Lexifabricographer

September 1, 2014

Sydney Book Expo – Personal observations

I spent the weekend working the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild table at the inaugural Sydney Book Expo, held at the Olympic Park over 30-31 August 2014. I imagine that CSFG will be asked to provide feedback to the organisers or, if not solicited, may decide to provide some anyway. So I want to make it clear that these are my personal thoughts and don’t represent the views or the official position of the club. I’m also not linking directly back to the Expo website, because this isn’t intended as constructive criticism.

Basically, it wasn’t very good. Allow me to expand on that a little.

Venue

The venue was fine, I guess. The expo was held in one of the exhibition halls in the Olympic Park that was probably built to stage the rhythmic gymnastics or something. There was plenty of space for exhibitors and punters to walk around – too much, to tell the truth, but I’ll get to that. Our CSFG table was slightly on the cramped side, in that we bought in at the minimum level (we didn’t need any more than that) and so had a table, some backing display boards, a power point and a couple of chairs. There was no way to cram in three people behind the table, though, so at any given time one of us was always roaming.

The downside of the venue was that there was almost no food to be had, other than a single coffee stand and a single mini-cafe selling sandwiches, soups and toasties. If none of that rocked your boat, the options outside the pavilion were vanishingly slim. On the first day I got a pie from the skateboard park nearby (edible); on the second day I went to a nearby park when a fun run was finishing and bought a steak sandwich from a cart there (barely edible). Other than that it was coffee and coke.

The venue was also hot when the sun got on it in the afternoons. That would be consistent with the pavilions being great big aluminium boxes that heat up in direct sunlight.

Offerings

It’s a bit hard to tell exactly what the theme of the Expo was. There were no big publishers in attendance, so the biggest displays were from booktopia.com.au, your bookshop (both online bookstores) and King’s Comics (a comic shop). Those three were clearly the major sponsors of the show, with the largest displays closest to the front doors. Virtually everyone else was a small press publisher – like Satalyte Publishing and our close colleagues from Peggy Bright Books – or a self-published author. I guess there were about forty or fifty vendors all up, maybe?

There were some entertainments of various sorts, starting with the usual author readings and panel discussions on various literary topics of the sort that might interest authors and conceivably also normal people. There were puppeteers, cartoonists and some board games for the kids. There was a guitarist who was selling her CD bundled with a comic and whose set list included about eight light-hearted geek-friendly folk/pop songs. She played all weekend, set after set after set. . And there was a medieval sword-fighting display, complete with costumes and pretty decently choreographed swordplay. I’ve certainly committed worse acts of public martial arts, so more power to them for staying committed all weekend.

There was no discernible pattern to which exhibitors went where – our neighbour on one side was selling a children’s book she’d written about not being afraid of huntsman spiders, and on the other side was an author selling heavily-researched biographies of NSW Governors Arthur Phillip and Charles FitzRoy. Directly across from us was a woman selling her wildlife photography series for kids. Elsewhere were books on alternate histories, mythic romantic fantasies, journeys of discovery, Aussie yarns, crackpot spiritual conspiracy theories and self-help books for self-publishing, sexual health and child behaviour. All reasonably interesting in one way or another, but the word ‘eclectic’ doesn’t begin to cover it. The question we all kept asking each other was, who is the audience for this expo?

Punters

The answer to that question appears to be a resounding “nobody”. Far from a crowd of “up to ten thousand” passing through the figurative turnstiles, we boredly estimated that maybe three or four hundred people came in on the first day. It could have been as few as 250. The second day’s numbers were definitely down on that. If there was any point over the weekend at which there were more punters than exhibitors in the hall, it was a fleetingly brief moment late on the first morning.

We had not much to do. We chatted with maybe forty customers all weekend, and sold stuff to maybe ten. We weren’t expecting to make huge sales or shift a lot of stock, but that was well below even the most pessimistic estimates. At that rate we’d have needed three times as many people (i.e. less than a third of advertised estimates) to show up just to cover our costs.

As it was we did a lot of sitting around chatting to the neighbours, who also had very little to do. I had plenty of time to wander off with my notebook to work on a short story. *Plenty* of time. The other two guys working the stall with me just went off to do stuff with friends during the day, and I can scarcely blame them. If I’d known what it was going to be like I’d have arranged something social for myself as well.

Positives

Personally, I did get a fair amount of writing done, so I don’t consider the time to have been wasted (my family, abandoned for the entire weekend, may have a contrary view they wish to express). And of course I stayed with my dear friends Andrew and Von, and got to spend time with them and their delightful little girls on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Not only that, I saw a few familiar faces – Alan Baxter and Jo Anderton were there as featured authors. It was a delightful surprise to see Jon Blum and Kate Orman out and about, and to get an all-too-brief chance to catch up. I guess for me the Book Expo it was a bit like a geek con, where you have a series of brief reconnections with people you don’t otherwise get to see, but without most of the other fun parts like boozy parties, elaborate costumes or celebratory backslapping.

