Monthly Archives: July 2010

Movie review – Inception

July 31, 2010

Inception PosterI think I love Christopher Nolan a little bit. He’s made some of my favourite movies of all time – Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight. I am constantly going on about the homogenous rubbish coming out of Hollywood and lamenting that there are no clever, interesting, new stories being made into film. That’s not just because I have two novels out that would make awesome films. Incidentally, I’d give a testicle if Christopher Nolan would make my books into films, but that’s digressing and probably letting go a little too much information. But I go on about how Hollywood needs to take chances with films, trust their audience’s intelligence and challenge us with quality storytelling, not just impressive visuals on the story equivalent of See Spot Run. All of Nolan’s films above are clever, challenging movies.

Inception tops them all. It’s incredibly beautiful, using the medium of film perfectly to tell a story that is deep, complex and intellectually stimulating. And audiences clearly love it. At the time of writing imdb has it at 9.2/10 and Rotten Tomatoes at 87%. That’s some going, especially with today’s hyper-critical filmgoers.

And yet, the basic premise of the movie is not especially convulted. It’s a heist movie. I love a good blag caper, with someone assembling a team, getting the people he needs together with their special skillsets and their cool names like The Architect, The Forger and The Chemist. Except this is a heist of the mind.

The film centers on Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an extractor, who enters the dreams of others to obtain information while their subconscious is vulnerable to his skills. His job has cost him his family and his country, but he is given a chance at redemption if he can be successful in planting an idea in a corporate target’s mind, instead of taking one out. Known as inception, this is far more difficult and dangerous than extraction. And so we have a reverse heist of the mind. Cobb needs to assemble a team capable of putting something into the tightest vault of all.

So, accepting that the technology and methodology for the heist exists, the principle idea is fairly simple. It’s the execution in terms of story, film-making and acting that is simply outstanding. There are amazing performances all round. Leonardo DiCaprio is still playing the same character from Shutter Island in some ways, but with a different twist. His performance is brilliant. Surely, between Inception and Shutter Island, he must be venturing into Oscar territory soon. The ensemble cast are all exemplary, but Tom Hardy as Eames was a standout for me and deserves a special mention. As does Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, especially for his zero-g fighting.

Inception DreamInception was written, produced and directed by Nolan, a truly amazing achievement. He originally pitched the idea in 2001 or 2002 and the studio liked it, so he went away to write a final treatment. He kept working until he was happy with it – which took eight years. And it shows. The story is largely flawless. A few conveniences keep the plot moving, but nothing that took me out of the picture. It’s so bloody clever, and Nolan’s use of the device of dreaming is inspired. I know I’m gushing a bit, but this is finally a film worthy of our adoration.

And it was spectacular to watch. Avatar was spectacular to watch, a beautiful visual feast, but the story was painting by numbers. A three year old could have written it. And the beauty of the film was almost entirely special effects. Nolan excels for using reality.

His story, as I’ve already said, is excellent and intellectually engaging. It’s also a story that uses the medium of film perfectly. This would be a great book, but it’s a fantastic film. Every sequence has a balletic, dream-like quality, even when they’re not dreaming. The visual devices of dreams within dreams, the bending of reality in the subjects’ minds, is inspired. Yet Nolan insists on avoiding CGI as much as possible. This movie had less special effects shots than his Batman films. His use of in-camera effects and stunts is sometimes breath-taking. And you can tell it’s happening. If you watch for it, you can see that there’s a distinct lack of CGI in a film that would usually, these days, be blithering in post-production.

Nolan has made a film here about the nature of shared dreaming and how that might be used or abused. At the end of the film, as the lights came up, I looked around the theatre. I was stunned and peoples’ faces all around me were equally blown away. We’d all just shared Nolan’s dream and we were better for it.

Now, where’s my totem? I need to make sure I’ve actually woken up.

(And Mr Nolan, sir, please option my books next!)

EDIT: I’d love to hear your comments, so please leave your thoughts below, but BEWARE – there are spoilers in the comments section!


Font fight!

July 30, 2010

I found this via Cat Sparks and Jason Fischer who themselves found it on the Ban Comic Sans site. Those three links alone are worth the price of this post, but check out the video.

Nerdy font based fun. It’s brilliant.


Halloween horror book signing at Dymocks Southland

July 30, 2010

Here’s a little something I’m quite excited about. On October 31st, which as you all know is Halloween, there’s going to be a little horror-fest at Dymocks Southland bookstore.

