Category: Guest Post
by June 10th, 2011-
You know, when the Telegraph called my Avery Cates novels “an action movie in print,” my immediate reaction was, of course, anger and suspicion. What kind of action movie did they mean? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Dolph Lundgren? Surely not . . . Steven Seagal?!?!? Bastards. I would have my revenge, I thought.
Then someone forced me to drink several cups of strong black coffee, put me in a warm bath, stroked my hair for a few minutes, and suggested perhaps they meant to reference good action movies. Something from the Bruce Willis oeuvre, perhaps. Or some classic Steve McQueen. I mean, if you’re trying to say that my books are like Steve McQueen jumping the fence on his motorcycle in The Great Escape, well, okay then. Tantrum regretted.
What’s interesting about living in the modern world is that we’re a bunch of people who have never lived without films, for the most part. You can no longer really write a novel without having movie conventions and styles in your head. I have no idea how people imagined things before movies. Even if you somehow avoid imagining things as movie scenes in your head as you write, your readers will no doubt do that heavy lifting for you, friend. You can’t win. All you can do is try to imagine a really good movie version of your story as you write. As opposed to, say, something by Uwe Boll. I know at least that for every line of the THE FINAL EVOLUTION I wrote, something like this was happening in my head:
The Avery Cates novels are set in an unspecified future Read the rest of this entry »
by June 3rd, 2011-
Welcome to the Metrozone. To give it its full name, the London Metrozone. Twenty-five million people, set behind a wall of concrete and wire a hundred miles long, reinforced by automatic guns and watchtowers. It has the economy of a prosperous industrialised nation, its citizens come from every corner of the planet and it’s the last city in England.
Things look the same, but different: the Houses of Parliament – disused but safe from flooding behind a massive dam. Marylebone station lies dormant: no more trains to the Midlands, because the Midlands are an irradiated wasteland. Buckingham Palace is still at the end of the Mall, but it’s flagless. Regent’s Park is now home to thousands of refugees in their converted shipping-container houses. England, as a country, has ceased to exist. The only part of it remaining is the Metrozone.
What happened? Armageddon. But the brief, world-changing years of nuclear terrorism are a fading memory. The city remains.
So why pick on London? I mean, what’s it ever done to me? Do I take perverse delight in trashing my capital city, threatening it with flood, fire, war and disease, wrecking the national monuments and destroying millennia of history?
Yes. But that’s not reason enough. Okay, setting a series of novels in a post-apocalyptic London is an obvious choice, simply because it’s the biggest and most well known city on these islands. It has iconic buildings and internationally recognisable landmarks, in a way that Coventry, Aberystwyth or Motherwell don’t. St. Paul’s, the Gherkin, Battersea power station, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge: all are instantly recognisable from thousands of books and hundreds of films by people who live half a world away and will never see London for real. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 31st, 2011-
Recently, I was invited to attend Natcon, New Zealand’s national Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention as a guest of honour. As such, I was also asked to put forward some panel suggestions. One of the first that occurred to me arose out of an earlier post here on Orbit about the grand symbiosis between fantasy and history. But I didn’t want to just repeat that discussion, so I’ve added in an extra wrinkle, focusing on weapons and armour, battles and military tactics in the historical context—another fascination that arises, not just out of my love of history, but from my martial arts background.
I am not sure why I’ve always loved martial arts. As kids, my brothers and I were always making ourselves toy swords, bows and arrows, and wooden guns so we could run wild and whack each other with them. I suspect this experience probably established the first element of my love for martial arts—their physicality. The martial arts are all about knowing your own physical strength and limitations, learning those of others, and finding sneaky ways to deal to those with superior strength. Physicality and sneakiness lead straight to the next reason I have always enjoyed martial arts—they’re really fun. I’ve practiced a number of different martial arts and found a great spirit of camaraderie in all of them. And in “aikido, the early years” (aikido is the martial art I have practiced longest) training always wound up with a session of “elbow-waza”, i.e. bending our elbows as we all raised a glass together at the pub. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 25th, 2011-
It’s not an exact science. E.T. was bald, but then again, he wasn’t a monster. He was just a little lost guy from outer space. If an alien or otherwise bizarre creature is in your story and doesn’t eat anyone, their fur (or lack thereof) is less important.
