Monthly Archives: April 2011

Swancon 36, Natcon 50 follow-up post

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April 29, 2011

I was going to post more stuff from Swancon, including a roundup of a few of the panels I attended and the things discussed. The truth is, my brain is a blur from all the awesomeness of the con and I don’t really have the time or inclination to discuss all the panels in detail. Suffice to say that it was all great and you should really check out a con if you haven’t before.

I have come across a couple more photos though, which I’d like to share. I’ve already mentioned Cat Sparks’ Flickr set, and there are enough photos in there to keep you occupied for ages. There’s also this Flickr set from Tom Bicknell, which is well worth a look. I’ll put a couple of his shots below that are personal favourites (for obvious reasons!)

Firstly, here’s a shot of the Oh zombie, my zombie panel. From left to right are Rob Hood, myself, Jason Nahrung and Grant Watson:

Swancon2011 103 Swancon 36, Natcon 50 follow up post

I mentioned in the previous Swancon post about the Ticonderoga Publications fifteenth birthday party, and associated launch of Dead Red Heart and More Scary Kisses. Here’s a shot of part of the signing at the launch. Nearest the camera is Pete Kempshall, then myself, then Joanne Anderton who is neatly masking Martin Livings and Carol Ryles at the end:

Swancon2011 50 Swancon 36, Natcon 50 follow up post

And finally, purely for the self-congratulatory nature of it, here’s Pete Kempshall enjoying a damn good book:

Swancon2011 17 Swancon 36, Natcon 50 follow up post

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Source Code – movie review

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April 28, 2011

source code movie poster1 Source Code   movie reviewHopscotch Films were kind enough to send me a double pass for a pre-screening of the new sci-fi thriller Source Code. So I hooked up a good mate and we went along last night. Source Code opens with Jake Gyllenhaal snapping awake in a train carriage, clearly unaware of where he is and what’s happening. The girl opposite seems to know him well and he’s the only one confused by the situation. After a few minutes of running around the train in a state of anxiety, a massive explosion rips through everything, killing everybody. Pretty powerful opening. Gyllenhaal awakens in a pod and we discover that he’s Captain Colter Stevens, a military helicopter pilot, whose last memory is flying in Afghanistan. He’s told through a screen to go back and find the bomber. He fails again and is blown up again. So they tell him he’s wasting time and has to find the bomb, the bomber, or something they can use. They send him back again. That’s right – it’s Groundhog Day On A Train, with extra explosions.

But it’s way better than that.

I’m going to review this film with as little spoilerage as possible, but it’s one of those films that is hard to explain without some exposition. To be honest, if I wanted to give nothing away, that first paragraph would be all I could post! I’ll describe the overall premise very briefly here and then go on to a review after the next picture. I really won’t give too much away anywhere here, but if you want to know nothing about this film, skip to the other side of the next image.

The basic premise is this: When someone dies their brain retains a latent glow of information, like a light bulb filament after you turn it off. That “glow” lasts for eight minutes. A certain compatible brain type, with the help of Dr Rutledge’s incredible science, employing quantum mechanics and some stuff or something and a clever machine, allows this military team to send a person back into the source code – essentially a program generated by the latent brain image of the dead. But every time a person goes back, they only have that eight minute window to work in.

Clear? No, not really. Turns out that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Captain Colter Stevens, is an air force captain and he’s in the machine, being sent back into the source code memory of a victim of a terrorist attack. A train was blown up on its way to Chicago and more attacks are imminent. If Stevens and the team can go back into the source code often enough for him to find the bomber and/or any information about the bomb, the military could conceiveably prevent the next attacks by catching the people responsible. They can’t do anything about what has already happened, because it’s just a program, just Source Code, but they can learn things to act on future attacks.

source code movie Source Code   movie review

Source Code is a slick, classy movie. It’s directed by Duncan Jones, the man who brought us Moon, so you know it’s in good hands, and written by Ben Ripley. The performances are all excellent, particularly Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, who plays Christina Warren, and Vera Farmiga, who plays Colleen Goodwin. I thought Goodwin was a particularly powerful character.

The science in this sci-fi thriller is very much on the lite side. If you read the paragraphs above you’ll realise that it’s not clearly defined. I wasn’t vague about it because I wasn’t paying attention. I was vague because the film is vague on the science. Something about quantumm mechanics, a clever kind of machine thing and a smarmy, self-important doctor. But the science isn’t really the relevant part. If you want that properly explained, you’ll be diappointed. If you have a solid grasp on quantum mechanics and the like, you’ll probably cringe at the liberties this film takes with those ideas. But I didn’t let that bother me. It’s a strong action thriller and should be enjoyed as such. The premise and development of that idea are really well done and the film is powerful for its focus on subjects like fate, duty and the meaning of life.

