wicked sense of humour playing around that centre: have any two young lovers been put through quite so many (and such outrageous) ordeals?  Ah! My Goddess really finds it feet with the addition of Belldandy's marvelous sisters, immature tech genius Skuld, who'll do anything to keep Keiichi and Belldandy apart, and older Urd, who'll do anything to get their relationship past first base.

5) Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

There was a phase, and quite a lengthy phase too, where I was not only ready to call Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood the best anime show I'd seen this year but the best anime show I'd seen ever.  That lasted all the way through its practically flawless first act, and well into its flawed but possibly more interesting second act, and it was only when I realised that the entire last third was going to be only verrrrrrry long fight that my interest began to flag a touch.  Still, what a fight!  And what a perfect first third!  And what consistently spectacular animation!  Even if it didn't quite live up to its potential - and maybe nothing could have - this is still exactly how you go about doing a series of such length, with such fluid handling of multiple arcs and an absolutely gigantic cast of characters, practically all engaging enough to carry their own shows, that the result is hard to believe even as you're experiencing it.

4) Cowboy Bebop

It breaks my heart to rank Cowboy Bebop this low, and I can't shake the feeling that had I just watched it then maybe the show would be appearing much higher, for Bebop is without doubt one of the masterpieces of serialized animation: a show that favours fantastic writing, exquisite characterization and its own idiosyncratic and heightened brand of style, while also delivering consistently great animation.  The thing that makes Bebop truly stand out, however, is that it consists almost entirely of one-and-done episodes.  It's not a weakness, by any means, especially when some of those episodes are among the most perfectly formed short stories you'll ever encounter; but if Cowboy Bebop has one failing, its that what arc plot there is feels malnourished by comparison.  The trick, then, is to go in knowing that's not what you're here for: watch, instead, for the characters, for the wit, for the sense of cool that drips from every facet of the design and finds its peak in YĆ“ko Kanno superlative score.  After all, Cowboy Bebop is a legend for a reason, and one that still feels fresh nearly two decades on.

3) Puella Magi Madoka Magica

A show that's already become legendary and has already proven influential, though it's a little tricky to spell out to non-anime watchers just why: explaining that something is a savage subversion of magical girl tropes is hardly going to snare the attention of your average person on the street.  And, though it's absolutely true that Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a perfect genre take-down, making the most innocent cliches terrifying, you could have no knowledge whatsoever of Sailor Moon and its ilk and still recognize this for a work of genius: the way the plot peels away its concept to display darker and darker layers without ever betraying its central logic should certainly do it, and if not then there's always the eye-grabbing incorporation of mixed media into traditional anime art, which looks both amazing and unlike anything out there.  In the end (and like another, older show that pops up below, and also gained initial fame for skewering a beloved sub-genre) Puella Magi Madoka Magica goes so much further than its contemporaries: it's fine work in its own right, and the fact that magical girl anime will forever after be a little bit petrifying is the icing on an already splendid cake.

2) Fate/Zero

Here's my advice: if you see the names Type-Moon and UFOTable together on something then watch that thing at your earliest opportunity, because it's likely to be terrific - but particularly if you're a fan of highly-involved fantasy with a heavy side order of horror, brought to life with some of the most vivid, detailed animation you're ever likely to set eyes upon.  Amid their collaborations, however, Fate/Zero is a pretty great place to start, if only for its irresistible premise, which finds modern-day mages battling with the aid of summoned mythic heroes in an epic, deadly battle royale, with the holy grail as the prize and no end of betrayals and bloody secrets to be revealed before the end.  Packed with scenes so striking that I still remember them clearly months later, Fate/Zero is an epic piece of dark fantasy, and one that should appeal to just about anyone with a sympathy for the subgenre.

1) Neon Genesis Evangelion

There are people out there who consider Neon Genesis Evangelion to be grossly overrated, and would argue that the facts that its creators ran out of money well before the end and that mastermind Hideaki Anno was pretty clearly just working out his own deep depression through the medium of a giant robot show somehow mean that it can't be one of the absolute masterworks of serialized storytelling of the last fifty years.  I'd like to say that those people are gravely wrong - I mean, they are - but I can also just about see that Neon Genesis Evangelion isn't for everyone.  If, for instance, you don't want to be actively traumatized by your entertainment, then maybe it's not for you.  And if you'd prefer the climatic battle of your giant robot show to occur on screen, rather than, say, watching the protagonist's mental collapse from the inside, then again, you might do better to look elsewhere.  For everyone else, though, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a uniquely provocative slice of anime unlike anything before or since, and something you owe it to yourself to watch if you care at all about the medium, world cinema, original sci-fi or the right of crazy people to make mind-boggling works of art.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Ready For the New Term?