Conclusions

I’m tired now. And the CSFG still has plenty of stock of its anthologies, if anyone is interested in purchasing some fine Australian speculative short fiction… Hurry now, while stocks (continue to) last.

July 3, 2014

Periodic reminder that I yet live

I should be writing. This is my free time and I should be using it productively, because otherwise I won’t feel productive. Because all I managed to get to today was a job interview, a business lunch, a school presentation by six year old kids on ecological conservation, a stack of tax forms, a month’s worth of tax reconciliations and two loads of washing.

I don’t know if I’m doing this “time away from the workforce” thing right.

Speaking of which, a status update if anyone wants it – I’ve started properly looking for work now. Nothing so far. But quite a few more employment consultants (aka job pimps) now know my name. They all seem nice.

Anyway, I also managed to sock away twenty minutes to scrawl some notes for a short story which I’ll probably start writing in a few minutes, not that I’m warming up to the task. (Thanks for hanging around while I worked through this nonsense).

Here’s some things going on around the interwebs, just so you don’t feel like you’ve completely wasted your time by clicking on a link:

Apex Magazine has a poem by Rose Lemberg that sat just right with me. I don’t know much about poetry but…

Tansy Rayner Roberts is doing a science fictionalised retelling of The Three Musketeers (in Space!)  and it is fabulous. I am currently foreswearing all forms of crowd funding during my hopefully-temporary period of careerlessness, but Musketeer Space is on my to-patronise list when I feel free to spend money again. I heartily recommend this project to everyone – it’s just plain fun, and Tansy’s take on the Dumas classic doesn’t suffer from gratuitous padding in the way that the original paid-by-the-installment serial might have occasionally fallen prey to.

Another podcast that has assumed the loftiest status in my playlist, namely “play it the second it downloads” is the terrific Rachel and Miles Xplain the Xmen. It’s exactly what it sounds like – two highly engaging and cheerfully sarcastic X-fans attempt to clarify nearly fifty years of ridiculously convoluted X-men comics history in small, digestible chunks. All the temporary deaths. All the retroactive continuity. All the fashions (oh, the fashions). All the inexplicable love for Scott Summers and highly explicable love for Katherine Pryde. My favourite bit is their opening schtick where they briefly summarise some character’s ludicrous history, honing in with surgical precision on the exact moment the character jumps the shark :)  If you have any love for the X-Men, but like me and probably everyone else you’ve ever met would not have the slightest idea where to begin to understand their freakishly complex back story – or if you just like listening to people enthusing about something they love while still finding positive ways to engage with its most stupid and problematic elements – then I really can’t push you any more forcefully towards this show. But if you need encouragement, they recently interviewed one of my personal comics gods, Greg Rucka, about his current series about the young version of Cyclops having space adventures with his absentee father Corsair, who is an intergalactic pirate. COMICS ARE SO GOOD YOU GUYS!

And just while I’m on the subject of podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale just broadcast its two-part second anniversary story (a recording of a live show with a small army of guests stars, so slightly off-format from the usual). It’s really good, is all I wanted to say. I still love it to bits. I don’t really drink liquor, but if anyone wants to get me one of these “If You See Something, Say Nothing and Drink to Forget” hip flasks, know that I will love it and you unconditionally. (Don’t though – shipping is probably a killer).

And now I think I’ll go to bed, because my to-be-read pile is teetering on the brink of instability, and that’s before I even think about the fifty-odd unread titles on my kindle.

Next time, I promise to write something that’s actually about something.

 

May 21, 2014

Every Bond Theme Ever

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

Prompted by a series of random Twitter comments from Chris Sims of the War Rocket Ajax podcast, and a lack of anything better to do of a Wednesday afternoon at my dead-man-walking job, I decided to rank the theme songs from every James Bond film (except the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) in objective, indisputable order. You’re welcome.

(I give all due credit to Sims and his podcast partner Matt D. Wilson, who are conducting a year-long project to rank superhero comic stories, which is a lot harder than this has been)

I will take questions in the comments section.

 

Every Bond Theme Ever

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Instrumental (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die)

A View to a Kill – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill)

You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)

You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice)

Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever)

The World is Not Enough – Garbage (The World is Not Enough)

Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)

GoldenEye – Tina Turner (Goldeneye)

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall)

All Time High – Rita Coolidge (Octopussy)

Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Surrender – k.d. lang (Tomorrow Never Dies)

From Russian With Love – Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love)

The Living Daylights – A-ha (The Living Daylights)

For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only)

Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (Moonraker)

We Have All the Time in the World – Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

The Man With the Golden Gun – Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Thunderball – Tom Jones (Thunderball)

Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies)

Underneath The Mango Tree – Diana Coupland/Monty Norman (Doctor No)

Licence to Kill – Gladys Knight (Licence to Kill)

Another Way to Die – Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace)

Die Another Day – Madonna (Die Another Day)

 

Not ranked:

James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (All of them) – disqualified on grounds of ubiquity and essentiality

If There Was a Man – Chrissie Hynde (The Living Daylights) – unranked because I just cannot remember it at all, but if it’s Chrissie Hynde then it will for sure be at or near the top ten mark.