In the classic film Alien, a ruthless predator kills the crew, one-by-one. Sure, the xenomorph is terrifying from top-to-bottom. Its reproduction method, its acid blood, that weird little mouth that pops out of its bigger mouth, these are all things designed to make it a strange, unearthly beastie. But when you get right down to it, the xenomorph is just an animal. It isn’t malicious. It’s just doing what comes naturally. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 24th, 2011-
But it occurred to me that although Orbit blog readers are switched-on SFF folk, not everyone will necessarily have heard of this award from the far side of the world. So “just in case”, here’s a little background.
The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are a reader-voted award made annually under the auspices of SFFANZ, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Association of New Zealand, to recognise achievement in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror by New Zealanders or New Zealand residents. Like other science fiction and fantasy awards around the globe, the Sir Julius Vogels include both professional and fan categories for various forms of writing, artwork, dramatic presentation, and editing.
The Award itself was designed by Weta Workshops, which has been involved with the making of a large number of major films, most famously The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The reason why it’s called the Sir Julius Vogel Award, when Sir Julius was a nineteenth century NZ prime minister—is because he is also held to be NZ’s first speculative fiction author, publishing a novel called Anno Domini 2000 – A Woman’s Destiny in 1889. The premise of the book is one where women have achieved suffrage (which NZ actually enacted in 1893, just four years later) and gone on to hold major positions of authority in politics, law and industry. Given that shortly after 2000, NZ’s prime minister, as well as our governor general, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the chief executive of NZ’s largest private company, were all women, Sir Julius’s speculation is now held to be uncommonly prescient … Read the rest of this entry »
by May 17th, 2011-
Film adaptations – love ‘em, hate ‘em, the truth of the matter is, they’re loud, they’re big, they’re successful and they’re probably coming to a screen near you. The advent of CGI in the last few years has led to an explosion of science fiction and fantasy movies, spearheaded to a large degree by Lord of the Rings and the Marvel Comics lot deciding to cash in on a good thing… now when you think of summer blockbuster, you can fairly reliably count on not just running, jumping, chasing, but you can probably also hold out for the destruction of New York by alien ship or the fall of civilizations.
I’m not going to re-tread the old arguments of book vs. film here. There are pros and cons either way and frankly the two mediums are so different in so many respects that it seems like a rather futile bit of ground to wander over. For my part, I should declare that I actually prefer the film of Lord of the Rings to the book, love comic book adaptations… when they’re done well, that is… and am delighted to discover that the occasional CGI fuelled bit of science fiction movie making is in fact, slipping through the net and coming up on screen with the odd bit of an idea behind it. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 13th, 2011-
Once upon a time, when moving into a new neighborhood, I spent a few days meeting the new neighbors. Nothing big, just visits to say hello, introduce myself to the other family with children my son’s age, another family with a high-school-aged daughter who often babysat for the other families on the street, the usual sort of thing. I had a bunch of innocuous interactions with them that didn’t look like anything special – at the time. Fast-forward five years. Over the next few years, I came to learn that some of the most inane, unimportant little things I had done or said in that time had impacted several of my neighbors in enormous ways. Not necessarily good or bad, but significantly, and generally in a positive fashion, or so it seemed to me.
If I’d chosen different words to speak, or timed my actions only slightly differently, it might well have altered their lives – and if I hadn’t been paying close attention, I might not have realized it had happened at all. It was my first real-life lesson in the law of unintended consequences – and the basis of my belief that big, important things are built from small and commonplace things, and that even our little acts of petty, everyday good or evil have a cumulative effect on our world. A lot of religions make a distinction between light and darkness, and paint portraits of dramatic battles between their champions.
