Review

Paid reviews hurt everyone, except those being paid

By
14
August 28, 2012

There’s a caveat to the title of this post, explained later, but I don’t mind a bit of sensationalism. So, this has come around again. It’s a subject that has cropped up a few times and usually makes the news cycle once in a while. It basically boils down to predatory fuckwits offering to write glowing reviews of any book (which they won’t bother to read) in exchange for cashmoney. Idiot authors jump on the bandwagon and buy those reviews in a desperate attempt to get their work noticed.

Most recently there’s this guy selling reviews for $99. Or 20 reviews for $499. For a cool $999 he would write you 50 reviews. On the one hand you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, you have to say, “Fuck you, pond scum, why are you devaluing the work of legitimate authors and reviewers everywhere!?” To which he’d reply, “Because it makes me around $28,000 a month!” and you can’t really argue with that. Well, you can, but clearly there are no ethics or morals involved here, so applying our own is pretty pointless. His business has failed, thankfully. More on that later.

Of course, it’s not just this guy. From that article:

[Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago] estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.

Well, boil my nuts in the tears of angels, what’s the fucking point? Why don’t we all just buy the reviews we need? The guy in the article linked above has some of the best weasel words I’ve ever heard. How’s this:

“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things. These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”

The fuck does that mean, exactly? He’s likening the reviews to back cover blurbs, but that’s bollocks. Reviews are valuable because they’re impartial. We know that blurbs aren’t. He can “reason” it out any way he likes, he knows he’s lying. Misrepresentation.

Anyway, this particular story has a happy ending. The business was ratted out and subsequently failed, for which we can be thankful. The guy says he regrets his venture into what he called “artificially embellished reviews”. Which is good. At least he realises that what he did was wrong, so there might be hope for humanity yet. Shame he couldn’t admit even then that he was lying and misleading people. Just “artificially embellishing”, but there you go.

Here’s the thing, as far as I’m concerned. Paying for a review is not necessarily a bad thing. We all want to get noticed. We all want our work to fall before the eyes of more readers and reviews definitely help that. I’m always going on about reviewing. If you read something, review it! Two lines and a star rating at Amazon and Goodreads can make a massive difference. People are really busy and everyone needs to make a buck, so someone charging money for reviews is not neecessarily a bad thing. I’ve said that twice now in this paragraph and there’s one very important word that I’ve deliberately left out. That word is “good”. Paying for good reviews sucks Satan’s rancid balls, because you’re corrupting the system and devaluing the work of everyone. Paying someone to read your book and honestly review it, however, is fine. That’s a very important distinction.

I’ve never done it, but I wouldn’t completely write off the possibility. Getting reviews is hard and if someone is prepared to take a free book and a small fee, with the guarantee that they’ll leave an honest review in a variety of places, I see that as a good thing. Sure, you might be paying for someone to tell you, and the entire internet, that your writing sucks, your book is crap and no one should buy it unless they run out of toilet paper. But that’s what you always do when you send a book off for review. And when you do send it off, it might never actually get reviewed. Adding a few bucks to ensure it does makes sense. And if you’re told it’s shit, you know to try harder next time. Maybe listen to the advice of your writers’ group and beta readers. Or get new ones. Or something. Just don’t pay some schmuck to guarantee you a good review. You’re cheating your future readers, you’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating the very fucking concept of honesty. And the only one who really benefits is the person charging you for their artificially glowing review. If your book is good enough, it should hopefully get some good reviews all on its own. Regardless, it should garner some honest reviews over time. Hassle people about reviewing it. When people tell you they enjoyed it, ask them politely, ever so nicely, prettyplease can they put a quick review somewhere.

But, most importantly of all, please honestly review what you read. Lead by example. Make it a habit to add a line or two and a rating on a handful of sites every time you finish a book. Or even just one site of choice, like Goodreads. Whether you like it or not. A broad range of honest reviews will do wonders and takes no time at all. And if everyone got into that habit, we’d have fewer predators out there using sock puppets (multiple fake online personas) to leave bullshit reviews. And when you do find those people, don’t grab a pitchfork and a gang of friends and give them a good, old-fashioned online lynching. Why waste your time? Report them to the sites in question and let the policies of those sites deal with them. Then get on with your day, read a book and review it.

We love you when you review our work. Don’t let the sharks spoil it for everyone. Now I’m off to Goodreads to fill in a few gaps in my own reviewing.

(And if you’ve read any of my books, prettyplease can you put a quick review somewhere? And if you want to read my books and will leave me a review, drop me a line and I’ll send you ecopies for nothing, if you promise to leave an honest review at Goodreads and Amazon. Can’t say fairer than that, eh?)

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In conversation with Gillian Polack

By
0
August 16, 2012

On reading women, reading about women, categories and curses.

Gillian Polack is a fine writer, a fine person and a good friend of mine. You may remember that I reviewed her novel, Life Through Cellophane, a while back. Sadly, the publisher of that book, Eneit Press, fell victim to the Red Group/Borders debacle and went under. It seemed that Gillian’s book went with it. But, a literary phoenix from the ashes of corporate foolishness, it has found new life with the Pan Macmillan ebook imprint, Momentum. Now called Ms Cellophane and with a cool new cover, the book is back.

I got to talking with Gillian about the book recently. She was particularly pleased with my original review when I said:

I must admit that I felt a bit weird reading it. It was like I was hiding out during a secret women’s business meeting, hearing about things I shouldn’t know.

Mirror 6e 225x300 In conversation with Gillian PolackOn hearing this, Gillian said, “It’s a good reaction. You read lots, and this is the only book that gives you that sense. I get a lot of female readers saying to me, “This is my life, I read this and am looking into a mirror.” It makes me wonder why you haven’t encountered other books that give you the same sense. What sort of boundaries are out there and what sorts of restrictions do they put on us without us knowing?”