A bunch of us dark writer folk are going to be doing a group book signing there in celebration of all things… well, dark. It’s a great idea and I’m honoured to have been asked. I’ll be sharing the signing table with some truly notable writers. Joining in on the day will be Bob Franklin, Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung  and Bruce Kaplan (as well as little old me).

You’ll remember Kirstyn McDermott from this post the other day where I was talking about her new book, Madigan Mine.

Jason Nahrung is the author author of The Darkness Within and numerous short stories.

Bruce Kaplan is the author of the YA paranormal novel Jenny’s Dance.

Bob Franklin is primarily recognised as a comedian that you’ll probably know better from TV than from his writing. He’s stared in show’s like the ABC’s The Librarians or guest appearing on Thank God You’re Here. However, he’s also the author of Under Stones, a collection of “tales of unease”.

So as you can see, I’m in some stellar company. It should be a good laugh, so if you’re anywhere near Melbourne come along and join in the fun. Here are the party invite details:

12 noon ’til 1pm on Sunday 31st October

Dymocks Southland
Shop 3067/8, Westfield Southland
1239 Nepean Highway
Cheltenham, VIC 3192

Ph: 03 9584 1245


Singing My Sister Down – the play

July 27, 2010

Margo Lanagan is a great spec fic writer from Sydney. She’s incredibly talented and quite justifiably well recognised for her work. Recently you may remember me talking about her novella Sea Hearts in the X6 Novellanthology from Coeur De Lion. Her latest novel is Tender Morsels, published by Allen & Unwin in Australia, Knopf in the US and David Fickling Books and Jonathan Cape in the UK. And that’s just a small cross-section of her work.

Anyway, one of her short stories that she’s perhaps most famous for, arguably the story that put her on the map, is an incredibly poignant yarn called Singing My Sister Down. In many ways this story breaks all the “rules” of short story writing, but it goes to show how extreme talent can prove that rules are just for us mere mortals. I remember reading the story and being totally blown away by it. It still resonates with me to this day, which is the sign of one of those rare masterpieces in storytelling.

Now Singing My Sister Down is set to be retold in a live production by the Sydney University Dramatic Society. I have no idea how they’ll pull this off, but if they make a good job of it we’re in for some awesome theatre.

Here are the details:

Wed–Sat, 11th–21st August, 8pm.
Cellar Theatre, under the Holme Building, Science Road, Sydney University.
Admission: $2/3/4/5.

‘In the winter you come to the pit to warm your feet in the tar. You stand long enough to sink as far as your ankles—the littler you are, the longer you can stand…but in summer, like this day, you keep away from the tar, because it makes the air hotter and you mind about the stink.’

Ik’s got to go down, and everybody’s got to see her go. The family party in the tar, feasting and singing despite the shame. But as the sun goes down and the young girl disappears in front of us, we observe an unnaturally slow execution, and watch a family lose someone before they are gone.

Adapted and directed by Eleni Schumacher and Stephen Sharpe, and the company. Produced by Ellana Costa.

If you’re in Sydney, or you can get to Sydney, give this a go and I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed. I really hope I can get up for it. I’ll review it here if I do.


New Aussie spec fic to check out

July 24, 2010

It’s a good time for Australian speculative fiction at the moment. There are a bunch of new books coming out or recently released by awesome Aussie authors. Some of these people I’m lucky enough to count among my friends and some of them I don’t know personally, but know them as their reputation in the field precedes them. I also know that I’m going to be pretty poor coming back from Aussiecon4, as I’ll inevitably be buying a lot of books there. I hope I can sell a few books myself to maybe even it all out a bit.

Here’s a quick rundown on just a few of the great new releases worth a look about now:

PowerAndMajestyPower And Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Voyager) She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled… He was also completely off his face.

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads… they need a Power and Majesty who won′t give up or lose themselves in madness…

BaggageBaggageedited by Gillian Polack (Eneit Press) Pick up some Baggage.

Humankind carries the past as invisible baggage. Thirteen brilliant writers explore this, looking at Australia’s cultural baggage through new and often disturbing eyes.

Go On …

Baggage explores layers and complexities that are oddly Australian. If you think Australian culture is all about neighbours and mateship, you may find Baggage distressing.

