It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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A moving picture’s worth a thousand words

… But I can’t be arsed to write so much, so here’s a couple of lines each on some of the films I’ve watched recently. I’ve been a bit slack in documenting here what I’ve seen this year, and not just because some of it has been rubbish. But with being computer-less for several weeks, and then a reading binge for the Hugo, things around here have been left to slide a bit and I’m still trying to get back into the swing of blogging. Anyway, the movies – this is only some of those I’ve watched in the past couple of months, the notably good and the notably bad…

Oblivion, Joseph Kosinski (USA, 2013)
Looks pretty, set-up doesn’t make sense, smells of Cruise’s ego, and owes a little too much to Mad Max 2, Independence Day and assorted other sf blockbusters of the past couple of decades. Cruise trying to recapitulate the history of sf cinema since 1980. And failing.

Man of Iron, Andrzej Wajda (Poland, 1981)
Sequel to Wajda’s Man of Marble, which I’ve not seen but really must. A dramatisation of events at the Gdańsk shipyard, with a protagonist stand-in for Wałęsa (who actually appears in the film – in documentary footage, and as a character played by an actor). Excellent stuff.

Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow (USA, 2012)
Completely not what I was expecting. I knew going in it was about US torture and human rights abuses, and had expected an “ends justifies the means” message. But Bigelow chose to present it all as value-neutral, and torture is not something that should ever be value-neutral.

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder (USA, 2013)
In which Snyder gets confused between a superhero film and an alien invasion film. America’s First Boy Scout is given a make-over better suited to something by Michael Bay. Rubbish.

Upstream Colour, Shane Carruth (USA, 2013)
Carruth returns with another film that forces the viewer to work hard, but it’s worth it. We need more films like this.

Riddick, David N Twohy (USA, 2013)
In which Twohy tries to remake 300 with a cast of one. Admittedly, that one is Vin Diesel. Such testosterone very CGI so yawn.

Desk Set, Walter Lang (USA, 1957)
Spencer Tracy is absent-minded computer genius determining whether his Giant Computer Brain can replace Katherine Hepburns’ research department at a New York television network offices. Not the best film either have made, together or separately.

Call Girl, Mikael Marcimain (Sweden, 2012)
Tense political thriller set in the 1970s about corruption in the Swedish government, especially in regard to call girls. Similar atmosphere to Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Excellent.

Toward the Unknown, Mervyn LeRoy (USA, 1956)
William Holden is tortured USAF officer, back in the US after being brainwashed by Koreans. He wants to be a test pilot at Edwards, but the general in charge is reluctant to take him on. But he does anyway. Holden gets to fly the X-2 (and a XB-51 masquerading as the “XF-120″). Cold War aircraft, excellent aerial photography, 1950s melodrama… what more could you want?

Gilbert_XF-120

The Burmese Harp, Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1956)
The end of WWII, a Japanese soldier remains in Burma as a monk, determined to bury all the Japanese soldiers whose bodies lie rotting about the country. The film focuses mostly on the company he leaves behind, who all enjoy choral singing. A piece of stone-cold classic cinema.

Queen Of Outer Space, Edward Bernds (USA, 1958)
Typical B-movie sf of the period which, bizarrely, makes a nod in the general direction of actual science – by remarking that the Venus the heroes have crash-landed on bears no resemblance to the one science had led them to expect. In other words: jungle! And, er, a women-only civilisation. Starring Zsa Zsa Gabor. Enough said.

Riverworld, Kari Skogland (Canada, 2003)
I reread the book a few years ago and only vaguely recognised it from this television movie. Don’t remember quite so much Randian bullshit in the novel.

Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro (USA, 2013)
Big dumb tentpole sf from last summer. Emphasis on big. Emphasis on dumb. Mecha versus kaiju. Best watched after numbing brain with copious amounts of alcohol. Or with the sound off, so you don’t have to hear the monumentally stupid dialogue. This is Hollywood sf by numbers.

Leave Her To Heaven, John M Stahl (USA, 1945)
Gene Tierney as pathologically jealous wife. Classic 1940s melodrama which loses it in the last third as it turns into a silly courtroom drama with Vincent Price bellowing “But did you love her?” at husband Cornel Wilde. Worth seeing, though.

Daisies, Vera Chytilová (Czech Republic, 1966)
Bonkers Czech film in which two young women set out to do exactly what they want – which involves, among other things getting drunk in a night-club, and trashing a buffet. Lots of weird cinematic effects. Love the line in the plot summary on Wikipedia: “There is significant action here, with Marie I looking through the window at a parade and Marie II eating.” Um, yes. Good film.

Europa Report, Sebastián Cordero (USA, 2013)
Disappointing. Hard sf monster-in-space movie done better in Apollo 18. Interesting non-linear narrative – although you do spend half the film wondering where one of the characters has disappeared to. The spacecraft is typical movie overdone, though not as bad as some. And Europa apparently has a surface gravity of 1G and not 0.134G.

The East, Zal Batmanglij (USA, 2013)
Brit Marling proves she’s still one to watch with a thriller about a corporate undercover agent who infiltrates a cell of eco-terrorists. So the terrorists are all privileged scions, biting the silver spoon that fed them, but the corporate intelligence angle puts an interesting spin on it all.

Free Zone, Amos Gitai (Israel, 2005)
An American, an Israeli and a Palestinian meet up in Jordan’s free zone to conduct business (well, the American is only along for the ride). Somewhat heavy-handed use of them as stand-ins for their countries, but the three – Natalie Portman, Hanna Laslo and Hiam Abbass – play their parts extremely well. Good film.


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2013 in numbers

If I had to pick a favourite year out of the last ten, it wouldn’t be 2013 – and that’s despite winning the BSFA Award, being a finalist for the Sidewise Award, and publishing books 2 and 3 of the Apollo Quartet, both of which were well-received. I’ve already posted my favourites in books, films and albums of the year – see here – and even a tiny little pimpish post about what I had published in 2013 – see here. This post, however, is going to be all numbers and graphs, showing exactly how much culture I consumed, and in what media.

Books
In 2013, I read a total of 148 books, which is slightly down on my previous year’s total of 153. In fact, the number of books I read in a year has been dropping steadily each year since 2008′s high of 220. There are actually a few books I dipped into for research, but since I didn’t actually read them, I didn’t record them as read. The books I read in 2013 break down by genre as follows:

books_read_genre

Science fiction still forms the majority of my reading, though I suspect reading for SF Mistressworks has kept this higher than it would have been otherwise. Most of the biographies I read were research for Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, as were several of the space books.

The books I read break down by author’s gender as:

books_read_gender

While some graphic novels, particularly bandes desinées, might be by a single writer/artist, many are collaborative – so I’ve lumped them in with the non-fiction. Also, four of the seven anthologies were women-only, but given that anthologies more often contain fiction by both genders I thought it best to record them as a separate category.