Alan: I think it’s largely to do with the types of books I read. It’s not that I don’t read books by women. In fact, on checking Goodreads, recently I’ve read:

Felicity Dowker’s Bread & Circuses
Jo Anderton’s Debris and Suited
Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine
Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts
Joanna Penn’s Prophecy
Lisa L Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony

That’s just this year, which is a year where I haven’t read nearly as much as I usually do. But while these are excellent books by women, all with strong female protagonists and/or supporting characters, they’re not as much books about being a woman as yours is. So I wonder if I just don’t choose to read other books more like yours.

Gillian: My book was all about the type of invisibility that many women feel so yes, it wasn’t about a strong protagonist so much as about a very particular aspect of life. Can you pinpoint some of the things that made you feel as if you were entering a foreign universe – and maybe talk about how they differ from the approach you take to your own female characters?

Alan: I have a very simple, perhaps overly so, approach to writing female characters. I basically approach all characters as neither male or female, but simply as people. Of course, I will try to get inside my character’s heads and they’re all very individual people, but gender is only ever a small part of that, never a primary consideration.

Reading Cellophane, I felt as though I was getting an insight into the day-to-day miniutiae of being a woman. You do a good job of putting the reader in Elizabeth’s mind and it almost feels, to me at least, as though we shouldn’t be there. Of course, that’s a sign of great writing – feeling like we’re inside a character rather than simply watching from outside. And, equally, my male-ness is showing, simply because the process of reading your book came as such a surprise to me.

The best thing about it is that none of it was uncomfortable in any way – it was simply fascinating.

To go back to my own writing, I deliberately don’t try to make my female characters “feminine”. I use quotes there to indicate the insufficiency of the word. I don’t know what it’s like to be feminine. I know what it’s like to be around women. I’ve been married a long time and have many great female friends. I know what it’s like to interact with women and I know how they might respond to various situations. My author’s eye is always studying people and scenarios, subconsciously filing it away for later story use. All writers have to be great observers of the world around them. But I can never observe what it’s like to be a woman. Until reading Cellophane, that is. Because that’s something which gave me an insight I couldn’t get on my own. And while I read a lot of female authors – in fact, my favourite Australian spec-fic writers are all women! – I guess I don’t read very much stuff about women. So perhaps I need to know what I could read that would help me with that.

Of course, that also leads to a small problem. I hate “chick flicks”. I have little to no interest in reading books aimed at a purely female market. But Cellophane seemed to transcend that issue, so I guess I need advice on more books like yours!

Gillian: I don’t know where there are more books precisely like mine! There must be. Cellophane can’t be sui generis. I wrote it though, because I wanted to read books like it and I wanted the books to be speculative fiction. One of my publishers suggests that I’m like Anne Tyler, someone else suggests that the female-ness of my world is a bit like Alice Hoffmann, while Sophie Masson suggested that my first novel reminded her of A.S. Byatt. They’re all women writers who often put women in the centre of the story and are capable of working quite inwardly (though don’t always), so I’d start from them, I think, and work out. Ursula le Guin does the same inwards-out approach in Always Coming Home, but she’s more concerned with place and culture and change than with domestica.

There’s a lot of literary fiction written in a character’s head, where the internal view is key to the novel. There’s not, however, much speculative fiction that both takes this approach and focuses on the mundane. Kaaron Warren’s Slights does that, of course, but in such a different way! She wrote about someone quite terrifying and had me accepting, as a reader, that this was quite normal until we realised that this person we had accepted into our headspace was someone we wouldn’t ever want to meet. I really wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.

Alan: Slights is a great example of character, but you’re right, certainly not a particular example of womankind. More an example of arsehole-kind.

I think you hit it on the head when you say that you “wanted to communicate the everydayness of lives and that these lives can be wonderful, and that magic doesn’t have to be the stuff of adventures and quests.”

Is that something you’ll be exploring more? The street-level magic of the everyday wonder rather than the “big story” wonder? Will you write about Elizabeth again?

Gillian: I won’t write about Elizabeth again, but I will definitely be exploring the everyday wonder. In fact, I have a novel out there… It’s one of those hard-to-categorise novels, like Cellophane. Publishers are both loving it and not willing to publish it. This is a problem I face regularly, for there is no general sub-category for what I do, and so it’s hard to fit into a schedule. Personally, I can’t see what’s hard to categorise about a magic-wielding feminist divorced Jewish Sydneysider who is not speaking to her father. In fact, the short story that’s set after the time of the novel was published years ago (in ASIM), for short story markets are more flexible. It was listed as recommended on an international Year’s Best, and I have a recording of actor Bob Kuhn reading it, just waiting for the right moment to appear. People ask me about Judith, and I have to say, “Still no home.”

The cursed novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming – due to appear some time ago) is about dealing with the mundane world, how to escape it and what the implications are of such an escape, but of course, the novel is cursed (and contains dead morris dancers). It was supposed to appear several years ago, but the most extraordinary life events (hurricanes, earthquakes, computer failure, near death experiences) keep getting in the way. I find it rather ironic that a novel about an ordinary person should be doomed to adventures and not be seen, but right now, the story of the The Art of Effective Dreaming’s delays would make a rather good disaster novel.

Alan: Sounds like you need just the right small press for the Judith novel. I’m sure it’ll find a home eventually. I hope it does, because it sounds very cool.

And The Art Of Effective Dreaming will eventually see the light of day, right?

Gillian: From your mouth to God’s ear (to use a Jewish expression I did not in fact grow up with!). You want to read about the dead morris dancers… Actually, The Art of Effective Dreaming also gently takes the mickey out of quest novels, so I rather suspect you might like it. I hope you get to read it soon!

Alan: As far as I’m concerned, the only good Morris Dancer is a dead one, so yes, I’d love to read it.

As Gillian once said to me in an email: “One of the messages I wanted to get out there about my writing is that it’s not bad despite not fitting categories. So many people look for categories and assume that a novel is not readable, simply because they haven’t encountered its like before… for there is a public perception that there’s a gender divide and that women read men’s books but that men don’t read women’s. I’m beginning to think that it’s being reinforced through being assumed and would love to break it down.”