This film is in a similar vein to Inception and I’m really pleased to see these films being made. There’s a distinct return, most evident in Source Code and Inception recently, to intelligent, challenging storytelling. In Source Code they play with time (but it’s not really time travel) and the whole plot plays with your mind as you try to unravel it along with the characters. I did see most of the little twists coming and I imagine most people with even a simple familiarity with sci-fi would anticipate them too. But none of them were forced and they all worked well.

Source Code Movie Review Beyond The Trailer1 Source Code   movie reviewImmediately on leaving the theatre my friend and I began chattering in earnest about the ending and how it happened. The film made us think while we watched and kept us thinking. We figured out a timeline that seemed contradictory but actually isn’t and is really very clever (quantum mechanic liberties aside). Source Code is a mind-bender. It’ll keep people interested long after the film is finished and won’t just leave people with the old adage, “Well, it looked good. Amazing effects!” Sure, the effects were really good and very convincing, but you know what? They were only used to advance the story. Imagine that! There was me thinking Hollywood had forgotten about that.

The film takes its ideas from a number of sources. I mentioned earlier that it has a distinct Groundhog Day feel to it. It also has clear influence from a number of other sources, including most notably the premise of Quantum Leap. As an aside, there’s a clever Scott Bakula cameo (he played the main character in Quantum Leap). Don’t cheat, but I bet you a hundred bucks* you don’t spot his cameo appearance. Watch the credits afterwards to get the answer.

* Not a real bet. I don’t have a hundred bucks!

This is a film that’s well worth your time and money. It’s clever, brilliantly shot and constructed, neatly avoiding a lot of potential paradoxes even if it is light on the science, and exciting from start to finish. It grips just as a thriller should and will challenge your thinking all the way through. As a last note, when you do watch this film, spare a thought for poor old Sean Fentress. When you’ve seen the film, take a minute to think about that and you’ll see what I mean.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Did the potential problems with the science bother you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(NB: Source Code opens nationally (Australia) on 5th May 2011)

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2011 Hugo Award nominees

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April 27, 2011

I’m still busily catching up after Swancon, so apologies for the quick posts, but I wanted to note this one. The Hugo Award nominees were announced over the weekend, and I’ve copied the list below:

Novel

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)
Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Novella

“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2010)
“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
“The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand (Stories: All New Tales, William Morrow)
“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s, September 2010)
“Troika” by Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines, Science Fiction Book Club)

Novelette

“Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010)
“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)
“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s, July 2010)
“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010)
“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010)

Short Story

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson (Tor.com, November 17, 2010)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

Related Work

Bearings: Reviews 1997-2001, by Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon)
“The Business of Science Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing,” by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg (McFarland)
Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea (Mad Norwegian)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 1: (1907–1948): Learning Curve, by William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)
Writing Excuses, Season 4, by Brandon Sanderson, Jordan Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells

Graphic Story

“Fables: Witches,” written by Bill Willingham; illustrated by Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)
“Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse,” written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
“Grandville Mon Amour,” by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
“Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel,” written and illustrated by Howard Tayler; colors by Howard Tayler and Travis Walton (Hypernode)
“The Unwritten, Volume 2: Inside Man,” written by Mike Carey; illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner)
How to Train Your Dragon screenplay by William Davies, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders; directed by Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (DreamWorks)
Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, screenplay by Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright; directed by Edgar Wright (Universal)
Toy Story 3, screenplay by Michael Arndt; story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich; directed by Lee Unkrich (Pixar/Disney)

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

“Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes (BBC Wales)
“Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes (BBC Wales)
“Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor,” written by Richard Curtis; directed by Jonny Campbell (BBC Wales)
“… Me, Ray Bradbury,” written by Rachel Bloom; directed by Paul Briganti
“The Lost Thing,” written by Shaun Tan; directed by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan (Passion Pictures)

Editor, Short Form

John Joseph Adams
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Editor, Long Form

Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Moshe Feder
Liz Gorinsky
Nick Mamatas
Beth Meacham
Juliet Ulman

Professional Artist

Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

Semiprozine

Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, Sean Wallace; podcast directed by Kate Baker
Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams
Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi and Kirsten Gong-Wong
Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer and Stephen H. Segal

Fanzine

Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
Challenger, edited by Guy H. Lillian III
The Drink Tank, edited by Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon
File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
StarShipSofa, edited by Tony C. Smith

Fan Writer

James Bacon
Claire Brialey
Christopher J Garcia
James Nicoll
Steven H Silver

Fan Artist

Brad W. Foster
Randall Munroe
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2009 or 2010, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award). All Campbell finalists are in their second year of eligibility.
Saladin Ahmed
Lauren Beukes
Larry Correia
Lev Grossman
Dan Wells

Great to see some Aussies on that list. Congratulations to all the nominees!

