Friday Flash Fiction: Between the Breakers

29 05 2009

This post has now moved. You can read it here:

Between the breakers
By Neil Beynon

He wobbles across the uneven rocks, scattered like broken teeth across the beach, until he reaches the smooth compressed sand beyond. He pauses for a moment, turns to look back at the cliffs behind him. If he is looking for something he does not find it on those rocky peaks looming large.

The tide is out and it takes him a little while to reach the edge of the ocean. He walks between the twin rows of breakers that line either side of his path like watery sentinels. He does not pause as he steps into the water, heedless of the cold saltwater on his shoes and trousers: it is not the first time he has done this. He wades out further into the water, ignoring the persistent slapping of the waves that almost push him back and his breath coming in short sharp breaths…

Read the rest of the post here:

Review: Star Trek

26 05 2009


I managed to see the new reboot of Star Trek.*

Some background: I am, for my sins, a long term fan of the series although I lean towards TNG over any of the other offerings, and best not to get me started on the TNG films. I do not consider Star Trek to be science fiction, it’s space fantasy – the science is bad, the speculative elements minimal and the amount of tech predicted has more to do with the number of fans going into science than any hard graft by futurists. I do not dress up.

The point being I was sceptical about a) the need for another film and b) the wisdom of rebooting some of the most iconic characters in television. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Shatner as Kirk and no one has ever really successfully out Vulcaned old Nimsy. Throw in the painful wounds inflicted by Enterprise‘s attempt to go retro and….well:  I was a hard sell.

Yet, despite not thinking of myself as a full on fan for some time, the thought of not going didn’t really enter my head.

For that I am infinitely grateful because JJ Abrahms somehow – in a trick worthy of Scotty – managed it.

The film takes us back to the moment of James T. Kirk’s birth but it soon becomes clear that something is wrong, things are not unfolding as the canon dictates: Kirk’s father sacrifices himself in order to save his crew and his family, James T. grows up fatherless, a perpetual troublemaker that has no intention of going into the fleet and people know what Romulans look like. Things change when Kirk meets Captain Pike in a bar room brawl and follows the pretty Uhura into the academy promising to beat his father’s record to the Captain’s chair.

Keeping up so far?

Yes, the plot is horribly complicated and convoluted as time travel based stories usually are but don’t let that put you off. You see the tricky plot is there to attempt to keep the likes of me amused and interested (granted many won’t be but I was). For the wider audience, that JJ is hoping to convert to new fans, the film is loaded with high action sequences peppered with light camp comedy (it is Star Trek after all) and some full on operatic villains. JJ was never going to please everyone but he’s done his best to create an accessible film and for the most part he’s succeeded.

There are plenty of nods to the original series including the pursuit of an abandoned storyline but it’s really the changes JJ brings that I think make the film enjoyable. The cast is more the ensemble piece the series was supposed to be, diverting some of the attention away from Kirk to Uhura, Sulu and Chekov. While Pegg is woefully under-utilised as Scotty, his performance is bang on the money without slipping into parody as does Karl Urban as McCoy with a wonderful homily to the late Deforest Kelly. Zachary Quinto, as the rebooted Spock, manages to riff off Leonard Nimoy, neatly sidestepping trying to match the elder Vulcan’s performance, and bringing his own strangeness to the part.

Chris Pine, stepping into Shatner’s boots as Kirk, is the man with the hardest job. Shatner is iconic not because he’s the world’s greatest actor – he isn’t – but because the Kirk was such a large part of sixties pop culture that he’s imprinted on western culture. He was the figurehead for Trek – so bad he was good. Pine doesn’t even bother to do a Shatner – it would be silly and risking parody – but lets the supporting cast provide the feeling of familiarity, while he injects Kirk with a character more recognisable from Star Trek’s apocrypha than its canon. It is only at the end of the film, when Kirk ascends to the command he will hold for the majority of his career that Pine allows an element of Shatner to enter his performance as he takes the chair, legs crossed in an improbably camp pose. It is, perhaps, the most well judged shot of the whole film.

A great romp and a successful if pointless reboot. See it – popcorn optional but recommended.

And yes: I don’t understand the lensflare either.

* Why they feel the need to reboot everything in sight I have no idea but that’s a subject for a different post.

A great journey or a cul-de-sac…?

24 05 2009

*waves at new visitors* Howdy, nice to see you here. Sorry you’ve wandered up a cul-de-sac because this site isn’t really about what you were looking for. Still, please do have a look round.

Just a quick note: the posts currently bringing some of you in here were lighthearted jokes at my expense not the very watchable Alice. Indeed, G generally finds it quite funny that I go a bit wibbly when a certain flame-haired doctor comes on the screen, then I tease her about Neil Oliver and so the circle is complete. I am perfectly aware that Alice is a very clever person with oodles of qualifications and a bloody good presenter.

WordPress SEO: a blessing and a curse.

Anyway, for the rest of you confused as to what the hell I’m talking about you should check out the really rather good Incredible Human Journey on BBC 2 tonight at 9.30, it charts human migration from Africa through genetics, geology, climate modelling and archaeology. It’s enthralling stuff even if it does suffer from that noughties’ TV trick of recapping a little too often.

Also, want lots of web traffic: do some telly. Sad but true, judging from the amount of traffic coming off Dr Alice Roberts’ name.

Oops. See what I did. 😉


17 05 2009

It’s a bit quiet around here because I’m working on the final rewrite for TSG.

No, you’re not having deja vu. I decided to do one more rewrite having received a more positive round of test readings than I anticipated and having realised that, at 90k, it wasn’t really commercial*. Fortunately the sorting of some lingering structural problems will allow the manuscript to grow to a more amenable length.