In 2013, I bought, was given, or was sent for review 231 books. I read only 72 of them (but some purchases were actually first editions, or better copies, of books I’d read previously, so I’ve counted them as read). So that’s a net gain on the To Be Read massif of 78 books… which is not the proper way to do it. I should be buying less books than I read. By genre, my book purchases break down as follows:

books_bought_genre

I had to munge a couple of categories together due to the crappy online chart-making website I was using. As for “Weird”… I couldn’t think of a better name for a category which contains a book by Velikovsky and a book on the Bermuda Triangle (the latter was research for Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above). The two photography books are books of photographs by photographers rather than books about photography. The one travel book is by, of course, Lawrence Durrell.

By gender – for fiction only – it looks like this (again, I’ve separated out anthologies, even though most of those I bought during the year were women-only):

books_bought_gender

Films
In 2012, I watched 180 films and 8 seasons of television programmes. Of those, 142 were for the first time and 44 were re-watches. These charts don’t include those television series I watched which were broadcast, only those I watched on DVD. By genre, they break down as:

films_watched_genre

It seems my favourite film genre is drama – that’ll be because I watch so many world cinema/art house films. I’m surprised at science fiction’s strong showing, though I suspect they’re all either rewatches or recently-released sf films I got on rental DVD. Five of the anime films were Studio Ghibli, the romance films were the result of a lazy Sunday spent watching Movies24, and the single horror film I saw was on one of those two-films-on-one-disc DVDs and it was the other film I bought the DVD for.

Speaking of DVDs, I also recorded on what format and where I watched each of the films – as follows:

films_watched_formatfilms_watched_source

Around two-thirds of the way through the year, Lovefilm changed my rental package, and instead of allowing me only 6 discs a month, they started sending out new discs as soon as they’d received the ones I’d returned. I’m not complaining. I run three rental lists at Lovefilm – one for Hollywood films, one for classics, and one for world/art house cinema. I’m sent one from each list in a single envelope. Which partly explains why my most-watched directors in 2013 were Aleksandr Sokurov, Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger. They were closely followed by Alfred Hitchcock, Douglas Sirk, Michael Haneke and Werner Herzog, most of which, I think, were actually rewatches. Sokurov is… well, his films are beautifully photographed but many of them make Tarkovsky’s films look like they were edited for the MTV generation. It’s a shame so few of them are available in the UK.

Those three rental lists also mean the films I’ve watched are spread quite well by decade, if not by nationality:

films_watched_decade

films_watched_natn

Yes, that’s a lot of American films – but they do produce a lot of films. It’s all those classic movies, you see. Great Britain comes second, followed by France, Germany, Russia, Japan and then Italy. I think in 2014 I’ll try to watch less US films. That sounds like a resolution worth keeping.

I will also, of course, try to read more books and buy less. And write more. And I’m sure there are plenty of other good intentions I can persuade myself I might be able to keep up for a whole twelve months, but for now I think I’ll just stick to the easy ones…


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Firsts

I’m not sure what triggered it, but the day before yesterday I was reminded of the first science fiction novel I can recall reading. And that got me thinking about the first album I remember buying, and the first film I remember seeing in a cinema. So I decided to write a blog post about them.

First book
I remember reading books on Norse mythology and maritime mysteries, and by Joan Aiken, as a kid, but the first sf novel I remember owning was… Doctor Who and the Zarbi. We were living in Dubai, in a villa in Jumeirah, and my parents gave it to me for Christmas. So it must have been 1975. Because the previous Christmas we were in Qatar, and the following September I started at boarding school in the UK. During my first year at boarding school, I was introduced to “proper” science fiction by a kid in my class called Silver who lent me Robert Heinlein’s Starman Jones. Then a lad in the year below me named Hopkinson lent me an EE ‘Doc’ Smith novel – one of the Lensman series, I think – and I started buying sf novels myself. In fact, several years later I bought all seven of the Lensman books – the Panther paperbacks with the Chris Foss cover art. I still have them.

Doctor_Who_and_the_Zarbi

First film
I know I saw several Disney films in the main hall at Doha English Speaking School – my clearest memory is of The Jungle Book – but the first film I saw in a cinema was Where Eagles Dare, also in Doha. I remember the cinema was open air and that we sat on folding chairs, and I can remember watching the movie on the screen quite clearly. The film was released in 1968, but it was unlikely to have been available in the Gulf until several years later. We left Qatar in 1974, so it was either that year or the previous one. In which case, I’ll have been seven or eight years old. Of course, Where Eagles Dare is now a Sunday afternoon perennial on television, so I’ve no idea how many times I’ve seen it since. The first genre film I can recall seeing is Planet of the Apes. After leaving Qatar, we moved to Oman and  lived in a villa in a small camp outside the Sultan’s palace in Seeb. We would often visit the army barracks at Rusayl, where there was a film club. They’d project films onto the end of a barracks block, in a small area fenced off with barasti and provided with folding chairs.

where-eagles-dare

First album
One of the first bands I can remember owning an album by was Deep Purple. But that was a pirate cassette – you could buy them openly in the Middle East during the 1970s; and, in fact, right up to the mid-1990s. They usually cost less than £1. I remember them being Dh 4/- each during the 1980s when there were about six UAE Dirhams to the Pound Sterling. The first legitimate album I can remember buying was a LP, and I bought it in a record shop on Clumber Street in Nottingham. The shop has long since gone and I no longer remember its name. The album was Cat Stevens’ Foreigner, and I still have it. I don’t listen to it that much, though. The album was released in 1973, and I’m fairly sure I bought it before I started at boarding school in 1976. So I’m guessing it was either summer 1975 or summer 1976 when I purchased it. It might have been the year before.

foreigner

A message from our sponsors: today’s trip down memory lane has been brought to you by science fiction, the literature of the futures of yesteryear.


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Affiliatification

According to a piece on the Bookseller website here, authors should not link to Amazon because by supporting the tax-evading giant they are contributing to the slow death of independent booksellers. The article names a number of authors, and the books they are linking to are their own – which is something that doesn’t apply to me since I’m both the publisher and author of the Apollo Quartet, so of course I link to my own Whippleshield Books online store. Except for the edition I published on Kindle, that is.

However, I do write about books, films and music here on this blog, and I link the titles through to Amazon. I’m a member of their affiliate scheme, and each sale from a link nets me about 2% of the purchase price. It’s not, in the grand scheme of things, a massive earner – typically about £50 a year, but that’s £50 I can spend on MOAR BOOKS. I initially joined Amazon’s scheme for a number of reasons – they stock books, DVDs and CDs on the one site, it costs nothing to join, and it’s very very simple to use (you just cut and paste a link into your blog). I did at one point swap over to using Book Depository’s affiliate scheme, which was more complex; but when Amazon bought Book Depository the whole point of changing over was lost.

