Friday Flash Fiction

30 11 2007

This post has moved. You can read the full story here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/because/

Ok. I’m angry. Really Angry. I wrote the blog and story that follows on Friday, I posted it, I saw it live. I come home tonight from a great night out with friends to discover not only do I have no traffic from it but the damn thing is no longer up.

Now I know I posted. I know because it appeared. Albeit briefly in my facebook feed. This is the second time in as many weeks things have gone awry on here. If there’s another I’ll have to move, I simply can’t have things not going live when I post them.

So on the off chance anyone will actually read this now it’s late, here it is:

My short story “The House” will be appearing in Aphelion online from the 2nd December, also appearing in the same issue will be a story by fellow Friday Flash Fictioneer Gareth Powell.

And so this week is a linked Friday Flash – not part of the story you understand but linked. To find out how go to Aphelion sometime in December. Enjoy:

Because
By Neil Beynon

I’ve never liked attics.

They’ve always been strange dusty places, an afterthought of space, tacked onto the top of houses. Like someone built the house and realised they had a bit left over.

You can convert them: lay floors, construct false walls, even place windows into the roof but they’re still not rooms. They’re attic rooms and loft rooms. You cannot escape their oddness: the walls at crazy diagonals, the lobotomized ceiling. Space just not intended to be used.

This post has moved. You can read the full story here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/because/





Columbo Villian of the Week

28 11 2007

Apologies for the lack of CVTW last Wednesday. It was one of those weeks.

This week we’re going for political satire, it’s a bold and some would say stupid move. Like trying to sell Northern rock – ba-boom-tshh!

In case you haven’t guessed this week’s CVTW is the Chancellor of the Exchequer: Alastair Darling (unless he’s been fired already in which case it’s the former chancellor).

Alastair Darling

Alistair is the person the previous incumbent (Gordon Brown) chose to replace him when he moved into the top job at Number 10. Economically and politically astute observers have commented that might not have been a favour as Brown’s economic chickens come home to roost.

In the last few months we’ve had a series of blunders including the time-bomb that was easy credit exploding all over Northern Rock. And, most recently, the small matter of twenty-five million people’s personal data getting lost in the post. That’s right: TWENTY-FIVE MILLION or around third of the population of the UK.

Darling is in trouble. The Tories are out for blood and sensing Brown still has some armour left they’re going for old mono-brow.

Meanwhile Darling is presumably getting wise that the cold sensation between his shoulder blades is not Brown’s limp hand as he thought but a knife the Prime Minister has slipped in.

It’s not looking good for the former transport secretary, he must fight if he wants to survive. I can see it now…

Frightened he’s about to lose his career and fearing he’s landed in a trap of Brown’s devising Darling decides – like Railtrack – there’s only one way out: to take control.

First off he dyes his hair to match his eyebrows in order to prove more electable for the coming leadership contest he intends to create. Then, carefully, he trains his cat, Sybil*, to attack the Prime Minister on sight using a photo and a piece of his clothing that my lawyers have prevented me from listing here.

Then he invites the cabinet to dinner.

Sybil is trained, ready for action and with claws laced with arsenic, just to be on the safe side.

At the pre-arranged time the cat is unleashed. Leaping from the Welsh Dresser the cat flies at Gordon Brown…who reaches down to pick up the spoon he’s just dropped; the cat falling instead on Jack Straw. Sybil is beyond caring as she lashes Jack’s face with her claws.

Straw is rushed to hospital where he is pronounced dead. Darling becomes the poster boy for owners who don’t look after their pets garnering more bad press. To make matters worse a small American Detective refuses to leave him alone, dropping ash all over the carpet and talking about therapy for Sybil.

The icing on the cake is that the discs have turned up in his jacket. He has no idea how they got there, it’s almost like someone planned it.

My, isn’t Gordon smiling widely?

Gordon Brown

Oh lord it’s that detective again, I bet he’s got one more question…

* His cat really is called Sybil according to Wikipedia, and everyone knows Wikipedia is the bastion of all knowledge.





