Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Brave New Words Award 2018

March 31, 2018 Leave a comment

So 2018 saw me be the head judge for Starburst Magazine’s Brave New Words Award.

It was an interesting experience, if I’m honest. Essentially, an awards panel is a super-specific book club where you and a bunch of people you respect read the same books and then get super specific in their opinions of the book.  It all came down to a rather extended chat over skype.

And I honestly didn’t know where  we’d end up by the end of it. It was super close. It was super fun to judge.

The Winner was Margret Helgadottir for Pacific Monsters. The prize (Starburst’s iconic Roboto) went on a fantastic journey, from Manchester, to Wales and finally to Norway.

Categories: Uncategorized

Not The Actor You Are Looking For…

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

So, we1 made a little mini-vlog comedy YouTube thing. It’s called
Confessions of a Storm Trooper
and as you can probably tell from the title, it’s inspired by Star Wars. More accurately, the convention scene.

The UK has gone crazy for conventions recently, mostly in the gate-show2 ‘Comic-Con’ style. This tends to mean that you get lots of older actors from classic sci-fi and fantasy movies doing signings and if you’re lucky, the odd panel or two.

I’ve spent a good chunk of 2015 going to these things, and also going to more traditional3 style fantasy/sci-fi conventions, which are also on the rise thanks to the popularity of all things geeky. Anyway, we were inspired to make this short movie. I hope you enjoy it.

1 – And by we, I mean myself and Anne-Louise. We have a very small (bijou, even) production company called Truly Outrageous.  This will be our first film project.
2 – Gate Show style ‘comic cons’ tend to be for profit and ‘pay on the day’ affairs. (Hence the name ‘Gate Show’, as in pay on the gate’. They have famous people as attractions and lots of stalls, cosplayers and loads of people. They’re a lot of fun, and MCM and SciFi Scarbs are great examples of the type.
3- Traditional conventions tend to more about the fans than fame. The attraction is catching up with like minded types first. You tend to buy the ticket in advance and there’s usually a schedule of talks and lectures over a few days.  More a conference than a convention, but with cosplayers, stalls and the odd famous person.  NineWorlds is my favourite traditional event.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sad Puppies and the Hugo Awards – A Summary

April 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Okay, so if you listen to Starburst’s BookWorm Podcast, or if you follow genre-related book news in general, you may have heard that 2015’s list of Hugo Nominations were a bit unusual. You may have even heard some wailing and gnashing of teeth, or some crowing and bragging, depending on what parts of the web you spend time on.

You may also have no idea what this is all about. I’ll try and break it down into steps, to give you an idea of what’s going on.

The Hugo Awards are an international award, presented at an event called Worldcon, an fan-run Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. They’re grand affairs, but are more about fans talking to fans than anything else, and revolve around the literary side of things mostly.  Worldcon’s have been happening for over 70 years, and the Hugo Ceremony is the cool thing that happens at the end of convention. The Hugo Awards are voted for by their members.

Worldcon Membership is split (broadly) into two types: Attending and supporting. Attending membership lets you attend the event. It also lets you nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards. Supporting membership does all that, except you can’t attend the event. Because Worldcon changes venue every year, supporting memberships allow fans to remain part of the event without spending huge sums of money to go to around the world.

The 2014 Hugo Awards were notable for their progressive and interesting content. Prizes went to a wide spread of creators from diverse backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that the bulk of the winners were already quite successful and quite popular, both in critical and commercial terms.

John Scalzi  is an outspoken science fiction author who is also very well regarded and very successful. He (and I quote here) believes that “women are entitled to the same rights and privileges as men, with everything that implies in terms of access to education, economic opportunity and personal liberty.”  He is also credited by some for helping raise awareness about less known but interesting authors, and some say the 2014 awards list is his doing. Many disagree.

Vox Day aka Theodore Beale is an outspoken science fiction author, who describes himself as a “Christian libertarian opinion columnist” and creationist. He was expelled from the organisation the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).  If you want to go down that rabbit hole, the reasons why can be found here.

GamerGate is the name of a campaign about sexism in video games. It’s more complex than that, but for our purposes; they are a large number of sexist, misogynistic, anti-liberal, right-wing types in the GamerGate movement. It’s a loose organisation, so for every GamerGater who knows and is acting on the Hugos, they are many who have never heard of it and aren’t acting on it. (I have little idea as to how you’d get exact figures.)