So get out there and have a read of Ms Cellophane. It might change your perceptions a little bit. It’s available now from Momentum.

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The Dark Knight Rises – thoughts on a trilogy

By
2
July 27, 2012

There aren’t any spoilers in this post, but there are some spoilers at the places I link to at the end, so be warned.

the dark knight rises The Dark Knight Rises   thoughts on a trilogyIt’s no secret that I’m a Batman fan. In fact, that’s an understatement – I fucking love Batman, in a totally platonic way. I’ve often said that Batman and the Joker are the two greatest fictional characters ever created and I stand by that. So when talk of a new Batman film started back in 2003 or 4 or whenever it was, I was dubious. But it was to be made by Christopher Nolan, a man whose talents I already admired. The result was Batman Begins, the first of a proposed trilogy. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The first thing to remember when films are made from established literary canon, be they novels, comic books, games or anything else, is that a film is a self-contained thing. It’s finite. Batman comics have been going since 1939 and there’s a metric fuckton of established canon and ongoing story with which a film can’t hope to compete. Nor should it try. So a film will always make changes to established canon and we fans can’t be precious about that. It’s how the film plays with that canon that matters.

In Batman Begins, Nolan turned the notion of Ras Al Ghul a little bit on its head. He made Ras and Henri Ducard the same character, which they absolutely aren’t in the comic canon. He also made Ras an Irishman. But the things he then did with those characters, with Ras’s mission as an idealistic eco-terrorist, were bang on the money. Nolan did a brilliant job of retelling the Batman genesis and origin, and adding in a well favoured supervillain. Within that, he kept the darkness essential to the Batman’s story. He kept the gothic, noir edge of the characters and setting. He made Gotham an integral character in the film. So while he played with some aspects of established canon to make a film-sized story, he did it well and kept enough of what we already know intact to make a very impressive, cohesive whole. I was very happy with the film.

But all along it was touted as a trilogy. And this is where we go back to the nature of film compared to an ongoing series. This film was to be finite in three instalments. The second film, The Dark Knight, stands tall for many reasons. Not least of these is that amazing performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, which is still the highpoint of the trilogy for me. And again, Nolan took some liberties with established canon, but stayed true to so many parts that we love that we went with him for the ride. I did, anyway. And most importantly for me, he totally got what the Joker is all about. The Joker is the worst monster imaginable, because he’s the embodiment of absolute chaos. No rhyme, no reason, no appealing to any sense or intelligence. Just pure, insane chaos. Some men, after all, just want to watch the world burn.

bane The Dark Knight Rises   thoughts on a trilogySo I’d been waiting patiently and slightly nervously for The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final instalment. So often a third film is where a series can jump the shark. It can be the step too far. But Nolan always said this was to be a trilogy and I trusted him as a storyteller enough to hope that he would see it through well. Again, liberties were took. The big bad this time is Bane, and he’s very different from the comic book character. In the comics, Bane is addicted to and fuelled by Venom. But in this film, Venom doesn’t even get a mention. Bane’s origin is also played with, as are the origins of other key players (who I won’t discuss for fear of spoilers). But that’s okay, because Nolan is using Bane in his own way, like he used Ras Al Ghul in the first one. And he does a good job of it.

Nolan also does a very good job of using the Selina Kyle character. She’s never called Catwoman in the film, her cat ears are just her night goggles, pushed up onto her head and so on. But the core of the character is there. She’s a tough, sassy, very capable cat burglar. She’s a real-world foil to the Batman’s black and white view of crime and culpability. She’s so much more than a sexy accoutrement and Anne Hathaway does a brilliant job with a character that is very hard to play well.

And using these characters and settings, Nolan brings threads from both previous films together in The Dark Knight Rises and ties them into a truly epic story, worthy of its comic book roots and also worthy of its cinematic grandeur. He does tell a complete story in three films and he does it bloody well.

Each of the films is successively darker, more epic and more daring than the last and by far the best thing about them is that Nolan has made an absolutely self-contained trilogy. It’s not the same as the comic books, because the comics are still going on, and will continue to do so. Nolan has taken the characters and spirit of those stories and turned them into one complete and very clever tale. We see the full life of the Batman, from genesis, through origin, through rise and fall and rise again, right out to final closure. And it’s very satisfying.

the dark knight rises new featurette The Dark Knight Rises   thoughts on a trilogy

Sure, the films have flaws. With The Dark Knight Rises there are illogicalities, there are strange timing issues, there are simple nonsensical things (like the one I mentioned the other day – how the hell does Bane eat? And he’s a big boy, so he must eat a lot.) There’s actually not nearly enough Batman in the third and final Batman film. There are often certain events in the movies which are entirely too convenient and plot-driven. But, these things are relatively few and far between and largely eclipsed by all the good stuff.

There are those who have suggested that this final instalment is a pro-fascist movie (although I disagree with most of that post and the author obviously doesn’t have any real understanding of the ideology of Ras Al Ghul). I mean, sure, all superhero stories are fundamentally fascist – the super power steps in with violence, operating outside the law, to battle the greater threat on behalf of the people. But that’s a whole other discussion and not one limited to Nolan’s interpretation of Batman.

There are those who have asked what the hell happened to the Joker after the second film. Although Ledger died and couldn’t reprise his role, it’s strange that there was never any mention. Though one possible answer lies here.

(Remember – spoilers at the above links!)

There are several other concerns raised in various reviews and posts I’ve read, some valid, some not so much. Regardless, Nolan has created in his Batman trilogy something rarely seen from Hollywood these days – an intelligent, complex, complete and satisfying story along with the incredible special effects and cinematic epicness we’ve come to expect. Effects are so often utilised at the expense of story, but not with these films. The Dark Knight Rises is possibly the best of the three when it comes to simply amazing set pieces of action and downright brilliant photography. But it’s the combined power of the three films together that really stands out as Nolan’s crowning achievement here.