Mike and I basically knew from the beginning that we'd want to return to the world of The Black River Chronicles.  I mean, you don't call a book Level One unless you're at least a little bit hopeful that there'll be a level two, a level three, and so on, do you?  And even as we were writing the first book, our thoughts kept straying to how we wanted these characters to grow.  What happens to Durren now that his secret's at least partially out?  Just what is Tia hiding?  And will Arein ever stop naming everything she meets after her childhood pets?  In the same way, there are so many parts of this world yet to visit: really, we've only scratched the surface.

But for any of that to happen, The Black River Chronicles needed readers - at least enough of them that pressing ahead wouldn't be an insane decision, but ideally a significant number of people who reached the end of Level One and wanted to hang out with Durren and the gang again just as badly as the two of us did.  And, as I've learned the hard way before now, there are no guarantees in publishing.  Just because we felt that we had something fresh and fun and exciting, didn't mean anyone else would.

With that in mind: a huge thank you to everyone who's embraced this first book, it means the world to us both.  Thanks to everyone who's taken the time to spread the word and everyone who's gone onto Amazon and Goodreads to throw goodwill our way.  And make that an especially big thank you because now I get to announce that the response has been strong enough to make a second book not only feasible but sensible.  As of the start of this month, the scary paperwork side of things has all been sorted, and as of right now synopses have been discussed, and very soon the real donkey work will begin.  All of which is to say, expect to see a new Black River Chronicles chronicle before the year is out.

And, you know, expect it to be awesome.  I won't go into details yet, for obvious reasons!  But suffice to say that we'll be seeing new challenges, new places and new characters, and that getting to level three from level two is substantially more difficult than from level two to level one, especially when - but no, it's definitely too early for spoilers!  For the moment, let's just say this: I'm thrilled about the story that Mike and I are planning, it feels like a real advance on the foundations we've built, and if you liked Level One even a little bit, I think you're going to love this one.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Film Ramble: Top 10 Fantasy and Science Fiction Films of 2016

I can say nothing more about the state of genre filmmaking in 2016 than that I really didn't think I'd manage to come up with ten films for this list until December rolled around.  But then, didn't I say something similar last year?  So perhaps the problem is just that I've become a miserable sod with too-high standards for fantasy and science-fiction movies.

Yeah.  Perhaps that's it.

Certainly I'm at a loss to explain the affection for some of the films showing up on similar lists I've seen.  As far as I'm concerned, Tale of Tales should have been called Tale of Rambling Anecdotes That Don't Remotely Tie Up or Go Anywhere.  And 10 Cloverfield Lane?  The moderately amusing thriller that relied for its plot development on everyone doing the most ridiculous things possible at every turn, and which ended with J J Abrams copy / pasting in the third act from an entirely different script?  Then there was The Witch, a film I watched for a solid thirty minutes before I stopped laughing long enough to realise that this was actually how someone thought people spoke at any point in history ever.

Or, again, there were the things I really wanted to be great and that resolutely refused to be, like X-Men: Apocalypse, which - well, I didn't altogether hate, I guess.  Likewise, rationally, I know that Deadpool should be on here somewhere, and yet I find that I can't work up any retrospective enthusiasm whatsoever.  And then there's my cheeky number eleven spot, which is even more of a cheat since I just claimed I had trouble making my way up to ten:

(Honourary Mention) Kubo and the Two Strings

I don't know what it is, precisely, but I just don't get on with the works of Studio Laika.  I hoped Kubo and the Two Strings would be the film to buck that trend, and ... well, here it is, not in the top ten.  Kubo looked staggeringly lovely, there's no denying that; solely in terms of visual ingenuity, it's a masterpiece.  But what was all of that luscious artistry in service of?  A fetch-quest, chosen-one plot that felt like every other kid's fantasy movie, only grafted into an Eastern setting, set apart only by its thoroughgoing self-seriousness.  Hey, Kubo, I get that you're telling a story about telling stories, so maybe you could let two lines of dialogue go without reminding me?