The Sad Puppies is the name of a Hugo Awards campaign organised by Brad R. Torgersen, Larry Correia. They felt that they weren’t being represented by the Hugo Awards. They arranged a Hugo Slate (which can be found here). It was mostly composed of stuff they or their friends produced. It is a very narrow slice of the broader world of Science Fiction lit. The name, by the way, comes from a rant that can be found here.

The Rabid Puppies is the Vox Day’s version of the Sad Puppies slate. They’re very, very similar. The Rabid Puppies  recruited friends and members of GamerGate to vote in the Hugos.

The 2015 Hugo Shortlist  (a version of which can be found here) is very similar to the Sad Puppies Slate. The Sad Puppies and their right wings allies are currently declaring victory.

No Award is an option on the Hugo Ballot. It’s a run-off voting system. A running gag is to refer to the hot tipped 2015 Hugo Winner as Noah Ward.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a well loved science fiction and fantasy author who passed away recently. Upon the announcement of the 2015 Hugo Nominees, Sad Puppy supporters claimed that Pratchett never got nominated for a Hugo. This isn’t true; he was nominated for Going Postal in 2005. (If you want to read more on that, you can read it here.) It’s worth noting that Sir Terry was a regular at Worldcon events, and well loved by that niche.

George RR Martin is also a well known and well loved science fiction and fantasy author. He’s been to many, many Worldcons, and is well known figure in that community, and is also a regular at the Hugo Awards ceremony. He has blogged extensively about the whole affair, and you can read more here.

Trufan is the unofficial term for a fan of Worldcon and similar conventions. A JOF is a trufan who organises Worldcon and similar events, a SMOF is a trufan who organises the JOF’s and the events themselves. (Don’t assume there’s a hierarchy here, there really isn’t.) All these terms come from the in-jokey humour common in the community.


A lot of fuss about a little rocket.

I’ve probably missed a tonne of nuance here, but those are the footnotes.

Categories: Uncategorized


January 15, 2015 Leave a comment

James Goss is better known for his work on various Doctor Who related novels and audios and technological thriller Haterz is his first crime novel, and a very impressive one at that.

This clever polemic at the modern world focuses on Dave, a social media junkie who also happens to have rather good acting and technical skills. Driven to the edge of reason by a friends incessant hectoring via social media, he commits homicide. Thus begins the live of Dave the Serial Killer, a person who actually goes out kills all those awful people who wind you when you browse the web.


Goss writes with a razor sharp wit and uses it to cut internet culture to the bone. The central character is brilliantly thought out; utterly loathsome in many regards, and yet at the same time we’re constantly cheering him on as he hunts down and destroys the monsters of the modern age. Each chapter focuses on a specific internet phenomena; trolls on twitter, con-artists on Facebook, agit-prop columnists on news websites and so on. Each element is treated with an equal amount of venom and humour.

Of particular interest to book lovers are the scenes that involve a twitter storm. If the tale of one minor personality using twitter to attack the host of a popular genre convention sounds familiar, you will find yourself laughing very hard at the Haterz version of events. Goss carefully blends a wide variety of online phenomena and nothing is held sacred. This is extremely refreshing satire, told in a bold and clever way.

If you’ve ever written anything unwise on the internet, or felt that social media is just too dominant in our lives, this will appeal to you. Partially an angry polemic against the way technology has shaped our worldview but mostly a very clever social satire, Haterz is technological thriller that actually understands how the world wide web has changed people. Funny, clever and shocking this book, somewhat ironically, deserves to go viral.

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September 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve already written a report on NineWorlds GeekFest for my wise masters at the venerable and ancient Starburst Magazine but of course a formal report for the press is a different sort of beast to a blog post.

This is the bimbling, slightly personal account of events that no one asked for, but I’m going to give you anyway.

Nine Worlds is an event that Anne (my lovely wife) and I had planned to go last year. It was actually going to be our mini-honeymoon of sorts. Sadly it was on the weekend directly after the wedding and it become pretty obvious after that special occasion that we weren’t going to make it, simply due to exhaustion and excitement.

So it was with some anticipation and keen that we planned to do NineWorlds this year. The plan was pretty simple; I’d turn up with my various recording devices and shorthand notepad to do the words and interviews, and Anne would take photos. 1

We arrived late Thursday at the hotel just up the road from the venue. The Radisson doesn’t have a pool but our hotel did and we took full advantage. This mean we missed registration, which was a little bit annoying; we expected it to be running till quite late, surmising that people from across the country probably planned to come in after work. This meant we spent the Thursday evening without our event badges, which felt oddly distancing. We caught up with a handful of friends and had a nose round the venue itself.

