Sunday, July 30, 2006

Charles Stross on future shock

I interviewed British sf writer Charles Stross last week and we were talking about the dangers of writing near-future sf/getting caught out by technological developments.

Earlier this year when I interviewed Jim Frenkel, he told me about the series of Isaac Asimov stories where Asimov predicted that computers would get bigger and bigger instead of smaller and smaller.

Stross had this to say...

"In the case of Asimov, what he as a non-specialist didn't realise, he hadn't looked at the information science underpinnings of it and realised that the speed of light is a limit on the propagation of signals in electrical circuitry, so if you make the circuits smaller you can have them switching faster and at the same time, because they're smaller they're consuming less electricity and less power, so again you can cram the circuits closer together.

"This was expressed as a law by a guy called Gordon Moore - Moore's Law - he went on to co-found a small company called Intel.

"I think it's reasonable to forgive Issac Asimov for not recognising this because ... he was writing before the invention of the microprocessor, in fact I think he was writing before the invention of a transistor, which really brought the issue into focus, but it is something we have to beware of."

The full feature will appear in Articulate tomorrow.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Brissie writers: doing very well!

Emblazon has a brief write-up about my recent successes.

Also doing really well (in fact, these people have whole books to their names!)...

Jason Nahrung has his novel, The Darkness Within, coming out early next year.

Grace Dugan's novel, The Silver Road, is out next week. (I interviewed Grace this week - the feature should hopefully appear on Articulate next week).

Veny Armanno has a new book out.

And then there's the old hands, such as Nick Earls and Kim Wilkins, who are kicking goals all over the shop.

And that's just off the top of my head!

If you're a Brissie writer and you've got something to shout about, drop me a line.

The benefit of 20/20 hindsight

Amelia spotted these gems from The Macquarie History of Ideas (published 1983)

On tobacco...

The scientific discoveries linking cigarette smoking with lung cancer have had such a powerful effect on the habit of cigarette smoking that many critics are now predicting that smoking and the manufacture of tobacco will be eliminated by the year 2000.

(Somebody forgot to tell Big Tobacco.)

On computers...

In some ways computers are still in their infancy. Each year reveals some new use, such as word processing or theatre ticket tabulating. Debates are sparked concerning their usefulness and whether they are interfering in our private lives. Only time will resolve these issues; at the moment we can enjoy the efficiency they add to our daily lives.

(You could argue this is still true, but still - theatre ticket tabulating?! Sheesh!)

On the short story...

The future of the short story seems gloomy, yet its history is traceable to the remote past, and it has proved resilient. There are artists who stay with the medium, and a market, albeit reduced, for it. As an art or craft its future is then as unpredictable as any tradition seeking new relevance in the present upheaval of technological change.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Feast or Famine?

The Writing Show's Halloween podcast special will feature me reading "Feast or Famine", a short story about an Australian journo and photographer trapped in a bunker in the badlands of Afghanistan.

The other six readers (all members of the Australian Horror Writers Association) are: Stephen Studach, Chuck McKenzie, Rob Hood, Jason Nahrung, Leigh Blackmore and Kaaron Warren.

More details as they come to hand.

Comic of the Week: God Lovers and How to Get Rid of Them #1

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Malouf: by all accounts a nice guy

David Malouf is in town for the Brisbane Festival, which is headlined by the stage adaptation of Johnno.

For the uninitiated, Johnno distils the essence of BrisVegas perhaps even more forcefully than a visit to Kodak beach. (Although you could argue there's nothing more Brisbane than the odour of Kodak beach).

About a thousand (metaphorical) years ago I was dating someone who absolutely loved Malouf's books, and so there were lots of conversations, debates between her, I and a couple of close friends about whether he was a better writer than Stephen King, which of them would win a pub brawl, et cetera.

The debates filtered through into letters, comics, and then The Bane of Monkeys' Bladders.

(Interestingly enough, or perhaps boringly enough, there's no mention of Malouf in the most recent re-write).