And yet - so pretty.  Kubo basically gets a special mention for its superlative animation and its visual (if not narrative) imagination, and for the fact that as an animation nerd I couldn't rightfully leave off something so ravishing.  But, man, imagine this thing with a halfway decent script; now that would be sitting at the entirely other end of this list.

And now, without further cheating, my actual top ten...

10) High-Rise

I love Ben Wheatley so much!  And someone finally gave him a decent budget to play with!  And then he made his weakest film yet!  I'm inclined to blame this on the Ballard source material, since I increasingly suspect I don't like Ballard one bit; in fact, having watched both this and Crash last year, I know full well I don't.  Still, the fact remains that the result is something of an intermittently brilliant, frequently fascinating slog, a work of often phenomenal craft in service of a plot that seems determined never to gain any momentum, even when theoretically exciting things are being done by theoretically exciting people.  I doubt there will ever come a time when I hate, or even actively dislike, a Ben Wheatley movie, but I certainly did have a hard time staying engaged with this one, and that alone was enough to make it 2016's biggest disappointment.

9) Doctor Strange

It's a Marvel movie meets Inception!  Oh, but without the ingenious premise and plotting, and with a wholly generic three act structure in its place.  Okay, so that's unfair, there were some definite flares of ingenuity and imagination going on here: the action sequences were generally splendid, the ending was a novel, knowing twist that went against formula, and I for one really liked the fact that it refused to deliver on its trite love interest set-up and instead gave us two post-relationship characters relearning how to behave like decent human beings towards one another.  Oh, and the production design was an utter treat.  But for all that, I find it impossible to look back at Doctor Strange with much excitement.  In the end, it came and went and did not much more than it needed to, introducing a new character to the pantheon who'll no doubt be better served by better sequels.

8) Star Wars: Rogue One

Only now do I realise that the most galling thing for me about 2016's blockbusters was just how many times a director I rate highly delivered subpar work.  And what better example could there be than Star Wars: Rogue One, the third film by the miraculous Gareth Edwards?  Seriously, did everyone who raved about this see the version that Disney hadn't hacked to shreds and then stuck back together with gaffer tape?  I don't believe I've ever seen a film that wore it's re-shoots so blatantly on its sleeve; just as one example, I defy anyone to make meaningful sense of the two protagonists' character arcs.  And yet the great bits are certainly great, the supporting cast do wonders at keeping the whole business afloat, and there's an undeniable thrill in seeing a genuinely visionary director set loose in the Star Wars universe.  But if this is how these new Star Wars movies are going to work, taking talented artisans and then cutting them off at the knees, then I suspect that me and they are going to fall out awfully quickly.

7) Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them

With no real investment in the Potterverse beyond the fact that I'd enjoyed the latter movies - and particularly the latter movies directed by David Yates, a cracking visual stylist with fine taste in cinematographers - I wasn't sure how excited to get about Fantastical Beasts, which looked for all the world like Rowling returning to a watering hole she had no real interest in drinking from except for the huge bundles of money littering the shore.  So that the result was at least endearingly odd is certainly something, I suppose.  It was too long, too sluggish, not half so pretty as I'd hope a Yates-directed, Potter-related movie to be, and Rowling's script seemed to have no clue how to marry up its A and B plots.  But in its best moments it had a heck of a charming vibe, built on some appealing characters, and there's a lot to be said for a story that takes the time to build its world and cast, especially in these fallen times.  As long as Yates stays on board, I suspect these might end up doing a perfectly good job of filling the hole in my yearly film watching that those annoyingly terrific latter Potter movies left.

6) Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

The superhero movie of 2016 that everyone loved to hate, and only a madman would claim that Batman V Superman was an unqualified success, but for me it worked more often than it didn't - though, months later, I struggle to remember precisely why.  I suspect that my lack of investment in the DC universe probably helped matters, as did my mild exhaustion with Disney-Marvel's habit of sanding off the sharp edges from absolutely everything.  Snyder's movie was a weird old hurricane of a mess, like basically ever Snyder movie, but I was just ready for something so grandiose and idiosyncratic.  Honestly, I think this might be one of those films that everyone looks back on in five years time and realises they underestimated.  But if not then it still managed to be a willfully odd alternative to the increasingly suffocating Marvel formula, and to do what everyone seemed convinced couldn't be done: to usher in a new filmic Batman who feels like he might yet prove a satisfying replacement for Nolan's interpretation of the character.

