Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas revolutions and musings on blogging

It's Christmas today. You might have noticed. Well, actually it's no longer Christmas for my UK brethren (what's the feminine/gender neutral term for 'brethren'?), but I'm currently in America, so it's still Crimbo here on the West Coast.

I got an iPad today. In fact it's what I'm typing this out on right now, as we speak. I've spent the day writing for my Creative Writing course at university, trying to convince myself to let my expression be free. I've watched 4 TED talks. I've felt inspired. As a result, I feel once more like a bit of a revolution in my online presence - in blogging, on twitter, and, to a lesser extent on Facebook.

When I started this blog, around this time last year, I intended to blog regularly about my reading passion, and particularly my love for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I let a few people down with false promises with regards both this blog, and external work. I spent a gap year with all the time in the world, and wrote quite a lot on, an excellent website devoted to Fantasy
literature. I was meant to write for them monthly. I didn't. Now that website has grown, and I'm no longer an active part of its community, despite the opportunity to be so. I tried to blog. I tried to be active on Twitter. These too failed.

I look back and I blame one thing: university. Now, I bloody love university. I love learning, I love the variety of reading it introduces me to, I love the excitement of a course in my passion, I love the opportunity to think more deeply on subjects that it never occurred to me I might be interested in (masochism and medieval religious writings anyone?). But there is one thing that university has not done for me, and that is make me productive externally. Yes, I write for the university newspaper, and yes I have a fairly decent social life and a wonderful girlfriend, but in some areas I feel that the university experience has not helped me flourish. In particular, I have less time to read what I want, less time and, as a result of less reading, less inclination or perhaps inspiration to muse upon what I want, and, less opportunity to read around what I want. To give an example: I only read about, and obsessively thus read around, Paul Kincaid's piece on 2011s 'Best of...' science fiction anthologies in the LARB. This despite massive blogosphere presence and informed opinion surrounding the matter.

As a result, I'm trying to make myself a promise. I want to blog. I want to read my chosen genres. I want my passion, true as it is, to come though better than it does. However, that means, for me, taking a step back. University and studying are the ultimate time sink, especially when you are trying to read, understand, think upon and question 800+ pages of unchosen, if not in interesting, texts per week (and then write 3-4000 word essays on them in the weeks that you aren't reading). To those that juggle a time sink degree and a time sink passion, I salute you. My step back is this: I will continue to blog, but I will de-specialise. I will realise that if what I think interests me, it may well interest another person. It may, indeed, interest you, if you've managed to read this far. This may be intensely personal feelings, abstract philosophising, or, and I hope that this occurs with regularity, reviews and explorations of SFF fiction, or anything in between. This, hopefully, will mean a blog that isn't updated 5 times in a year, but 50. A twitter feed that doesn't have month long gaps. Something interesting by myself online.

This realistic approach is a difficult one for me. I'm intensely self critical. Even now I'm thinking 'what if' - what if no one reads this blog? Does it matter? Am I blogging for an audience? If I am blogging for an audience, is that a bad thing? If not, is that a bad thing too? I think the answers to al these questions lies in a bit of a truism: live for yourself. I need to step back, and do want I enjoy, no matter the 'audience opinion'. I'm not Stephen King, or Wil Wheaton, or Ozzy Osbourne. I don't have millions of people expecting a certain thing from me, who would be dissappointed if I didn't give them it. When I reach that point, then I ought to worry. Until then, I'll ramble, and you can read me if you want, and I'll try to accept that.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

On the wonders of London (and Tom Pollock)

I bloody love London.

No, really, I bloody love London. To my mind, of all the places in the world I've been, it's by far the best - though I've yet to visit New York, and I hear tell that that s wonderful, vibrant and stunning - like an American London, then, just with higher buildings and a bit less history.

I'm a student at a London university (King's College London to be precise), and, as of last October when my mum moved to Seattle, a full time London-liver. And I still bloody love it. Nowhere else is so diverse, culturally, architecturally, with people, with places, with history. There is a new surprise around every corner. A new shop to be found. A new stunning scene to stumble upon.