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Weird subscriber email

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April 27, 2011

If you subscribe to this blog and you just got an email titled Latest From The Word, as you’d usually expect, but it listed loads of old posts from 2007, I can only apologise!

I have no idea why this happened, but I’m looking into it and hope it doesn’t happen again.

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Swancon 36, Natcon 50 – the report

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April 26, 2011

images Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the reportCons are a bit like dreams – they’re hectic, often surreal affairs, that fade from the mind on waking, like mist in a stiff breeze. Then, over days or weeks, bits and pieces come back to you. Photographs crop up that remind you of things previously lost in a drunken haze and so on. However, I will attempt to post here a roughly accurate report of Swancon 36, which was Natcon 50. Forgive me if I miss any events or people that I should include.

It was a great con – there was a really happy vibe about the thing and loads of people having a good time. The bar was a big round place right in the middle, which made it prefect for distracting a person on their way to a panel. Sadly I missed several panels I was keen to see, purely because good friends, new friends and interesting people distracted me on the way. But that’s kinda what cons are all about.

Thursday:

I flew into Perth late Thursday afternoon and, once I’d checked in to my hotel, went to the con and immediately found several friends in various states of sobriety. I joined them, drank, registered and then attended the opening ceremony. The main event there was a comedian, I believe his name was Brent, who was, quite frankly, fucking hectic. He openly admitted his act was largely based on his ADHD (“Don’t hate us, we probably invented fire.”) He did a crazy pastiche of comedy based around impressions, regularly referencing back to Star Wars. It was… interesting. After that we retired en masse to the bar. There were several panels and things happening, but the bar seemed to have a kind of magnetic effect on me and there were too many good friends and interesting people around.

Friday:

I wagged a couple of hours on Friday morning. Having never been to Perth before – in fact, it was my first time in WA – I took the opportunity to have a mooch about. I walked through the CBD and up to King’s Park, around a few bush trails there and then back along the river. The river has jellyfish! I took a few photos.

perth1 Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the report
Perth from King’s Park (photo by me)

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King’s Park (photo by me)

jellyfish Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the report
Jellyfish! (photo by me)

Before long I found myself back at the bar. I was told my panel, SF & The Social Network, had been cancelled, so I stayed in the bar till I got a phone call asking where I was. It turned out that no one else had been told the panel was cancelled and a bunch of people were waiting for me. Thankfully Amanda Pillar was among those waiting and she had my number – thanks Amanda! I ran downstairs and we had an impromptu and casual discussion about social networks that turned out to be really interesting.

Following that were two awesome panels. Dead Eyes: Dolls and Simulcra in Horror was first and, as the name suggests, it was creepy as hell. Horror luminaries Stephen Dedman, Jason Nahrung, Kaaron Warren and Robert Hood were on the panel and talked about the uncanny and disturbing nature of those things and what makes them so horrible.

Following that was a panel called Darkness Beyond Borders, with more horror luminaries – Kaaron Warren, Kirstyn McDermott, Ellen Datlow and Paul Haines. This was a discussion of just what horror really is and what scares us and why. Fascinating stuff.

darkness beyond borders Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the report
Darkness Beyond Borders, l to r: Ellen Datlow, Kirstyn McDermott, Paul Haines, Kaaron Warren. (photo by me)

After dinner, myself, Peter M Ball, Cat Sparks and Dirk Flinthart took part in some true lunacy. Before a roomful of people we took on the personalities of the Gentleman’s Entomological Society. This is basically a live role-playing game before an audience where cards are drawn detailing some strange bug and a philosophical idea. One person has to spin the yarn of how they travelled somewhere and discovered said bug, in true 19th Century fashion, and weave into that story the philosophical idea. Meanwhile the other players try to trip up that story with challenges. It’s basically making shit up on the fly, which four writers are eminently qualified for. Plus wine. It was a bloody good laugh and somehow I won.

entomological society Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the report
The Gentlemen’s Entomological Society, l to r: Dirk Flinhart, Cat Sparks, Peter M Ball, Alan Baxter. (photo by Rob Hood)

From there we went to a screening of “A Positive”, a short film of Kaaron Warren’s short story of the same name. Creepy and very powerful, I’m very glad I saw it. I recommend anyone that likes powerful psychological horror to check it out.