Personally I can’t wait till The Dark Knight Rises is released on DVD so I can put aside a day to sit and watch all three films back to back in a beauteous Bat-filled marathon of cinematic awesomeness.

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Maintain the rage

By
8
June 25, 2012

I’ve noticed a funny thing over the past couple of weeks, and ended up becoming embroiled in it a little bit myself. The vast majority of reports I’ve read about Prometheus share my total incredulity at just how shit a film it is. Seriously, lots of people are quite rightly ranting about just how awful it is.

However, there are a lot of people out there who enjoyed it. I don’t really understand how anyone could enjoy such a flawed “story”, however pretty it looked, but there you go. It worked for them, so fair enough. Now here’s the funny thing: a lot of those people have started attacking those of us who hated it.

“Why can’t you leave us alone?” they ask.

“Why can’t you just let people like what they want to like?” they ask.

Well, you can like whatever you want. But I will be quite vocal about how I find that bloody weird and have no idea how a person finds enjoyment in it. Just like some people believe there’s a giant spirit daddy in the sky who cares about them. That kind of willful ignorance astounds me, but whatever floats your boat. Believe what you like.

However, just as it’s your right to claim enjoyment or belief in these things, it’s equally my right to exclaim my dislike of them and my astonishment that anyone could find them good/real/likeable, etc..

“It’s offensive,” people cry! “You shouldn’t offend people’s opinions.”

Why not? Their opinion offends me. Where’s the outcry about people offending me with their claim that Prometheus was a good film? (Well, actually, this is it, right here.) I find the film and its defenders offensive – not as people, but in that particular opinion. It doesn’t mean I hate everything about that person. The vast majority of these people are decent, intelligent, upstanding folk. But they have one particular view that I find nonsensical. If they’re allowed to freely state that view, why is it offensive for me to counter it?

You might have realised by now that I’m no fan of tolerance. Tolerance is a bollocks word, in my opinion (you’re free to disagree with me). Tolerance means tolerating something. Tolerating something means putting up with it, even though we disagree or don’t like it. It’s too often used as a shield against debate. We have to tolerate religious intrusions into secular life, for example, while we still speak out against them. We have to tolerate the idiocy of the lowest common denominator setting the bar for all of us. But tolerance is not the same as respect.

Yes, we’re all in this game of life together and we have to get along, so we do tolerate all those things and more, in as much as it’s everyone’s right to hold whatever view they choose and we can’t tell them to change. Nor can we force them to change, and people who use their view as an excuse to harm or oppress other people are fuckwits who are quite rightly villified. But “tolerance” doesn’t mean we have to agree. Nor does it mean we have to respect those views (and you don’t have to respect mine). It doesn’t mean we can’t speak out against them. Those people also have to tolerate our view too, which we can state as readily as they can.

Obviously, I believe in maintaining the rage (you’re free to believe otherwise and you’re free to tell me so). Without a righteous fury we’d be walked all over. It’s when people stand up and say, “Enough of this shit!” that things change.

I maintain my right to rage.

I maintain my right to expect quality.

I maintain my right to lament crappy stuff.

Let’s go back to the Prometheus thing, and the upset among people who enjoyed it. The upset is with the many being so vocal in lambasting it for being a terrible film. Sure, if you enjoyed it, that’s fine. But you enjoyed it despite all its flaws. You ignored the completely insane actions of the characters, the numerous plot holes, the completely nonsensical premise of the whole thing. You sat there and you enjoyed a $200 million senseless spectacle. Good for you. I’m glad you had a good time, I really am.

But I expect more – especially from someone with the credentials of Ridley Scott, playing in the well-loved Alien franchise. I can’t enjoy what was indeed a fantastic looking film when the characters are complete idiots. I can’t enjoy the incredible special effects when the “story” appears to have been vomited out by a drunken chimp. And I have every right to question the people who can enjoy it despite those things. I will defend to the death your right to your opinion, but I will still question it.

It’s not a character judgment. It’s not an insult to the core of your being. I’m not questioning your right to an opinion or your validity as a person. I’m questioning one particular position you maintain: How can you enjoy such a terrible story, regardless of how good it looks? And if your defence is simply, “Fuck it, I like to turn my brain off and enjoy a pretty movie” then okay. (But seriously, how do you do that!?)

However you do manage to enjoy it, don’t try to tell us it’s a good movie. Don’t try to tell us that the screwed up story and idiot characters don’t matter, or aren’t there. Don’t tell us we can’t lambast that shite and all who enjoy it for being a part of the problem. You’re still good people – we just disagree with you about this. We might disagree with you about other things too. Don’t get upset when we rage against the crap we endured while we expected something better. There’s far too much spectacle over substance in Hollywood, and I’m getting sick of it. Cut back a few dollars on the special effects budget and hire a good writer who will tell a kickass story. In the meantime, we’re going to be pissed off at the rubbish stories that keep getting peddled out.

It’s our right to rage against a terrible film and you have to tolerate that.

NB: I don’t claim to be a flawless, master storyteller, but I constantly strive to write good stories that make sense, with believable characters. If I write shit, I want you to tell me about it, so I can work on getting better.

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Prometheus – what a pile of shite

By
25
June 18, 2012

Blade Runner is still the greatest movie of all time. Alien is still the benchmark movie by which all space-horror should be measured. It’s hard to believe that the man who brought us these amazing films is also responsible for the execrable mess that is the long-awaited Prometheus. I saw this movie last night and I’m still angry about it. I had to teach a tai chi class this morning and it was hard because underlying my calm, professional exterior was a seething, unavoidable rage at a film that couldn’t have been more shit if it actually tried to be the shittest film ever made. There will be spoilers here, but don’t worry – you should save your money and not see the film anyway. But I’m assuming most people have seen it already.