A couple of stories: I referee football matches which occasionally sends me to weird bits of London. I went to Victoria Park the other week, and found a shop that specialises in different types of chicken eggs, from rare breeds, and then sells eggs from other birds on top of that!... How cool is that??? And then, I live in Bangladeshi East London, next to the DLR. And yet, just around the corner, an 8 minute walk, I stumbled upon St. Katherine's Dock, which is an absolutely gorgeous place full of the boats of the rich, a (fairly average) pub, and more cool shops. The difference in atmosphere between Shoreditch and the City, between Chelsea and Borough, between Brixton and the West End is astonishing for just a few square miles. So much diversity in what is, in reality, such a small place.

St. Katherine's Dock

Does this blog have a point, I hear you ask/ Well yes - I'm using it as background for espousing about Tom Pollock's lovely novel The City's Son, which I read recently (well a couple of months ago, but I'm lazy...). I met Tom back in August at Blackwell Charing Cross' Fantasy Faction event with Joe Abercrombie, Peter V Brett & Myke Cole. His book had come out a week earlier, massively backed by Jo Fletcher books with a launch at the excellent Forbidden Planet. I had heard nothing but good things from the Fantasy connoisseurs there, so I decided to try it out.

Thank god that I did.

The novel is bloody excellent. Regarding a weird-fiction idea of the modern juxtaposed with the fantastic in an "unseen city", its an idea that has been done before done in a completely new way. The feeling of the city, both real and unreal, blend with awesome ease.

What a cool cover!!

Concerning the "City's Son" himself, Filius, and the normal human teenager Beth, and their attempts to defeat the crane king, Reach, who is slowly destroying London. Full of weird creatures, from Railwraiths to the Pavement Priests (animated statues across London) to the Chemical Synod, a sinister group of chemical-based pseudo-men, the fantastic world is meticulously built up. The setup is a little jaded, but the characters are excellent. Beth, Filius, Beth's best friend Pen, Beth's father - all felt real to me, felt like people I could reach out and touch.

The (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) romance between Beth and Filius that inevitably develops is handled well, with a subtlety and yet a certain realism of teenage fumblings to it. The plot itself is solidly constructed, exciting and reaching a natural climax. The only faults I had were the length and the action scenes - at times I felt that the action scenes were too long, too ponderous, too hard to imagine - Pollock can be forgiven in this as a debut author, but it is something that to me needs work, as well as parringdown some of the exposition - again, we can applaud the idea of trying to draw us in as best as possible, but at times a little mystery makes for a better experience.

However, this i ignoring the point of this blog. London. Amazing. The descriptions, the places, the feeling of London. Its astonishing. I can feel thephysical presence of London, both its real and unseen parts. I can see the dancing by the rough brick arhitecture of East London, under flicking sodium lamps. I see Crystal Palace radio tower, full of movement and menace. I see St. Paul's, crawling with cranes, with activity, with building work. I feel the diversity of London, that sense of wonder at its sheer presence, that sense that this place is exciting on every level, from the Eastender's-title-sequence-aerial-shot all the way down to the individual alley off the Old Kent Road.

London is awesome. Tom Pollock captures it sublimely. That is all.

Friday, 28 September 2012

And I'm back from beyond... (And JK Rowling)

Well, I'm back.

I thought I'd neglected this blog for far too long. SO today is the first of a new start in posting. Today I will blog. Tomorrow I'll probably blog. Next week I'll probably forget to blog, but that's beside the point. Because next week I intend to blog, and that's whats important.


Yesterday I went to see the wonderful JK Rowling at the Southbank Centre, London, England, UK, Europe, The World. She was ace.