Beowulf

27 11 2007

Beowulf poster

Normally I post reviews within a few hours of having seen the film but I waited in the case of Beowulf. Why?

I needed time to digest it, to consider what I thought and to wonder if I should in fact wait to see it in 3D before making a decision. I still plan to see it in 3D but I thought it would be an interesting idea to post my thoughts on the 2D version and then an update when I get to the IMAX.

Mainly I decided I couldn’t wait after reading a fairly lengthy tirade by Hal Duncan on his blog. Hal is a writer who has me periodically shaking my head in awe at his frenetically fuelled prose and in bewilderment at some of his more outspoken views. The review is one of the latter occasions.

And I just can’t agree. Well not completely.

Yes I’m a Gaiman fan. And yes it’s been a while since I read the original poem. But that will not mean this review is a white wash, oh no – wait and see.

However, even in my semi-comatose-post-work-state, I could work out what Gaiman and Avery had tried to do with the screenplay. That it did not amount to oversimplification, that it was indeed, dare I say it, bordering on clever. It wasn’t a film with nothing to say but had stuff on the nature of fame, the nature of heroism and even a fair thrust at how history is written by the winners.

The fact that the film wasn’t brilliant, and certainly wasn’t the break through I’d heard it described as, by amongst others Gaiman himself, was nothing to do with the screenplay.

Nor was it the fault of Glover who’s performance as Grendel was terrifying and brilliant all at the same time – yes it is his movements they use, thanks to the use of motion capture techniques.

No I fear the blame has to lie with Zemeckis. The film is not a success because of the use of motion capture. It simply isn’t a good enough technology to use; it may never be because of one fatal flaw. It fails to capture the interaction between actors – if indeed there was any – and so we are treated to great individual performances from Glover, Hopkins (although using his native Welsh accent was a baaad idea, much as I love my native burrrr), Jolie and even Ray.

But they never mesh, they never connect. And that’s the problem with mo-cap.

If you want to create a hyper real world – and it really is effective for this type of material – you need to use the actual actors, on screen, together. The reason Glover’s performance is so much better than the others is simple: he’s the only one who has grasped the need to communicate his performance via his body rather than his face.

Now if you want to use 3D animation you need animators. I don’t want to sound puritanical about this but in CGI it is animators who make performances come alive. Until motion capture can capture character interaction accurately this will always be the case, and I suspect it will remain so even after that point because it’s such an alien medium. You can never just act like the real world. Movement has to be turned down a notch in some cases and turned up in others.

I’ll get off my geeky high horse in just a moment. The last criticism I have of the cgi is weight, the characters lack it and so the violence of much of the film loses its effect as characters are flung through the air. Who cares? They don’t weigh anything. They aren’t real. Indeed the only scene where a character seems to have real weight is near the end when Beowulf is hanging from the dragon. Even then it’s touch and go.

So what did I think?

I want to see it in 3D.

In 3D I’m fairly sure I won’t notice the deficiencies and that I’ll have the wow reaction I was kind of expecting. As a 2D effort I’m afraid the direction lets it down and the performances, well I’ve harped on it enough.

As a 2D offering it’s…well…flat.





Off again.

25 11 2007

There hasn’t been much in the way of bloggage over the last week as the bathroom kind of took over.

Constant readers will recall that we had some fairly major house issues over the last few months and last weekend was Fix The Bathroom Weekend, it rapidly turned into Fix The Bathroom Week. It is now looking like Fix The Bathroom Month.

Let’s see, what else have I been up to?

A valiant if foolish attempt to recover my NaNoWriMo wordcount, I’m not going to finish by Friday but finish I will. I saw Beowulf, albeit in 2d – a review will be posted later in the week. And I had a story accepted – more on that in a week or so.

This week sees me jetting off again. This time for a work gig – should be fun although not anything like as warm as Washington. Looking at the schedule I’m not sure whether I’ll have much time to blog, but after last week’s debacle I’ve prepared some content for the next few days, including all the regular features.

Feel free to drop by, comment, whatever – I’ll be popping in when life allows.