February 6, 2014

Update: The Barossa, Shakespeare and writing

It’s another day at work with nothing to do while my job and I continue to be ground to a fine powder by the Machinery of Government arrangements. I’ve stood in front of glaciers that get along at a quicker clip than these bloody processes. So apologies to any Australian taxpayers out there, but this one’s on your dollar.

Fiona and I spend the Invasion Day long weekend in the Barossa Valley, north of Adelaide, touring about the vineyards and generally ignoring the rest of the world unless it pertained to a small selection of sporting events. As a side note, the Tour Down Under is quite the popular topic in South Australia around this time of the year. Luckily we arrived the day after the race had moved on from the Barossa itself.

The Barossa, it turns out, wasn’t particulary our favourite wine district to visit – that was probably the Margaret River in Western australia, although bits of New Zealand and Tasmania give it a run for its money. In fairness to the Barossa though, we were visiting just after one heatwave and just before another one, in the middle of one of the hottest summers anyone there can remember. So it was looking a bit dry and sorry for itself – excluding all the rich, well-watered grape vines, of course.

It did turn out, no surpise, that the Barossa is a good place to pick up some quality plonk though. Shiraz is the local speciality, with rieslings popular in the nearby Eden Valley. All very good, but we also picked up some excellent roses and…why am I even telling you this? If you come over to my place we can drink some. Otherwise I don’t have the wine vocabulary to describe what we drank, and if you wanted to read about wine you’d go and get James Halliday’s latest, probably.

(Actually if you do want to read about wine I can recommend The Wine Wankers blog, which is not at all up itself and has meta-tags like “humorous wine images” and “horse piss”)

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing The Essential Theatre Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Seppeltsfield Winery. It’s a very entertaining interpretation of one of the more fun Shakespeare plays, especially over a few glasses of red. They’re touring about the country (to vineyards, chiefly) for the next few months – check the itinerary and if you happen to be in their vicinity I can highly recommend it. Their Puck alone is worth the price of admission (as should always be the case with Midsummer…). Oh, if you’re in the Canberra region they will be at Flint in the Vines at Shaw Estate this coming weekend (Saturday 8 February) – you probably just about have time to get tickets!

On the writing front, I am closing in on my target of completing my novel manuscript by the end of February as planned. My writing streak of 400+ words is at 35 unbroken days now, and I’m averaging about 520 words a day. When I’m done, I am going to have to return to the drawing board again and review the structure of the novel – the start is too slow, the plot spends a lot of time up some blind alleys and too much of the action is delayed until late in the book. But the meat is there, so all I need to do is trim fat and rearrange some of the bones. Whether that results in fatal trauma to the story remains to be seen.

Yesterday I slapped another couple of scenes onto the short story I’m working on, which means that I think it’s done. I’ll put it away and work on something else for a week or so, then dig it out and see whether it still flows as it’s meant to. If I’m happy then, off it goes for submission somewhere.

In the meantime I’m working on a short story for this excellent little project – Unfettered by Tiny Owl Workshop – which will be an anthology of short stories inspired by a collection of beautiful, quirky illustrations by Terry Whidborne. Some lovely stuff there, and I am trying to work up a concept for each illustration before I decide which one I’ll write (I may write more than one).

And last of all, I’ve received notice that my first short story (or rather, the first one I ever submitted for publication anywhere, which spent some 14 months looking for a publisher) will be going to contract in the next week or so. So I might actually be able to use this blog to Announce a Thing! Not yet, but soon, maybe!

December 1, 2013

TMoRP Day 23 – The Day of the Doctor

Before

I have, no kidding, been waiting all my adult life for last weekend. Waiting for the 23rd of November 2013. Fifty years after the broadcast of ‘An Unearthly Child’, the first episode of Doctor Who. Roughly thirty-six years after I first saw an episode while sleeping over at a neighbour’s house where Episode 1 of ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ was playing. And something like 34 years since cliffhanger at the end of the first episode of ‘Terror of the Zygons’ so comprehensively scared the hell out of me that I wasn’t allowed to watch Doctor Who again for a year or so. Man, that stuff gets under your skin.

For most of that time, ever since 1989 when the show was cancelled amid plummeting ratings and daring experimentation, I expected that the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary would be marked somehow, probably with a slew of cash-in coffee table books and maybe a retrospective documentary with some of the show’s past stars and production staff. I quietly hoped Tom Baker would still be around to gleefully expound on his glory days.

For a while it looked like that’s all it would be. The 30th anniversary was marked with the release of the nigh-unwatchable special “Dimensions in Time”, which brings back several stars including Jon Pertwee and Liz Sladen, but also several characters from Eastenders (on whose set it was filmed, cheaply). I’m going to be honest, it was so awful and so laden with mid-nineties British pop culture references that I’ve always found it unfathomable. I’m pretty sure Ive never been able to sit through it all the way to the end.

