Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I finally finished reading the best novella nominees for the Hugos. They were not small, with the average size being about 100 pages. I thought a couple of the nominees were more fantasy than science fiction. I had only heard of two of the authors before, Nancy Kress and John Scalzi. The novellas ranged from humour to steampunk to very hard science. A couple of them failed to engage my interest and one was too complex for reading just before bed. The nominees where:
Act One by Nancy Kress. This was the shortest of the nominees and one of the best. The story revolved around genetic engineering, debating its pros and cons within the narrative. The main character is a dwarf and an agent for an actress who is researching genetic terrorists for a movie role, things go wrong and they become involved in the spreading of a genetic virus. The writing was simple and flowed as did the tension. I will be reading more of Nancy Kress.
Palimpsest by Charles Stross. I found this a very difficult read. It was very complex with extended information dumps breaking up the flow of the story. The MC is a time guardian who jumps through time trying to stop a conspiracy to change the timestream and divert the universe to a less controlled future. He is at the centre of both the investigation and the conspiracy as attempts are made on his life, including by himself. At least that is what I think the story was about. The story jumped about in time and I had trouble identifying which version of the MC was now telling the story. Perhaps I should have read this one early in the day, but other stories with time guardians as the main character and have failed to impress me, even though I generally enjoy stories involving time travel.
The God Engines by John Scalzi. This was probably the best written of all the stories. Scalzi writes great dialogue. The story flowed so well. If it had not been for the fact that I considered it to be fantasy and not science fiction, it would probably have received my vote for being the best. The story is set in a universe dominated by warring Gods competing for more converts and thus more power (a concept Neil Gainman used in his novel American Gods). Losing Gods are enslaved. There is no science as such, just religion that uses Gods, and the talents they award to humans, to power everything from spaceships to interspace communications. I loved the ending, showing how faith is so hard to destroy, even in the face of irrefutable evidence.
The Women of Nell Gwynnes by Kage Baker. Another very well written story. Set in the 19th century, it is an espionage thriller as the English try to stop a world changing invention being sold to the evil French etc. The heroines are a group of high class prostitutes who work undercover for a secret organisation that has the better interests of the English at heart. This organisation has access to amazing inventions like flash lights and lenses that bring sight to the blind. I couldn't help but think of them as a bit fascist, why keep these inventions for themselves? The answer seemed to be to keep themselves in power. There is a bit of this going around in science fiction where a hero or group of them take it upon themselves to decide what is best for everyone, as in the Palimpsest. I prefer more democratic heroes. I also thought the science aspects were dispensable: that the same plot and could have been written without them, which made me think that this story was not really science fiction.
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, by James Morrow. This novella came with attached quotes telling the reader that James Morrow was a great satirist, so I expected a bit of a laugh. In the 1980s, a bitter actor is writing his memories. He made his name donning monster suits during the 30's and 40's. He was so good at being a monster the army conscripted him to play a monster in a role that they hoped would cause the Japanese to surrender without the A-bomb being used. It takes 160 pages to find out what went wrong. In the pages in between we are taken through a history of cinema monster movies. I am not sure how much of it was made up, but I thought I recognised actual movie titles. I got one laugh out of the seemingly endless smart alec banter of the main character. I think the story could have been told in less than half the words. Comedic science fiction has never really be something I read.
Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald. A wonderfully original story. Set in a future India, it starts after some catastrophe has beset the land. The main character Vishnu narrates what changed a thriving prosperous India to a place now seemingly deserted of people. He was genetically engineered as a child and his abilities had him treated like a minor God, but then other technologies superseded him, taking humanity with them, and leaving him to control only his cat circus. It's a story about human obsolescence. It did not flow quite as well as some of the other novellas, but for sear originality and ideas it gets my vote as the best novella.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I watched Moon two nights ago, the last of the five movies nominated for this year's Hugo. The other nominees are: Up, Avatar, District 9 and Star Trek.