What is Australia? What baggage do Australians carry? Pick up this book. Have a read. You know you want to.

GravesendGravesend by Jason Fischer (Pulp novella from Black House Comics) Tamsyn Webb lives with her father in the Kent township of Gravesend. Like most young ladies she attends school, tries to come to terms with the other sex, and probably wants a pony named moonbeam. What makes Tamsyn different is her ability with a competition compound bow, which is probably a good skill to have considering Gravesend is one of the last outposts of humanity left following a zombie apocalypse event.

When an expedition to London goes pear shaped, Tamsyn and her father lock horns with Gravesend Mayor Terry Jacobs and his thugs. Things are looking very grim inside the township but it’s about to get a whole lot worse with a horde of zombies heading towards the township from the remnants of London. (From Scary Minds)

DeathMostDefiniteDeath Most Definite by Trent Jamieson (Hachette) Steven de Selby has a hangover. Bright lights, loud noise, and lots of exercise are the last thing he wants. But that’s exactly what he gets when someone starts shooting at him.

Steven is no stranger to death-Mr. D’s his boss after all-but when a dead girl saves him from sharing her fate, he finds himself on the wrong end of the barrel. His job is to guide the restless dead to the underworld but now his clients are his own colleagues, friends, and family.

Mr. D’s gone missing and with no one in charge, the dead start to rise, the living are hunted, and the whole city teeters on the brink of a regional apocalypse-unless Steven can shake his hangover, not fall for the dead girl, and find out what happened to his boss- that is, Death himself.

MadiganMineMadigan Mine by Kristyn McDermot (Pan MacMillan) Alex doesn’t know what he wants to do, how to connect with people or what’s good for him. He drifts his way through dead-end jobs and fumbled relationships, unable to find a way out of the rut his life has become. Then he runs into Madigan Sargood and everything changes.

A ray of light shining from an almost-forgotten past, Madigan is beautiful and impulsive, enigmatic and passionate beyond measure. This is what it means to live, Alex realises, and to love. Never mind that she can be somewhat possessive. Never mind that his best friend thinks there’s something wrong with her, something dangerous even. Never mind that the creepy band of misfits she attracts have all but taken over his home. Madigan fills Alex’s life with significance; he will put up with anything to be with her.

Until, without any warning, she kills herself.

Now Alex can’t seem to get her out of his head, and his world – along with his sanity – begins to disintegrate. Black outs and missing time, conversations he can’t recall, people he can’t remember. Is this the product of a diseased and lovesick mind, or can Madigan really be trying to communicate with him?

When the past threatens to obliterate the future, Alex is forced to take action. To save himself and those he loves, he must discover the sinister reason why Madigan took her own life – and why she won’t lie still in her grave.

SecretOnesThe Secret Ones by Nicole Murphy (HarperCollins) She’s from an ancient clan. He has no family. Can they save the world … together?

Maggie Shaunessy is used to keeping secrets. She’s a fantastic teacher, but she’s also gadda, part of a hidden, powerful race – and she has a habit of annoying the wrong people.

Until Lucas Valeroso meets Maggie, he had no idea what awaited him: super-human powers, a smart and beautiful woman interested in more than unlocking his new abilities and, above all, a sense of belonging.

But dark ambition and dangerous bigotry are emerging in the gadda ranks. Lucas’s new family might cast him out before he’s even truly found his place. And Maggie must work with new allies to find and retrieve a missing artefact before the entire world is changed for all time.


This is just a quick cross-section of the new books that have caught my eye. I’m sure I’ve missed some recent releases and I apologise in advance for any I have missed. Please leave a comment if there’s a new Aussie spec fic release that I haven’t included here that you’re excited about.


The Nightmare Ball at Aussiecon 4

July 24, 2010

Aussiecon 4, better known as Worldcon, is fast approaching. Looks like I’ll be doing a few bits and pieces there in the way of panels and workshops as well as having a top time with friends and colleagues. I’ll write more about that stuff later. In the meantime, check this out. I’ll be going and it should be quite a laugh.

The Nightmare Ball

The Nightmare Ball is a way to pursue your wildest dreams and face your deepest fears in the best possible way: behind a mask!

Staged by the Australian Horror Writers Association, the event is running as part of Aussiecon 4, the 68th International Science Fiction Convention. Tickets may be purchased from the AHWA website:

With refreshments provided by the MCEC (yes, this means alcohol), nightmare-themed decor, an art display, a dance floor and & DJs spinning the darkest hits of the 80’s and 90’s, the Ball promises to be an event to remember. And those memories will be shared by authors, editors, agents, publishers, reviewers & international guests!

