January 21, 2021 Leave a comment

Well January 2021.

It’s always tempting to fill this blog with future plans and I’m sure that’s utterly fascinating for anyone reading it, but I’ll level with you all; thanks to national lockdown, right now I’m 294lbs in weight.

That’s pretty unsustainable. I’ve always struggled with weight control and general fitness, but 2020 years turned me into a coach potato. Previously I enjoyed running around doing all sorts of daft things and I need to get back to that.

So, for the next few months it’s going to be monitoring my food intake and doing some utterly silly exercise videos in an effort to go all in. The plan is to shed 70lbs by the end of the year. No photos, I find that sort of stuff cringeworthy, but that’s the goal.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Uncategorized

Brian Blessed – Timelord

August 8, 2020 Leave a comment

I note with interest that the UK tabloids have picked up on the fact that Brian Blessed hasn’t been out of the house in a while and is freely available to chat away online. Namely, there’s a headline floating around stating that Brian ‘shocked the BBC’ with his pitch for Doctor Who.

They are several problems with this. One is that it’s pretty hard to shock the BBC. Partially because corporations aren’t people1 but mostly because the people working for the Beeb have pretty much heard it all. The general public have many ideas and aren’t backwards about sharing them.2. Also this is an anecdote from the 1960s. But my main problem is this is a gag taken way out of context. And before we get started, yes, Brian has frequently made the point that name Who sounds like the Chinese surname Hu. It’s one of his standard celeb stories and he’s been telling it for decades.

I’ve seen Brian Blessed on stage quite a few times and have chatted away with him more than once, mostly back-stage3. It is possible to have a normal volume conversation with the man and he’s a very interesting and well-travelled chap.

Brian is a regular on the UK sci-fi convention scene and he has a ‘routine’, which is a highly charismatic ramble about the state of the world, science fiction and science in general. It’s something of a ‘feel good’ rally; Mr Blessed is a kind man with a wealth of life experience and mostly what he says is practical motivational stuff in which he tells us that the world can still be a bright and good place.

Brian Blessed

The Brian Blessed impersonator helpline is currently experiencing a very high call volume.

I once had the total pleasure of watching professional insult merchant John Robertson interview him on stage and goodness me was that fun; the two riffed on each other very well indeed and Blessed was a delight. John was in his element; he fed the lines and Mr B kept producing the funnies. All of which came with an added measure of joy, rude-words, mischief and love. Blessed’s bombastic nature is tempered by wisdom and respect.

Brian doesn’t simply swear; he produces artisan crafted profanity designed to delight. One of the few true Profanomancers, a wizard with the pun and the naughty word. Which brings us to ‘the Doctor Who thing’. Inevitably whilst on stage some member of the general public will ask if Blessed would ever play Doctor Who and you will get one of two responses; he’ll either talk about Blake’s 7 (which is close enough and he was actually in that), or he’ll claim that he wanted the character to be called Doctor Hu. Because that’s a Chinese name. And that’s the whole bit, a pun on Hu/Who4. Sometimes he’ll then point out that if they actually did that it should of course go to a more appropiate actor5. We would see Brian’s serious face. Then he’ll talk about his travels across the world. Then he’ll talk about Tibet and kicking the Dalai Lama in the bum. Which is a whole other story which again, taken out of context sounds terrible but is actually just a very silly story told by an elderly actor who’s been doing that all his life.

Because that’s the gig, and that’s the act. And a little thing like a global pandemic isn’t going stop Brian Blessed from telling ridiculous stories.

1: Let’s recognise corporate personhood for the nonsense it is. Though the idea of Amazon Prime suddenly manifesting a body and going to parties does amuse me. I’d imagine he’d be able to transform into a truck.
2: All I need to say is “Mrs Brown’s Boys”.
3: Be under no illusion; he has no idea who I am beyond ‘oh yes, Starburst.’
4: He also once declared he’d quite like to play The Corsair6 in Doctor Who, but of course that was a run up to some jokes about The Pirates of Penzance.
5: Not that anyone asked me, but let’s have Jessica Henwick as the next Doctor.
6: Once someone explained to him what a TimeLord Space Pirate was. Did you know Brian has trained to go into space? Because of course he has.