The 35th anniversary was a little better. By 1998 the movie starring Paul McGann had come and gone and all hope was now lost that the Doctor would ever be back on the telly. So be it. We few dwindling fans still had the books to enjoy, and if the BBC Books-produced Eighth Doctor Adventures were never quite as compelling as the Virgin Books-produced New Adventures, there were still a few good ones amongst the range. One of them was Lance Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors, a book steeped in the rich continuity of Doctor Who without ever pretending to be part of continuity.  I loved reading the book, but I came nowhere near close to getting all the references. Maybe you should just read the Wikipedia explanation.

Of course, a few months before the 40th anniversary in 2003, we got ‘The Scream of the Shalka’, an animated webcast starring Richard E Grant as the Ninth Doctor. It was okay but not great, if we’re honest, but that didn’t matter because Shalka represented a brave new frontier of cheaply-made broadcast Doctor Who. At last we’d have new Who on our screens again, even if we had to painfully download each episode over slow dial-up in order to watch it on our tiny post-millenial computer monitors. That version of the future lasted all of a few weeks before the revelation, four weeks before the anniversary, that Who was coming back to broadcast television in 2005. And that Christopher-frickin’-Eccleston was gonna be in it.

Sorry, Richard E, but whatevs dude. We got Eccleston.

And all of a sudden the 50th anniversary was not only in sight, but hell, it might even get a real story. I was pretty chuffed. I wasn’t especially engaged with fandom at the time, but I’m guessing the sense of anticipation has been rising to hysterical levels in the meantime.

Approaching

What I didn’t expect was that the whole damned world would suddenly catch up to me and what I (naively) imagined was a relatively small pocket of geek fandom. Doctor Who got big. Bigger than its heydays of the Dalek-obsessed Hartnell sixties or the mad-about-Baker mid-seventies? I don’t know and can’t be arsed looking up viewing figures for the sake of a personal anecdote, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the show is currently more popular than it has ever been. It’s almost certainly generating more money than ever.

So all of a sudden we go from me and a few friends in our quiet little bubble occasionally glancing at a clock counting down to the 23rd of November, to every freaking news show in the English-speaking world (including maybe even a few in America!) joining in at the end of the countdown like a drunken New Year’s Eve crowd in Times Square suddenly catching on that something is happening on the monitors.

It’s a pretty far cry from the late 80′s when, if you mentioned to someone that your favourite show was Doctor Who, you’d be asked “Oh, is that still on?” (Until it wasn’t, obviously). Then you would cry a little inside, because Sylvester McCoy’s last two seasons were really damned good, especially if you ignore the existence of ‘Silver Nemesis’.

Personally though, the other thing I didn’t anticipate was falling sick – or rather discovering that I’d fallen sick a long time ago. Instead of having an ever-tightening sense of anticipation and excitement, I was just too damned tired to get that worked up about the anniversary. Instead of engaging on a year-long blogging project talking about my love for the show, I couldn’t even muster the energy to watch new episodes more than once. (Happily there were more than enough excellent anniversary-themed blogging projects going around, so the absence of my contribution is hardly a critical hole in the conversation).

Instead of finding a way to celebrate for an entire year, I got tired and went to bed early. I can still feel the judgmental glare of my younger self, who probably thought some themed viewing parties and perhaps a little cosplay was in order. Stow it, young ‘un. Grumpy old future-self is taking a nap.

But as the date drew nearer (and I started treatment on my protracted sleep deprivation) I started feeling that old buzz again. The excitement of new Who. The sense that something big was going to happen. The expectation that the BBC and Steven Moffat would pull out all the stops to deliver a major event.

The teasers – or spoilers if you prefer – started leaking out. The anniversary story would feature the return of an old monster. It would be a multiple-Doctor story. Gallifrey would feature somehow. There would be time travel shenanigans. Daleks? Yes, probably Daleks!

And then came the end of Season 7B, and the sheer WTF ending of “The Name of the Doctor”. There was a regeneration we never knew about, the version of the Doctor who fought in the Time War and killed all the Time Lords (except one or two) and all of the Daleks (except for one or two million) and destroyed Gallifrey. The one who endured the trauma that left Eccleston’s Doctor with PTSD. The one who did something so profoundly un-Doctorish that he’s been in denial about it ever since.

Okay. That was a pretty compelling setup. I was onboard.

During

(Spoilers from here on in)

When it came, the anniversary was an embarrassment of riches. I’m hard-pressed to tell you which bit I loved the most.