5) Star Trek: Beyond

Better than Abram's two Star Trek movies was never going to be the highest of bars to leap over: frankly, having the least affection for the franchise and not just using it as an audition tape to make a Star Wars movie would have been a fine start.  And lo and behold, that's the main thing that Star Trek: Beyond gets right.  Justin Lin will probably never be the greatest of directors, and he doesn't even bring his action A game, but Beyond is eager and earnest in all the right places, and that alone felt like a breath of fresh air after the dour, preposterous work of confused fan fiction that was Into Darkness.  Beyond never achieves a great deal more than feeling like a strong episode of the original show made with an astronomical modern budget, but you know what, that'll do me.

4) Captain America: Civil War

I admit, in the first draft I rated Batman V Superman above this, and on the whole I still like it that little bit more - but there's no denying that probably has more to do with expectations than anything else.  At any rate, has a colon in a film title ever said so much?  Captain America: Civil War is two things slammed inelegantly together, a good Captain America movie and a great Avengers movie, and I would much rather have seen that equation the other way round, or maybe just had the Avengers material in its own damn film.  Still, there's no worse brand of criticism than reviewing the film you wanted rather than the film you got, and the film we got is about as spectacular as one of the increasingly overstuffed brand of Marvel ensemble movies could hope to be.  Deep, thrilling, involving and surprising, and (thank goodness!) they got Black Panther just right.  Frankly, if nothing else comes out of Civil War but a great Black Panther movie then I'll happily retroactively consider it a masterpiece for the ages.

3) Moana

I'm already curious to revisit Moana, and to reassess my opinion of the time, that it was a great Disney movie that blew any number of opportunities to be an utterly top tier Disney movie such as we'd all still be talking about a decade from now.  When it plowed its own furrow it was gloriously, spectacularly distinctive; when it didn't, it was so generic that I would swear they literally copied bits of the script out of other Disney movies.  I mean, do we ever need another protagonist to audibly doubt that they really are the chosen one and then be reassured that, no really, they are the chosen one?  Well, conceivably, but for that same dialogue exchange to occur - what, fifteen times?  It felt like fifteen times.  Also, frankly, Moana herself had an annoying tendency to be the weakest link in her own movie; did she really have to be such an anachronistically stereotypical American teenager?  But, you know, other than that, I basically loved it.  Even the songs were great, and I try very hard to hate the songs in Disney movies.

2) Midnight Special

It breaks my heart a bit that I'm not giving this the top spot, because when I found out that Jeff Nichols, director of possibly my favourite genre movie of the millennium so far, Take Shelter, had another one out, I may have peed in my pants a little.  But I think, in retrospect, that I also entered with some truly unfair expectations, and also that if I'd seen Midnight Special first then I'd have unhesitatingly declared it a masterpiece.  It's a heartfelt drama about the awful lengths required of loving parents, especially of those whose children are, through no possible faults of their own, neither normal or entirely comprehensible.  And then second - a rather distant second in places - it's an ingenious science-fiction chase thriller built upon a chassis of other great science-fiction chase thrillers, most of them from the eighties.  Which, sadly, is the point at which it lost me a touch: I just don't have the nostalgia not to want Midnight Special to carry on being excitingly original all the way through to its conclusion.  Still, here's another one I'm eager to revisit, and I think maybe the love will come in time.

1) Arrival

It seems to be the case that whether you consider Arrival merely an exceptionally good science fiction film or a flat-out modern classic largely comes down to its ending, for there's not much question that the first two thirds are superlative: a delightful bit of smart genre movie-making told with utter seriousness by one of the better directors working today, abetted by a fine team of craftspeople - a sci-fi film with honest to goodness interesting cinematography! - and some fine acting.  Then that ending comes, and - well, it didn't work for me, but it wasn't film-wrecking either.  Still, even if I'm a little sad that I'm giving the number one spot to a movie I liked but didn't love, I refuse to bitch too harshly on Arrival, because it represents precisely the kind of thing I'd like to see more of in cinemas - and that the universe gave us a Denis Villeneuve adaptation of a Ted Chiang short story remains a wonder of the highest order.

