Monthly Archives: June 2008

A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 21

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June 29, 2008

Today sees the beginning of Volume 5 of VFoS. We’re almost two thirds of the way through the story and things are hotting up. In this episode, Ghost decides to hunt down the pilot with a price on his head.

Click on the Serial Novella button to read and keep the feedback coming – comment here or emails.

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RIP George Carlin

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June 23, 2008

The news wires and the blogosphere are awash with tributes to George Carlin, and deservedly so. George was admitted to hospital on Sunday complaining of chest pains and died of heart failure late in the afternoon. He was 71 years old.

So why am I adding my voice to the global outpouring of grief? Well, Carlin was quite a man. Primarily a stand-up comedian, he was also and actor and an author and won four Grammy Awards for comedy albums. But one of the reasons that I personally liked him so much was his great insights into language. (He also had a great thoughts on religion, once saying that a new commandment should be added, “Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.” Good idea, that.)

A great example of his exasperation with modern language can be seen in this YouTube clip.

You can learn all about the man at his Wikipedia entry here.

george carlin RIP George Carlin
Jesus is coming – look busy.

RIP GEORGE CARLIN

1937 – 2008

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A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 20

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June 22, 2008

Monday rolls around once again and another episode of VFoS has been posted on the Serial Novella page. In this episode Ghost gets a couple of answers and decides to stop sitting around.

This episode also marks the completion of Volume 4 in the completely arbitrary 5 episodes per volume format that I decided on. Volume 5 and Episode 21 will be posted next Monday.

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Top genre films

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June 19, 2008

Following on from yesterday’s post listing the SFX top 100 sci-fi and fantasy authors, I thought this list was also relevant.

Via S F Signal, here we have the American Film Institute’s top ten films in ten genres. The ten genres are Animation, Romantic Comedy (a genre that even has a title that makes me cringe), Western, Sports, Mystery, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Gangster, Courtroom Drama and Epic. The two that interest me the most are, naturally, Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

The top 10 Science-Fiction Films are:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
3. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
6. Blade Runner (1982)
7. Alien (1979)
8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
10. Back to the Future (1985)

And the top 10 Fantasy Films are:

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
4. King Kong (1933)
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
6. Field of Dreams (1989)
7. Harvey (1950)
8. Groundhog Day (1993)
9. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
10. Big (1988)

I’m kind of bemused by both lists. Let’s take the sci-fi list first. All worthy films, certainly. All classics. But why on Earth (or elsewhere) would Blade Runner be so far down? And why Terminator 2? Sure, it wasn’t bad as sequels go, but the original Terminator was a groundbreaking film and it doesn’t make the list at all.

As for the fantasy list, why is Lord of the Rings second? It should count the whole trilogy as a single movie and put it in first place. Nothing in film comes even close to it as far as an example of great movie making is concerned. And Groundhog Day and Big? Are these AFI people taking the piss? Of all the great fantasy movies out there, even the ones that are great because they’re just so cheesy, they pick these two for their top ten? I’m appalled.

The awards are very American-centric, though, which might help to explain it a bit. Not surprisingly, being the American Film Institute, I suppose. AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale said:

AFI’s 10 TOP 10 will serve as the ultimate guide to the very best in 10 of America’s most beloved film genres. Over the past decade, this series has sparked a national debate each year about what makes a great American movie, and why—ultimately driving audiences to discover and rediscover the classics of American film.”

Whatever. The selection process was by jury. This year, the jury was asked to choose up to 10 movies per genre from what they called a comprehensive list. To compile the final list, AFI distributed a ballot with 500 nominated movies (50 per genre) to a jury of over 1,500 leaders from the creative community, including film artists (directors, screenwriters, actors, editors, cinematographers), critics and historians. AFI asked jurors to consider the following criteria in their selection process:

FEATURE-LENGTH FICTION FILMS
Narrative format, typically over 60 minutes in length.

AMERICAN FILM
English-language film with significant creative and/or production elements from the United
States. Additionally, only films released before January 1, 2008 will be considered.

GENRE:

FANTASY
AFI defines “fantasy” as a genre where live-action characters inhabit imagined settings and/or
experience situations that transcend the rules of the natural world.

SCIENCE FICTION
AFI defines “science fiction” as a genre that marries a scientific or technological premise with
imaginative speculation.

[SNIP]

CRITICAL RECOGNITION
Formal commendation in print, television and digital media.

MAJOR AWARD WINNER
Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds and
major film festivals.

POPULARITY OVER TIME
Including success at the box office, television and cable airing, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
A film’s mark on the history of the moving images through visionary narrative devices, technical
innovation, or other ground breaking achievements.

CULTURAL IMPACT
A film’s mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

So, it was a pretty detailed selection process. But still, I disagree.