Mini-episode: First there was the last little teaser mini-episode, ‘The Night of the Doctor’. Paul McGann *finally* got to reprise his portrayal of the Doctor onscreen, and it was short but perfectly formed. I was just transported with glee to see him back in the part. The highlight for me was his salutatory recitation to his departed companions from the Big Finish audio plays. Hilariously the list ignored the ones from the BBC’s own line of books, although I felt a bit bad for the long-suffering Fitz Kreiner, who I thought deserved a shout-out. Don’t worry Fitz, you’re still part of my head-canon. Also, it was nice that they brought back the bonkers not-even-pretending-to-be-scientific mysticism of the Sisterhood of Karn. McGann’s performance was an intense distillation of nearly ten years of playing the part in audio plays. He turned a good script into a goddamn tour de force. In six minutes, ‘The Night of the Doctor’ underscored what a damned shame it was that we never got to see the McGann Doctor (even if a series in the vein of the 1996 movie would probably have been terrible)

(Also: “Will it hurt?” Yeah, I sort of sob-laughed at that).

Anniversary: It was big. It was an event. It starred three Doctors at once and jammed all the rest in at the sides. It dropped a nuclear retcon right in the heart of the new series. It was a transformative event that nudges the show in a new direction without fundamentally altering its premise. It was sentimental, yes, but at least the sentiment this time around was redemptive optimism.

It pretty much did what an anniversary show should do. It celebrated the past and reinvigorated the future. In no small part, it did the latter by being simulcast worldwide, drawing an almost-unprecedented audience for any form of television, let alone a piece of children’s drama. (And let’s all be thankful they didn’t take the opportunity to do a callback to the Archangel Network from the climax of ‘The Last of the Time Lords’.)

I have minor complaints, of course (I wouldn’t be a Doctor Who fan if I didn’t). The sight of the airlifted TARDIS being choppered over London was a piece of pointless, bewildering spectacle that somewhat over-egged what was already a pretty rich pudding. Most of the scenes with Elizabeth I were more stupid than they were wacky, and disappointingly sexist in a story that did better with its other female characters. I disagree with the premise going around that they did fundamental damage to the character of the Tennant Doctor, but a lot of people invested in his performance disliked those scenes intensely, and I can’t much argue the point.

(Except to say – ZYGONS! Fuckin’ boo-yah!)

I also don’t really know what to make of the appearance of Tom Baker, but I have also concluded that I don’t care much. It was in there because he was one of the most beloved parts of a long-running television series, not because it made particular story sense. (And frankly, even though I can’t quite make sense of it, him turning up as either an implausibly well-informed curator or a future incarnation of the Doctor living out his retirement on one of his old bodies is no more nonsensical than the continuity errors in ‘The Five Doctors’ or any part of the plot of ‘The Three Doctors’).

Docudrama: And then came the surprise highlight of the anniversary, An Adventure in Space and Time, the dramatisation of the making of the original series in 1963. Going into this I had some mixed feelings – the actors playing Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and William Hartnell are all dead ringers for their counterparts. The teaser shots of David Bradley as Hartnell in particular looked scarily good. On the other hand it was written by Mark Gatiss, one of the modern Doctor Who writers of whose work I’m not especially fond. So I was expecting it to be an interesting look back at British television production in the 1960′s, and not much more than that.

Instead, it was a heartwarming and touching drama about bravery and the inevitability of change. For his faults, Gatiss’ nostalgia-steeped perspective on Doctor Who served him well here. The historical touchstones of the show – Daleks crossing the Thames in a deserted London, the extras walking about in the ridiculous butterfly-man Menoptera costumes – never overwhelmed the intersecting stories of Lambert’s rise to confidence and success and Hartnell’s arrogance softening as his health begins to decline.

Purists might decry the absurd moment toward the end when a confused Hartnell, almost too overcome by emotion and ill health to record his final scene, looks across the TARDIS console to see Matt Smith smiling encouragingly at him. It was a blatant vote of thanks to the man who started it all from a lifelong fan (Gatiss and probably everyone else involved with the production). I don’t know what Hartnell would have made of the fact that his program would go on to survive him (and two of his successors for that matter) but it’s easy to imagine he’d be pleased.

Hell, I hope that Doctor Who outlives me too. I never want to see the last episode again.

Coda: It wasn’t an official part of the anniversary, not exactly, but Peter Davison’s hilarious fly-on-the-wall faux-documentary The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot was a delightful bonus. Davison (aka the Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker (the Sixth) and Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh) are all awaiting for a call from Steven Moffat to invite them to be in the 50th anniversary episode. When the invitation is not forthcoming, they take matters into their own hands. Clearly made with love for the new show from the stalwarts of its past, it’s wry and hilarious, with a gratuitous host of cameos by Doctor Who luminaries all too willing to take the piss out of themselves. John Barrowman’s bit is especially amusing and there are several surprise appearances that top even that. It’s well worth a look, especially if the anniversary episode itself was not to your tastes.

Afterward

It’s taken me a week to get through this entry, which is pretty indicative of the energy I have for writing at the moment. Things are weird at work, I am contemplating a new career and meanwhile the recovery of my lost sleep remains a slow business. I think I’m going to have to call time on the Month of Relentless Positivity, seeing as I wasn’t even able to hit my mark in two months (and that’s why NaNoWriMo has not appeared anywhere on my radar this year. Next year I might plan ahead and do NaNo, but probably not in November).