Monday, 9 January 2017

2016: A is for Andrei Rublev, B is for Babymetal, C is for Cat Sisters

So, I've blogged already about what fiction I had out in 2016 - a novel, a short story collection in both paperback and hardback, a novella and the first issue of a comic book miniseries - and I've got to say, I'm hellaciously proud of all that.  I had some work out last year that I'm seriously pleased with, long, short and in-between, and that's no small thing.  Frankly, if 2016 had just been about the writing I had published then it would have been an infinitely better experience.

Now, it seems petty to grumble about a year when almost everything seemed to go wrong for almost everyone, but boy was that a rotten twelve months, practically from start to finish.  Sickness and surgery, professional setbacks, insurance nightmares, house problems, money worries, family health scares - it was just nonstop.  And even the publishing stuff, which looks impressive on the face of things, wasn't so good in practice.  Almost all of 2016's short story acceptances, for example, actually belonged to submissions made in the tail end of 2015.  Even then, it would have proved a high watermark year for sales had a small publisher by the name of Time Alone Press not reneged on the $300 they owed me, having strung me and sixty or so other folks along for more than a year.

But that's a subject we'll return to when I have more time, and also the extent of my complaining, because in time-honoured tradition (my own, established all of a couple of years ago) I want to take this opportunity to list a few of the good things that happened in what history's probably going to end up calling Year Zero or something equally portentous.

- Thanks to Ian Sales, I got back into world cinema in a big way.  There have been amazing directors making amazing films all around the planet for, like, a century now.  Who knew?  Well, lots of people, obviously, me included, but I'd drifted into some awfully lazy film-watching habits and I'm immensely glad to have drifted back out.  Again, largely thanks to Sales and his pernicious influence (and gifting of surplus DVD box sets) I've been bingeing on works by people like Haneke, Herzog, Kieslowski and Tarkovsky, as well as discovering many a new director I'd never heard of and rediscovering some old favourites from my days as a shut-in cinephile teenager.

- Same goes for music.  This has been something I've been experimenting with ever since I started
writing full-time, really, but 2016 was the year when my tastes got distinctly strange.  From J-Pop to Trance to Post-rock to African Blues, I feel comfortable in saying that my listening over the last twelve months has been on the eclectic side, and that I now have a pretty interesting CD collection - if only in the sense of that ancient Chinese curse, "May you have an interesting CD collection."

- I'm steadily getting back into shape.  I hope to have a crack at a Fells marathon later in the year, because, why not?  Okay, there are plenty of reasons why not, and they all start with "Hey, Tallerman, you do realise that running a marathon over actual wilderness is probably going to kill you?"  But let us not think too much of such reasons, or I'll bottle it before I ever get started.

- The benefit of having non-stop house problems and spending an inordinate amount of money I couldn't afford is that the house I bought five or so years ago as little more than a brick shell - sans heating, carpets, a shower, or much of anything else - is now finished.  Oh, sure, there are jobs I still want to do, it's probably in the nature of a more-than-a-hundred-years-old house that there's eternal scope for improvement, but all told it's a nice home these days.  And somehow the staggering amounts of work that have gone into the place only make it feel more special.

- And, as anyone who's even glanced at the blog will probably have noticed, I've been having a great deal of fun with the nineties anime watching.  That's drawing towards an end now, I think, partly for the reason that I've absolutely exhausted what can be reasonably found and partly because, let's face it, there are limits to the amount of nineties anime that any one human being can watch before they start to expect giant robots and tentacle beasts around every corner.

- And then there's the big - the very big, and the actually book-related - news.  Which is that, as of about a week ago, I've signed a contract for another novel.  If you're following my career even slightly then you can probably guess what it is, but the official announcement will be along very soon.  My promise to myself was that if I didn't have money coming in at the end of this third year of writing full-time then that would be the end of the experiment.  But I do, and it isn't.  This is, on a personal level, one hell of a thing.

Whatever global catastrophes await in 2017, I can't imagine that it's exactly going to be an easy year for me personally.  By no means have I made it, whatever the hell that would mean.  But I get to keep doing the job I like most and think I'm best suited to, and that surely has to count for something.  And I'll have at least one new book out.  This is exciting stuff, and definite forward progress!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Books Out in 2016

So, to clarify, this is most definitely not one of those "stuff eligible for awards" posts that have been kicking about, because I don't do those.  I was raised to believe that if you have to ask for something then that something isn't worth having, which is probably why no one ever gives me anything and I get dirty looks in the queues at sandwich shops.