Worst Hugo Award Ceremony – Ever

August 1, 2020 3 comments

If you were a British teenager back in the 1980s, there’s a fair chance that you’ll remember the 1989 Brit Awards. Presented by Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox, it’s gone down in award ceremony history as how not to do the thing. Plagued by technical difficulties, presenters who had no empathy with the audience and a general lack of scripting and planning, I was pretty sure it was the worst awards presentation I’d ever see.


The 1989 Brit Awards are still painful to watch

All that changed when I made the mistake of tuning in to watch the 2020 Hugo Award ceremony, presented by George RR Martin.  The Hugo Award ceremony is never the most slickly produced thing. And this year, the convention organisers 1 had to do the whole thing via the internet.

And just before we get into it: The speeches were amazing. The technical achievement was incredible. The team did very well on short notice (Worldcons take years to plan) and the things the winners said were important and deserving of respect.  A super-cut, shorter version of the ceremony, can be found here:

You’ll note it’s shorter than the full ceremony. That’s because they cut out all the bits from Toastmaster, George RR Martin. The edited version is two hours shorter.

That’s right; the full ceremony was three and a half hours long. Two hours of this was George RR Martin reminiscing on his youth, whilst throwing shade at the new generation of Hugo Nominees and fans. Now had George been a gracious host, that might have been charming. But instead it was an old fan using his platform to lecture and bore his community, whilst disapproving of the community he claims to love.

For example, the award for new voices in sci-fi fandom got changed last year from being called ‘The John W Campbell Award’ to ‘The Astounding Award’.  This is mostly because Jeanette Ng pointed out that John W Campbell was a “fucking fascist” and a racist, during her acceptance speech last year for that award.

As Ng acknowledged later; the fans have been trying to get the award changed for years, it’s just that Ng took a stand, risked her career and made the point at a critical time. It prompted the name change.

Martin used his platform to not only mock the way the award had been changed, but to repeatedly talk about Campbell, the noted fascist and racist. Martin would go on to mis-pronounce names (despite given clear guidance to the contrary.) It was a 210 minute dis-fest, punctuated by actually relevant members of the community popping on to accept their awards and say important things about the state of the world.

Worse, Martin changed the narrative of the ceremony.  Most of the speeches mentioned the state of the world right now, which is correct for a science fiction awards ceremony.  Winners talked about the harassment and bigotry they had to cope with from within the publishing world. They talked about the state of Hong Kong and Hungary. They made impassioned speeches that acknowledged the poor state of our planet right now. It was strong stuff. It was stuff that should be said.

And yet, here we are complaining about Martin and his attempt to sweep that all under the table and talk about himself.

This is not the first time George has been rude to those nominated for a Hugo Award. Back before the days of inside toilets and wifi, Martin invented a thing called the Loser’s Party; a silly name for the Hugo Awards Ceremony after-party.  Over the years it’s become a bit of a legend, with talented types from the world of SciFi and Fantasy having fun. It’s become more than what it once was, much like the SciFi community itself.

Last year, at Dublin 2019– An Irish Worldcon,  it was held at the spacious Guinness Storehouse. Martin later admitted that he had under-estimated the number of guests attending and it’s clear that certain cliques got in over others.  You would assume that a Hugo Losers party would prioritise those nominated for a Hugo Award but didn’t win.  Instead, the venue hit capacity and a number of the ‘losers’ couldn’t get in. They were left, outside in the rain. For hours. Waiting to get in to their own party

Just let that sink in; the Hugo Losers party didn’t prioritise the Hugo Losers on the guest list. Though of course George and friends did get in.  George RR Martin, a man who cannot organise a piss-up in a brewery.

The seemingly deliberate disrespect Martin gave to Hugo Nominees last night puts that incident in a fresh light: Martin does not care about the younger, more diverse people who now get nominated for a Hugo award. He can’t be bothered to get their names right and to him, the past is more important than the future. This is unsustainable for an organisation that is all about speculating on what tomorrow brings.

Worldcon and The Hugo Awards need to change. Future Worldcons will not only need to be accessible to those who can only access things online, or who choose not to attend a particular location, but it also needs to acknowledge that this is a world that no longer trusts its elders.  Condescending and elite events like the ‘Loser’s Party’ need to go, replaced with something that respects the hard work of those involved with the awards.

