Hal’s Experiment

30 09 2009

I though I’d draw your attention, if I may, to Hal Duncan’s experiment over at Notes From The Geek Show.

Hal is experimenting with sidestepping the traditional route to market (via publisher) and going straight to the audience. Hal will publish Scruffian’s Stamp (a teaser is on the post linked to above) if he recieves donations amounting to $150 and if he doesn’t reach that amount all donors (horrible word but I’m in a hurry) will receive a PDF version.

The publishing model being tried is not news because plenty of people have tried this and usually this is met by a roll of the eyes and a comment about the standards of self-publishing…

See: you’re doing it right now…

No, not you lot who know who Hal is, the other lot. (And yes: I know you’re now a rather small group, I’m working on the stats issue.)…

I digress.

The point I am making in a very long winded way, is that the experiment is of interest because Hal has already achieved that writerly milestone of editorial validation, having published two books via a mainstream publisher, the cubist fantasies Vellum and Ink respectively. I can’t speak for Ink (it’s still on my shelf – I try to prolong the anticipation with sequals) but Vellum really is very impressive: ambitious in scope and executed with flare.

For this reason I’m both interested to see how Hal gets on with this approach and would urge you to donate.*

I’ve set my stall out as an admirer of Hal’s work before, and a review of Vellum will probably appear in the next few weeks, but I’d also encourage you to pick up copies of his books. You won’t regret it.

* As I will be when the dayjob ponies up next month.

Friday Flash Fiction: Between the Breakers

29 05 2009

This post has now moved. You can read it here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/between-the-breakers/.

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: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/between-the-breakers/.

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.

Friday Flash Fiction: Move On

24 04 2009

This post has moved on (see what I did there?!). You can read it here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/move-on/. The precis follows:

Move on
By Neil Beynon

See the worn stones, uneven and scattered like die cast by the giants.
Let your feet find the path, they do not forget.

Feel your skin raise as you draw closer.
But do not worry: the magic will not hurt you.

…You can read the rest of this post here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/move-on/

Friday Flash Fiction: Buck

10 04 2009

This post has moved. You can read it here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/buck/.

This week’s flash fiction. Feedback, as ever, is welcome.

By Neil Beynon

It feels like I’ve been on the run forever. In reality it’s only been a few days and already I’m tired of it. The city is almost disserted, many of the shops are boarded up and construction works lie abandoned as if someone started operating on the city, trying to save it, and then gave up. The wind carries dust on it and whips round the corners of buildings that don’t look like they’ve been cleaned since they were built in the nineteen hundreds. This city bites. I raise my collar and start out across the square towards the hotel.

I can still taste the sugar from that too sweet soda. One more than I should have had and so thick with syrup that I could practically chew it, my heart is racing a little from the E numbers, my mouth covered in a light moss of acidity. Perhaps that is why I feel like the few people I encounter are staring at me, that they know what I am and why I am running. But how could they?…

This post has moved. You can read it here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/buck/.

Friday Flash Fiction: Still Rising

27 03 2009

This post has now moved. You can read it here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/still-rising .

Due to Internet fail I am posting this using the equivalent of smoke signals. It may look a mess.

Still Rising
By Neil Beynon

“Where are you going?”

Fahl stopped at the foot of the stairs, turning to the speaker with the creak of age as old as the tower he intended to walk up. It was Lumin staring defiantly back at him, his robes freshly pressed and his bright blue eyes gleaming in the torch light. Fahl sighed and leant on the rail that lined the stairs, in his other hand a long stone knife gleamed.

“Where are you going?” repeated Lumin.

“To do what must be done.”

“The city is no longer under siege Fahl.”

…You can read the full story here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/still-rising

Top Ten Books 2008

29 12 2008

This is the time of year where I go a bit list crazy. This time up it’s the return of the infamous Books What I Read in…, last year we stopped at five but this year I’ve done ten as my reading levels have been a little higher and I just couldn’t cut the list down. Interesting to note I upped my SF and fantasy reading, going to need to balance that out a bit more next year.