Up is an animated fantasy film with some science fiction elements. It is about an old grump who is about to be forced out of his home by developers. He attaches a whole lot of helium filled balloons to his house and it floats to South America. A not very bright or skilled scout hitches a ride with him. They befriend a supposedly extinct big bird and try and rescue it from a demented explorer and his huge pack of talking dogs. I laughed out loud on a few occasions, with the humour aimed at both adults and kids.
District 9 Set in South Africa a decade or so after a huge spaceship arrived carrying a million alien refugees. The refugees now live in a ghetto in Johannesburg and are no longer welcome. The movie starts, in documentary style, with attempts to evict and move them 200 miles away. It follows the ignorantly racist manager of the move. He is sprayed by alien oil and begins to turns into one of them. His multinational employer wants to use him for alien weapons research and decides to dissect him. He escapes and finds refuge among the aliens. This movie had magnificent special effects, with believable renditions of aliens appearing in almost every scene. It also gets you thinking about boat people etc.
Everyone has scene Avatar, the most overhyped science-fiction film in history.
Most people would also be aware of the Star Trek franchise. The new Star Trek movie rebooted the series by going back in time and annihilating most of the Vulcans, so the Universe in which all the other Star Trek movies and series were set has been forever changed. A real fun action movie that injected much needed life into a tired franchise.
Moon didn't play at my local cinema so I had to watch it on DVD. I think if more people knew what it was actually about, they would go and see it. But to tell you what it is about would give away the intrigue of the first third of the movie. It is set on the moon at a mining facility manned by one person. I initially had doubts about whether they would leave one person at a moon base by himself, but then the story explained why. This film really got me thinking. It is more of an ideas film, a bit like Inception, than a special effects feast like Star Trek.
I will rate the five nominees on the following: Originality, scientific believability, special effects, whether they got me thinking, and enjoyability.
3. District 9
5. Star Trek.
2. District 9
5. Star Trek
1. District 9
2. Star Trek
1. District 9
5. Star Trek
1. Star Trek
3. District 9
So Moon will get my vote. I suspect Avatar will win by default as more people have seen it than the others, especially Moon. Although I enjoy big budget special effects science fiction, I remember more films with an original and thought-provoking plot.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Waiting, waiting, waiting. I am impatiently waiting for things to happen or not happen. The online magazine I submitted a couple of articles to got back to me last week, they wanted to use one of my articles. I asked if that meant I was getting a contract and that that the article would be considered the first one written under that contract. No, was the reply, they are still yet to make decisions on who will be contracted, so I didn't give them permission to put the article up. It would have been slightly hypocritical to allow them to run it for free as in that article I ask people not to download free ebooks, for which the author would receive nothing.
They did change the article a lot, and initially I felt like I had lost ownership of it. But then I thought, shit I have written about six magazine/newspaper type articles in my life, and four of them were for writing courses, two of which appeared in local newspapers. Didn't get paid for them. But I was thinking many changes would probably be usually made to the first article/newstory of new writer to any paying publication. I can see why most of the changes were made, and feel I can adapt to that style of writing.
I had a look at their website and saw a few new articles up, were they paid for, I found myself asking. I will wait and see what happens but the negative side of me is whispering in my ear. In the other ear, my creative side keeps on whispering all these ideas for articles, which I keep on having to stop and write down, makes for some very long weights sessions.
The new articles on the website all seemed on the lighter side of life. Nothing heavy like my article on my father's dementia. If they don't want it, I intend to write the full anecdoted and unabridged version, rather then suffer a 500 word limit, and then look for another market.
I have applied to work at this year's federal elections. I have worked at the last two federal elections as a polling assistant: the guy who asks you to repeat your strange name five times before finding it on the roll and crossing it out and then giving you only one ballot paper and directing you towards the door rather then the polling booths.