Then there was a room party. We never talk about room parties.

Saturday:

I had a slow start Saturday. Not surprising if you’ve just read Friday above. But at 10.30 I was on a panel called Oh zombie, my zombie, all about the rise of this originally very small sub-culture into serious mainstream consciousness. On the panel were myself, Rob Hood, Jason Nahrung and Grant Watson. It was a great discussion of all things zombie, with the Undead Grandmaster himself, Rob Hood, ensuring every idea was well detailed with examples.

After lunch I went along to an interview panel, which was Ellen Datlow being interviewed by Kaaron Warren. If you don’t know who these people are, get thee to Google and find out. Amazing ladies, both. The discussion was fascinating and I learned a lot. I also discovered a whole bunch of new stories I need to read and, with the help of Google and an iPhone, we managed to all learn new things about one of Ellen’s all-time favourite stories.

The bar swallowed me again after that, and then it was the ball, with Sean Williams and David Cake tearing it up, 80s style. Then a room party. Which we don’t talk about.

Sunday:

Sunday dawned far too early, especially given everything that had gone before. I was booked in for a Wellness Session at 8.30, teaching a Tai Chi class. Only two people turned up, but we all felt much better than everyone else at the con because of it. Except, maybe, everyone else that stayed in bed. Who knows.

Following that was my two hour Write The Fight Right workshop. A good crowd turned up for that and we had a good time. Well, I certainly did, crapping on about two of my favourite things – writing and fighting. I think people got a lot out of it, and had some fun.

write the fight right Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the report
Write The Fight Right workshop. In this photo it would appear that I’m trying to teach people how to drink. (photo by Daniel I Russell)

After lunch there was the launch of Paul Haines’ new collection The Last Days of Kali Yuga, from Brimstone Press. It’s a beautiful book, full of the darkest work of Haines. Paul read from an original story and the whole event was incredibly emotional. I can’t wait to read the book, and I’m also dreading it. Paul’s darkness and powerful meta-fiction is some of the best stuff out there, from this or any other generation. I strongly recommend that you brace yourself and read some Haines if you haven’t before.

Haines launch2 Swancon 36, Natcon 50   the report
Paul Haines signing at the launch of The Last Days Of Kali Yuga. (photo by me)

After that was the Ticonderoga Publications 15th birthday bash, which included the official launch of their two latest anthologies, Dead Red Heart and More Scary Kisses. Russell B Farr, editor at Ticonderoga, spoke first to a packed room, talking about the birth and development of the press. Then others spoke about their involvement in it – Grant Stone, Jonathan Strahan, Sean Williams, Angela Slatter, Lisa L Hannett. You can see from the list of names there just how influential and respected Ticonderoga is. Then the books launched, with a number of the authors present signing copies. As I have a story in Dead Red Heart, it was an honour to sit among those authors, signing for people.

As if that wasn’t a big enough day, in the evening was the official Orbit/Gollancz Natcon Fifty Awards Ceremony, hosted by Grant Stone, awarding the local WA Tin Duck Awards and the national Ditmar Awards. If you’re interested in the results, get to Google.

Then there was a room party. We don’t… yeah, you know the score.

Monday:

I woke up close to dead. What a fantastic weekend. There were more panels in the morning and a closing ceremony, but my flight home was at 1pm. A bunch of us met for coffee and then we did the last rounds of the bar area saying our farewells, before Paul Haines and I shared a cab to the airport.

It was a tremendous convention and I’m glad to have been a part of it. Roll on the next thing. Meanwhile, I think I’ll sleep for a week.

I highly recommend you check out Cat Sparks’ Flickr album of the event to see some great shots of people and activities. You can find that here. I’m sure I’ve missed stuff – the hours wandering the Dealer’s Room, panels here and there that my mind has blanked out or drowned in expensive hotel beer, that sort of thing. Forgive me. Hopefully this has given you a decent idea of the con. I’ll post more photos and updates over the next couple of days as things come in.

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Swancon 36, Natcon 50 – Initiate!