Packing beckons…





Friday Flash Fiction: Kind of…

23 11 2007

This story has moved. You can read the full thing here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/elevator/

As has become painfully clear to constant readers of this blog, and as exemplified by the woeful lack of a “Columbo Villian of the Week” on Wednesday, life has gotten on top of me. And so this week I find myself – for the first time since I started – running a little dry on ideas for Friday Flash Fiction.

So that’s it. Well not quite.

My pride will not let me lie down. Crap though the results may be. And so, with a big conspiratorial wink, this week I present the Elevator Entry:

Elevator Friday Flash Fiction
By Neil Beynon

Her shadow was long on the ground when she reached the snow kissed bank. The amber sun low on the horizon looked like it was falling off the edge of the world. The faint miasma from the near by processing plant the only blemish on the otherwise crisp November sky.

She fell through her memory to the last time she had stood there gazing over at the other side of the river. Hakon had been there then. They’d driven to the river in his gleaming Audi and eaten fast food from the pier as the rain had poured down on the roof of the car. She’d dropped a bit of a pickle from her burger onto the leather seats. He’d not been impressed.

This story has moved. You can read the full thing here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/elevator/





Kindling a debate

20 11 2007

Kindle

Amazon have released the Kindle reigniting the debate over the future of the book pulling in comments from many people such as John Scalzi over at Whatever and Paul Raven over at Velcro City. Meanwhile Neil Gaiman‘s got in on the action, you can check out his thoughts here.

Neil makes a pretty compelling argument for the Kindle’s place in the world (for people who are mobile, people in remote locations and people who need to carry lots of books around). I remain more of a skeptic, not so much about the principle as someone is going to do it sooner or later, no my doubts are more about this device and the business model.

Sure mass storage is a great boon, I travel more these days myself and I could do without that moment of panic as to whether that fourth book is going to put me over the baggage allowance, yet it is the issue of battery life that really gets me.

I’m absent minded and busy. Between my job, my writing and trying to renovate my house I forget to charge my phone, my ipod (now a new ipod touch – yay!) and various other gadgets on a regular basis. I do not want to run out of power just as Poirot is explaining who did it or King is pulling the monster out of the closet. My paperback does not require charging, is already portable and barring fire or flood pretty durable. In short I need a bit more than “you can carry more” – I’m pretty skilled in secreting paperbacks all over my personage.

So this is my question: Why can’t they produce one with a solar powered battery? Because that coupled with mass storage and a screen as readable as a book…well that would be a break through device. That would take publishing properly digital.

The other slight bone of contention is the pricing model, it doesn’t seem to have been thought out and raises all sorts of issues such as “how much goes to the author?”, “why would someone pay for newspaper subs when you can access it online for free?”, “is there even a role for the publisher?” and my personal favourite “I don’t want to buy from Amazon as I’m worried about independent booksellers”. This is a second order problem but it won’t go away.

Of course the fact that I will almost certainly run out and buy one as soon as it’s available in the UK is neither here nor there. That’s a post for a different day – possibly entitled OCD and how to live with it or Gadgets: An addiction or a choice?





Friday Flash Fiction

16 11 2007

This story has moved. You can read the full thing here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/amber/

Hmmm. Not sure on this one. Let me know.

Amber
By Neil Beynon

She gazed glassily at him through eyes that did not blink as if she were watching him watching her. Mouth pursed. He knew the expression, he doubted anyone else would.

Her words echoed in his head.

“It’s over,” she said.

“It’s not you it’s me”, should have been the next line only it wasn’t. She continued: “I just don’t feel the same way you do. You scare me.”

She had nothing to fear from him. All he wanted was to preserve what they’d had. To keep things the same.

He’d tried to argue but she’d just rested her hand gently on his upper arm.

“I’m not the person you want me to be,” she’d said, her tone thick. Her hand felt hot and dry. Pity had always come to mind as a cold feeling but the notion vanished in that moment – the desert sands of her’s erasing it for all time.

This story has moved. You can read the full thing here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/amber/





Night Hawk

16 11 2007

I’m back in the land of Black Cabs, Builder’s Tea and the Fine Art of Chav.