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100 of the best

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June 18, 2008

Back in April I posted about UK based SFX Magazine searching for the top 50 science fiction and fantasy authors. Well, the results are out and they’ve released a top 100. The top ten are:

10. Robert Rankin
9. HG Wells
8. Philip K. Dick
7. Iain M. Banks
6. Isaac Asimov
5. George RR Martin
4. Douglas Adams
3. Neil Gaiman
2. JRR Tolkien
1. Terry Pratchett

I think that’s a pretty strong list, everyone there a worthy top ten place holder. However, not surprisingly, the results are almost certainly skewed by current events. Almost every one of these things over the years has put J R R Tolkien in the number one spot. It seems like Tolkien is the respected father of all things fantasy and he’s naturally accorded first place. It’s like trying to play professional tennis – everyone knows that second place is the equivalent of first really, because no normal human can beat Roger Federer. In the same way, no one can really beat Tolkien in a top fantasy author list.

However, this year Tolkien has been relegated to second place by Terry Pratchett. Now, I’m a massive fan of Terry Pratchett and have every book he’s ever written. I’ve read them all too. But I can’t help thinking that his position at the top of the list is more to do with a combination of sympathy for the shocking news of his Alzheimer’s Disease combined with his higher media profile as a result. Just lately everyone has been reminded of Terry Pratchett. Then again, that’s no bad thing. The man is a bloody genius.

The same applies really to Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams, in third and fourth place respectively. The recent tragic death of Douglas Adams means that he’s higher in the minds of fans than usual and Neil Gaiman is such a media whore that he’s rarely out of the news at the moment. Talk about the darling of the moment. He does seem to work like a dog too, which helps, naturally. Again, these are two authors that I am an immense fan of and in awe of their ability, but I would hazard that media profile has more to do with this list than anything else. Then again, I suppose that’s true of any list. After all, I’m quite clearly the world’s sexiest man, but I just don’t have the PR required for the world to notice. It’s all about getting it out there, baby.

The entire top 100 sci-fi and fantasy authors list, according to SFX, looks like this:

100. James Herbert
99. Gwyneth Jones
98. Sara Douglass
97. Charles Stross
96. Terry Goodkind
95. Brian W. Aldiss
94. Ken MacLeod
93. Olaf Stapledon
92. Michael Marshall Smith
91. Jon Courtney Grimwood
90. Christopher Priest
89. Jonathan Carroll
88. Scott Lynch
87. David Weber
86. M. John Harrison
85. Jacqueline Carey
84. Kim Stanley Robinson
83. Theodore Sturgeon
82. J.V. Jones
81. Joe Abercrombie
80. Joe Haldeman
79. Simon Clark
78. George Orwell
77. Samuel R. Delaney
76. Charles de Lint
75. Julian May
74. Edgar Rice Burroughs
73. Robert Silverberg
72. Susanna Clarke
71. Stanislaw Lem
70. Larry Niven
69. Alfred Bester
68. Katherine Kerr
67. Jack Vance
66. Harry Harrison
65. Marion Zimmer Bradley
64. Richard Matheson
63. Dan Simmons
62. Elizabeth Haydon
61. Terry Brooks
60. Richard Morgan
59. Stephen Baxter
58. Jennifer Fallon
57. Mercedes Lackey
56. CJ Cherryh
55. Harlan Ellison
54. Jasper Fforde
53. Octavia Butler
52. J.G. Ballard
51. Robert E. Howard
50. Sherri S. Tepper
49. H.P. Lovecraft
48. Mervyn Peake
47. Jules Verne
46. Alastair Reynolds
45. Neal Stephenson
44. Clive Barker
43. Jim Butcher
42. Tad Williams
41. Kurt Vonnegut
40. Trudi Canavan
39. Michael Moorcock
38. David Eddings
37. Alan Moore
36. Orson Scott Card
35. Stephen Donaldson
34. Gene Wolfe
33. China Mieville
32. Raymond E. Feist
31. Lois McMaster Bujold
30. Roger Zelazny
29. Anne McCaffrey
28. Steven Erikson
27. William Gibson
26. Guy Gavriel Kay
25. CS Lewis
24. Diana Wynne Jones
23. John Wyndham
22. Philip Pullman
21. Robin Hobb
20. Stephen King
19. Ray Bradbury
18. Arthur C. Clarke
17. Robert Jordan
16. JK Rowling
15. Robert Heinlein
14. Frank Herbert
13. Peter F. Hamilton
12. David Gemmell
11. Ursula K. LeGuin
10. Robert Rankin
9. HG Wells
8. Philip K. Dick
7. Iain M. Banks
6. Isaac Asimov
5. George RR Martin
4. Douglas Adams
3. Neil Gaiman
2. JRR Tolkien
1. Terry Pratchett

A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 19

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June 15, 2008

For the Australians it’s a bit late. It is still Monday, but almost Monday night. Sorry about that. For anyone else you’re probably still in bed on Sunday night and completely oblivious to anything, so you can ignore this first paragraph. There are many benefits to living in Australia, one of which is being nearly first in the world with every new day.

Anyway, I digress, as usual. Episode 19 of VFoS is up now on the Serial Novella page. In this episode, Ghost is overcome with dread when he makes a very unsettling discovery.

