Swancon 36, Natcon 50 follow-up post

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:

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:

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


Source Code – movie review

Source CodeHopscotch 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 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 CodeImmediately 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)


2011 Hugo Award nominees

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:


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)


“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)


“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


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


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!


Weird subscriber email

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.


Swancon 36, Natcon 50 – the report

Cons 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.


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.


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.

Perth from King’s Park (photo by me)

King’s Park (photo by me)

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, 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.

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.


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 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 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.

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.


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.