I had worked at Rutherglen in the last two elections, getting a lift with the same bloke, but having my father as a back up if that bloke got sick or something. This time I have excluded Rutherglen from my polling booth preferences and limited them to Wangaratta. So I might have preferenced myself out of some work. If I have, then I will be able to make a few political comments on this blog, as there has been the threat of the overtly political not being acceptable for people wanting to work in polling booths.
I also can't wait for Aussiecon 4. It's so long since I have had a fun holiday. This week I booked a session at the Melbourne Writer's Festival (which runs at the same time) entitled Frontier of the Imagination that has China Melville and Alistair Reynolds as two of the panelists.
Last week I mentioned that I had just finished the second draft of a novella. I had, but then I promptly thought up a much better and lengthier ending. I really hope it doesn't turn into another novel like the last novella I wrote.
Speaking of novellas, I am halfway through reading the last novella nominated for the Hugo awards this year. The previous novella I had read was a real drag and very long, so it has slowed my reading down. Votes have to be in by Saturday.
I went and saw Inception on the weekend. It was one of the more thought provoking and ideas laden science fiction films that I have seen in recent years. Worth going to see again. I will hopefully have time to write a review of it later this week.
Time for a cuppa.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I have been busy moving forward with my writing. Last week I finished the second draft of the novella. I plan on moving forward further this week by editing the novella before moving forward to having it critiqued.
The novella moved forward in size by about a 1000 words between drafts. I wish I could borrow some of Tony Abbott's great big bullshit dust while writing. You know the kind of dust that you sprinkle around so that greenhouse gases can be reduced without increasing electricity prices. I could have sprinkled that on my novella and it would have been rewritten without including any additional words. Perhaps if I manage to get some of his great big bullshit dust I could have written the whole story without using words.
I am still yet to move forward on a decision on whether to lock myself into some great big writing sessions at the Melbourne Writer's Festival, which is on at the same time as Aussicon4 in the first week of September. A lot of the authors arriving for Aussiecon are appearing at the writer's festival, like China Melville, Alastair Reynolds and Kim Stanley Robinson. But with the Aussiecon program not out yet, I risk missing a great big something while moving forward and backwards between venues.
Life moved forward in interest at the Clements' household last week. We complained to the council about a recalcitrant next door neighbour who kept on driving over our nature strip to jump start their great big SUV, thus beginning to wear muddy trails in our naturestrip. I had previously gone around to ask the great big owner of the SUV to desist, but he hid around the corner while I talked to his great big wife. I suggested they park the great big SUV around the corner (they have a corner block) where they wouldn't have to drive across anyone else's naturestrip and turn it into the great big mud pile that theirs currently is and we feared ours would soon be. But she said her husband was not going to be moving forward the SUV. So we rang the council. They went around to see the great big neighbours on Wednesday and told them to move the great big SUV because of the great big mud pile or suffer a great big fine. The neighbours moved forward and the great big SUV was moved forward to the side of the house.
But on Friday night our front nature strip was vandalised. A post was removed that had previously stopped then driving with all four wheels across the nature strip and a bottle brush that I planted a few months ago, along with its stakes were gone. So was the letterbox. I called the police and two great big officers came around and then went and visited our great big neighbours. So I might have started a great big war.
Next week I hope to have moved forward from this great big battle, so Bob Brown should be happy.
I plan to apply to become Julia's and Tony's speech writer, as they certainly need new ones. Although it might be hard to replace the mining industry and Rupert Murdoch from their job with Tony: you know that the richer you get, the more you thing you are right.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I just found out that The AGE Melbourne Writer's Festival is on at the same time as Aussiecon 4. I had a look through its program in today's AGE and saw that they have borrowed a few of the incoming science fiction writers like China Melville, Alastair Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson and Cory Doctorow for sessions. Television and film scriptwriter Josh Weldon (Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse, Event Horizon) is also doing a session.