But at least I have Doctor Who to keep me sane. Roll on, Christmas special. Let’s see what you’ve got for us.

 

November 15, 2013

TMoRP Day 18 – The [Spoiler] of the [Spoiler] Mini-Episode

Filed under: geekery,the month of relentless positivity — Tags: , — lexifab @ 12:56 pm

(No Spoilers follow)

In less than 10 days, the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who will be broadcast around the universe (some areas will be on delayed transmission, obviously. Sorry, viewers on Saturn). As is their wont with the massive over-promotion of television events that basically everyone who cares would have watched anyway, the BBC have produced a six-minute mini-episode introducing the main movie-length special.

You can watch it on Youtube here.

WARNING: It spoils the living shit out of a surprise part of the anniversary episode that they managed to keep completely under wraps all year. At least, I wasn’t aware of it and I have been paying at least some attention. I’m guessing that nobody else knew either.

So, if you are cheerfully oblivious about what the anniversary episode is about, or you don’t want to know any more than you already do about what’s going on in the story, maybe just save that link and come back in a couple of weeks.

I couldn’t resist, figuring (correctly) that since a couple of people in my Twitter feed gave it away anyway, I might as well check it out. It is glorious, wonderful geekbait, hearkening back with unabashed love for what’s come before and what comes next. It was penned by Steven Moffat, doing exactly the sort of thing that he does well.

Not that I have much fear of there being a long discussion thread about this, but please don’t spoil either the mini-episode or the details of the anniversary in the comments. Save it for the day of broadcast (Sunday 24th) when I will for once know precisely what the topic of my TMoRP post will be.

August 6, 2013

You had one job to do

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,property magnatism — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 2:57 pm

This is the 600th post on this iteration of Lexifabricographer [1]. For reasons I am not well equipped to examine at the moment, I have had this idea that I should mark the occasion with a special post. Yes, despite the fact that this could not possibly be a more meaningless milestone. All week I’ve been trying to think of a suitably worthy discussion topic. Each time I’ve failed, then gone off and found something else to do.

Obviously, what I should be doing is a classic Lexifab post of context-free observations and underdeveloped comments about two or three unrelated topics that occur to me as I type them. because everyone loves those, don’t they?

(Well, they might, but until I do a few and then examine the new analytical tools, how will I know?)

The Next of the Doctors

So they announced that <spoiler>Peter Capaldi</spoiler> will be taking the part of the twelfth-or-thirteenth Doctor when Matt Smith departs at the end of the year. So, the Doctor will continue to be a white bloke for the next three to five years. Once again my desperately unrealistic hopes of a Helen Mirren, Chiwetel Ejiofor or Sophie Okenedo Doctor will have to be shelved, as such hopes ever are. I find that this time around I am too tired of making the argument for a female Doctor, much less the surely-not-all-that-controversial possibility of casting a non-white actor, to even bother engaging in the discussion much.

That said, I like Peter Capaldi very much as an actor and I am sure he will be just as marvellous in the role as everyone else who ever got the job. He has an expressive face with the capacity to do both “angry” and “concerned” and his comic timing appears sound. What’s of more interest – and I have to say concern – is whether the hyper-fluid, breathless and often incoherent storytelling that has marked the Moffatt era so far, will continue after Matt Smith’s departure. That style of drama has its positive points but seems to favour being clever over being smart a little too often for my tastes. [2]

If it were me – and let us be honest it never will or should be me in charge of Doctor Who – I’d take the opportunity of casting a slightly less spritely-appearing actor (Capaldi is 55, which is OMG as old as William Hartnell was when he took the role) to extend the metaphor into the meta a bit. I think it would make a nice change to enjoy a period of slightly less rushed and deliberately confusing storytelling, where the exploration of character has a bit of space to happen naturally in amongst the exploding space-skyscrapers and timey-wimey shenanigans.

LISTEN TO ME I SOUND LIKE A CRANKY OLD MAN GET OFF MY TIME-LAWN YOU DANGED KIDS WITH YOUR HOVER-MOTORBIKES AND YOUR SPARKLY TIME-STREAMS

Deadlines whoosh by

I still haven’t finished my novel manuscript. July was almost a complete washout, thanks to sleepiness and, I’ll be honest, a solid spoonful of disenchantment with both the story and my ability to tell it. In the last week or so some of the wind has returned to my sails and the manuscript-so-far, while undoubtedly riddled with structural defects and rookie errors, doesn’t look all that bad. I’ll put a fair chunk of the blame on the tiredness for that one.

My novel critiquing group is owed a finished manuscript in eight days. They’re not going to get one. Even if I took the next week off work I doubt I could get to the finish line on that one. Lucky for me, they’ve all been extraordinarily patient and have generously agreed to read whatever I have done at that point. It would have been good to be able to hand over something with THE END typed on the last page. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it (and sometime soon I’ll need to take a much closer look at everything from my approach to outlining, my writing session discipline and the reasonableness of my self-expectations to see where improvements can be made in future).