Shark Net

Our last day in Hong Kong was funny mish mash of stuff. We had a really cool gentle walk along the beach as well as a paddle in the ocean and I got far too excited about the real life shark net, designed to keep out real Great White Sharks. Of course even I could spot that a real White Shark could jump the net with ease, or that the water had a distinct absence of seals (the preferred meal) but there was a sign so it must be true.

Hong Kong airport was a breath of fresh air by comparison to well pretty much any other airport in the world, they had me at free broadband but the best steak I’ve had outside of Paris sealed the deal. The flight itself was not as good as I’d hoped; Virgin were OK but nowhere near the standards they reached in the 90s. Still it was cool flying with the night half way across the world.

I’ll be posting my Friday Flash Fiction in a few hours so keep your eyes peeled for that and tomorrow I install a bathroom (all be it under close supervision of a far more skilled individual than I). No doubt jet lag will have kicked in by then resulting in me grouting myself to the wall or plumbing myself into the sink.

Now: back to scribbling tall tales!





On The Peak

15 11 2007

The Peak Sunset

So it’s my last day in Hong Kong.

We didn’t in the end get to see the Buddha, we were both completely wiped out on Tuesday opting instead to flump around the hotel and small beach. Resolving with some determination to make the most of yesterday.

Having gorged ourselves in the breakfast buffet we rolled onto the bus into Kowloon then got the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island. The first part of the day consisted of the inevitable rush of shopping before a brief rest-bite in a coffee shop, I also wrote the first two thirds of a short story in my notebook – G was in another shop at that point.

Then we began our ascent. The Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong island and we’d been assured by many people that this was a must have experience, offering breathtaking views of the whole of Hong Kong. We decided to time it for sunset and so in the late afternoon we made our way up the winding walk from Connaught Road past St John’s Cathedral to the Peak Tram.

The tram is off the main road and reached via a private station that has a small number of historically interesting artifacts from the tram’s history including authentic period costumes.

A glitzy video runs on a loop in the waiting room showing the ever insane Jackie Chan travelling up to the Peak complex (called the Sky Tower). He doesn’t travel inside the tram but on the roof, just how mad this is will become apparent shortly. There is also footage of the Mad One swinging from a rope off the edge of the Sky Tower viewing platform, central Hong Kong spread out like a neon circuit board beneath him.

I think he may have fallen on his head one too many times.

The tram journey was incredible. This rickety old wooden tram pulls its way up a slope that is at an angle approaching forty five degrees leaving you with the same sense of impending doom as a rollercoaster’s initial climb. The high rises of the mid levels reach up from the slope at the correct vertical angle but because of the tilt of the tram they look like they are shooting out at diagonals.

Once you clear the mid levels the whole of central Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour spring into view, neck strain is pretty much inevitable as you crane round to look at the amazing view trying not to notice the intense pressure of gravity pushing you back in your seat.

The tram rolls into the Sky Tower in about ten minutes, it really is quite quick and then you find youself doing a slight double take at how modern the complex is by comparison to the tram. Like many things in Hong Kong it is a fusion of new and old, east and west.

A series of escalators lets you onto the top of the Sky Tower, a wide viewing platform with panoramas of the surrounding landscape including Hong Kong, Kowloon, Victoria Harbour and Aberdeen. We arrived just at sunset: breathtaking doesn’t cover it. It made my holiday. The picture at the top of this post, taken on my camera phone, doesn’t really do it justice but hopefully it gives you an idea what it was like. In the last moments the sun disappears into the hazy mist lining the horizon as if the ocean was swallowing the lozenge like star.

As night fell the view changed. The city that during daytime hours can resemble a series of blocks arranged and painted to look like a child’s toy set changes, the concrete fades along with the grey, all becomes glass and light. It looks a little like this:

Hong Kong Night

Then we ate many, many noodles and drank green tea before sloshing back to the bottom. It was great.

Now I’m going to paddle with sharks before we have to go back to the airport.