The thing is, I don’t actually want to support Amazon. I don’t like their business practices, I don’t like their tax evasion, and I don’t like their routinely poor treatment of their employees. On the other hand, they are often the only people who have particular items in stock, their customer service is excellent (Nook take note), and they are usually the first port of call for online shoppers. I have sold more copies of Adrift on the Sea of Rains through Amazon than I have through my own online shop, even though the prices are identical. (Which is especially annoying as Amazon gouge a 60% discount from me on the books they sell, so I make a loss on every sale.)

There are plenty of online sellers I could use instead of Amazon: Waterstones, HMV, The Hive, ABEBooks, Foyles, even specialist booksellers such as Cold Tonnage, Porcupine Books, etc. (Having said that, it has always been my policy on this blog to link small press titles directly to the small presses themselves.) If I’m going to drive traffic to an online seller such as Waterstones, then I would like some reward for doing so. But no online seller that I’ve found so far operates an affiliate scheme as simple to use as Amazon’s. Foyles and Waterstones use a scheme run by Zanox, The Hive uses one from Japanese internet giant Rakuten, and both of those demand a £5 sign-up fee. And they have to approve you (which takes 10 working days). AbeBooks runs a scheme based in the US – yes, even the UK site – which means your earnings will be taxed by the US government unless you jump through a bunch of stupid bureaucratic hoops to prove that, like most of the fucking planet, you’re not actually a citizen of the USA…

I could, perhaps, link to my local independent book shop. But my local book shop is unlikely to be the local book shop for a reader of my blog. So that’s not going to work either. If there were a central site listing independent booksellers which I could link to, and which would determine a reader’s local book shop from their IP address… that would be pretty cool. But that doesn’t exist. And we’ve only had the World Wide Web for twenty years… Perhaps publishers could run some sort of affiliate scheme, then I could link in-print titles directly to their online catalogues. Except publishers’ website often contain incorrect details, not all them actually sell the books they publish, and such a scheme wouldn’t cover out-of-print titles.

Nonetheless I’m going to try a couple of affiliate schemes run by other booksellers, just to see how easy they are to use. And I’ll blog about what happens. On Saturday, I signed up for Foyles’ scheme, but I can’t use it until my application is approved. I’m going to limit my trials to UK-based schemes because I’ve no desire to be fucked about by the American IRS.

If I don’t find a suitable alternative, then I’m pretty much stuck with Amazon.


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Best of the half-year

It’s halfway through 2013, and it’s proven quite a year so far in ways both good and bad. This post is to celebrate some of the good stuff – namely the best of the books I’ve read, the films I’ve seen, and the albums I first heard during the previous six months.

Books
wintersboneWinter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell (2006) I read this after seeing and liking the film and I was much surprised to discover it was not some piece of cheap commercial fiction with an unusual setting, but instead a beautifully-written literary novel which happened to use a genre plot. The film is pretty damn good too. I plan to read more by Woodrell. I wrote about this book here.

emptyEmpty Space, M John Harrison (2012) is the third book in the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy and I really must reread Light and Nova Swing one of these days. If at first I thought Empty Space felt a little undisciplined in its spraying of tropes across its narrative threads, the more of it I read the more I realised how very carefully engineered it was. I wrote about this book here.

calvinoInvisible Cities, Italo Calvino (1972) is the most recently-read book to appear in this list. I had no real idea what to expect when I picked it up, but its lyrical and oblique descriptions of the cities (allegedly) visited by Marco Polo immediately captivated me. I wrote about this book here.

wallaroundedenThe Wall Around Eden, Joan Slonczewski (1989) is one of those books I read and enjoyed, but only realised how well-crafted it was when I came to write a review of it for SF Mistressworks. It reads like a masterclass in science fiction. This book really needs to be back in print. See my review here.

UnderTheVolcanoUnder the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry (1947) Some books just leave you speechless at the quality of the prose, and while I’d already fallen in love with Lowry’s writing when I read his novella ‘Through the Panama’, there was always a chance this, his most famous and most lauded novel, would not appeal as much. Happily, it did. Even more so, perhaps. A bona fide classic of English-language literature. I wrote about it here.

Honourable mentions go to Osama, Lavie Tidhar (2011), whose grasp may not quite match its reach but it comes damn close; Before The Incal, Alejandro Jodorowsky & Zoran Janjetov (2012), which matches The Incal for bonkersness and sheer bande dessinée goodness; Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997), which is a bit of a bloated monstrosity, and contains too much baseball, but also features moments of genius; The Steerswoman’s Road, Rosemary Kirstein (2003), which is actually a cheat as its an omnibus of The Steerswoman (1992) and The Outskirter’s Secret (1993) and I only read the latter this year, but it’s an excellent series and deserves praise; Jamilia, Chingiz Aïtmatov (1958), which proved to be a lovely little novella set in the author’s native Kyrgyzstan; and Sons and Lovers, DH Lawrence (1913), which shows with beautiful prose how psychology should be used in fiction.

Um, not that much science fiction there. I seem to be failing at this science fiction fan business…

Films
Le Mépris, Jean-Luc Godard (1963) I am not a huge fan of Godard, so I was somewhat surprised how much I liked this film. Perhaps it’s because it feels a little like Fellini’s (both are about film-making), which is also a favourite film, and looks a bit like something by Antonioni.

mabuseThe Dr Mabuse trilogy, Fritz Lang: Dr Mabuse The Gambler (1922), The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1933), The 1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960) A bit of a cheat as I watched Dr Mabuse The Gambler in 2012, but never mind. If the first film is a commentary on corruption in the Weimar Republic, the second extends the metaphor to comment on Nazism, and the third further completes it with an off-kilter noir film commenting on the legacy of the Nazis. Classic cinema.

Only Yesterday, Isao Takahata (1991) I’ve been working my way through Studio Ghibli’s output, though I find most of it either twee, cloyingly sentimental or a little juvenile. But not this one. I wrote about it here.

About Elly, Asghar Farhadi (2009) For much of its length, this film feels like an art house mystery, but then it takes a turn into something completely different and wholly Iranian. I wrote about it here.

she-should-have-gone-to-the-moon-film-posterShe Should Have Gone to the Moon, Ulrike Kubatta (2008) I bought this as research for the Apollo Quartet, and was surprised to discover it was a beautifully-shot documentary and meditation on the thirteen women who successfully passed the same medical tests as the Mercury astronauts.

Honourable mentions go to Gertrud, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1964), grim and Danish and beautifully subtle; Man With A Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov (1929), an astonishing and meta-cinematic document of 1920s Russia; Black Cat, White Cat, Emir Kusturica (1998), broad comedy but also very funny; Le Havre, Aki Kaurismäki (2011), typically deadpan but somewhat cheerier than usual; and The Sun, Aleksandr Sokurov (2005), a human portrait of Emperor Hirohito at the end of WWII.

Well, will you look at that, not a single Hollywood film in the entire lot. Instead, we have films from France, Germany, Japan, Iran, Denmark, Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Finland and a documentary from the UK.