But the crit group have been ruthless in their dissection of each others’ work over the course of this year. Weak characters, inconsistent settings and rambling plots have been unearthed in even the most polished of manuscripts. (Not by me, I might add – I fear I was among the softer, less helpful critics in the group. Most of the time I couldn’t spot an error in plot logic even if you explained it slowly with flowcharts). They are going to have a field day with mine – but the crucial part is that they will probably identify problems that I don’t already know about. And they might very well come up with ideas that are better than mine.

So I have one week to go through what I’ve written so far and at least fix all the typos so they don’t have to deal with those…

Tax time

Back in real life, however, what I have to spend the rest of this week and probably some part of the weekend doing is getting my tax documents and spreadsheets together. While we have highly paid accountants to work out the intricate tax details of our investment property empire (such as it is), we can’t really afford to just throw all our receipts at them and let them do all the work. Which means that around this time every year I have to pull together a ten-page spreadsheet of itemised income and expenditure statements, together with the usual huge bundles of invoices, bank statements and income summaries.

So far the only fun thing about preparing this  year’s spreadsheet has been adding a line item in my income statement for income from writing. First step on the long and probably neverending journey to a professional career in writing! If nothing else, it gives me a target to aim at for next year.

 

 

[1] The previous iteration still exists, mostly unlinked-to, like a confused and irritable ghost meandering about the halls of an orange-hued gothic manor. Do not attempt to engage it, for its ill-focused ennui is both parasitic and contagious, a bit like all the comment spam that has nestled in it for warmth and nutrients.

[2] That said, I found more to like than dislike in the eight stories of Season 7B than in any previous stretch of the Twelfth Doctor run, even though those very qualities have been wound up to Ramming Speed.

May 5, 2013

Conflux Roundup – A swirl of vague impressions

Filed under: geekery,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:03 am

A week on from the end of Conflux, I still don’t have it all straight in my head. It was an overwhelming experience. On the one hand, that’s ridiculous – it was a gathering of about two or three hundred people, confined to a single building across about six rooms and a couple of eating areas, which is not exactly the World Economic Forum in Davos.

On the other hand, I wanted to do everything, be everywhere and talk to everyone. The sheer impossibility of those mathematics, the number of hard choices and the opportunities regrettably foresworn all did my head in. I do have a few regrets – mostly around people I was a bit too shy and starstruck to introduce myself to, even though intellectually I know it would have been fine and not the rude intrusion that it seemed like in my head – but overall I had an amazing time.

Conflux has a well-earned reputation for being a writers’ con. Nearly all the panels are geared towards the art, craft, business and/or love of writing speculative fiction and editors, agents and publishers have a strong presence alongside the creative types. There was a great sense of energy and of a vibrant, welcoming community that wanted nothing more than to sit down and talk about writing. I had a wonderful time with it.

Discussion panels made up most of the program – I would have attended a dozen or so over the course of the weekend. There were three in particular that I loved: the Horror one late on the first night, moderated by Kirstyn McDermott and featuring a cast of horror fiction luminaries, in which sparkle vampires were roundly denounced and the film versions of The Mist and The Road were compared and contrasted to great effect. Then there was the so-called smackdown between small-press and mainstream publishers, in which Russell Farr of Ticonderoga, Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot and agent Alex Adsett were all largely in furious agreement that the Big Six (or Five, now) publishing houses are on the brink of apocalypse (it was more interesting and erudite than I make it sound, of course). And finally there was the panel exploring the Essence of Steampunk, which concluded that steampunk is largely comprised of everything that seems like it might be steampunk – but it got there by a fun and somewhat digressive route.

One of the great parts of the con for me was the number of people who had opportunities to pitch novels to publishers and agents. As is no doubt often the case with these things, heaps of people had manuscripts to flog and the program allocated five-minute slots with industry professionals. On top of that, the program included workshops on preparing pitches and dealing with agents and publishers. All good stuff for those in a position to take advantage of it. (My manuscript is nowhere near that state).

The international guests of honour were terrific. Marc Gascoigne, managing director of Angry Robot Press, was the main drawcard for me (not that I needed one, you understand, I was going anyway). Angry Robot one of the hottest and most interesting international spec fiction publishers on the planet right now. But more important to me, Gascoigne was an early writer on Shadowrun game books and tie-in novels way back in the late eighties. I would like to have had the chance to chat with him about that. Alas, the opportunity didn’t come up (or at least if it did I missed it). And I didn’t know anything at all about the other intentional GoH, Nalo Hopkinson, a Caribbean-born American writer. But after seeing her interviewed by Justine Larbalestier, I want to read more from both of them. They were such fun, engaging speakers. Hopkinson came to her writing career comparitively late in life, which I found encouraging. I’m definitely including their stuff in my next Amazon and/or library trawl.