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April 20, 2011

It’s convention time again – that place where you see the SF fan in its natural habitat. Where SF creators mix and mingle, drowning their rejection sorrows at whatever chosen bar they’ve decended upon. There are panels of expert import and workshops of interesting stuff. There are dealers selling books, oh, so many books (and other stuff)! There are movie screenings and masquerade balls, cosplay contests and somewhere, guaranteed, there will be at least one Jedi. Most likely there will be many.

There’s nothing quite like a con and nothing quite like a Natcon, or National Convention. This year the Natcon is Swancon 36 in Perth, WA. I’m getting ready to fly over there on tomorrow for five days of CONtentment. See what I did there? I’m excited not only for the con and the chance to catch up with so many friends, but because it’ll be my first time in Perth as well.

Here are the details:

Swancon Thirty Six | Natcon Fifty
21-25 April 2011
Hyatt Hotel, Adelaide Tce, Perth

I’ve got a few commitments for this con:

On Friday night I’ll be joining in with The Gentlemens Entomology Club – a kind of role-playing, storytelling piece of nonsense, where a bunch of us will be making up tall tales on the spot in front of an audience. Should be quite a laugh.

Tai Chi Wellness Session
Sunday, 24 April
8:30 AM
Ballroom North

This is simply a group Tai Chi class I’ll be teaching for an hour, wearing my “day job” hat. It’s nice that the con is putting on a variety of things like this. I just hope I’m in a fit state to teach at 8.30 on a Sunday. Must remember to retire early from the bar on Saturday. (Ha! As if!)

Write The Fight Right
Sunday, 24 April
10:30 AM
Ballroom North

This is my two hour workshop on writing good fight scenes. I really enjoy this every time I do it, and now I even have the book to back it up with.

I’ll be sitting at the Ticonderoga Publications table in dealer’s room at some point, doing a signing. I’ll be signing my novels as well as the Ticonderoga book, Dead Red Heart, which features my story, Punishment Of The Sun, along with loads of other awesome yarns. I’m happy to sign pretty much anything you want, so drop by and say hello. With that in mind, I’ll also be attending the launch of the Dead Red Heart anthology and the Ticonderoga party at 5pm on Sunday.

There are still a last couple of things being ironed out, including talk of a Zombie panel. I’m not sure if that’s a panel of zombies or about zombies – I’m game either way.

Other times I’ll be generally milling around the place, enjoying the con. Come and say hi. I’ll be tweeting the whole thing, as much as time and available signal allows, so follow me on Twitter, @AlanBaxter, and follow @natcon50 too. Watch the #swancon hashtag for updates.

Hope to see you there!

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Doctor Who actress Elisabeth Sladen – Sarah Jane Smith – dies

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April 20, 2011

52263674 001024267 2 Doctor Who actress Elisabeth Sladen   Sarah Jane Smith   diesI was checking in on the news over breakfast this morning and came across this terrible story. Actress Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and had her own Sarah Jane Adventures series more recently, died last night aged only 63. She’d been fighting cancer for some time, apparently. This news makes me incredibly sad.

I can honestly say that Doctor Who is the show responsible for my love of sci-fi. I first experienced Doctor Who as Job Pertwee, with Sarah Jane Smith at his side. I was mesmerised. Jon Pertwee regenerated into Tom Baker and I was blown away. Tom Baker and Sarah Jane Smith are still my all-time favourite Doctor and companion (closely followed by the more recent David Tennant and Billie Piper pairing).

I also remember Sarah Jane as being one of my first crushes when I was too young to even know what a crush was. The picture above makes me feel seven years old again, and every age since when I’ve rewatched and re-loved Doctor Who.

Doctor Who writer and creator of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Russell T Davies, says it best: “I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful. The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith, the world was lucky to have Lis.”

RIP Elisabeth Sladen – we’ve lost a legend today.

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Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Volume 1, including me!

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April 19, 2011

years best fantasy and horror v1 web Years Best Fantasy & Horror Volume 1, including me!I am totally psyched to announce that my story, The King’s Accord, originally in the Flesh & Bone: Rise Of The Necromancers anthology from Pill Hill Press, is going to be reprinted in Ticonderoga Publications inaugural Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology. This is my first ever Year’s Best reprint and I couldn’t be happier. Also, how freaking sweet is that cover? It looks fantastic. And the Table of Contents is just phenomenal – I can’t believe I have a story included among this kind of company.

From the Ticonderoga press release yeaterday:

Ticonderoga Publications is walking on sunshine to announce the contents for its inaugural Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology.

Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have produced a list of 33 excellent tales by some of Australia’s biggest names as well as some emerging writers.