Music
Construct, Dark Tranquillity (2013) A new album from one of my favourite bands, and with each new album they just get better and better. Can’t wait to see them live.

Death Walks With Me, Noumena (2013) A new album from Finnish melodic death metal masters after far too long a wait. Trumpet!

threnodyThe Threnody Of Triumph, Winterfylleth (2012) They call it English heritage black metal, though I’m not entirely sure what that means – a wall of guitars, with howling vocals layered over the top, some lovely acoustic interludes, and they’re bloody good live too.

Dustwalker, Fen (2013) More English heritage black metal but also very atmospheric, perhaps even a bit shoegazer-y in places; a formula that works extremely well.

Forlorn+Chambers+++Unborn+and+HUnborn and Hollow, Forlorn Chambers (2013) A demo EP from a new Finnish band, which mixes and matches a couple of extreme metal genres to excellent effect. Very heavy, very doomy, with a lot of death in it too. I’m looking forward to seeing an album from them.

Honourable mentions: Conflict, Sparagmos (1999), classic Polish death metal; Of Breath and Bone, Bel’akor (2012), Australian melodic death metal; Deathlike, Ancient VVisdom (2013), strange acoustic doom from Texas; Where the End Begins, Mentally Blind (2013), accomplished demo from a Polish death metal band.


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Films you must see: Only Yesterday

onlyyesterday_54849I vaguely recall seeing Porco Rosso (1992) back in the early 1990s, but the first Studio Ghibli film I ever watched knowing it was a Studio Ghibli film was 2001′s Spirited Away. It was only a couple of years after its release. I’m not a huge fan of anime or animated films, though I’ve seen most of the big ones, so I only bothered adding later Studio Ghibli films to my DVD rental list if someone had recommended them. And that’s how I came to see Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Tales from Earthsea (2006) (though the latter wasn’t exactly “recommended”…).

But a couple of years ago, I decided to work my way through all of the Studio Ghibli films, so I stuck them on my DVD rental list in their order of release. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), which is not strictly speaking a Studio Ghibli film, I found an interesting, if slightly odd, sf film. Laputa – Castle in the Sky (1986) was also fun, especially some of the steampunkish bits. Grave of the Fireflies (1988) I described here on my blog last year as a “sad story spoiled by mawkishness”. My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) I thought were overly twee.

But then last weekend I watched Only Yesterday

Released in 1991, Only Yesterday is unlike the other Studio Ghibli films in that it is a realistic drama, and contains no genre elements at all. It was adapted from a manga of the same title by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, and written and directed by Isao Takahata. The plot is relatively straightforward. Taeko, a young woman resident in Tokyo, decides to get away from city life for a while and travels out into the country to help a relative with the safflower harvest. During the train journey to Yamagata, Taeko remembers incidents from her life when she was ten years old. The film then flips back and forth between Taeko’s present in 1982 and her childhood in 1966. The sections set in the past are drawn with backgrounds which resemble watercolours, while the 1982 sections are much more realistic – and in many cases, quite beautifully painted.

Given my previous experience with Studio Ghibli films, Only Yesterday was completely unexpected. It wasn’t just that the quality of artwork seemed to stand out more because it depicted the real world, but also that the characters were so well-written. Taeko is both an interesting and engaging heroine, at both ages, and the two narratives played off each other extremely well. Even the supporting cast were good – from the grandmother who’s perhaps a little too blunt, to Toshio, the love interest, whose understated matter-of-factness anchors one of the film’s best scenes. And the ending, where Taeko’s childhood self and her school friends appear and help her make a decision which changes her life, was beautifully judged. I’ll not be surprised if this film makes it onto my best of the year list.

Meanwhile, I still have eleven Studio Ghibli films to watch, though I suspect I’ve just watched the best of them…


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2012 is dead, long live 2013

This happens every year at this time – you look back at the year just ended, remember the good bits and try to forget the bad bits; you look ahead to the year just begun, and try to convince yourself it will be better than even last year’s best bits, or that you have any control over how it will turn out… Shit happens, the road to hell, etc, etc.

Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort, of course. You may not, for example, be able to land yourself a book contract, no matter how wonderful your novel is, but if you don’t write the damn thing you stand even less chance. (Though debut novelists have been offered contracts before writing their novels.)

Likewise, the most reliable method of getting short fiction into print seems to be the Shotgun Method. Write as many stories as you can, submit them as many times as you can… Someone somewhere will usually buy them. Then you too can be ubiquitous, and subsequent sales will get easier.

In other words, Hard Work helps. But there are no guarantees. Certainly short cuts don’t always do the trick. There are stories of self-published authors selling phenomenally well, and subsequently being picked up by big publishing houses. They are in a very tiny minority. Most books published by anyone other than major publishing houses or long-established small presses are ignored. For instance, Rocket Science, published by Mutation Press, received plenty of positive reviews when it appeared back in April 2012. But it is also notably absent from lists of “best anthologies of the year”. I didn’t expect Adrift on the Sea of Rains to make it onto any lists – around 300 people, at a guess, have read it, and none of them were commentators with a large footprint within the genre. New small press… self-published… A not-unexpected result.

I worked quite hard during 2012 promoting those two books, but I suspect my message didn’t travel much beyond my own circle of friends, acquaintances and those I talk to within the genre. That’s as far as my “platform” reaches at present. It grew during 2012 – a little – but that sort of organic growth is too small and too slow to bounce my work to the next level. Because I made a tactical error in 2012: I spent so much time promoting Rocket Science and Adrift on the Sea of Rains, and writing The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, that I didn’t write any short fiction. And I need to do that in order to get my name out there…

So that’s one resolution for 2013. (I suspect it may have also been a resolution for each of the past few years.) I will write more short stories in 2013, I will submit more short stories in 2013. I have a bunch sort of started but far from finished, and I’ll  focus initially on them. Unfortunately, my desire to not write the sort of science fiction currently appearing in genre mags and on genre websites may somewhat limit my chances of success. Take my current work in progress: I was hoping to have it done for 31 December 2012, the deadline for Eibonvale Press’s new railway-themed genre anthology, Rustblind and Silverbright. Have yet to actually finish it. And it’s going to be a hard one to sell. ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled’ is barely science fiction, and barely has a plot. It’s sort of “magical realism with astronauts” (as my story ‘Faith’ was once described), except it has no astronauts in it.

I do have other stories to work on. Sorry, no exploding spaceships. No spaceships at all, in fact. I have two novellas I’d like to complete – one of them is an expanded version of ‘The Contributors’. There’s also book three of the Apollo Quartet, Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above; and possibly book four, All That Outer Space Allows. I have three novel ideas for which I need to write the first three chapters. I’d also like to see if I can do anything with my Nanowrimo effort from 2011.

And that’s just on the writing side. (You do realise, of course, that most of this will go undone, because… things.)