You see, you might not have noticed, it being a relatively minor event, npot publicised anywhere or anything, but she has a new book out. Yeah, I know! Shocking, eh? Well, turns out that to go with the book, Ms. Rowling decided to do a Q & A session in fornt of 900 or so people. Answering questions about the book, her treatment of mortality, moving on from Potter and the like, she entertained the crowd for an hour while being grilled by the excellent Mark Lawson. It was "a celebration" to publish the book, JK has a "fascination" with mortality, she upset her children with some of the comments about having children in the book. It was really good. In fact I recommend you watch it here.

Then the cameras stopped rolling and a Q & A session started. I missed out on asking my question ("With all the pressure you must have been under with regards the novel, how tempting was it to publish under a pseudonym"), but some interesting questions were asked, alongside the usual "what advice would you give aspiring writers" (Answer: Get an agent). we learnt that JK likes e-books, but it took so long for Potter to be published in them as she "is a bit of luddite" and "didn't understnad them... until last year on holiday", that Sirius' mirror was a mistake, as was the Maurauder's Map's powerfulness and that her characterisation of Luna Lovegood was the only part of Harry Potter to have been affected by the movie's casting (of the rather wonderful Evanna Lynch). These were cool facts to know, especially as a massive Harry Potter fan.

It turns out the JK Rowling is very engaging, very interesting, and very humble. Unlike GRRM, she was engaged with her audience, having time to chat with a girl who'd once asked her on Blue Peter whether Dunbledore had fallen in love (pre "he was gay" revelation!), and accepting a present from a massively over excited Spaniard who had travelled all the way from his home country to watch her speak.  Further, while I was mssively starstruck as she signed my book (an hour and half of queuing!!!), and she was probably more bored than a snail encased in amber, she still had enough time to smile and thank me for queuing, seemingly genuinely thankful for each and every one of her fans.

Now I've yet to read the book, but when I do a review will be popped up here. I'm about 10 chapters in, and I'm pleasantly surprised  - I was expecting it to be shit for some reason... Its really not.

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That doesn't seem to work... If anyone knows how to embed correctly, please help...

In the meantime, find the interview here

God I'm excited to read it :D

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Belated George R.R. Martin Blog

I went to see George R.R. Martin at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London on Monday.

Organised by Gower Street Waterstone's, and moved to the Bloomsbury because of high numbers, GRRM came and had a little outing in London following on from his headline slot at Eastercon 2012. I enjoyed what I got of it, but I had a few issue: more of that later. First of all, a recap:

My view of the stage
 GRRM came on, to rapturous applause, and had a little ego-trip, where he announced a third season for HBO's A Game of Thrones, as well as his nomination for best novel Hugo. He was then interviewed by his UK editor, and author in her own right, Jane Johnson. There were some genuinely revealing questions and answers. Asked whether history was an influence, GRRM answered that heloved historicl novels, and wanted to try and right one, and AGoT is history without the boring bits.

He claimed his characters where his 'children' and that he saw the 'angel and the demon in them all'. Difficult Points of View include Tyrion, for his wit, and Bran, for his youth and disability.

While being an engaging speaker, and genuinely funny, GRRM still answered just 7 questions, in only 50 minutes. I (sat maybe 20 rows back) then had to queue 50 minutes for a generi-cut signature. I bought a beautiful hardback special-edition before the show (the last one\o/) just to get him to sign it:

However, not only was my request for a personalization rejected (albeit politely), I couldn't even get a photo with him. To my mind, the signing was poor. I was bored shitless for 50 minutes, checking twitter and reading the book I'd brought with me. I can't imagine how poor old Johnson and Martin were feeling, doing the same thing for 50 minutes, plus the balcony and back-row after me. If GRRM/Waterstone's had had some generically signed copies on sale beforehand, those who just wanted the signature could have gone home happy. Those of us who aren't jumping on the bandwagon, who have enjoyed GRRM for more than just the HBO series, could have had a little bit of personalized time with him. It's not much to ask for: I saw Stephen Fry at The New Theatre in Oxford, and, while the queue was swiftly moved along (with much more efficiency than here), personalization occured: yes, we were given post-it note to write our 'To xxx' on, but it was something. And he allowed time for pictures. To GRRM, it seemed a chore. The Mr. Fry, it seemed a privilege. To me, I'm not going to be as famous as either, so a chance to meet them, one of my favourite novelists, and a man a admire a great deal for his wit, intellect and genuine niceness, its a pleasure. I don't know if I'll see either again, so surely it's as much their duty to me, a fan, to make me as happy as possible, as it is vice versa?