We weren’t the only ones to do so and interrupted a rather drunken couple who we’re pretty sure weren’t event attendees themselves.2 We humoured the idiots until they went away, let an organiser know and then continued to explore.

At conventions, we both make a point of trying to stand apart from the crowd in terms of dress. Anne was in a natty waistcoat and I myself in business casual. I like dressing that way because in theory, I am at work and a shirt and tie are my work clothes.3 Sadly, without a convention badge we really do just look like everyone else; which meant we did keep getting challenged by other attendees. Luckily, friendliness and mutual geekiness is worth much more than any badge, and we were able to work out where we needed to be for the various panels we’d been invited too and the other events we want to be at.

On the Friday, things went very smoothly indeed. Registration was quite quick and I got a very nice goodie bag with the usual sort of tat including a programmed and some free books4.

The Cosplay was great.

The Cosplay was great.

Highlights for me included:

– The BookWorm Podcast. We did a live show at the event. We had a nerve wracking moment in which we thought no one was going to turn up and thankfully, fellow podcasters arrived to provide some moral support. Lots of thanks to James Simms, Marguerite Kenner and Alasdair Stuart; they rocked and indeed, continue to rock. You can hear it online via iTunes or direct download here.

– The Podcasting Track in general was deeply awesome. We learned a lot and met some thoroughly lovely people. Hugo nominated podcaster Emma Newman was especially kind and very informative, but the entire experience was great and we met some brilliant people.

– Moderating a panel for All The Books. I think I did a good job; certainly very few people left5, everyone had questions and the panellists had fun. The subject was likeable villains, and there was someone dressed as Deadpool in the front row. I think that says it all.

– Meeting people. Writing and reporting is a distancing exercise and it was very, very pleasant to actually put names to faces. Far too many people to name check without missing someone, but it was bloody lovely.

– Call Of Cthullhu as a spectator game. A very good team, and Scott Lynch was particularly entertaining.

– The Small Gods and Theology talk. Only at Nine Worlds. Very well done.

– At a cutting edge tech lecture, suddenly unveiling (to a crowd of people) my super villain style thinking, and being appropiately applauded for a very carefully phrased question.

– Si Spurrier and Kieron Gillen’s talk. Si’s lectures are always entertaining and I have always come away having learned something, or at least with substantial food for thought. Kieron’s talk on The Watchmen was hastily arranged and inspirational; more akin to a good solid pub rant than anything else. I’m afraid I caught up with Kieron later and talked some guff at him and B-Theory and Eternalism. Sorry about that.

I do have some niggles. The entire event does feel as if they’ve drawn a lot of their guests from London only, leading to what felt like some small cliques. As the event gains a reputation I’m sure this will change and it didn’t effect most of the panels. It did damage a couple of the streams a bit though; everyone seemed to know each other and everyone also appeared to be roughly of the same age and mindset. Though that makes for a cracking coffee morning, it makes for dull panels and I was itching for some truly diverse and different perspectives, especially the ones that crossed over into comics.

I am so going again next year, in fact I’m already booked.

1: I gather we achieved those things quite well, which is nice.
2: Seriously; not only did they both had the facial expressions of naughty school children but they talked utter cobblers about why they were there. Also no convention badges, but we didn’t have any either. We didn’t say anything, they just talked at us and left. It was funny in a slightly alarming way and I feel a little guilty that we probably interrupted some planned drunken snogging, but that’s what hotel rooms are for.
3: Of course, a black jacket, white shirt and red tie are right out; that would be cosplay.
4: Yay! Books!
5: People come in and out of talks at these things all the time. It’s how they’re meant to work.

Categories: Uncategorized


June 22, 2012 4 comments

Doctor Who is a very long running show, and one of the questions non-fans often ask is where to start. The answer varies as much as the show does, and when it comes to the “classic”1 show, most die-hard fans will pick their favourite episode starring their favourite Doctor and suggest that. However, no one in their right mind ever suggests Ghostlight. It is, however, a perfect example of what was wonderful and terrible about the Doctor Who in the 80’s.