Oh, and I also experimented in 2012 with publishing a limited edition chapbook. It started out as a bit of a joke, but the twelve copies of Wunderwaffe I produced all sold. I then put it up on Kindle, where it has also sold (thought not in huge numbers). I’m planning to do something similar to another of my previously-published short stories, but I haven’t decided which one yet. I might do it to more than one…

On the reading side, I’ll be continuing to review books for SF Mistressworks. In the absence of other regular reviewers – I do have some irregular reviewers, however – I’ll have to read at least one suitable a book a week. That’s going to be a tough schedule to meet. I will need help. Please.

There’s also the TBR, which reached epic proportions several years ago. Over Christmas just gone, for example, I read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and realised afterwards with some embarrassment that I’d bought the book in November 2010. That’s actually not too bad – it’s taken me ten years to read some of the books I own. And that’s despite reading 153 books during 2012 – twelve down on the previous year’s total; in fact, the number has been steadily dropping since 2008. I suspect the number of books I’ve bought each year, however, has been steadily rising…

So, in 2013, I want to read more sf by women writers, more Malcolm Lowry, more Paul Scott, more recent genre books that interest me, more literary fiction… more good books. I also want to read much more genre short fiction. That’s going to be another resolution – to read genre short fiction regularly. But only if it interests me. I’ll happily bail on a story if it’s not working for me. But by the end of the year, I should at least be able to make some informed choices for the BSFA Award. I’ll also be including a top five of short fiction in my end of the year round-up post.

I’ll not bother with resolutions for films or music. Each year, I try to get to at least one gig a month. I don’t always make it, but by year’s end I’m usually not far off. For the record, it was 11 gigs in 2012, including Bloodstock. The best one should have been Anathema and Opeth in Leeds in November, but the venue was awful – over-packed and over-heated – and ruined the experience. Insomnium and Paradise Lost back in April might be the best, or perhaps it was local bands Setsudan and Northern Oak supporting Evil Scarecrow in October.

There’s no point in resolving to go to the cinema more often, because I only go if there are films I really want to see being shown. There were three in 2012, which is something of a record for me – at least since I left the UAE, where I lived just around the corner from an excellent cinema. There might be one or two movies I’d be willing to shell out £13 to see in IMAX 3D in 2013, but we’ll have to see. I will, however, continue to watch DVDs by my favourite directors, as well as trying new ones – mostly foreign-language, of course. And the really good films, I will write about here…

…Because I will continue to blog. I don’t think I could stop, to tell the truth. Posting once or twice a week is a good schedule to keep, but I suspect I won’t be able to maintain that level. I didn’t in 2012. This year, I’ll retire the Rocket Science News blog, since it’s served its purpose. It’ll stay up, but I won’t post to it anymore. Besides I have enough on with this blog, SF Mistressworks, the Whippleshield Books blog, and my Space Books blog (which I really must post to more often). I’ll remove the sf poetry blog – and perhaps work on some of the poems from it and start submitting them. I’ve only had two poems published to date, I really should start sending out more.

2012 was a bit of a convention-going year for me, although more by accident than design. Lavie Tidhar persuaded me to attend the SFX Weekender in February in Prestatyn. Much fun was had. Then there was the Eastercon in Heathrow, where I launched Rocket Science and Adrift on the Sea of Rains and nearly won the BSFA Non-Fiction Award for SF Mistressworks (it’s still eligible, by the way). Shortly after that, it was alt.fiction in Leicester, then Edge-Lit in Derby, and in November, Novacon in Nottingham. I’m not planning to attend as many cons in 2013.

Outside of genre and literature and music and cinema, 2012 was a bit meh. Some family issues were resolved. I spent Christmas in Denmark yet again, and saw some snow on the first day – but it rapidly disappeared and the weather remained wet and drizzly and dull. Santa brought me some books I want to read and some DVDs I want to watch. Oh, and some socks. The food was good, the visit to Louisiana, a modern art museum, was fascinating, and much as I hate Christmas it was a pleasant way to spend it…

And there you have it. 2012 is dead, long live 2013. I’m hoping it’ll be a good year, but it’ll be what it’ll be. That’s the way it works, you know. Life. Huh.


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Best of the year 2012

It’s that time of year again when I go back through my spreadsheets of books read, films seen and albums bought, and try to decide which are the best five of each. And yes, I do keep spreadsheets of them. I even have one where I record the bands I’ve seen perform live. And no, it’s not weird. It is organised.

Back in June, I did a half-year round-up – see here. Some of the books, films, albums I picked then have made it through to the end of the year, some haven’t. This time, for a change, I’m going to actually order my choices, from best to, er, least-best.

BOOKS
girl_reading1 Girl Reading, Katie Ward (2011)
This is probably the most impressive debut novel I’ve read for a long time. It could almost have been written to appeal directly to me. I like books that do something interesting with structure; it does something interesting with structure. I like books whose prose is immediate and detailed; its prose is immediate (present tense) and detailed. I like books that are broad in subject; it covers a number of different historical periods. And it all makes sense in the end. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye open for further books by Ward. I read this book in the second half of the year, so it didn’t make my half-year best. I wrote more about Girl Reading here.

23122 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (2012)
This year, I’ve actually read eleven genre novels first published during the twelve months, which I think may be a personal record. Having said that, it’s been a good year for genre fiction for me, as a number of my favourite authors have had books out. Sadly not all of them impressed (The Hydrogen Sonata, I’m looking at you). 2312 was everything I expected it to be and nothing like I’d imagined it would be. The plot is almost incidental, which is just as well as the resolution is feeble at best. But the journey there is definitely worth it. It is a novel, I think, that will linger for many years. Again, I read 2312 during the latter half of the year, so it didn’t make my half-year list. I wrote more about it here.

universe-cvr-lr-1003 The Universe of Things, Gwyneth Jones (2011)
Some collections aim for inclusiveness, some collections try for excellence. I’m not sure why Aqueduct Press chose the stories in this collection – it’s by no means all of Jones’ short fiction – but as a representative selection, The Universe of Things does an excellent job. I reviewed it for Daughters of Prometheus here, and I opened my review with the line: “Gwyneth Jones does not write many short stories – forty-one in thirty-seven years – but when she does, by God they’re worth reading.” This book did make my half-year list. Now I just have to read PS Publishing’s larger Jones collection, Grazing the Long Acre

intrusion-ken-macleod4 Intrusion, Ken MacLeod (2012)
The endings of Ken’s last few novels I have not found particularly convincing. It’s that final swerve from near-future high-tech thriller into heartland sf. Though the groundwork is usually carefully done, it too often feels like a leap too far. But not in Intrusion. The world-building here is cleverly done – I love the pastiche of Labour, with its “free and social market” – the thriller plot works like clockwork, and the final step sideways into pure genre slots straight in like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Intrusion is another book I read in the second half of 2012, so it didn’t make my half-year list. I reviewed Intrusion for SFF Chronicles here.

sheltering5 The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles (1949)
Curiously, I’d always liked the film adaptation by Bernardo Bertolucci, which inspired me to read the novel, but after finishing the book, I tried rewatching the film and found myself hating it. Mostly it was because the Lyalls, who are creepy and villainous in the novel, had been turned into comic caricatures. A lot had also been left out – though that’s not unusual, given the nature of the medium. The Arabic in the novel used French orthography, which meant I had to translate it twice to work out what it meant. And it looks like four out of the five books in this list I read after June, so the Jones collection is the only one from my half-year list that made it through to the end of the year one.