The anthology collects 150,000 words of the best stories published last year from the Antipodes

The stories are (alphabetically by writer):

* RJ Astruc: “Johnny and Babushka”
* Peter M Ball: “L’esprit de L’escalier”
* Alan Baxter: “The King’s Accord”
* Jenny Blackford: “Mirror”
* Gitte Christensen: “A Sweet Story”
* Matthew Chrulew: “Schubert By Candlelight”
* Bill Congreve: “Ghia Likes Food”
* Rjurik Davidson: “Lovers In Caeli-Amur”
* Felicity Dowker: “After the Jump”
* Dale Elvy: “Night Shift”
* Jason Fischer: “The School Bus”
* Dirk Flinthart: “Walker”
* Bob Franklin: “Children’s Story”
* Christopher Green: “Where We Go To Be Made Lighter”
* Paul Haines: “High Tide At Hot Water Beach”
* L.L. Hannett: “Soil From My Fingers”
* Stephen Irwin: “Hive”
* Gary Kemble: “Feast Or Famine”
* Pete Kempshall: “Brave Face”
* Tessa Kum: “Acception”
* Martin Livings: “Home”
* Maxine McArthur: “A Pearling Tale”
* Kirstyn McDermott: “She Said”
* Andrew McKiernan: “The Memory Of Water”
* Ben Peek: “White Crocodile Jazz”
* Simon Petrie: “Dark Rendezvous”
* Lezli Robyn: “Anne-droid of Green Gables”
* Angela Rega: “Slow Cookin’ ”
* Angela Slatter: “The Bone Mother”
* Angela Slatter & LL Hannett: “The February Dragon”
* Grant Stone: “Wood”
* Kaaron Warren: “That Girl”
* Janeen Webb: “Manifest Destiny”

In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2010 and a list of recommended stories.

The anthology is scheduled for publication in June 2011. The anthology will be available in hardcover, ebook and trade editions and can be pre-ordered at http://indiebooksonline.com.

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From Dark Places by E J Newman – Review

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April 19, 2011

From Dark Places From Dark Places by E J Newman – ReviewFrom Dark Places is a collection of short fiction from E J Newman. The title is well placed, as the stories are all dark in a variety of ways. They explore subjects from the existential to the personal, from infidelity to murder, from the supernatural to the super normal and they’re all bloody good.

A lot of these stories are really short, flash fiction pieces capturing a vibe or an event and searing a single scene onto the reader’s brain with uncomfortable clarity. Some of the tales are longer, exploring all manner of things from Creation to madness.

Newman writes with a tight turn of phrase, many a well placed word and an eye for place and setting that makes all these tales of urban unease extremely convincing. She inhabits her characters, their distinctive personalities entrancing. Newman explores the speculative with ease; gods, demons and angels inhabit these pages as much at home as the cheating spouses, spurned lovers and ugly, foul-mouthed orphans.

Some of the stories have a bit of fun to them, some a touch of the absurd or the surreal, all an edge of darkness that plays nicely with our boundaries of comfort.

Emma Newman is a powerful emerging voice in dark fiction and From Dark Places is an excellent selection of her work. I’ll be watching out for more of her stuff. You should too.

You can get a signed copy of the book directly from Emma at her website here. Or you can order from Amazon here. Follow Emma on Twitter at @EmApocalyptic.

But before you do that, I’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment with your idea of a dark place. The one that creeps me out the most gets the book.

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The written fight tournament – the Results!

By
2
April 18, 2011

So last week, to help promote my new ebook, Write The Fight Right, I set up a contest, where I asked people to write a 500 word or less fight scene and the top three would get prizes. I got a lot of entries – thanks to everyone that had a stab. There were all kinds of fights submitted, from fantasy battles between fantastic creatures, to fisticuffs in a dark alley and everything in between.

Reading through all the entries was good fun and it was tough to pick winners. But I had to, so I did. Bear in mind that these winners are purely based on my own taste. I refer you to the tagline of this blog, under The Word in the header image above. When judging the entries I was mainly looking for a few key things:

* A exciting, rapid pace, giving a good, visceral sense of the fight;

* Not too much clinical detail, slowing down the action;

* A strong sense of character and place.

I said there would be three winners and I’d publish them here, so here we go. Second and third place each score a free copy of Write The Fight Right in whatever format they prefer. First place gets that and a signed copy of RealmShift.

I’ll list the winners in reverse order, with their fight scene followed by a few words about why I picked it.