Enjoy.

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Photo of the year

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June 10, 2008

This isn’t really something that fits in with the general theme of my blog here, except for an extremely tenuous link between me as a science fiction and fantasy writer and the current exploration of space. So what the hell? That’s good enough for me.

This is by far the coolest picture I’ve seen in a long time:

The Earth and Moon as seen from Mars.

earthmoonfrommars Photo of the year

For a bigger version, check out the NASA site here.

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A Lesbian by any other name

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June 10, 2008

There’s a lot of power in names. You don’t need to be a daemonologist to know that. We do have this seemingly inbuilt and unavoidable need to name and categorise everything. While a personal name is very important, group names become something of a murky area.

I’ve been entertained over the last few days with news from the Greek island of Lesbos. It seems that the people there, the Lesbians, have had enough of the global female gay community appropriating their name to identify their gender preference.

For example, as reported in The Register:

local activist Dimitris Lambrou states in his complaint that the “seizure” of the island’s name is responsible for the “psychological and moral rape” of true lesbians

Seriously, that’s a bit strong, isn’t it? Lambrou is actually bringing the case to an Athens court, as reported by the BBC:

for judges to decide whether to grant an injunction against the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece and to order it to change its name

The term lesbian, used to describe girls that dig other girls, stems from a famous Lesbian (native of Lesbos) that went by the name of Sappho. She was a lyrical poet that lived some time between 630 and 570 BCE and was famed for her poems about her love and infatuation with other people, many of whom were women. She often wrote of unrequited love but rarely wrote of any physical acts of love. Regardless, Sappho, born on Lesbos, indirectly and unwittingly coined the term lesbian for gay females.

sappho A Lesbian by any other name
Sappho (by Charles Mengin, 1877)
She’s a tortured looking lass if Mengin is to be believed.

Interestingly, the act of girl love has also been referred to as sapphic and gay girls have been called sapphists. This would seem to completely circumvent the whole problem between geographical lesbians and sexual lesbians, but so would simply calling them gay. Why do we have such a pathological need to name everything?

The use of collective nouns is extremely entertaining and descriptive, especially in the English language. After all, without collective nouns we wouldn’t have such pearlers as a Murder of Crows, a Parliament of Rooks or a Clamber of Assistant Professors (I’m not kidding, feel free to check). But do we really need to go so far as to categorise everything? Isn’t it enough to simply refer to men and women as either gay or straight if the need for a such a distinction ever arises?

Intrigued by these thoughts, I set out to do some serious research into the subject. By serious research I mean that I asked a good friend of mine that happens to be a girl that digs other girls. I asked her what she thought of the terminology and what her preferences were. She told me that it took her a long time to be comfortable with lesbian, but that she likes it now. She’s Australian and mentioned also that in Australia dyke is quite acceptable these days, but not really acceptable at all in the UK. I’m not entirely sure how it would be taken in other English-speaking countries. Otherwise she was happy enough with gay and said that there aren’t really any other nouns that she considers useful or acceptable.

However, she gets absolutely the last word on the subject with her own final comment to me: “Personally, I’d like not to be identified by the gender of the people I date. Maybe one day.”

Word.

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A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 18

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June 8, 2008

These Mondays do seem to rock around very quickly. I’m sure there must be some galactic phenomenon happening that is causing time to speed up. Or I’m just getting older. It seems that the older you are, the more you complain about “how fast the time goes”. Really old people must feel like they’re living in fast forward.

Perhaps that’s why they seem deaf – it’s not so much a lack of hearing, but more a difficulty catching anything over the noise of time whizzing by. But I digress…

Episode 18 of VFoS is now posted over on the Serial Novella page. In this episode, Ghost heads off on the Sanctuary ship that’s been laid on for him and quickly becomes very concerned about the whole situation.

Incidentally, I didn’t think to mention it at the time, but last episode marked the halfway point of this rollicking space adventure. So we’re in the backstraight now. Thanks for reading and thanks for the various comments you’ve emailed to me. It’s really gratifying to hear from people that they’ve been enjoying this serial.

I was recently asked if I plan to do more of these. (And this one not even over yet – you people and your modern attention spans.) Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. I’m working hard on the second novel at the moment, the sequel to RealmShift, and plan to have that ready very soon. Once that little task is in the bag, I’ll be starting on a third novel, unrelated to the previous two. If time allows I might start on another novella too. I’ll have to see if an inspiration particle strikes at the right angle or not. Anyway, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the second half of ‘Verse as much, if not more, than the first half. Keep your feedback coming and feel free to comment on any of these notification posts too.

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A couple more bits on Indy and the Plastic Skull

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June 2, 2008

Further to my previous post about the new Indiana Jones movie, here are a couple of other items you might be interested to read. Be warned that these do contain more in the way of spoilers than my post did.

You can read John’s SF Signal review of the movie here and the same writer has an article on the migration of Indiana Jones films towards science fiction at SciFi Scanner here. Interesting stuff.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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