The Brit Awards are a slick, well presented show these days. The Hugos need to learn this lesson – the conventions that host it need to spend the money, hire professional hosts and produce something worthy of those the world science fiction community wants to give its highest praise to. That means spending some actual money on the ceremony.

This should have been a celebration of New Zealand’s unique contribution to world of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This should have been a rallying call and an inspiration to the world. Instead it was an ageing white American millionaire rambling on endlessly about the last century, alienating his peers and throwing us back into the past.

Let’s do better in future.

1:  Worldcons are volunteer ran. It’s not a monolithic organisation – those in charge change from convention to convention. It’s a feature, not a bug. It’s incredibly hard work and all of the volunteers and technical teams involved have done an amazing job under difficult circumstances.

Categories: Books, Rants, Writing Tags:

My Conzealand 2020 Schedule

July 27, 2020 Leave a comment

Here is a list of panels that I’ll be on as part of Conzealand 2020 – Worldcon. It’s all online because of course it is. Some of these are quite early in the morning because it’s the other side of the world.

Novel vs. Game: Approaches to Narrative Fiction
14:00, Wednesday 29 Jul 2020 NZST (50 minutes) That’s 03:00, Wednesday 29 Jul 2020 BST)
Many modern games center around a narrative story, which unfolds as the player plays the game. What are the similarities and differences in the way a story is told in the two media? What are the similarities and differences between writing a game and writing a novel?

The World of Independent Board Games: Beyond D & D
16:00, Wednesday 29 Jul 2020 NZST (50 minutes) 5:00, Wednesday 29 Jul 2020 BST
Just about everyone has rolled a 12-sided die at one time or another, but there’s a whole new world of indie games like….

Kaffeeklatsch: Ed Fortune
11:00, Thursday 30 Jul 2020 NZST (50 minutes) 0:00, Thursday 30 Jul 2020 BST
Basically it’s an ask me anything session. These tend to be quite fun.

From Kuttner to Pratchett: Humour in Science Fiction and Fantasy
15:00, Saturday 1 Aug 2020 NZST (50 minutes) 4:00, Saturday 1 Aug 2020 BST
It was a cliche that humour wouldn’t work in SF/F, but numerous practitioners have proved otherwise. This is true both in writing (with writes like Henry Kuttner, Douglas Adams, Tom Holt, and especially Terry Pratchett) and in movies and TV (Galaxy Quest and Red Dwarf are examples).  What types of humor work and don’t work in SF/F?

Categories: Books

Brave New Words Award 2020

April 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Back in March,  STARBURST Magazine announced it’s finalists  for the Brave New Words Award. They are:

Evan WinterRage of Dragons (Orbit Books)
Max Gladstone and Amal El-MohtarThis is How You Lose the Time War (Jo Fletcher Books)
Tyler HayesThe Imaginary Corpse (Angry Robot)
Sady DoyleDead Blondes and Bad Mothers (MHP Books)
Nisi ShawlNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color (Rebellion)
Tamsyn MuirGideon the Ninth (Tor)


This year’s Brave New Words list is very exciting

In case you don’t know the award, it’s pretty simple. It’s an award for words that are Brave and New. It covers a lot of space, can go to editors, writers, bloggers and the like.  It’s always exciting to managed.

I walked away from this year’s  Starburst International Film Festival in March after vigorous chat with the team, which is the final bit of the of the shortlist process.  We announced the finalists via the main website and in print.  The plan was to then get the judges to judge the books, and announce the winner at Edge Lit. (We’d selected judges in January.)

Covid-19 had other ideas, and Edge Lit got cancelled.  So we are taking our time with it all, and the results are likely to turn up an online convention in October/November 2020. Goodness knows how we are getting the award to people, that’s a job for a future Ed.

We are also planning to a new award, the Starburst Hero Award for Literary excellence. It does what it says on the tin, the designs are very exciting.