But maybe the ‘fight on the ground’ is a lot more common than we ever really think. It happens every day, and a lot of the time we might not even be aware that it’s going on – until five years later, I guess. Our smallest actions and choices matter. They tell us about who we are. That was the idea I tried to carry into The Warrior. That, and the idea that what seems like a good thing or a bad thing might not be either, seen from another point of view. Many readers were upset with Michael’s fate at the end of Small Favour – how horrible that a character who was basically so decent got handed such a horrible fate. But judge for yourself how tragic it was from his point of view …
by May 11th, 2011-
Powerlessness is the foundation of most horror stories. Whether they’re about monsters or madmen or even worse, the notion that we are not in charge of our own destiny is what makes most horror work. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about purely fantastic dangers like Freddy Krueger and vampires or if we’re staying in more realistic territory with murderers and natural disasters. If a character must confront their own powerlessness, you’ve got yourself a horror story.
This is why Alien is a horror story, and Aliens is an action adventure film. In one, a crew of poorly armed, non-combat astronauts are slaughtered by a sneaky predator. In the other, a squad of soldiers blasts scores of aliens. It’s true that the soldiers in Aliens are facing some long odds, but though they are in desperate straits, they can still fight back. They might all die, but they are sure as hell going to take a lot of the enemy with them. And in the end, it all boils down to Sigourney Weaver in a power suit grappling with the alien queen. Certainly, not an easy victory, but a victory nonetheless, through guts, determination, and a handy dandy airlock. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 9th, 2011-
I was talking with my greengrocer about where I was disappearing off to over the Easter weekend, and he listened to the sort of stuff that goes on, raising a skeptical eyebrow. Then he said: “A few years ago, I would have said you were mad, but I caught myself looking at this advert in my tropical fish magazine for a Fish Fair in Germany and thinking whether I could afford to go.” Neon tetras or science fiction: a gathering of disparate people with a shared but niche interest, meeting together for a short but intense period of time to celebrate everything fishy/skiffy, and then go back home where no one understands you and you indulge in your passion either ignored or mocked.
Okay. Let’s talk about the paradigm-shifting elephant in the room from the outset. The internet. I’m pretty certain it’s been as revolutionary for the tropical fish community as it has been for fandom. I remember the first time as a baby scientist that I emailed someone whose paper I’d been reading, back in the early days of JANET, UNIX line commands and glowing green-screen terminals. I wanted some more technical information – before, it’d have been a letter, a formal barrier to communication, slow and time-consuming – now the answer came flashing back from half a world away. Anyone in my tiny specialisation was no further than a short walk down the corridor to the computer room. I was abruptly, immediately, not alone. Read the rest of this entry »
by May 6th, 2011-
It’s My Birthday, Too is a short story from my new Dresden Files anthology Side Jobs (originally in Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris). The story takes place between White Night and Small Favour.
I’ve met people who are sweeter and nicer and more likeable than Charlaine Harris – but I really can’t remember when. Every author I’ve ever talked with who knows Charlaine just couldn’t be happier about the success of her books and the HBO series True Blood. She’s that nice. I can’t even bring myself to be jealous. She’s that nice. So when she invited me to contribute, I said, ‘Heck, yeah!’
Using a birthday theme (since the book, originally, was supposed to be published on Vlad Dracula’s somethinghundredth birthday) was sort of a challenge. Birthdays are about families. Whether they’re a biological family or one that’s come together by choice, it’s your family who gathers to celebrate the anniversary of you. It’s kind of a profound thing, when you think about it.
But Dresden hadn’t ever really associated his birthday with that kind of joy – only with the knowledge that he’d never really had a family. So I decided to do a story about Harry coping with the unfamiliar role of being the guy celebrating the life of his half brother. I found a very good mall in Chicago that I could demolish with the usual Dresdenesque shenanigans, set the story against the backdrop of a vampire-ish LARP, and knocked this one out over the course of about three weeks.