(Oh dear, this is starting to get longer than I intended, and I still didn’t mention the Masquerade or the Regency ball or the Steampunk-themed high tea. That’s because I didn’t actually go to any of them, but I was rather pleased that things like that were there for people who like that sort of thing.)

If I hadn’t been at least a vaguely responsible parent, I’d probably have done what most of the interstate con attendees did, which was to stay up all night nattering in bars and getting roaring drunk in room parties. I suspect that’s where all the most interesting conversations were taking place.

Not being an experienced con-goer I wouldn’t know. Tell you what though, if all Australian speculation fiction cons are as wonderful, as informative and as much fun as Conflux 9, then I have every intention of making a habit of this con-going thing.

October 31, 2012

MRP Day 30 – New Star Wars (A cautious woohoo!)

Filed under: geekery,news of the day,the month of relentless positivity — lexifab @ 11:19 am

Twitter is alive this morning with the horrific groans of an internet-stopping nerdgasm [1] with the news that Disney has paid something like four billion bucks to prise the mouldering corpses of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises out of George Lucas’ gold-plated fingers.

Despite the prequel trilogy – about which I will say nothing because this is the Month of Relentless Positivity and I have almost nothing positive to say about them – I am still more or less a Star Wars fan, in theory if not in practise. Back when bubble gum cards were a thing, I remember my brothers and I collecting the first Topps The Empire Strikes Back series with passionate intensity. I think between us we managed to complete one set, but we must have had about thirty of that one card showing Luke in the bacta tank. Star Wars was never my top fandom (that would be Doctor Who) and over the years it has slipped below Star Trek (or at least some of Star Trek), Babylon 5  and other mass-culture fictional universes in terms of my enthusiasm.

That said, there are obviously good stories that can be told in the setting – The Knights of the Old Republic games are great (well, I didn’t play the MMO, but I heard good things about the storylines), and I’ve enjoyed the few episodes of the Clone Wars animated series that I’ve watched, even though it focuses on characters from the prequels. I have been waiting with cautious optimism for the live action television series that has been in production for the past couple of years [2].

I’m primed, in other words, for there to be new Star Wars – as long as it’s good. And as John Scalzi points out, putting the setting into the hands of the rapacious Disney entertainment megaglomerate might not seem like a great fit for creative freedom, but both Pixar and Marvel have gone from strength to strength since being added to the Empire of the Mouse.

So I’m hopeful we can look forward to the usual cutting-edge visual design that has always been a hallmark of the Star Wars movies (even the prequels) being placed in the service of good storytelling (which was only ever a hallmark of Empire, and arguably Star Wars [3]). At the very least, I hope they will make films that I would be happy to show to my kids before they are teenagers, unlike the prequels. We will see soon enough though. The first new movie – Episode 7, apparently – is scheduled for release in 2015, with two more sequels by the end of the decade.

Then again, perhaps more interesting is that the Disney-Lucas deal includes the LucasArts games properties, which means in theory we might also one day see Monkey Island or Grim Fandango up on the big screen. And that would be hot.

 

[1] Which unfortunately is drowning out coverage of the post-hurricane recovery on the US east cost and basically everything else that might be happening somewhere on Earth.

[2] Come to think of it, I haven’t heard anything about that for a while. Wonder if this development will kill that project stone dead?

[3] Nobody actually calls it A New Hope, right?

May 30, 2012

Wednesdays are linkspam days

Filed under: geekery,the interweb she provides,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

I’m halfway through a bunch of things and coming up on my self-imposed deadline to finish things. So instead of starting something new to post up here, I’m just going to flag a bunch of things that caught my interest when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else.

Recently Neil Gaiman did a speech to the 2012 graduating class from University of the Arts in Philly about living a life in the creative arts. It’s wonderful. But at 15 minutes it is rather too long for my internet-atrophied attention span to follow [1], so instead, here is a rather awesome cartoon version.

Ticonderoga Press has announced the table of contents from its upcoming The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2011 anthology. Having read four of the stories from a list of 32 and found all of them to be top-notch, I have already decided to pick this one up (due in July) and am hunting around my local bookstores for the 2010 collection.

Stunning (and completely spoilery) plot analysis of The Avengers: http://exurbe.com/?p=1368  If you have seen the movie and came away with the infinitessimally faint hint of dissatisfaction that perhaps the cunning and complexity of the villain’s scheme was not quite up to the standard traditionally ascribed to him, then read this essay and marvel at its subtle genius [2]

Next week I am going to plug a bunch of podcasts. You have been warned.

 

[1] Not really. Go watch the vid. Or just listen to it. Gaiman is terrific.

[2] Which goes almost wholly unrevealed amidst the witty snarking and multi-’splosion hijinks [3]

[3] By the way The Avengers is making a serious play in my head for the best action movie of all time, though I suspect on subsequent viewings it will again lose ground to the masterwork that is Die Hard. But it is, I contend, better on every level than any of the Indiana Jones or Star Wars movies.

 

 

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