The panel of judges for the Brave New Words Award includes genre critics and media professionals. The panel includes Urban Fantasy author Russell Smith media expert Rebecca Derrick, book podcaster Jane Hanmer and book blogger Matt Cavanagh Finally, we welcome narrative expert Professor Esther MacCallum-Stewartto the team.  They are excellent people and I’m looking forward to announcing who the winner is.

It’s a weird year. But we’ll keep you posted as to what happens next. 

Categories: Books, Brave New Words

My Dublin2019 Schedule

July 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Here is a list of panels that I will be on at Worldcon in Dublin next month. You can catch me there or during the convention. I’ll be around at various parties, gatherings and watching panels also.

YA book to film adaptation
16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:00 – 10:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)
We all know text to visual screen adaptions are hard. What unique difficulties does the YA genre present in the translation from print to screen?

Can technology save the world?
16 Aug 2019, Friday 15:00 – 15:50, Wicklow Room-3 (CCD)
Elon Musk and others believe that technology can and will save the world. Can tech handle growing demands on the earth for resources? Can we invent our way out of climate change? We talk GMOs, nanotech, geo-engineering, and also our faith in tech as a ‘get out of gaol free’ card. I am moderating this one.

The Cost of Comics – What Format works best?
17 Aug 2019, Saturday 10:30 – 11:20, Odeon 5 (Point Square Dublin)
Roy of the Rovers went from a weekly strip to a book and is now being relaunched as quarterly graphic novels. Shonen Jump (the world’s most famous weekly comic) is moving to a free online model with downloads on subscription. As costs increase for individual issues, should we move to larger publications released at longer intervals? Is it possible to balance what is best for readers, creators and the publishers? I am also moderating this one.

Anime and the west
17 Aug 2019  Saturday 13:30 – 14:20, Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)
Alongside the resurgence of the popularity of anime, more and more western cartoon creators are citing anime as their inspiration and are starting to incorporate the style into their own shows. What has been the impact of this in the western world? If an animated work was created in the west but is stylised like anime, can it be called an anime?


Dublin 2019 Worldcon Logo


Brave New Words Award 2019 / Edge Lit

July 14, 2019 Leave a comment

Well that’s another Brave New Words Award done and dusted. The winner is Tasha Suri. The judges felt that her book, Empire of Sand, was just the sort of thing the award is far. It’s brave, it’s new and the words are absolutely lovely.

The award itself is on it’s way to Tasha. Expect to find the award’s journey appear on the Brave New Words Instagram sometime soon.

The actual statue is called ‘The Roboto’ and it modelled on the original Starburst Fantasy Award from the 70s. It’s the same model that get’s given away during the Starburst Film Festival, but with a slightly different base.

The judging process was fun. This time round we had more time go through the short list. Last year we had to work with a March deadline, as the award ceremony was a the Starburst International Film Festival. 2019’s award ceremony happened at Edge Lit in Derby, so we had ages to read all the books.

It was still an extremely tough list choice though.  The final judging process was fun though. A long chat with lovely, intelligent well read people where we beat out what we liked about each work. As the chief judge I get to say ‘why’ a lot to the jurors, which was both fun and frustrating.

brave-new-words-award-nominees-announcedThe short list was: Aliya Whiteley – The Loosening Skin , Tasha Suri – Empire of Sand, Rachel Armstrong – Origamy, Claire North – 84K, Micah Yongo- Lost Gods and Tade Thompson – Rosewater.

Genre fans might notice that some of these nominations have appeared elsewhere in other award lists; The Brave’s mission statement tends to have some cross-over with The Clarke and The Kitschies after all.  I think the nominations nail the very strong state of genre thus far, and the winner is totally spot on.

The final announcement happened at Edge Lit and was on just before the legendary raffle. Thanks massively to Del who came up with some genius slides and I think I wasn’t too boring. The audience seemed amused at my terrible puns, I think.  I did leave the Roboto on the podium and had to rescue it just before the infamous drunken raffle occured and now it’s on it’s amazing voyage.

Starburst Editorial have given the okay to do this again next year, and Edge Lit is going to be a two-day affair next year. And yes, the podcast is coming back. It’s been a busy year.

Oh, and Edge Lit itself was awesome. I got to hang out with some of my favourite people, attend a couple of useful workshops and here some of the best writers in the industry talk about their work. Looking forward to next year.