Columbo Villian of the Week

14 11 2007

This week’s Columbo Villian of the Week (note incorrect spelling of Villain is deliberate!) is star of 80s wrestling, WWE hall of famer and VH1 reality TV star Hulk Hogan AKA Terry Bollea. A soft target some might say and they’d be right but I’m on holiday and time is short.

Hogan 80s

Hogan rose to fame in the late 70s and early 80s as the face of the then WWF as its owner Vincent K McMahon (a sure fire future CVW) changed the face of wrestling from a series of cheesy regional promotions to one cheesy national promotion. It was the golden era of professional wrestling when the Real American could do no wrong dominating the entertainment world whilst telling kids to take their vitamins and say their prayers.

Everything the big guy McMahon calls Monster touched turned to gold. Movie deal followed TV deal. They didn’t even care when he started to lose his hair. And in many ways that’s where the trouble began. Hogan jumped ship from the WWE and went to WCW for more money. Slowly the wheels started to come off.

You see Bollea wasn’t the larger than life, whiter than white superstar many believed him to be but rather an arrogant, overbearing, beer swilling red neck not that dissimilar to a certain other megastar of the wrestling world. And those pythons didn’t get that size by hard work but a fairly impressive amount of steroid consumption that Monster would later lie about on national television. Those weren’t pecs but man breasts.

Exposed during a federal court case as a pill popping nut job Hogan began to be left behind by a harder more edgy style of wrestler. Amidst this turmoil Hogan demonstrated the first in a series of remarkable turn arounds to his declining career. He turned heel. For the world of wrestling fans this was a fairly unpredictable turn in a world where predictability is a fact of life, they lapped it up and Hogan became the biggest bad guy in town. He made an even bigger shitload of money than he had as the Real American. And money is what the Hulkster is all about.

Hogan 90s

Then in the late 90s old Vinnie Mac managed to bring down WCW, buying the whole company in the process. This left Hogan without a home. Hogan’s TV show Thunder in Paradise turned out to be more like a Damp Fart in Tooting and things look bleak once more for the Bald One.

However Hogan lies down for no man and hit upon the idea of a reality TV show based around his life. By this point wrestling’s dirty secret (that it’s a work) was no longer a secret and the carnival world behind scenes all part of the sub culture. Hogan is onto a winner and his initial run on VH1 is a triumphant success. A headliner once more he returns to the WWE on numerous “final runs”.

Now Hogan is slated to host American Gladiators, his series Hogan Knows Best is still running and all looks rosy for Monster. Or does it? Hogan has fallen out with WWE, his lucky charm, and indeed is no longer on speaking terms with his one time best friend McMahon. Gladiators is a risky gamble, a show that had its day and lost. Reality TV gets old real quick these days. Hogan could be on the way out.

Begging the question just what won’t the big guy do to stay on top? I’m betting nothing. I can see it now…

Gladiators is an unmitigated disaster and studio execs have egg on their face – polls reveal it’s not the games but the host that is at fault. They just can’t take Hogan’s over the top, blue-eyed schmooze. The studio replace him but not with just anyone – oh no – they replace him with Randy Savage, once a good friend now a raving lunatic he can’t stand.

Meanwhile Hogan Knows Best is declining in the ratings, VH1 is getting worried – has the audience had enough of the Real American. Hogan can’t afford to lose the show, it’s his meal ticket and is funding a real estate deal that he’s sunk all his cash into. If it goes, he goes.

As he has already proved Hogan knows how to get an audience hooked, how to play them to perfection and as his plump wife enters the room Hogan had A Good Idea. Live on VH1, his wife is found floating in the pool – choked to death by an inflatable thumb – now the Real American is the picture of a Real Widow, distraught, grief stricken and ready for his close up.

The ratings soar, the real estate deal is secure and Vince even calls to see if he’s up for one last match. Everything would be great if that annoying little detective would stop hanging round the locker room asking Monster to show him some holds. Still he does have some nice cigars and man does he have an eye for a work, he knows just when the boys are playing him.

Columbo

Oh Yeah Just One More Thing Champ…








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