From a simple film-making point of view, it was a stunning achievement. The design, the effects, the atmosphere were all excellent. But that matters not when the story makes no sense. Seriously, a script written by randomly pulling letter tiles from the Scrabble bag would be more coherent. Now, before anyone thinks I’m totally missing the point, I know it’s a massive allegory for Creationism with an extremely heavy Christian agenda, brutally mixed with various other mythologies. It is written by Damon Lindelof, after all, who brought us the atrociously unacceptable Christian Shepherd ending to Lost. (Talking of scripts that make no fucking sense.) That allegory would annoy me anyway, in this case even more so as it’s rammed down our throats like a face-huggers egg tube. But I might be prepared to forgive the great exogenesis bullshit if it was tied into a credible story. But it’s not. It’s so far from a credible story that the film should be called The Great Incredible Anti-Story.

It should have been awesome. The cast are one solid bunch of capable professionals, but they can’t be expected to save a film when the script is delivered to them as shit stains carefully shaped into letters on used toilet paper. That’s the only way I can imagine that this script was “written”. The character inconsistencies and plot holes in this film are breath-taking. I’ll just look at the first few things we see:

We open with a possible Earth and a huge, white, muscly alien dude drinking some goo that disintegrates him and seeds the planet with his DNA. Okay, I was prepared to buy that – there are surely better ways to mix their DNA with the goo, but if they use this whole sacrifice method, then sure. It’s absurd, but I’ll roll with for now.

Cut to humans investigating cave paintings. They spot a recurring theme – big dudes pointing at six dots. With absolutely no evidence or explanation whatsoever, this is interpreted by a Christian scientist as an invite by Von Daniken’s aliens to come and visit. Why!? What possible reason could there be to immediately assume that’s an invite? Well, we’re told later in the film, “Because that’s what I choose to believe.” Fuuuuuck!

Anyway, this is enough to trigger a trillion dollar expedition to the planet in question. Wait, they found a planet in the vastness of infinite interstellar space using a cave painting of six dots? Yes, they did. Apparently. Because “plot”.

So they fly there and there’s this moon, right, and that’s where they’ve been invited to. So they break orbit, cruise in, see a big mountain and say, “Let’s cruise that valley.” They turn a corner and voila! There’s the alien installation. How do you instantly find the correct valley on a planet the SIZE OF A PLANET!? On top of this, we later learn that this isn’t the homeworld of these big, white, muscly alien sacrificial DNA vendors, but it’s actually a massive production depot for weapons of mass destruction that they intend to use to destroy humanity. Why did the cave paintings “invite” humans to their massive WMD moon? What the fuck possible reason could they have for that? Anyway, back to the timeline. (Bear in mind that I’m only a few minutes into the film at this point.)

The crew immediately decide to explore this installation and send off these 3D mapping drones. Without waiting for the mapping to be finished or for any explanation of why the air is suddenly breathable and not full of pathogens, they take off their helmets and start running around inside, because complete lack of science or any kind of brain.

Suddenly and for no discernible reason, a holographic history lesson starts up and tells them things they need to know, because “plot”. Incidentally, this same inexplicable hologram happens later, giving androidDavid the password flute tune he needs to operate all the things. Yes, you read that right. Aliens with massively advanced technology turn their computer systems on with a quick tootle on a flute. Sure, that could be conceived as a very clever password system, assuming you don’t have a randomly triggered hologram show up and give that password to anyone who happens to come along. Why were there holograms of past events showing up all over the place!?

Anyway, back to the opening twenty minutes of the film. Our intrepid selection of the most unscientific scientists ever assembled discover the fossilised remains of a big alien. The geologist immediately freaks out and says, “I’m only here for money and rocks, fuck this noise” and says he’s going back to the ship. He asks if anyone else is going and the biologist says, “Yep, fuck this noise.” The biologist! The one who is presumably along on the trip because he’s really into biology and that, yet he’s not going to investigate a new, alien species. So off they fuck. And even though the geologist is the one with the mapping drones, and even though those drones are live-feeding a three-dimensional layout of the entire complex to the ship, and even though the ship is in constant contact with everyone and can see on the map exactly where everyone is at all times, the geologist and the biologist get lost and inexplicably left behind.

They end up stuck there as a convenient plotstorm comes out of nowhere and decide to wait it out in a scary room full of inexplicably replicating alien goo. Then a weird alien snake thing appears. The biologist, who was moments ago terrified of a 2,000 year old fossilised humanoid, is suddenly and inexplicably besotted with this up-standing, threatening, hooded, hissing alien snake thing. After all, he’s a biologist, so he’d know you never have to be concerned when a snake thing that pops out its hood stands up and starts hissing at you. That’s completely unthreatening. So he tries to play with it and it kills him. And sprays acid blood on the geologist. All because “plot”, of course. Incidentally, said geologist, who dies facedown in the goo, comes back later as a violent zombie-hulk thing. For no reason at all he travels back to the ship all folded over like some contortion-zombie showing off his crazy, uncanny crab walk, then just stands up and fights everyone like a normal zombie-hulk until he’s burned to a crisp. And just going back to that snake thing – where did it come from anyway? We can only assume it spontaneously evolved from the black goo in a couple of hours because.

Anyway, I’m going to stop now. You’ll have a pretty good idea of just how fucking awful this movie is and I’ve barely scratched the surface of plot holes and character stupidity – people who see worms in their eyes but don’t seek medical help, for example. Or people who die because they can’t turn left or right while running. And so on. Not to mention the complete lack of any consistency in any of the “science” randomly thrown at the film like poo from the monkey cage.

Other people have done excellent work deconstructing this piece of shite from various angles:

This post does an excellent job of exploring the allegory, even though the allegory is senseless and is hammered home at the expense of all story and characterisation.

This post is an excellent exploration of many of the plot holes, including several that I’ve mentioned here.

This post explores the massively mysoginistic plot basis.\

And this four minute video covers a lot, but certainly not all, of the plot holes and nonsensical “story”:

I am so fucking angry with Ridley Scott right now. After being so excited about this movie, it couldn’t have been worse if it tried.