There are, however, a ton of honourable mentions – it’s turned out to be quite a good year, book-wise. They are: The Bender, Paul Scott (1963), which read like a sophisticated 1960s comedy starring Dirk Bogarde; The Door, Magda Szabó (1987), the best of my world fiction reading challenge (which I really must catch up on and finish); Betrayals, Charles Palliser (1994), a very clever novel built up from several stories, including a fun spoof of Taggart and a brilliant piss-take of Jeffrey Archer; How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Joanna Russ (1983), which should be required reading for all writers and critics; Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, Malcolm Lowry (1961), which introduced me to the genius that is Lowry; Ison of the Isles, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2012), successfully brings to a close the best fantasy of recent years; Omega, Christopher Evans (2008), a long overdue novel from a favourite writer, and a clever and pleasingly rigorous alternate history / dimension slip work; and Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds (2012), the start of a near-future trilogy, which is very good indeed but also stands out because it’s not regressive or dystopian.

FILMS
red_psalm1 Red Psalm, Miklós Jancsó (1972)
It’s about the Peasant Uprising in nineteenth-century Hungary, and consists of hippy-ish actors wandering around an declaiming to the camera. Occasionally, they sing folk songs. Then some soldiers arrive and some of the peasants get shot. But they’re not really dead, or injured. Then the landowners turn up and start espousing the virtues of capitalism. But the peasants shout them down. A priest tries to explain the “natural order of things”, but the peasants aren’t having it. Then more soldiers arrive and round up all the peasants. The ending is very clever indeed. It’s a hard film to really describe well, but it’s fascinating and weird and beautifully shot. I wrote about it here.

red_desert2 Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni (1964)
This was Antonioni’s first film shot in colour and it looks absolutely beautiful. In terms of story, it is much like his earlier masterpieces, L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse, and, like them, stars Monica Vitti. But also a (weirdly) dubbed Richard Harris. It’s a surprisingly bleak film – although perhaps not “surprisingly”, given that earlier trilogy – but it’s hard not to marvel at the painterly photography and mise-en-scène – who else would have the fruit on a barrow painted in shades of grey in order to fit in with the colouring of the surroundings? I wrote about it here. And I really must write more on my blog about the films I watch.

circle3 The Circle, Jafar Panahi (2000)
This is one of those films where one story hands off to another one and so on, and in which there is no real story arc, just a journey through episodes from the lives of the characters. Each of which is a woman living in Tehran, and all of whom have just recently been released from prison. They were not, however, imprisoned for doing things that would be criminal in other nations. As the title indicates, the stories come full circle, and the film’s message is far from happy or pleasing, but there is still room for hope. This film won several awards, though the Iranian authorities were apparently very unhappy with it.

persiancats4 No One Knows About Persian Cats, Bahman Ghobadi (2009)
It’s not about cats, it’s about two musicians in Tehran who have been invited to perform at a music festival in London. But first they need to find some more musicians for their band, and they also need the necessary paperwork to leave Iran. But western-style music, which is what they play, is illegal in Iran, and there’s no way they’ll be able to get the visas they need legally. So they visit all the musicians they know, hoping some of them will be willing to go to London with them, and they also pay a well-known underground figure for the papers they require to travel. It’s an affirming film, but also a deeply depressing one.

Dredd5 Dredd, Pete Travis (2012)
I was badgered into going to see this at the cinema by Tim Maugham on Twitter. I hadn’t really thought it would appeal to me. Even the fact it was touted as being more faithful to the 2000 AD character didn’t mean I’d like it. Although I grew up reading 2000 AD, Judge Dredd was far from my favourite character, and I’ve not bothered buying any of the omnibus trade paperbacks that are now available. But I went… and was surprised to find it was a bloody good film. It’s sort of like a weird munging together of an art house film and a Dirty Harry film, and strangely the combination works really well. It’s violent and horrible and grim and panders to all the worst qualities in people, but it all makes sense and fits together, and despite its simple plot is cleverly done. I plan to buy the DVD when it is available.

Iranian cinema did well this year for me. Not only did The Circle and No One Knows About Persian Cats make it into my top five, but two more Iranian films get honourable mentions: A Separation, Asghar Fahadi (2011), and The Wind Will Carry Us, Abbas Kiarostami (1999). Kiarostami I rate as one of the most interesting directors currently making films. Other honourable mentions go to: John Carter, Andrew Stanton (2012), which was undeservedly declared a flop, and is a much cleverer and more sophisticated piece of film-making than its intended audience deserved; Monkey Business, Howard Hawks (1952), is perhaps the screwball comedy par excellence; On the Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski (1988), is bonkers and unfinished, and yet works really well; there is a type of film I particularly like, but it wasn’t until I saw Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates that I discovered it was called “poetic cinema”, and his Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) is more of the same – weird and beautiful and compelling; and finally, François Ozon’s films are always worth watching and Potiche (2010) is one of his best, a gentle comedy with Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu in fine form.

ALBUMS
mourningweight1 The Weight Of Oceans, In Mourning (2012)
I saw a review of this album somewhere which made it seem as though I might like it. So I ordered a copy from Finland – which is where the band and the label are from. And I’ve been playing it almost constantly since. It’s Finnish death/doom metal mixed with progressive metal, which makes it the best of both worlds – heavy and intricate, with melodic proggy bits. The Finns, of course, know how to do death/doom better than anyone, but it’s been a surprise in recent years to discover they can do really interesting prog metal just as well – not just In Mourning, but also Barren Earth (see my honourable mentions below).

aquilus2 Griseus, Aquilus (2011)
A friend introduced me to this one. It’s an Australian one-man band, and the music is a weirdly compelling mix of black metal and… orchestral symphonic music. It sounds like the worst kind of mash-up, but it works amazing well. In the wrong hands, I suspect it could prove very bad indeed. Happily, Waldorf (AKA Horace Rosenqvist) knows what he’s doing, and the transitions between the two modes are both seamless and completely in keeping with the atmosphere the album generates. The album is available from Aquilus’s page on bandcamp, so you can give it a listen.

dwellings3 Dwellings, Cormorant (2011)
The same friend also introduced me to this band, who self-released Dwellings. It’s extreme metal, but extreme metal that borrows from a variety of sub-genres. I’ve seen one review which describes them as a mix of Ulver, Opeth, Slough Feg and Mithras, which really is an unholy mix (and two of those bands I count among my favourites). Most of the reviews I’ve seen find it difficult to describe the album, but they’re unanimous in their liking for it. And it’s true, it is very hard to describe – there’s plenty of heavy riffing, some folky interludes, some proggy bits, and it all sort of melds together into a complex whole which is much greater than the sum of its parts. This album is also available from the band’s page on bandcamp, and you can listen to it there. (You’ve probably noticed by now that I’m terrible at writing about music. I can’t dance about architecture either.)