Also, £10? for 50 minutes? A bit of a push. So all in all, a bit meh, really. I've met him, heard him speak, and enjoyed it, but it could have been better, both on the part of Gower Street/ Harper Voyaer's organising, and GRRM's treatment of his fans.

A stranger getting a signing

Piermario Morosini

A sad day for football. A sad day for all.

R.I.P. Piermario Morisini

Friday, 30 March 2012

Christopher Priest and The Clarke Award

Well, a massive shit storm blew over the Arthur C. Clarke Award yesterday, following a post of Christopher Priest's blog. Christopher Priest, famous in genre circles in particular as author of The Prestige, which was superbly adapted in 2006 by Christopher Nolan (he of Inception and Batman Begins/ Dark Knight fame), wrote a scathing attack on the shortlist and judging of the Clarke Award.

Go on, go read it.

Yes, the Clarke Award's shortlist has been universally responded to with a hearty 'meh' across the blogosphere, but so what? Embassytown is by no means China Miéville's best work, though is still excellent - Priest is correct in part with his criticism of 'nonce' words used in the book. I gave it a four star review over on Fantasy Faction when it came out. I regret that I haven't read any of the other five books, though I will almost certainly get around to doing so. However, the blogging world doesn't give rave reviews to any. Greg Bear's Hull Zero Three is typical Bear, another spaceship book from an author who probably peaked with the superd Blood Music, and is trying to recapture that magic. Sheri Tepper's The Water's Rising seems to fall in a similar camp, and reviews often define it as fantasy rather than SF (though where that difference lies is debatable). Charlie Stross is often criticised for his irritating prose style, though to call him an 'internet puppy' is perhaps too far. His Rule 34 doesn't seem to be an exception. Drew Magery's The Postmortal / The End Specialist seems a beacon of hope, yet hasn't recieved massive praise. Finally Jane Roger's The Testament of Jessie Lamb, longlisted for the Booker prize, seems to have been met with nods of the head, and a satisfied air, as opposed to the rest of the shortlist.

Bear, Tepper and Miéville were, in my opinion, bound to get nominations. They were big name authors, writing big name books. Roger was well praised, and seems a good debut into genre fiction. But yes, the shortlist is slightly uninspiring, but that does not give anyone call to roundly abuse the judging process, judges themselves or the award. Award shortlists provoke discussion, no matter what awar they are. The Booker, the Orange, the Costa, the BSFA, the Hugo, the Nebula. You name it, there will be debate, there will be arguments, there will be confrontation. But, and this is a big but, people respect the judges. They may disagree, but they disagree with the utmost respect.

The 'modest' suggestion that Priest puts forward, the 5 part plan, is, to put it plainly, a disgusting personal attack on what the award considers its best option. The Clarke may be wrong, and perhaps even is wrong in its discussion of what ought to be on the shortlist. But, that does not excuse such a vitriolic attack. I have lost respect for Priest.

That is not to say that SF awards don't need critiquing, or awards in general. They do, but they need an intelligence applied to them that Priest, someone with a vast modicum of said intelligence has, and throws out of the window in this attack. His attacks on Mar Billingham, with whom he shared a stage at the Oxford Literary Festival, are beyond the pale. A commenter on the OF blog (linked to below) said "There really is no requirement that all criticism be balanced or politely worded". That may be the case, but you'll gain a damn site more of my respect by doing so.

Clarke Award 2012 Shortlist
Christopher Priest's Original Post
Guardian Coverage
The excellent OF Blog's coverage
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist's Coverage
John Scalzi's lovely comment
A great, intelligent commentary by Damien G walter, comparing Priest to Leavis