Categories: Books, Brave New Words

On Starfury Speed and other stories

February 3, 2019 Leave a comment

One of the things about spending a chunk of your life writing about other people’s fictional tales is you think a lot about how stories get put together. And if you’re me, you then get kind of annoyed when other people miss the point and try and pull a good tale apart for all the wrong reasons.

I love good criticism. A well written review is an art in itself. And I adore it when someone takes a great story and takes it apart skilfully. What I can’t stand is when a work gets taken apart because the critic decides that the story itself is wrong. For example, someone complaining that a vampire movie is bad because the vampires can walk in sunlight without exploding1, ignoring the fact that it’s a story and the storyteller can do whatever the hell they like with the tale.

The Starfury Speed trope is a modern example of favouring story over accuracy. It comes from the 90’s TV show Babylon 5. The show featured small fighter craft that happened to be very quick and agile2. Various parts of the story had the ships turning up in the nick of time, or just too late. So obviously fans corner the show’s creator JMS and ask “How fast do Starfuries travel? Or for that matter, any of the show’s many cool spaceships?”


How does it work? Unless the story is about the science, or that engineering is part of the creators message, then rule of cool applies. And Starfuries are really cool. (Image via TMC-Deluxe )


His reply? “At the speed of plot.” It’s a perfect answer from someone whose job it is to tell stories. Expanding on this though, it should be taken as read that if, say, the tabletop miniatures game states that the SA-32A Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury travels at a certain speed, that doesn’t make it a rule that applies to all other media. It’s just a thing they’ve done to make the game work.

Looking for details that aren’t relevant to the story in order to criticise a story is not productive. If your argument that Superman is a bad movie because in the real world people don’t fly, you’ve missed an important step somewhere.

There are lots of examples available. My personal favourite comes from the UK LARP scene, were myself and friends happened to be playing Samurai Badger people in a fantasy setting. Various geeks wanted to impress upon us their knowledge of Feudal Japan by asking us stupid out of character questions and lecturing us at length about how ‘Samurai don’t work that way’. We had to patiently point out to people that we weren’t aware giant badger people existed in the real world.

All of this ties into another frustrating trope, called The Thermian Argument.3 You see, just because a thing works in a story, and you can justify it in the context of the story, doesn’t make you immune from real world criticism. Claiming its okay to overtly mock a whole section of real-world society because you’ve made up this thing that says it’s okay, doesn’t make it okay.

Good criticism is an art in its own right, and it’s healthy to bring stories into their real world context. It is not a contradiction to enjoy a story in its context and then pull it to bits when your pop it on the workbench that is a the real world, or even the context of another genre with different conventions. But deciding that one made-up thing is more valuable than another made up thing because they contradict each other misses the point of stories.


1: Vampiric allergy to sunlight of course, being something that’s toggled from story to story, and a clue that all vampire stories don’t share the same universe. You’d think this was obvious, but no.
2: The design was so simple that apparently NASA drew inspiration from it during their research into smaller space vehicles. I understand it was a ‘Why didn’t we think of that’ moment.
3: Coined by Folding Ideas here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxV8gAGmbtk. To be clear, The Thermian Argument is where you use a made up thing to defend yourself from criticism about problems wih the stories real world context. You justify something awful by saying ‘It makes sense in the story’.

Categories: Rants, TV

Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch

December 1, 2018 Leave a comment

If you are into both detective fiction and supernatural adventure stories, then we’d be surprised if you haven’t at least heard of the Peter Grant novels. The long running novel series has recently spawned its own comic book spin-offs, novellas and a TV show is still in development. Lies Sleeping is the seventh novel is the series proper, and we are happy to report that it’s still as fresh as ever.

Typically Peter Grant novels start with some sort of incident that can only be handled by Falcon; The Metropolitan Police’s own specialist supernatural crime division can handle. This time round though, we are pretty much dipped straight into the over-arching plot from the previous books. The mysterious Faceless Man, the villain from the last six books or so, is the focus of a major sting operation. This means changes for the team. It’s nice to see how things have developed.