In 3rd place, there’s this piece by Alex Stoiche:

Steve bumped past the man, taking his wallet at the point of impact. He raised his hand over his shoulder in apology and continued to walk. He heard the man’s footsteps stop, then break into a run. Steve sighed and shifted his weight to push hard off his right foot. His shoe slipped on the damp cobblestone, sending his body flying forward. He hadn’t fallen. The man was holding him upright by the neck of his jacket.

Steve spun around, throwing his left arm over the man’s extended arm. Using his momentum, he swung his right arm into the ribs of his captor. He felt a satisfying crunch as his punch hit home. The man’s body twisted in pain. Still controlling the man’s left arm, Steve threw another punch at his exposed side. The man roared in pain as his ribs fractured. Steve sneered as he shoved the man away.

The man’s breathing came in short, pained bursts. Steve snickered. He stood just outside arm’s reach of his victim, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Steve threw a punch to his victim’s rib. The man threw his arms out to cover his injury. Grinning, Steve jabbed to the man’s unprotected face. He bounced again. He threw another body punch, only to sting the man again. The man’s eyes started to tear up as the throbbing sensation in his face increased. Steve faked again, the man threw a half-hearted block. He feigned a jab and the man quickly lifted both arms to block. Steve hissed a laugh. He swung his right hand in a vicious hooking punch to the man’s unguarded ribs. Steve took delight in the man’s agonised scream. His opponent doubled over in pain.

Steve stretched his arms high. The man snorted the air from his nose. Steve saw a dark blur speeding towards him as the man’s backhand strike slammed into his jaw. His felt his head twist sharply, his body went numb. His vision blurred as he staggered backward. The man stood up straight and started walking towards him. Steve desperately fought the urge to close his eyes. Through his distorted perception he could make out the man getting closer. A blinding light flashed in Steve’s eyes. It faded, only to be replaced by a crimson haze. The red tinged alley slowly twisted and warped around him. He fell to the ground, unable to maintain equilibrium.

Steve felt himself being pulled to his feet, his body limp and lifeless. He felt the air rush past him. Pain stabbed through his mind as the back of his skull cracked against the wall. His body slumped to the ground, leaving a slick blood trail down the brickwork. The man lifted his front leg, curling back his boot to expose the heel.

He drove his boot into Steve’s face, crushing his skull against the wall behind him.

He wiped his boots on the dead man’s pants.

The man looked around. He picked up his wallet and left the alley.

What I liked about this piece was firstly the decent description of the fight itself, with enough detail to know what’s happening without the thing being slowed down by description. The pickpocket playing with his victim is well done. The PoV is a bit clumsy and the piece could have been written with a clearer third person perspective in play, but that’s a small gripe. The thing I like best, however, is the realism and the sudden turnaround. The pickpocket is over-confident and showy and he pays a dear price for it. This is a good lesson in fighting.

In 2nd place, there’s this piece by Jason Fischer. Jason is a friend of mine, so there might be cries of nepotism here, but so what? It’s my contest, I’ll pick who I like.

(from A Blind Pig for the Juggler-King)

‘We’re done talking,’ Raoul growled, snatching at the Juggler-King’s ruffled collar. Almost quicker than sight, the sorcerer darted out of his reach, but not before giving the minotaur a stout rap across the nose.

Enraged, Raoul swung his fists, his limbs unfolding so fast that they created miniature sonic booms, the glasses on the tables shaking, light bulbs rattling overhead in their fixtures. His foe narrowly avoided this onslaught, but turned his exertions into a comical dance, a tango complete with the rose that he suddenly clenched between his teeth.

‘You dance beautifully, little bull,’ he said, bowing and narrowly ducking a supersonic haymaker. ‘Still, I prefer if I lead.’

Hand darting forward, the Juggler-King caught a corner of Raoul’s skin, pulled it taut between thumb and forefinger. Opening his mouth, a split second cacophony resembling church bells and breaking pottery emerged, a word of power no mortal could hope to emulate. The disguise melted and came away in the Juggler-King’s hand, a furious minotaur emerging from the tear in the skin. With a whipping motion the sorceror flicked the deflated man-shape away, held it in a matador pose as if it were a cape.

‘Toro!’ he cried, flicking the saggy skin as Raoul charged into him, a sickening blur of fists and horns and stomping feet. Driving a stack of furniture into splinters, the minotaur realised that the Juggler-King was already elsewhere.