Most of the writer's festival sessions are held at Federation Square, easy walking distance from Aussiecon 4.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Ebook prices seem to be tumbling downwards on Amazon. For the past few months I have regularly checked the Kindle bestseller list just before I write my weekly blog post and noted about 30% of the top 100 bestselling Kindle ebooks where selling for $2 to $3.50, with three or four ebooks free. Three weeks ago 29 were free, today 39. There has also been a shift to books costing $2.95 - $3.50, from five or six to 16 this week. Today, like last time I looked, I saw no $2 ebooks, which used to be the medium price.
About half the free ebooks were out of copyright classics. I had a look at some of the others and they all had over 20 reviews and most of them positive, so why are the authors giving them away for nothing? I will have to do some more digging.
I have never heard the word masturbation used so many times in eight minutes as it was used on the latest episode of the Tuesday Book Club. They were talking about Tim Roth book Portnov's Complaint written in the 60's, when wanking seemed to be a popular topic. The panelists all seemed to like the book.
Booked my motel accommodation for Aussicon 4. I plan to get down there the day before to register and avoid any first day queues. I will be there for all six days, so I hope there is plenty going on. No program has been released yet.
I finished writing a couple of articles for an online magazine and emailed them this morning. I hope to get a writing contract for an article a month. I have not written many magazine type articles before (a few for writing courses) so I am not sure whether my writing will be in sync with what the editor wants - even after reading many of the other articles on the site.
I only did a bit of redrafting of a novella I have been working on, so close to the end. Hopefully next week I will be reporting that I have completed the second draft, edited it and sent it off to be critiqued. I also hope to have finished reading the remaining two novellas nominated for the Hugo awards. They have all been darn big novellas - averaging about 100 pages.
Monday, July 5, 2010
We're halfway through the year and there is no way that I am going to check my 2010 writing goals because I know I ain't even close to achieving them. I think I planned to have finished editing the novel I was working on by now, but I been sidetracked by other writing activities and life experiences.
Last week I spent a bit of time researching and writing an article on the benefits of ebooks for the disabled. Like the first article I wrote, it was too long. I added few anecdotes back into an article on dementia because I wanted it to sound more personal and it too is now about 600 words. I will probably spend hours this week deleted this word and rewriting that sentence to get them close to 500 words.
I did a bit of redrafting of a novella. I am on the second last scene and I have rewritten it a few times now. I changed the occupation of the main character to something less cliched for a sci-fi thriller - he was originally a cop - and I haven't be able to quite make the scene work yet.
You may have noticed the newish marketing trend of video trailers for books. I've looked at a few of them on YouTube and they haven't convinced me to buy the book. An article in The Age said that publishers are picking and choosing which books they make trailers for, they reckon crime and romance are most suited, but are unsure if any sales are generated by trailers.
Advertisers say that a consumer needs to see an ad (trailer) a few times before it has any effect, but who is going to watch a few stills with a voice over more than once? Maybe it will/does work in some cases, but whatever the success you can be sure that there will be plenty of people trying to make money off desperate authors by selling them the idea of the necessity of book trailers.
I have to ask: is YouTube potentially that great a market? Do people who watch it read books? If they read, do they read sci-fi? Perhaps ibooks is already sending book trailers recommendations to ipads. I also wonder how many university creative writing courses already offer a trailer making subject.
The problem in the online world is that there are too many opinion leading websites and blogs, thousands of them, so even if you convince one website or blog that your book is great, the potential sales aren't probably going to increase by all that much. The market is too fractured and gets more so every day. Publishers like new writers to have a following on the web, but where? Twitter has been singled out in the press and by writers who have tried to twitter themselves to success as pretty well useless. The vast majority of people who befriend a writer on twitter are not going to buy their fiction novel. Is it any different with Facebook? Myspace seems lost to music, although I did buy Matt Browne's great novel The Future Happens Twice after he befriended me.
Last week I was kept entertained with the posts on my writing groups site with a bit of flaming of the Australian publishing industry going on. An Aussie publisher wouldn't make it out of a room full of rejected authors. I actually critiqued a story last week, and I should finish reading the rest of the novellas nominated for the Hugo this week.
Like the previous week, last week I felt like a writer.