Anyway, here goes:

10. From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell – There is a problem with influential writers. Often, if you come to them sometime after they’ve made their initial impact, you find a weird sense of deja vu permeating your reading of their work. You know you haven’t read the work before but their impact on other writers and indeed other media has become so widespread that you feel as if you have. I’m too young to have caught Watchmen when it was originally released and, although I enjoyed it, that feeling kept bugging me throughout. Not so From Hell, beautifully written and drawn, deliciously dark and meticulously researched – it was an absolute delight to read. Moore at his story-telling best. Skip the film. No really: skip the film.

9. Spin By Robert Charles Wilson – I raved about this book at the time I read it. The review predates bookrater.co.uk and can be found here. Wilson’s a talented SF writer that manages to successfully blend huge SF ideas with good characterisation and Spin is a damned fine example. A good introduction to SF in my opinion.

8. Signals to Noise By Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean – OK, by now you’ve figured out that the deal here is these are the best books I read in 2008 rather than those released in 2008. Neil gets two entries by virtue of my only reading Signals to Noise for the first time this year and him releasing a damned fine book (more on that later) but in point of fact it’s Dave McKean that pushed this into my list for 2008. Gaiman’s prose is typically very good but McKean’s art is…something else…it’s just a beautiful book and I often take it down off the shelf just to flick through the art. If you’re wondering what the fuss is about when it comes to Gaiman & McKean: a) where have you been and b) read this book.

7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Reviewed on bookrater.co.uk, you can read this here. My opinion on this one hasn’t changed, I wish it had been written when I was a child and I can’t wait for my niece to be old enough for me to read it to her, complete with voices.

6. My life as a Fake by Peter Carey – Actually a fairly recent entry that I haven’t had time to review yet, although I will. I am fond of Peter Carey’s work and will periodically dust off my copy of The True History of The Ned Kelly Gang just for the joy of how it’s put together. My Life as a Fake is a typically well-constructed novel full of rich layers and skillful prose that I read on one sickly Sunday, binging on Carey’s riff on Frankenstein.

5. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – OK, I admit it: I hadn’t read this. There I said it. If you’re a hardcore SF fan then you’ll have read this and you won’t need me to tell you it rocks. Better than 1984 for the simple reason that it has somehow managed not to age as much as Orwell’s classic. Bradbury’s prose is typically liquid and his characters beautifully crafted. If you’re a fan of literature (let alone SF) you need to read this.

4. After Dark by Haruki Murakami – I’ve been meaning to check out Murakami for ages, this year I finally did. After Dark is a stunning tale told over a single night and focusing, at its core, on two sisters and their shifting relationship. Dark and evocative, this novel will leave you feeling like you’ve been up all night drinking too much coffee and you just hallucinated the story, in a good way. Read it. Read it now.

3. Living Next Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson – Review on bookrater.co.uk, you can read it here. This book has hard SF, myth, pop culture, character driven story and some damned fine writing all wrapped up in one package. I loved it and have resorted to pushing it at anyone I think will read it.

2. The Scar by China Mieville – I read a ton of China’s stuff this year and if this list went to thirteen then all of his stuff I’ve read to date would be on it. Sadly, thirteen is unlucky. The Scar is my favourite China novel because I think, out of the stuff I’ve read, it’s his most well-rounded work. I love King Rat but it does have a few bumps that, to paraphrase a friend, mark it as a first novel and you can tell China seems to be feeling his way through the story, searching for his style. Perdito Street Station is great and wonderful but it does bloat in places. In contrast The Scar is tight, confident and told in the kind of beautiful prose style that only China can deliver. I want to read it again just writing this.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Klay by Michael Chabon – Chabon was claimed by the literary set by virtue of publishing mainstream first but I think most genre fans have spotted that is heart really belongs to us. I can’t say enough good things about this novel: the characters enthrall, the blending of history and fiction masterly don, that lyrical prose style, the dash of myth…I’m basically gushing. The guy has a pulitzer; he doesn’t need some tired taff to know he’s good. Still my favourite accidental spot, even if he did look terrified at being recognised.