In the first book of the series, Peter Grant was a humble Police Constable, still wet around the ears. By book seven he’s made it to Detective and regularly taking swims in rivers. His magical abilities are accomplished and reliable. His mentor, DCI Nightingale also feels much more powerful in both confidence and magical might. Even their cosy little base of operations, The Folly, has become a full-on operational centre, with everyday crime fighting professionals rubbing shoulders with the casual creepiness that lies in The Folly. This makes for solid development of the series; after all the characters must progress at some point and it’s been a joy so far to watch them strive through every little set-back.

Aaronovitch melds the magical and mundane extremely well. There’s a good mix of ‘London practicality’ and ‘unimaginable terror’ here; this isn’t a world where everyone can take the idea that magic is a real thing in their stride. Fear of the unknown keeps things in the margins, which provides a back-drop for the main characters struggles. Practical policing versus existential horror, to put in another way.

Lies Sleeping doesn’t try to catch up new readers, which is quite right. (Though if this sounds like your thing, do go and read Rivers of London first.). The plot dives straight into strands from the previous serious, tying up plot threads going all the way back to book one, whilst fraying new threads to keep the intrigue going. The pace is solid and steady, the action is as thrilling as ever and the whole thing ticks along like an old yet exciting friend. It would be unfair to call this more of the same, as the story delivers many answers. And at the same time, asks plenty of questions.

A must for fans of the series so far, and as always, we can’t wait to read the next one.

Categories: Books, Old Reviews

Speed Freeks

November 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Very, very short review of this Games Workshop game would be: It’s everything GorkaMorka should have been, but wasn’t. And it’s as much fun as Gretchiniz promised to be, but wasn’t.

Of course, if you don’t know what either of those are, or what an Ork is, you’ll be a bit lost. Let me unpack it – an Ork is a sci-fi version of an Orc, the rampaging monsters from fantasy tropes. They’re gadget obssessed brutes who can’t spell. GorkaMorka and Gretchinz are both racing games (via Games Workshop), which combine dangerous and crude technological themes with rally style racing.

Warhammer 40,000’s Orks are perhaps one of the most fun things about the franchise. A perfect storm of parodies, not only of British 80’s subcultures but fantasy tropes, creating a brutish, sinister and ridiculous band of villains that you never the less root for. They tend to be at their most interesting when the story is about them. SpeedFreeks is Games Workshops latest box that’s just about the Orks. Namely, it’s a miniatures racing game about these horrible monsters trying to prove who’s the better driver whilst making horrendous amounts of noise.

The box comes with enough for two players. Six warbikes and two larger vehicles unique to the set. The warbikes are nothing special; Ork fans will have seen them before. The other two items are something else, however. The Kustom Boosta-Blasta is a nightmare beach buggy with massive wheels and a huge gun. The Shokkjump Dragsta is a race car from doom, imagine the sort of Formula One vehicle that the devil would invent. These two pieces are your main counters for the game and they fight each other. The models come unpainted, but the two mobs are in different colours (mustard yellow and bright red), for ease of distinction. You have to glue the models together yourself, and this will take most of us a couple of hours to do.

We also get some solid looking scenery which can be used in other games, and component quality is thick and solid.

Game play wise, it’s a cunning and brutal game. Stats are split into Kunnin’, Speedin’ and Shootin’, and you allocate dice appropriately. Movement is by template (or gubbinz as the game calls them) and the idea is that these vehicles don’t move in a straight line. Instead they skid, drift and spin across the board, mostly in a controlled fashion but not always.

This adds a push your luck element to the strategy, making the game a faster, chunkier and more satisfying vehicle combat game than X-Wing. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in explosions. The game comes with four reversible boards and yes, these can be used in games of Kill Team if you must. We have four scenarios, which all use the boards in a different way, including a Mad Max style chase mode that will have you repositioning the boards as you zoom across a desert landscape.

SpeedFreeks is a smoother, quicker game than we expected. As fans of the 90’s Ork racing game GorkaMorka, we were expecting something deeper and where pleasantly surprised. GorkaMorka was a gang war game with vehicle rules; SpeedFreeks is a racing game and not much else. That’s a good thing. A must have for Ork fans, and a welcome addition to anyone who likes racing board games.

Best iteration of this idea so far, a must for fans of Orks or Mad Max movies.

Categories: Games, Old Reviews