25640_woods_of_ypres_woods_iv_the_green_album4 Woods 4: The Green Album, Woods of Ypres (2009)
Woods of Ypres was a band new to me in 2012. I first heard their final album, Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light, but at Bloodstock I picked up a copy of the preceding album and I think, on balance, I like the earlier one better. The music is a bit like Type O Negative meets black metal, with oboes. Sort of. The opening track ‘Shards of Love’ is, unusually for black metal, about a relationship, and it starts off not like metal at all and then abruptly becomes very metal indeed. An excellent album, with some strong riffs and some nicely quiet reflective moments. (It’s pure coincidence that I chose it as No 4 in my list, incidentally.)

obliterate5 Obliterate EP, Siphon the Mammon (2012)
I have no idea how I stumbled across this Swedish progressive death metal band. It was probably the name that caught my attention. And it is a silly name. But never mind. Anyway, I downloaded the EP from their bandcamp page… and discovered it was bloody good. It’s technical and accomplished, with some excellent riffs and song structures. I particularly like ‘The Construct of Plagues’, which features an excellent bass-line, but the final track ‘End of Time’ is also nicely progressive. And… this is the third album in my top five which is available from the band’s bandcamp page, which surely must say something about the music industry and the relevance of labels… or my taste in music…

This year’s honourable mentions go to: (Psychoparalysis), for a trio of EPs I bought direct from the band, and which are good strong Finnish progressive death metal; Anathema’s latest, Weather Systems, which I liked much more than the three or four albums which preceded, and they were bloody good live too; Hypnos 69′s Legacy, which I finally got around to buying and was, pleasingly, more of the same (this is good, of course); Barren Earth’s The Devil’s Resolve, which is definitely heavier than their debut album, but still very proggy and weird; A Forest of Stars, which is steampunk meets black metal, and it works surprisingly well (check out this video here); Nostalgia by Gwynbleidd, who, despite the name, are Poles resident in New York, and sound a little like a cross between Opeth and Northern Oak; Headspace, I Am Anonymous, another Damian Wilson prog rock project, but I think I prefer it on balance to Threshold’s new album; and Alcest, another band new to me in 2012, who play shoegazer black metal, which, unfortunately, works much better on an album than it does live.

IN CONCLUSION
And there you have – that was the year that was. On balance, I think it’s been a good year in terms of the literature, cinema and music I have consumed. There’s been some quality stuff, and some very interesting stuff too. Which is not to say there hasn’t been some crap as well, but it seemed less numerous this year. This may be because I chose to ignore what the genre, and popular culture, value and focus more on the sort of stuff that appeals directly to me – I’ve cut down on the number of Hollywood blockbusters I watch, I no longer read as much heartland genre fiction. There’s always a pressure to stay “current”, but the more I watch genre and comment on it, the more I see that it does not value the same things I do. It’s not just “exhaustion”, as identified by Paul Kincaid in his excellent review of two Year’s Best anthologies here, but from my perspective also a parting of the ways in terms of objectives, methods and effects. I want stuff – books, stories, etc – that is fresh and relevant, that does interesting things and says something interesting. I don’t want the usual crap that just blithely and unquestioningly recycles tropes and worldviews, stories about drug dealers on Mars in some USian libertarian near-future, space opera novels in which an analogue of the US gets to replay its military adventures and this time get the result it feels it deserved…

I mentioned in a post last week that I don’t read as much genre short fiction as I feel I should. After all, my views outlined above are taken from the little I’ve read on awards shortlists and in year’s best anthologies. Just because that’s what the genre values doesn’t mean the sort of stuff I value doesn’t exist. I just need to find it. So by including a short fiction best of list in 2013, I’ll be motivated to track down those good stories, to seek out those authors who are writing interesting stories.

All of this, of course, will I hope help with my own writing. I had both a very good year, and a not so good year, in that respect in 2012. Rocket Science, an anthology I edited, and quite obviously the best hard sf anthology of the year, was published in April. As was the first book of my Apollo Quartet, Adrift on the Sea of Rains. The Guardian described Rocket Science as “superb”, which was very pleasing. And Adrift on the Sea of Rains has had a number of very positive reviews see here. Unfortunately, as a result of those two publications, I haven’t been very productive. I spent most of the year after the Eastercon working on the second book of the Apollo Quartet, The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself. Those few who have read it say it’s as good as Adrift on the Sea of Rains, which is a relief. Everyone else will get to find out in January, when it’s published. But I really should have worked on some short fiction as well. I’m not the quickest of writers – I marvel at those people who can bang out a short story in a week – but each story you have published, irrespective of quality, widens your audience a little more, adds a little more weight to your name. And that’s what it’s all about. No matter how good people say Adrift on the Sea of Rains is, I’ve only sold just over 200 copies – add in review copies… and that means perhaps between 250 and 300 people have read it. Some semi-literate self-published fantasy novels available on Kindle sell more copies than that in a week…

But that’s all by the by. This post is about 2012, not 2013. Sadly, I didn’t manage to reread much Durrell to celebrate his centenary. I’ve had The Alexandria Quartet by the side of the bed for about nine months, and I dip into it every now and again, but then I have to put it to one side as I have to read a book for Interzone or SF Mistressworks… Speaking of which, I had to drop to a single review a week on SF Mistressworks, but I still plan to keep it going. During 2012, I read 41 books by women writers, compared to 63 by male writers, which is about 40% of my reading (this doesn’t include graphic novels, non-fiction or anthologies). I also reviewed a handful of books for Daughters of Prometheus, although I haven’t posted one there for several months. (I’ve no plans to drop either responsibility in 2013.) Just over a third of my reading was science fiction, and a quarter was mainstream – so sf is still my genre of choice. Numbers-wise, I’ve not managed as many books as last year – only 146 by the middle of December, whereas last year I’d managed 165 by the end of the year. But I think I’ve read some more substantial books this year, and I did “discover” some excellent writers, such as Malcolm Lowry, Katie Ward and Paul Bowles. It’s a shame I never managed to complete my world fiction reading challenge. I still have half of the books on the TBR, so I will work my way through them, though I may not blog about it.

But, for now, it’s Christmas – bah humbug – in a week. And then the start of 2013 follows a week after that. Here’s hoping that next year is better for everyone, that the good outweighs the bad, and that every surprise is a pleasant one.