In order to avoid procrastination I set myself a tight deadline, that is fast approaching, and so am spending large amounts of time writing new material that will then have to be buffed, polished and grafted onto the main manuscript**. In fact that’s what I will be doing in just a moment.

I have reviews for Star Trek, Coraline (film not book) and Watchmen (film not book) sitting in draft form on my harddrive and hopefully these will wing their way onto the blog in the not to distant future. There’s also some sounding off about freedom that I have planned at some point and so content will happen. Just not today.

I hope your Sunday is going well – I get to spend mine writing which is pretty much a win in my book.

* I’m not sure it’ll be sellable anyway but no ones said it’s a turkey so…you know: you gotta try.
** As I think I’ve said before, I don’t advise writing this way but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I started this project. I still don’t know what to do but I do now have a much better idea what not to do. If that makes sense?

Wheels of steel

15 05 2009

So some of my colleagues are boldly cycling from London to Brighton tomorrow in the name of charity, specifically for The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

The ride from London to Brighton is a not insignificant 60k and I’m really quite impressed at their dedication.

It’s a great cause and, if you can spare some change, you can sponsor them here.

I know it would be appreciated.

Now we are two

13 05 2009

Today this here blog is two years old.

It’s strange because on the one hand it seems like I really haven’t been doing it that long and on the other when I look back at the things I’ve done it seems like absolutely ages.

Seems like an appropriate time to reflect on stats: previous best day is June 30th last year (thing have dropped off since I stopped Columbo Villain of the week); there are 79 pieces of free fiction available on the blog, of which Tinman is currently the highest trafficked; 1085 comments have been made off 507 posts and views currently sit at 244,940.

However, the more interesting thing for me is that I have done more on the writing front and the life front in the last two years than I did in the previous five. I’ve been published three times and have another story slated for later this year, I visited two continents and eight cities I’d never been to before, I attended a writing course and had a most unfortunate encounter with a pigeon.  Blogging really does change the way you think about your life, it adds a gentle nudge to do stuff and avoid putting things off. Whether it does this through committing, in public, to things (and so opening yourself up to humiliation) or simply by giving you a greater awareness of the passing of time I leave up to more talented and longer running bloggers to argue.

I’m still enjoying blogging and so I’m still doing it, everything else is gravy. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Review: Little Brother

11 05 2009

cory-doctorow-little-brotherI’m a little late to the party on this one and really given the long list of distinguished readers* singing the praises of Cory Doctorow‘s Little Brother you don’t need little old me to tell you it’s good. Only I’m going to. And here’s why:

Thursday morning I was rooting around the shelves for something to read on the train into work (I can’t use the bike at the moment as I can’t get it through the house as we still have boxes everywhere). Anyway, I picked up Little Brother having ordered it some time ago and have been slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t read it yet. I started on the train on the way in, continued on my lunch break (I never do this normally) and continued on the way home, reading as I walked from the station to the house and finished up around about midnight having pretty much inhaled the whole book.

It’s that good.

Marcus is smart, Marcus is a hacker, Marcus is a teenager, Marcus is a gamer and Marcus is about to land himself in a whole pile of trouble when he plays truant for a game- inadvertently placing himself in the middle of a terror attack on San Francisco. Held prisoner by the Department of Homeland Security Marcus finds himself treated as a potential terrorist before being released back into a city that has been transformed into a Police state. Angry, alienated and fearful for the future of his country Marcus decides there is only one thing for it, to take down the Department of Homeland Security. Calling on all his technology skills Marcus goes to war with the Department of Homeland Security, a war he can’t possibly win – after all, a seventeen year old kid can’t defeat his government, can he?

It would be easy to wax lyrical about how topical this book is or how well researched or how it’s pretty much a handbook for how to manage your data in a world where before long even your toaster will be online. And all this is true. I mean: it’s Cory – did you really expect anything less? Yet, I feel this misses the true success of the novel and that is the quality of the writing. Not the story – which is great riff on 1984 – but the actual technical process of how the words have been put down on the page to provoke a particular emotional reaction from the reader, the nuts and bolts of the book. Artfully constructed – like a Swiss watch – Doctorow plays the reader like a fiddle carrying this one from laughter to fascination to outrage to horror to celebration and back to outrage, all the while peppering the tale with real world information.

Although relying on the Internet quite heavily for the story you really don’t need to be a geek to enjoy this story and, in all likelihood, you may get more out of it if you’re not. For those who do – like me – spend large amounts of time online through work or whatever, you’ll see some really elegant explanations for things you see day in, day out and probably learn some stuff you should have known already, I know I did.

I don’t want to give the impression the book doesn’t have its weaker points. Some of Marcus’s first person narration isn’t entirely authentic as a seventeen year old – at least to my ears – but this could be down to the culture differences between the US (where the book is set) and the UK (where I am) or the generation difference**. The peppering of information also gets a little OTT in places and skirts the white line of info-dumping but as someone who really enjoys Neal Stephenson’s work I feel churlish pointing this out because Cory is nowhere near as prone to this as Stephenson. The novel’s faults, such as they are, do not clunk or throw the reader out of the story.

I found Little Brother to be a gripping, page turner that I really couldn’t put down. I would happily recommend this to any reader, old or young, SF fan or mainstream junkie. This is an important book, it won’t just entertain you, it will give you pause and change the way you think about the world you live in now as well as the one you’ll be living in tomorrow, all the while entertaining your socks off. You can’t ask more of SF than that.

Read it, read it now.

* Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Eric Brown, Farah Mendlesohn, StrugglingWriter and too many more to go on listing.
** Though it pains me to admit it.