‘A little help?’ Imogen called out, and Raoul extricated himself from the wreckage to see her fending off the Juggler-King and several of his followers. She was flailing around blindly with a set of aether-encrusted nunchucks. Her free hand was contorted into a protective mudrā, thus far keeping the blank-faced constructs at bay.

The sorcerer was attempting to sing apart her disguise, spreading cracks already beginning to show on the sides of her arms and legs. She willingly dropped the flapper facade, not missing a beat as she emerged her usual tom-boy self, cracking godlings in the ribs with more enthusiasm than art.

Attempting to goose Imogen, the Juggler-King miscalculated, putting his fingers into the path of the nunchucks, the shards of aether tearing his skin and bruising bone. Wincing, he sucked on his knuckles, and a moment later Raoul had blasted through the group of brawling drunks, barrelling into the god and bearing him into the ground.

‘Try something tricky, I dare you,’ the minotaur snarled, holding the points of his horns against the Juggler-King’s throat. The sorcerer offered a weak smile, swallowed nervously.

I’m sure you can see why I picked this one now, right? It’s brilliantly written, but we all know that Jason is a great writer. More to the point, it’s a great example of developing a fight scene where the combatants are more than human, with powers and weapons of extreme power. Yet the fight stays visceral and realistic nonetheless. This is a good lesson in writing fight scenes in fantasy or other genre fiction where the players are all very powerful. The fighting needs to be ramped up to match.

And now, the Winner! Congratulations to Bryce Beattie, taking out the contest with this piece:

He lunged at Key.

Most other men would have been caught unawares by the shameless blindside. Key, however, had half expected it. He spun, parried the strike, and slid to the side.

“That was fairly dishonorable for a captain of the guard.”

“It might be if I had an honorable opponent.”

Key exploded at the captain.

Blades flashed and clanged with frightening speed.

The two masters whirled and spun, their bodies and blades locked in a gruesome dance. The duel flew about the platform, many times close to the edge, but never did a combatant seem off balance or likely to fall from its edge. These master swordsmen were in top form, focused and furious.

The crowd grew silent in awe of the savage battle. No one present had ever seen a match as passionate and precise as this, nor is it likely they ever would get a chance to see one again.

The grunts of physical exertion and the clanging of steel filled the air. For a time it appeared that neither fighter could gain an advantage. After several minutes of unmatched fury, the captain began to tire.

Key controlled more and more of the movement on the platform. It was only a matter of time now, and he knew it.

The captain knew it, too, and so he decided to try for a final, desperate lunge. Even in his tiredness the captain was faster than most.

Key brought his sword left and parried just enough.

The captain’s weight carried him forward.

Key dug in with his heel put all of his might into an elbow strike.

The blow landed hard on the captain’s chest, whose feet came out from under him. He crashed backward to the platform and his sword clanged from his grip.

Key stepped back. “Do you surrender?”

The captain rolled backwards onto his feet, scooping up the fallen blade in the process. “No need of surrender.”

The traveler took a step forward and stopped.

The captain stood, sword held at guard in his right hand and left hand extended. The stance was strangely open, especially for a master.

Something wasn’t right.

Key paused and wondered what the captain had up his sleeve.

The captain’s left hand grew dark. A floating shadow gathered around it.

Key’s eyes widened.

The captain muttered a bizarre incantation and the ball of shadow grew larger.

Only one chance, thought Key. He dove forward with an necessarily unguarded thrust.

The captain was too focused on his spell to react.

Key’s blade pierced the darkness and the hand.

The darkness dissipated.

The captain screamed in pain and dropped to his knees. His sword again clattered to the platform.

Key lowered his sword. “Your magic is even worse than your skill with a sword.” He backed toward the edge of the platform. It wouldn’t matter now how many times the captain could stand.

I picked this fight scene as the winner as it manages to fulfill all the main criteria. We get a very definite and clear sense of place, there’s a distinct style to the piece. The combatants are clearly drawn very quickly and we know all we need to about them to appreciate this scene. The fight itself is fast-paced and full of action, without too much detail slowing things down. I also liked how the captain tried to change things up by using magic when he realised his sword skills were outclassed and that proved to be a bad mistake. A good lesson in fighting that the fancy and powerful stuff isn’t always very usable – if takes a long time, be it a fancy kick or a spell, it’s harder to pull off than a simple, powerful, straight technique.

It was really hard to choose from all the entries. Everyone that entered should be proud, as every scene I read had a lot going for it. But congratulations to Alex, Jason and Bryce for making the final cut.

What do you think? Do you like the scenes I chose and do you agree with my reasoning?

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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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