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Prometheus stole fire, not stupidity

A few nights ago, I watched the DVD of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. I’d seen the film at the cinema earlier in the year, and been most unimpressed. It looked gorgeous, but there wasn’t a single functioning brain cell in it. Anyway, here are some notes I took as I watched the DVD…

  • When DNA breaks up, it does not form magical chemicals that can reform as DNA.
  • Noomi Rapace’s character is fond of saying, “it’s what I choose to believe”, which does not mean “it is true”, and any scientist with half an IQ would know as much.
  • The Prometheus starship appears to be somewhat bigger on the inside than the outside – I mean, if the crew are going to spend the journey in cryostasis, why would you put a huge gym in the ship?
  • The Prometheus takes two years to travel approximately 34.5 light years to LV-223, so the moon could be orbiting either Pollux, Gliese 649, Gliese 86… or some completely made-up star.
  • Why does David the android (Michael Fassbender) eat?
  • The lifeboat in which Charlize Theron’s character lives has everything she might need… including a grand piano?
  • On arrival at LV-223, they discover the Engineer facility because “God does not build in straight lines”. Er, what? Nature certainly does, physics certainly does.
  • Why does everyone aboard have a seat on the bridge of the Prometheus? Shouldn’t only the crew?
  • The ancient paintings depicted a “galactic system”. This means absolutely nothing.
  • The civilisations which made the ancient paintings apparently never had contact with each other. Unlikely. Even if centuries apart, there would still be historical artefacts – like, er, the ancient paintings which prompt the mission to LV-223…
  • The cave painting on Skye was dated as 35,000 years old. Northern Europe was still experiencing the last ice age at that point (the Flandrian interglacial didn’t start until 10,000 years ago).
  • Why does David the android dye his hair? Can’t he just swap it?
  • The Engineer facility is a sugar-loaf type rock hill inside a circular rock wall, and it has an undercut entrance supported by carved pillars – so yes, it would be easy to say it is not natural.
  • Speaking of entrances, the scientists have to duck to get inside – yet the Engineers are enormous. What a silly way to enter a building.
  • Speaking of the Engineers, their spaceships are famously boomerang-shaped… Except for the one which opens the film, which is saucer-shaped. Why?
  • The scientists are inside an alien facility, their sensors have told them the chemical composition of the air, but there’s no mention of biological contaminants… so let’s all take our helmets off. Right…
  • Several of the scientists make jokes about Martians – eh?
  • The man responsible for mapping the Engineer facility… gets lost. Fail.
  • Why is there a xenomorph in the mural?
  • Two scientists are in charge of the expedition– no wait, one scientist and his “zealot girlfriend”. So no gender equality in the 22nd century, then.
  • How do you trick a severed head that’s been dead for 2000 years into thinking it’s alive?
  • And, what do you know, a perfect match between human and Engineer DNA. So much for evolution.
  • David the android does not need to drink, or indeed breathe, but he still eats food – eh?
  • The two lost scientists don’t know where they are… but they can give their coordinates to the ship.
  • It’s the twenty-first century, haven’t we moved on from infertility as the sole motivation for a female character?
  • Or indeed, when a woman is asked if she is a robot, offering sex is not the first or most efficient means of proving your humanity.
  • Some of the scientists and crew smoke cigarettes. Aboard a spaceship. Fail.
  • What generates the holograms of the Engineers running through the facility? Where is the machinery? You can see it in the engineer spaceship.
  • And how come it still works after 2,000 years? The Antikythera Mechanism didn’t.
  • When Noomi Rapace takes off her clothes, she is apparently wearing a bandage around her chest rather than a bra.
  • When Weyland makes an appearance, where did his nurse come from?
  • Why do all the Engineers look identical?

… And at this point I gave up making notes because it was all getting too silly. Why bother mentioning that Rapace has to abseil out of the Engineer spaceship… so how did she get into it? Or that running away from a rolling spaceship along the line it is rolling is pretty bloody stupid.

I was also informed that the DVD version featured a different start and end, and a number of additional scenes in the middle – as if it were, you know, a different and less stupid film. I didn’t notice any difference. Perhaps the version I bought is the theatrical release – it doesn’t say it is, but it also doesn’t say it’s not. That’s annoying.

I’m all for science fiction cinema, and I would like to see more of it. But this is shoddy writing, this is a failure of writing craft. It’s indicative of the contempt in which Hollywood holds the audiences of its films. It’s no wonder I’ve found myself increasingly watching world cinema, art house cinema and classic movies…


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Ian’s greatest films

After seeing the BFI greatest films list, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to put together a list of my own. Obviously, I’ve not watched every film ever made, and my tastes probably lean in a certain direction cinematically – I don’t, for example, see the appeal of the films of either Kurosawa or Ozu. Anyway, here – for what it’s worth – is my pick of the fifty greatest films – that I have seen – ever made. I tried to go for a little variety, instead of just listing half a dozen films each by my favourite directors. It’s certainly a more international list than the BFI one.

1. All that Heaven Allows, Douglas Sirk, 1955
2. Mirror, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975
3. The Colour of Pomegranates, Sergei Parajanov, 1968
4. Divine Intervention, Elia Suleiman, 2002
5. Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964
6. Metropolis, Fritz Lang, 1927
7. Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock, 1954
8. Autumn Sonata, Ingmar Bergman, 1978
9. No End, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1984
10= Brazil, Terry Gilliam, 1984
10= Mooladé, Ousmane Sembène, 2004
12. 8½, Frederico Fellini, 1962
13. Red Psalm, Miklós Jancsó, 1972
14. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, FW Murnau, 1927
15. The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, 2001
16. Alien, Ridley Scott, 1979
17. Passenger, Andrzej Munk, 1963
18= Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979
18= 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968
20. Imitation of Life, Douglas Sirk , 1959
21. The Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973
22. Aguirre, Wrath of God, Werner Herzog, 1972
23. Delicatessen, Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, 1991
24. Daratt, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2006
25= Lady Chatterley, Pascale Ferran, 2006
25= The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman, 1957
27. Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, 1941
28. On the Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski, 1988
29. Things to Come, John Cameron Menzies, 1936
30. Drifting Clouds, Aki Kaurismäki, 1996
31. Fahrenheit 451, François Truffaut, 1966
32. Rio Bravo, Howard Hawks, 1959
33= Underground, Emir Kusturica, 1995
33= The Bothersome Man, Jens Lien, 2006
35. Das Boot, Wolfgang Peterson, 1981
36. La Jetée, Chris Marker, 1962
37. The Man Who Fell to Earth, Nicolas Roeg, 1976
38. High Society, Charles Walters, 1956
39. Russian Ark, Alexander Sokurov, 2002
40. Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, 1982
41. Atanarjuat the Fast Runner, Zacharias Kunuk, 2001
42= Went the Day Well?, Cavalcanti, 1942
42= The Third Man, Carol Reed, 1949
44. Secret Ballot, Babak Payami, 2001
45. Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean, 1962
46. Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven, 1997
47= The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman, 1983
47= The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943
49, It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra, 1946
50. Mulholland Dr., David Lynch, 2001

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