Sparkles be gone…

I know I am not the only one sick to the back-teeth of  “Vampire” stories.  Whether we’re talking Twilight, Vampire Diaries, etc. it’s overload time for the  dark romance  turgid teen vampire genre.  I don’t quite know how we got here but I probably blame Anne Rice.  I thoroughly enjoyed Interview with the Vampire but the sequels were somewhat less interesting.  And it turns out she’s a god botherer which explains why we end up with nonsense like Memnoch the Devil.  I’ve digressed;  I’d  just really like to see something approaching a decent complex horror story.

And don’t start me on zombies…

Maybe Werewolves are where it’s at?

I was lucky enough to get to see a half decent film in the Edinburgh  Film Festival called Outcast.  This is a small independent film featuring a mix of Irish and Scottish actors.  The premise is relatively simple.  There are a small number of gypsy types living amongst us and they have magical powers.  Two of them appear to be hunting down something, there’s a strange family living on a sink estate and there’s a monster loose in the town.

First the bad stuff.  The story is a little incoherent. Much is left unsaid and the viewer is left to fill in the gaps.  This makes you work harder than you normally have to, which in a sense is nice, but at the same time a little more detail would have been ok.   Many of the characters felt like placeholders and they didn’t grow much throughout the film. There’s also at least one character who could have been excised completely.  A couple of the story strands are left dangling so the film didn’t feel as satisfying as it might by the time you reach the conclusion.  These are normally bad signs in any movie, certainly for me, yet the film is still quite good,

Essentially this is a typical werewolf story; coming of age mixed in with forbidden love.  The central idea of magical gypsies living among us is nothing new however it felt realistic and the actors worked well with what they were given.  The film had a gritty gory feel that I thought contrasts quite well with the overly smooth safe modern horrors that have been inflicted on us recently.  The director also didn’t dwell on the beast.  It’s not shown   in any detail until the end, probably because of budget constraints, and I felt that this helped keep brooding mystery of the story intact.  There’s also some good central performances that kept me interested throughout.

I’d certainly recommend seeing the film.  It’s a nice counterpoint to the torture-porn and teen angst crap that’s being served up in the multiplexes.  If no one sees it at the cinema then I hope it gets a good figures on DVD.  And I hope the writer-director makes more films – especially if he’s going to explain the world that his characters  inhabit.

As a last thought maybe this is what horror genre actually needs.  Less zombies, less vampires (unless we return to proper scary vampires), less torture porn and more genuine scares.  Maybe it’s time for the genre to go a little underground and then return back from the wilderness lean and hungry again…

Quietly Sprinting…

In a fit of nostalgia I decided to watch of the old SF classic Silent Running.  If you haven’t seen it’s a tale of a man, a  sort-of space botanist, who is in charge of some space born biodomes which contain the last natural plant life of Earth.  One day he and the crew receive the order to jettison (and destroy) their cargo.   He rebels and attempts to save them.

That’s the essential story.  Not much happens other than he anthropomorphises two robotic drones in his need for company.  There’s also some interesting shots of Saturn (leftover from 2001 A Space Odyssey!).

In many ways this film reminded me of Moon by Duncan Jones.  In fact Jones is on record saying that he was very much inspired by it; right down to the central themes of paranoia, loss and alienation.  Also the film seems to lack a lot of tension and Dern’s acting is somewhat patchy and yet, despite this, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it; right down to being moved by the end (which I will not spoil).

It got me thinking.  Good SF is not about “SF” – not rockets and rayguns – it’s about something else.  There’s some enjoyment to be had out of pulpy novels and TV shows featuring chiselled jaws (and jawettes these days), one dimensional aliens and plots revolving around giant explosions but mostly because it’s ok to sometimes switch your brain off.  However truly satisfying SF is very rich and it’s about something else.  Frequently complex themes are explored in a mature, thought-provoking way painted onto the backdrop some otherworldly setting.  In film we might say 2001, Solaris (especially the original) and maybe Bladerunner are good examples of SF being used to talk about what it means to be human.  It seems rather odd to me that a genre that contains so much well-written philosophical discussion on the nature of things is shunned by the literary establishment as well as most general readers.  This despite the fact that we live in the SF age…

I think this is a subject that I will have to return to at some point.

Oh before I forget; for some reason whenever I think of Silent Running [in my head] I confuse it with the John Candy vehicle Cool Runnings.  No, I don’t know why.


I can heartily recommend Monsters. It’s beautifully shot, in fact it’s hard to believe that it was shot using pro-sumer kit. The supporting cast of local mexicans give the film a rich sense of realism.  The essential story of two people in peril trying to get back home probably didn’t  need any octupus Monsters however, without them, it might have disappeared into the morass of other such films. I certainly wouldn’t have been interested.   Because it was part of the Film Festival the director and the most of the crew were in attendance, about 5 people, so that made clapping the film at the end (something I’ve always found weird) actually worthwhile.

The Ten Rules…

During a quiet moment I found myself at the Grauniad reading Ten Rules of Fiction Writing Part 1 and Part 2.   It’s all based on Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules and there are some additional comments from well-known authors.  I remember reading King’s admiration for Leonard; in particular the maxim “Using adverbs is a mortal sin”.  However browsing the other author’s advice it occurred to me that this snippet from Will Self is probably the best I’ve read:

10 Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.

For some reason I want to give this a go.

Good idea?

It seems an Indian authority wants to open an outsourcing facility in a jail.  To make use of  “educated” criminals.  More here.

Bad idea!

Tentacle Love Tangle

I recently came across footage of a film called Monsters.  There’s very little out there about this film and the director seems resolute about not releasing a decent trailer.  Essentially this is a story of two Americans  trying to get home after being trapped in Mexico after a spaceship crashes releasing giant octopoid aliens.

Like Cloverfield it’s filmed with handheld cameras.  Intriguingly in one production video the director states that his crew consisted of a few people, 2 actors and they would just wander around shooting their film.  That was then sent back to the hotel where the editor would work his magic.  The post production has been done on a laptop too.

Normally I wouldn’t be so interested in guerilla filming but it does look well made.  Here’s a clip

It’s showing as part of the film festival up here.

I really hope it’s not as bad as Cloverfield.

Foreign Genre fiction

I attended a literary event yesterday as part of the Leith festival. Strangers in a Strange Land marketed itself as 14hrs of genre mix matching. I was only interested in the SF strand slotted in for 5pm; this was a reading from a few short Japanese pieces followed by a discussion. It was unfortunate that we didn’t have more time for the discussion because I really enjoyed that part.
I’ve occasionally wondered how concepts alien to one culture were translated into another. Japanese in particular, seems to me to have a lot of ideas that would be alien to us in the West.  Edwin Hawkes the translator from High Castle clearly had a passion for his work so it was a real pleasure to hear him talk. The other panelists (Andrew Wilson and SF author Gary Gibson) also made interesting comments from their perspectives; Gary admitting that his experience mostly boiled down to whether he liked the cover or not (I got the impression it was generally not).
I always like finding things that are different. Whether I subsequently enjoy the find doesn’t take away  the excitement of trying the new thing out. While I was there I scratched that itch and picked up a copy of All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.  Hopefully next year it will be better attended.