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EWF Presentation: On responding to reviews and social media etiquette

By
11
May 28, 2012

This past weekend I had the honour of presenting at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, down in Melbourne. As ever, it was an inspiring and entertaining weekend, and it continues on for the next week. All the details here.

The panel I was involved with was all about Post Publication; what to do and what to expect after you’ve got that elusive first publication. I spoke a bit about how to respond (or not) to criticism of your work and a little bit about social media etiquette. As ever when I present, I strayed a bit from the script. I learned long ago that I’m not much good at sticking to the presentation I write and I tend to get distracted and freestyle my way to the end. But I think I pretty much covered all the stuff I’d planned to talk about.

I thought it might be worthwhile to post my presentation here, as a recap for those at the festival and as something hopefully useful for everyone else. Bear in mind that this isn’t an actual article, but more a series of points as reference for verbal delivery, so it’ll be a bit choppy. I’ve tidied it up a bit into a more coherent (I hope) blog post. I hope you find it interesting.

EWF 2012 Presentation

I’m going to talk about making the right noises. Or, more importantly, not making the wrong noises.

So you’re published and you should be very proud of yourself for many reasons, not least of which being that you had the guts to put your work out there in the public eye.

Where it will be judged.

Where you will be judged.

So what are you going to do about that?

Nothing.

That, at least, is your default position.

If you think about saying something in response to someone’s critique of your work, stop and think. Double think. Do you want what you say to be out there forever, and forever gilding your career. Because it will be. Even if you delete it, it’s cached. And people will have shared it.

It’s a given these days that if you’re published in any form, it behoves you and your publisher if you have a social media presence.

Right now, you don’t have to have an online presence, but it benefits you enormously if you do. I would argue that before long a writer will have to have an online presence.

The reason we need that is primarily due to noise.

I’m loathe to use the often-touted term author platform, because I think that carries all kinds of unnecessary connotations, so I’m just going to refer to it from here on as “the presence”.

I’m a horror writer, among other things, so standing up here to talking a room full of people about The Presence amuses me.

There are various social areas of engagement: micro- and macro-arenas, if you like. This here, a room of people, is actually a micro-arena of social engagement.

You could conceivably interact with pretty much every one here over the course of a day or two, in small group conversations, the occasional one on one chat in a queue, perhaps an awkward, strangely polite few words beside each other at urinals or adjoining cubicles. It’s not intimate – well, the urinal thing might be, but overall, this event is not especially intimate, but it is micro.

This is where things have changed. This used to be the macro-arena. An event like this over several days or even weeks, used to be the biggest interaction a person could have. Not any more.

Now we have the internet.

Something like today, this event, has become a micro-arena because the mother of all macro-arenas now exists.

The thing about this relatively new super-macro-arena of social engagement is that it’s hectic. You want The Presence, your presence, to be there, because if you have your work out in the world, you need people to know about it and the internet is brilliant for that..

But getting noticed in that digital maelstrom is like trying to have a civilised chat at a heavy metal gig. And you need to make the right noise. Don’t be noticed for the wrong reasons.

There’s an old Chinese proverb – The empty vessel makes the most noise.

The usual example is a jar of beans. If there are only a few beans in it and you shake it around, it makes a huge racket.

Fill it to the brim with beans, shake it and it’s pretty much silent.

Of course, the point here is that you achieve through quality content – being a full jar – and you get noticed that way, rather than only having a few beans and shaking your jar as loudly as you can.

Sadly, the internet often favours those with few beans and a vigorous shaking arm.

We all have to play in that sandpit. And it can get pretty crappy in there.

While we’re busily filling our jar with beans and trying to make people notice it, all the other people out there will be judging us and our work.

And not everyone will like our stuff and through the unfiltered ease of the internet, they’ll tell us so.

I’m sure you’ve all seen someone immolate their career in a furnace of righteous outrage when they get a bad review, thereby getting noticed by making all the wrong noises. If you haven’t, you will now, because you’ll go looking for it. There’s plenty to choose from. (Edit: There’s a small one right here at The Word.)

And so, when you and your work are judged online:

DO NOTHING!

Here’s a freebie for you. Got a notebook? Write this down. The only response you should ever give to anyone who reviews your work, if you give any response at all, is this:

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review my work.

That’s it. Nothing else.

If they called you a talentless hack whose work should be used in high school as an example of how not to write, you respond:

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review my work.

That’s if you respond at all. You don’t have to. You can simply let everyone else do the talking. Of course, if they’re nice to you, you can thank them for that, though again, you don’t have to.

But you must never respond negatively. Never try to defend your work or get drawn into an argument with someone over their review.

It’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it, even if they’re clearly a brain dead slug who wouldn’t recognise quality literature if it rolled them in salt.

Never get caught up in shitfights about opinion.

Engage with social media, use The Presence to draw attention to your stuff, but don’t always and only talk about your work. If you’re constantly on the hard sell, people will quickly tire of your used car salesman persona and ignore you. Talk about all kinds of stuff, engage and interact, but never negatively, and occasionally mention your work among all that.

If you try to present yourself as something you’re not, if you act like a dick, regardless of how good your work might be, people won’t want to work with you or read you.

It’s just like real life. Act online like you would face to face and you’re off to a pretty good start. Unless you actually are a dick, of course. There’s no help for you then.

My philosophy when it comes to social media engagement is four simple points, and I’ll wrap this up with them:

• Be yourself;
• Don’t be a dick;
• Promote the good stuff;
• Ignore the crap and the negative.

Keep working on filling your jar with beans and doing your best to make sure people know about it, without constantly beating them over the cyber-head with it.

Everything else takes care of itself.

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Lots of love for Dead Red Heart

By
2
April 19, 2012

133x200xDead Red Heart.jpg.pagespeed.ic .wniDKuDemx Lots of love for Dead Red HeartYou guys will remember the massive Australian vampire anthology from Ticonderoga Publications called Dead Red Heart. It featured my story, Punishment Of The Sun.