Wait, that's not true.  Well, maybe the bit about sandwich shops.  Still ... not an awards eligibility post.  More a "2016 was a rough old year and I could do to remind myself that I accomplished a few things" post.  And while, between you and me, it was all down to timing and weird luck and coincidence and I certainly wouldn't have chosen to have four (three and a half?) books come out in one year, it's definitely a thing that's happened.


The first - but by no means the last - of my longer works to get a bit experimental, Patchwerk was a big old risk, and one that in retrospect I only took because my brain was at that time just as exploded as its reality-skipping, genre-hopping, gender-flipping, rules-ignoring narrative.  It was a tough book to write on any number of levels, born out of a particularly difficult time, and in retrospect it's kind of amazing that, somehow, I not only got it finished but managed to sell it to the impressive, as one of first titles in their then fairly new novella line-up.

Sadly, that was as far as the very good news went.  Despite some strong reviews, Patchwerk hasn't altogether found its audience, and declined the follow-up novella I wrote for them, which is if anything weirder, wilder and more ambitious.  Here's hoping I can find a home for it elsewhere in 2017, because I do like writing these novella things and I'd hate to have to give up on the format.

The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories

Thanks to the ruptures and shenanigans at Spectral Press that took up such a disproportionate amount of my attention in 2015, I was more or less certain that my much-delayed debut short story collection would never happen - until it did, thanks to Michael Wills and Digital Fiction Publishing.  And Michael proved to be an absolute powerhouse, picking up a stalled project and kicking it into life in what felt like no time at all.

Which was awesome, undoubtedly.  Still, there was no way the deluxe hardback edition I'd dreamed of, the one that would really showcase the fabulous art Duncan Kay had produced, would happen - until Ian Whates and NewCon Press stepped in and suddenly we were talking about the most ridiculously lavish hardback I could have imagined.  That both editions have made it comfortably into profit is the icing on an already icy cake.  Now to figure out how to make the audiobook happen...

The Black River Chronicles: Level One

The jewel in the crown of my 2016, I'm still a little in awe of the fact that Level One is out there and finding readers at a rate of knots; thanks to my collaboration with Michael Wills, this book sprang from nowhere and then snowballed, going from conception to release in somewhat less than a year.

The result is a book I'm terrifically proud of, and one I could never have come up with on my own.  At a point when my own projects were getting increasingly dour, Michael's input and concepts were a handy reminder that books could be cool, fun, exciting things.  And I don't think it's a stretch to say that that's precisely what Level One ended up being: cool, fun and exciting, with the warmest heart of anything I've written and characters I fell in love with almost from the moment we came up with them.  That readers seem to be finding our party of hopeless heroes-in-training pretty lovable as well is a huge relief.

C21st Gods #1

Another book that spent so long in development hell that I'd essentially given up on it by the time it finally shuddered into life, C21st Gods found its artist and publisher pretty much simultaneously - and suddenly my poor, deceased comic book project was alive and kicking.  And not only that but the publisher was Rosarium, one of the boldest, most exciting indy presses out there, and the artist was Anthony Summey, who turned out to be the perfect fit: not many people could nail both the horror and science-fiction elements of a comic that's called C21st Gods for very good reasons.

Those reasons are going to become a great deal more apparent this year, when we get to the second two issues of the mini-series and start drifting further away from Lovecraft pastiche and nearer to - well, talking a little more about the twenty-first century, I suppose, its gods and its horrors.  But in the meantime, issue #1 is definitely the place to start, what with it being the first issue and everything.


I suppose that, while we're hear, it would be remiss not to mention the short stories I had out in 2016 - especially given that, now that I add it all up, 2016 was a heck of a good year for short fiction coming out.  New stories-wise, I had (in no particular order) my Lovecraftian military horror Great Black Wave in Nightmare, dark fantasy tale The Magpie of Souls in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, weird SF story Team Invasion at Liminal, my crime debut Step Light in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and more horror in the impressive Mysterion anthology (Golgotha) and the most recent issue of Pantheon magazine (Knock, Knock.)  As for reprints, those were split nearly between Digital Fiction PublishingDancing in the Winter Rooms, Passive Resistance and Black Horticulture - and exciting new market Great Jones Street, who took Jenny's Sick, Great Black Wave, Ill-Met at Midnight and A Killer of Dead Men.

Phew!  That turned out to be more of a list than I remembered.  Okay, I feel a little better about 2016 now.

But only a little.