Confirmed guests include Ellen Datlow, multiple award-winning editor of the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror series; Rocky Wood, Chairman of the international Horror Writers Association Board; and Richard Harland, author of the best-selling Worldshaker. Award-winning Australian artist Shane Ryan will contribute his dark art to the Ball’s ambiance.

A door prize will be drawn and further prizes awarded for best mask and best costume.

* Date: Friday, 3 September 2010 (9pm to midnight)
* Venue: The Banquet Hall (Room 201), Melbourne Convention Centre
* Dress: Costumed or smart casual (mask required!)
* Tickets:
o AU$30.00 for AHWA members and their spouses/Aussiecon 4 members
o AU$40.00 for non-members AND AT THE DOOR

Murdoch University are out of their freaking minds

July 23, 2010

This situation has suddenly cropped up all over the web, with lots of my friends (and plenty of people I don’t know) justifiably furious. It is, in a word, fuckingridiculous.

Via Chris Creagh- Murdoch University have told Grant Stone that his services are no longer required. He has been given 10 days to respond. He was told that SCIENCE FICTION and POPULAR CULTURE are no longer core to the librarys activities! More news on what we might be able to do about this on Monday. Please post this as widely as possible.

I originally saw the above on social networks via Russell B Farr of Ticonderoga Publications, who said this:

While this is really bad news for Grant, the big picture is that Murdoch University has one of the best genre collections in Australia. It is of great academic importance, and to lose this would be a tragedy and a travesty.

Not to mention the complete insanity that apparently popular culture is not a core activity of the library. What kind of bureaucratic madness is that? This is a collection that’s been developed by Grant Stone since the 70s. If you’re a genre fan, or even a fan of “popular culture”, get on board and spread the message of how outraged you are by this. And, while I’d never condone the mass hassling of a University, if that was something you felt inclined towards you can find a very relevant phone number and email address here. Also, write to your local MPs, the Prime Minister, the Vice Chancellor of the Uni, etc. If anyone has the number of the A-Team, give them a heads up while you’re at it.


Friday Flash – Idle Chatter

July 23, 2010

FrdayFlashBadgeIt’s been a while since I posted a Friday Flash piece so I thought I’d offer up this one today. It’s a nasty little piece, so brace yourself if you’re of a sensitive disposition. Then again, I don’t imagine you’d frequent this site if you were of a sensitive disposition. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

Idle Chatter
by Alan Baxter

Incident Report: Sgt Greg Moran
Thursday, 18th March 2010, 21.45 hours
Apartment 14/4 Broughton Street

Response to repeated calls from multiple callers re: home invasion.

Constable Murray and I attended address as per dispatch following multiple calls from several frantic teenage girls regarding a home invasion. When we arrived at the scene there were no signs of force and no response to knocking. As per dispatch instruction, we forced entry. This proved difficult as the chain was across the door inside. We spotted a notice on the back of the door that read:

Back by eleven, honey. Don’t forget the chain! Love Mom.

On entering the apartment we found no signs of a struggle or any open windows. We first noticed blood around the door from the hall to the rear bedroom. No one answered our calls.

On entering the rear bedroom we discovered the victim, Jessica Mellay [addendum: AKA WildGrrl_93]. At this point Constable Murray vomited and became unable to go on. I sent him to wait by the broken door while I investigated further.

The victim was spread-eagled on the floor of the bedroom, her chest split through the middle and wrenched open. Blood covered everything, across the walls, even the ceiling. There was a gaping hole in her chest, I think where her heart should have been. I could smell a strange sulphurous, burning odour throughout the place, strongest in the bedroom with the victim. There were no other doors to the apartment aside from the locked and chained front door. All windows were locked closed and the fire escape steps were still up.

We searched and found no one else in the apartment.

We called it in and awaited command.

Attachment: Internet chat transcript. Recovered from victim’s PC cache.

WildGrrl_93: darren totally blushed today when i sat next 2 him

TehB1tch: you wish!!! he never go 4 u

WildGrrl_93: y not?

TehB1tch: darren likes cock!!!

LotusHoney: lolz!