My story got a place in Ellen Datlow’s Honorable Mentions for 2011, and will be listed in Best Horror Of The Year, Volume 4. As if that wasn’t happy-happy news enough for me, Ellen released the full list of 608 recommended stories for 2011 and no fewer than 16 of the 33 stories in Dead Red Heart are on it. Congratulations to editor Russell B Farr for putting together such an amazing book.

So huge congratulations to:

  • Anderton, Joanne “The Sea at Night,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Baxter, Alan “Punishment of the Sun,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Brown, Simon “Thin Air,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Cavalchini, Damon “Renfield’s Wife,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Edwards, Jacob “Behind the Black Mask,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Fay, Joanna “Black Heart,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Gates, Raymond “The Little Red Man,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Hannett, Lisa L. White and Red in the Black,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Hanson, Donna Marie “The Life Stealer,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Ivanoff, George “Vitality,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Jensen, Patty “Quarantine,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Kempshall, Pete “All that Glisters,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Lawson, Chris “Apologetoi,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Mok, Anne “Interview with the Jiangshi,” Dead Red Heart.
  • Slatter, Angela “Sun Falls,” Dead Red Heart.
  • White, Jen “Listening to Tracy,” Dead Red Heart.

And, on top of that, the latest BLACK STATIC magazine (http://ttapress.com/blackstatic/currentissue/) has reviewed Dead Red Heart as part of a big vampire feature. Their reviewer has gone through all 33 stories and had something to say about each and every one. I got to see a preview of the review and this is what the reviewer said about my story:

Genuinely creepy, ‘Punishment of the Sun’ by Alan Baxter has a vampire isolated by his kind at a remote farming station, and the family slowly realising that they are prey, the sense of menace and gradual, mounting terror put over well.

When anything of mine is called “genuinely creepy” one of my demon minions gets a new set of wings.

The reviewer said of the book as a whole:

an overall excellent collection, one in which nearly all of the stories are unusual and offer different slants on the idea of the vampire, while retaining an essentially Australian feel.

So seriously, if you haven’t got it yet, get it now.

And while you’re at it, get yourself on a subscription to Black Static magazine, because that’s one great publication too.

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The Hunger Games and movies that are better than their books

By
5
April 12, 2012

the hunger games movie poster 23 201x300 The Hunger Games and movies that are better than their booksYou may recall that a week or so ago I was talking about the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, reading YA fiction and my disappointment with aspects of the book. The comments on that post led me to reconsider going to see the film. As did many of the comments on Facebook, surrounding the same discussion. So I went with my wife to see the film and you know what? It’s way better than the book. I hate saying that, as films are almost never better than books, but in this case it’s true. And I think I know why.

The main reason a film can never be as good as the book is because you can’t fit all the complexity and detail of a good book into a one and a half to two hour film. Look at the length of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films from Peter Jackson. Excellent films they are, and very faithful to the books, but not nearly as good. Not even with the eleven hour total of the extended editions. Therefore, reading the book always immerses you more than watching the film. The characters have more depth, the world is more fully realised, the story itself is more deeply explored. For this reason, a film based on a short story or novella is invariably better than a film based on a novel.

Sometimes a film can be outstanding. The best movie of all time is Blade Runner. Don’t bother arguing that point with me – you’re wrong. Blade Runner is a masterpiece. It’s better than the book it was based on, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. BUT! It’s better because the movie is inspired by the book, but it’s very different. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is an excellent book, as is most of PKD’s work. But it’s far from the story that gets told in Blade Runner. So the book inspired the movie, and there’s a lot of crossover, but the movie is not an adaptation of the book.

The Hunger Games movie, to get back to the point, is an adaptation of the book. And it’s a very faithful one. The reason it’s better is because most of the issues I had with the book, the things I saw as the biggest flaws, were excluded in the film. We didn’t have to sit through twenty minutes of how Prim got her fucking goat, for example. As I mentioned in the other post, that I linked at the start of this one, someone said of the book, “I’m sure there’s a pretty good novella in there somewhere.” And that’s why the film is better – the film-makers found that good novella, and that’s the story they told.

Sure, there were some aspects of the film that could have been developed a bit more. Some of the worldbuilding, so boring in the book, could certainly have been given a minute or two more in the film, but in this case I’ll take the tightly-paced, interesting film over the saggy, boring book every time. Which is a shame, because the book should always be better than the film. This time it’s not.

It’s also worth mentioning that Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in the film, is outstanding. She’s a simply brilliant actor and totally nails the character. She played a strangely similar role in a film called Winter’s Bone. If you haven’t seen that film, I highly recommend it.

Also, thank the tentacled appendages of the Great Old Ones, the film totally fixed up that fucking stupid werewolf thing. I was very pleased about that.

So I don’t think I’ll bother with the other two books, but I’ll probably catch the films when they come out. The Hunger Games movie was really enjoyable, and excellently realised. Reading time is limited and there’s a lot of good stuff out there I want to get to. I would never normally do such a thing, but in this very rare case I’ll skip the books and get the story stright from the movies.

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The Hunger Games, hype and adults reading YA

By
13
April 2, 2012

200px Hunger games The Hunger Games, hype and adults reading YALike so many people, I’ve just read The Hunger Games. I read it because I wanted to know what all the hype was about. The books on their own were a big success, then big budget movie moguls took them on and the production company engaged in a massive online hype campaign. Also, a friend suggested I read them, as he thought they were pretty good. So I did. Meh.

I probably won’t go to see the movie, but, in case I did, I wanted to read the book first. The book is always better than the film, after all. And so many people have waxed lyrical about The Hunger Games, I thought it must be worth a try. In all honesty, I was underwhelmed at first. The book drags interminably with an unnecessary amount of worldbuilding and backstory. It’s called The Hunger Games, for fuck’s sake – the games really should start before I’m halfway through the book. They do, just, at around the 40% mark or so, but that’s way too late. I was moaning online about it and one person said, and I paraphrase, “Yeah, I read that book. I’m sure there’s a pretty good novella in there somewhere.”