This brilliant bit of Seventh Doctor fun is notorious for being strange, even for Doctor Who. It’s really trying to be utterly fantastic, and by doing so, falls so very short, though this isn’t the fault of the stars of the show. Sylvester McCoy (as the Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (as his companion, Ace) are always a pleasure to watch – the pair have real chemistry and though this is more obvious in the spin-off media produced years later, it’s apparent in the original. The problem with Ghostlight is that it tries to slam an entire seasons worth of clever sci-fi telly into 90 minutes of dashing around. The result is a confusing and at times terrifying mess.

Others remember Ghostlight as the episode where Sophie Aldred wears Gentleman’s Evening Wear. For good reason.

Set in the Victorian era, the plot of Ghostlight revolves around them following themes; Evolution, haunted houses, childhood trauma, dealing with change, coming of age, the advantages of diversity and course, ancient abandoned alien technology. Oh, they added a bit of God in as well, just for spice. All on a budget of tuppence 2. You’ll note I haven’t explained the plot; that’s because it’s so full of surprises it’d be a crime to do so, and also because the plot is so convoluted I’d need a map, flipcharts and glove puppets to explain it all.

It’s a glorious mess. Even the greatest actors in the world couldn’t pull this nonsense off, and though McCoy and Aldred are good, they’re not that good. The sad thing about Ghostlight is that it almost works despite all this; as the show stacks mad idea upon overacting upon another mad idea and then piles on some more really bad effects and wobbly walls, you get the feeling that if the show just calmed down for a second a let you catch up, you might actually have a cracking piece of sci-fi here.
Doctor Who, at its heart, is a show in which one can tell any story. Ghostlight almost breaks this notion. It is worth ploughing through, if you have patience. Otherwise it’s worth watching just to see what classic Who can both at its simultaneous nadir and zenith.

1: Many Who fans will argue that drawing a line between the post-2005 show and the one that ended in the 80’s is bad. I don’t agree – it’s the same show, with the same ideas, but the franchise is so large that distinguishing between ‘new’ and ‘classic’ makes the whole thing easier to navigate.
2: Tuppence – Two pence. I can believe it cost that much. A lot of Doctor Who looks cheap, but at the time, the special effects where pretty good for the day. Except during the McCoy era. It looks cheap because the BBC really didn’t want to spend any money on it.

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Flash Gordon

March 2, 2012 5 comments

Thanks to the convenience of home cinema, these days we all tend to have movies that we can watch again and again. They are a non-fattening sort of comfort food, and tend to be as wide and as diverse as people are. The feature that happens to be my cinematic bowl of chocolate ice-cream is 1981 sci-fi flick Flash Gordon.

In case you’ve missed it, the plot is as simple as it is fun; Football1 player Flash Gordon stumbles upon an alien assault on the planet Earth. With the assistance of a crazy genius and a sassy New York City girl, Flash embarks on a quest to save the Earth, picking up a menagerie of strange and exotic allies along the way.

With lavish sets and frankly ridiculous costumes, the world of Flash Gordon is one of pulp adventure and comic book weirdness, and it’s the real star of the movie. Sam Jones, who plays Flash, suffers from a lack of acting skill. Luckily, everybody else in the feature overacts in order to make up for it. The glorious scenery is chewed into tiny bits, and the result is wonderfully over-the-top.

Instantly quotable, utterly unforgettable. Also features rocketships.

Max Von Sydow is glorious as the Emperor Ming, a combination of high-camp villain and fatherly monster. This is the movie that gave Brian Blessed some of his best known catch-phrases 2 and allows to see a well-loved children’s TV presenter die a slow and lingering death. It also features Italian national treasure Ornella Muti3 as the Emperor’s Daughter. Thanks to a series of skimpy, body hugging outfits, Flash Gordon is responsible for the stirrings of all sorts of feelings in many a teenage boy.

This is a movie without subtlety or subtext, with a tiny hint of dark humour for taste. It’s filled with beautiful people being energetic and exciting, often in various states of undress. The plot is as complicated enough as it needs to be, the twists and turns are there simply to keep you on your toes and the characters are just deep enough for you to forget how shallow they are. It also features a sound-track by the rock band Queen, artists who, in their time, were famed for being every bit as ridiculous and camp as Flash Gordon .

1: Well, American Football, a game in which there is not much kicking and the ball isn’t round. Though I suppose ‘Hand Egg’ is a silly name for a sport.
2: Say it with me “Dive my Hawkmen” or failing that, “Gordon’s Alive”.
3: Wikipedia tells me her breasts are insured for $350,000. I have no idea who handles things like this. Go Compare, maybe?

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