WildGrrl_93: no way

candy_lips: jess, evry1 nos that

WildGrrl_93: no way!!!

LotusHoney: haha. pmsl!!!

TehB1tch: tammy saw darren sucking toby after footy finals under the bleechers!

LotusHoney: omfg is dat tru?!

WildGrrl_93: no way!!!!!

TehB1tch: hahaha! stop sayin no way at everything yeh its true!!! darren a cock lover hahaha

WildGrrl_93: fuck hes hot wat a waste

AMON: You know, gossip can be destructive.

TehB1tch: whos dat? this is private chat

LotusHoney: ew freak fuck off!

AMON: Such ripe young flesh, you shouldn’t waste time with human boys.

candy_lips: who r u? this is private chat

LotusHoney: piss off freak perv

AMON: The air is so fresh up here.

TehB1tch: guys, log off. i start a new chat

TehB1tch has left this chat
LotusHoney has left this chat

candy_lips: fucking PERV!!!

WildGrrl_93 has left this chat
candy_lips has left this chat


TehB1tch: guys?

candy_lips: yeh. who was dat creep

LotusHoney: wtf was dat???

TehB1tch: i no, right. creepy perv hacker

candy_lips: wheres jess?

TehB1tch: jess?

LotusHoney: sam u invite her?

TehB1tch: course

candy_lips: im callin her cell

LotusHoney: so whos amon? nvr heard name b4

TehB1tch: me either kinda freaky

LotusHoney: how did he get in our chat?

TehB1tch: dunno

candy_lips: guys jess isnt answering her cell or landline

AMON: Jess is busy with me. She’s very good for someone just learning what I require of her.

TehB1tch: WTF!??!?


AMON: For millennia young girls have been so sweet. And you get ever easier to find.

candy_lips: omfg guys im rly scraed.

AMON: Jess is very good at this. Don’t cry, sweetie.

TehB1tch: im callin the police right now

candy_lips: me too

AMON: You’re all too late.

LotusHoney: and me keep callin

AMON: Jess is very shiny on the inside.



Reign Of Death – short film

July 23, 2010

I picked this up over at S F Signal. Written and directed by Matthew Savage and called Reign Of Death it’s a kind of noir style detective thing with a cool, dark sci-fi edge. Apparently the idea is to turn the concept into a full length film, which would probably be pretty good. It stars Noel Clarke, the guy who plays Mickey in Doctor Who.


In defence of swearing

July 22, 2010

FrdayFlashBadgeI swear a lot. I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m the worst person to have around your kids because I swear so casually that I don’t notice I’m doing it. I do try to remember when kids are around, but even that bothers me to some degree. They’re just words. Though I do understand that little Sally turning up in a schoolyard and telling her teacher to go fuck herself is a potential parent/teacher-relation nightmare.

But they are just words. Of course, they’re words with a certain power. All words have power. Love is not a swear word but it carries enormous power. As does hate. The taboo nature of swearing gives these words added power. We can deliberately drop them like bombs. You want some attention in a loud conversation? Don’t talk any louder than everyone else, just swear more. People will sort of grind to a halt and look at you, their expressions all cautious and surprised. But you got their attention.

That’s why it really bothers me when people say, “Swearing just shows a lack of vocabulary and an inability to express yourself properly.” Fuck off, you pompous cunt. Not swearing shows an inability to use the words that would express your position most clearly.

For example, if someone is all up in your face, as the kids say these days, what expresses your real emotion more:

Go away!


Fuck off!

It’s not a case of lacking vocabulary. It’s a case of picking the most powerful word for the occasion – the right word. We recently visited the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. The place was a bit underwhelming, to be honest. But while there we got a set of fridge magnets with all of Shakespeare’s best insults on them. A few choice ones include:

Cream faced loon! MacBeth


Thou crusty batch of nature. Troilus & Cressida

Or my personal favourite:

Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog. Richard III

But, clever and entertaining as they are, they don’t really work in today’s world for really expressing what you want to say. As I mentioned above, I can understand tempering your language around kids. Give them as much time being all sweet and innocent as possible. But don’t fear the usefullness of some quality, well placed swearing. Don’t overdo it or just swear every other word for the sake of it. That does just sound dumb. But equally, if a situation calls for a powerful word, don’t be afraid to use one.

And don’t ever tell me that swearing shows a lack of vocab or an inability to express yourself, because that’s clearly a load of bollocks.



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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