That was a fairly accurate comment. However, when the games got underway, and kids were running around trying to survive and kill each other, my interest was hooked. In case you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about, The Hunger Games is the story of a post-apocalyptic kind of future where the masses are entertained every year with one boy and one girl from each of twelve districts dumped into a wilderness arena where they have to hunt and kill each other for televisual shits and giggles. There can be only one and so on. Also, if you haven’t heard about The Hunger Games, how’s that rock you’re living under?

So, as I said, the games themselves were good. It was interesting stuff, exciting in its own way and I finally found myself enjoying the story. I could understand what some of the fuss was about. It wasn’t brilliant, certainly not worth the level of hype, but it was pretty good. That first 40% of the book, however, should really have been, at most, 10%. The whole thing would have been much better. And as a book for young adults, it doesn’t need to be a huge tome.

So I could kind of understand where the affection for the books came from. Whether I’ll bother with parts two and three remains to be seen. While I ended up enjoying the last half of the book on a very superficial level, it didn’t take away from the many, many flaws. The vast majority of the worldbuilding and the concepts on which the entire story is built are very contrived. There’s a lot of forced convenience in the telling. But this is okay when you’re just having a casual read. It’s not claiming to be anything else.

katniss The Hunger Games, hype and adults reading YA

The dicussion on Facebook also raised another point, when someone said, essentially, “You’re reading a book for children, so you should be bored”.

I was astounded at that. There’s a vast chasm between writing/storytelling that is simpler and less sophisticated than adult fiction and writing/storytelling that is boring. Kids get bored too. To suggest a book for teens should bore an adult is asinine. It would bore a child too. A story aimed at a teen/YA audience certainly won’t have the depth and complexity of an adult novel, but should still be an engaging and entertaining story. When you read something like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials, there’s nothing boring about those. Except the last Harry Potter book, which should have been called Harry Potter And The Interminable Emo Camping*. Seriously, that book should have been half the size and it would have been great. But that’s a whole other rant.

The Harry Potter stories and the Dark Materials books are not boring, even though they’re aimed at a YA audience. They’re interesting and well-paced throughout, and they deal with subjects which challenge the thinking of their YA audience, just like YA fiction should. We should never write down to young people – they’re smarter than you might think. The Hunger Games deals with themes which should challenge YA readers too – kids as young as 12 running around killing other kids as young as 12 for sport, for instance. The whole premise of the book seems well outside a YA purview. Perhaps that very fact alone is what’s made The Hunger Games so popular. And that story, contrived and flawed though it may be, isn’t boring. The first 40% of the book is boring, however, and it shouldn’t be. To suggest we ought to find it boring as adults reading YA is ridiculous.

It should simply have been a shorter book, with all that worldbuilding and backstory tightened right up so that we got into the excitement of the Games themselves sooner. At least, that’s my opinion. And you all know how much I like to share an opinion.

SPOILER AHEAD!

One more thing before I go – I have one MAJOR issue with this story. I’ve saved this for the end, because it’s a real spoiler if you haven’t read the book. So, if you want to read it, maybe you should skip this last bit. I mean, the whole story is utterly predictable from the outset. That’s the lack of sophistication I was talking about earlier, which doesn’t have to be boring in a well-written story. But…

We know damn well that Katniss is going to survive. We know almost certainly that Peeta will survive too, somehow, or die doing something to ensure Katniss survives. From the very opening scenes, we know how this thing is going to play out, but we’re happy to go along for the ride.

There are several problems with it, which I really can’t be bothered to go into now any more than I have already and, in truth, it doesn’t matter. I still enjoyed the book and I’m glad it’s popular and getting young people reading. Top work.

But, right towards the end, there’s a surprise twist thrown in that’s just fucking mental. What the holy god-dancing shit is that thing with the dead tributes all coming back as werewolves? Or something. Seriously, what the shit, Suzanne Collins? All these kids had been killed in various ways. Many of them we don’t know how they died, but they did. Then they’re suddenly all werewolves come out to screw around with the final battle between our heroes and the one surviving tribute. It’s utterly bizarre. Why are they werewolves? How are they werewolves? What the fuck is the point in suddenly throwing that in at the end?

Sure, if you wanted some extra excitement, throw in some random attacker to mess with the balance of things. Even a pack of genetically modified wolves or something. But why the dead kids from before? Dead, remember? No longer freaking living.

And, just as a matter of detail, if Katniss, Peeta and Cato hadn’t managed to get onto the Cornucopia and have their last little scrap up there, that pack of wolfchildren would have torn all three of them to pieces and there would have been no victor, so letting those werekids out at all makes no sense.

Anyway, I’ll stop ranting now.

* I can’t take credit for that title. I can’t remember where I heard it, but it’s perfect.

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (DVD/Blu-Ray) – Review

By
0
March 13, 2012

dark Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (DVD/Blu Ray)   ReviewDon’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a horror film with a mixed heritage. It’s an American story, written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro, directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey and filmed in Mount Macedon and Melbourne in Australia. The setting, perhaps in a hat tip to H P Lovecraft, is Providence, Rhode Island. The film is a labour of love for Del Toro and a remake the 1973 ABC made-for-television horror film of the same name that had a huge effect on Del Toro as a child.

The film stars Guy Pearce as Alex, Katie Holmes as Kim and young Bailee Madison as Sally. It has to be said that the absolute star of this film is Bailee Madison. She’s excellent in every scene. Alex and his girlfriend, Kim, are restoring an old mansion and estate, with an eye to getting some serious architecture industry attention and therefore a great boost to their careers. For reasons largely unexplained, Alex’s young daughter, Sally, flies in and comes to live with them in the mansion while the restorations go on. We’re told that Sally’s mum gave her to her dad and the lack of care from the mother is clear in a few examples. No real reasons why, but that’s how it is. We can accept that. It’s just the first of many tropes this film plays.

Read the rest of my review at Thirteen O’Clock.

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Welcome

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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