Emma Rodgers, who was there at the Spiegeltent last night, says he was "very friendly, extremely interesting and loved taking questions from the audience".

"One lady who described herself as being about the same age as Malouf said her and her friends often wonder if they grew up in the same city as him because their childhoods were boring, boring, boring. I presume she was making the point that Brisbane in the 1950s sounds so much more exotic in Johnno.

"Malouf's answer was funny and a very interesting glimpse into the mind of a writer. He said that a writer sees and hears all trivial things - a person whom on nothing is lost. A writer can get just a small glimpse of something, he said, and their quality of mind and observation can make so much of it. A writer's memory is 'imbued with feelings'. He then told the lady, 'I suspect you were just not watching closely enough'."

I've also listened to Richard Fidler's interview with Malouf, during which Malouf says writers are like "puzzled observers".

"They're like small children really in a house where they're endlessly eavesdropping or trying to see what it is the adults are up to, and trying to work it out and they never really work it out.

"It surprises me because other people grow out of that stage and they grow up into real adults who think they know how everything works.

"In a way all writers are dumb and it's a good place to be. You don't fool yourself that you know the answers to any of the questions - you keep on asking and you keep on being puzzled. Other people seem to find the answers easily and writers don't."

He certainly doesn't sound like the kind of guy who would say "bollocks".

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Seven years on, 'Lines in the Snow' finds a home

I've just heard from Jill Brennan that my melancholic love story "Lines in the Snow" will appear on Espresso Fiction on August 14.

This is very gratifying because "Lines" was one of those stories you love but just can't find a market for.

I wrote the first draft way back in 1999 (pretty sure it was '99) as a title game entry on the now defunct British writing group Getoutthere.

I've tinkered with it ever since, sending it out, getting rejected, and so on.

When Cafe Doom started its crit group recently I thought it might be worth a shot. Based on feedback I received, I did quite a significant re-write, and it seems to have done the trick.

So kudos to the Cafe Doom critters!

Kid's books are weird

My 19-month-old son loves having books read to him, which is great. But after reading the same books over and over again, you start to notice that kid's books are really weird.

And no, I'm not talking about the ones about the Queen's knickers or the way animals crap. That would be too easy.

Take Babette Cole's Dr Dog, for instance. The Gumboyles have a dog who is a doctor. Okay, I'm with it so far. But when Dr Dog goes to see his doctor, it is also a dog. Are they all called Dr Dog? If so, how do they differentiate between them, like for mal-practice law suits and all that malarkey? And there are other dogs who are just dogs, and yet still others who are like hula-dancer dogs.

In a similar vein, Hello, Cat You Need a Hat (published way back in 1979), which judging by the mention of cats and hats and the rhyming, is a cheap cash-in on The Cat in the Hat.

You really need to see it to get the bizarre effect, but I'll do my best. Most of the animals (mostly dogs and cats) in the book walk around on hind legs. Some are naked or, in the instance of the hat-hating hero, just wear a bow. Others are fully dressed: welder dogs, jockey dogs (the horse is a normal horse), astronaut dogs and so on and so forth. The police dogs, for some reason, just wear jackets and hats - no pants.

There is a total absence of humans, except in a Halloween trick-or-treating scene, in which there are a heap of human children, dressed up as witches, mice, crocodiles, adults and ghosts. It is very unsettling.

(Reminds me of that bit in Stephen King's "The Body" - filmed as Stand by Me - where the kids are trying to figure out what the hell Goofy is, seeing as Pluto is a dog).

Then there are the books with dodgy messages. We've got an old Golden Book version of Aladdin (pre-Disney). Aladdin meets this freaky looking dude who says he is his uncle. So Aladdin takes the 'uncle' home to meet his mother (the father is dead). Mum doesn't remember her husband ever mentioning a brother, but the 'uncle' says he's going to take Aladdin out into the country and he will come back very rich, so good old Mum tells Aladdin to go with the 'uncle' and do whatever he tells him!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Literal Man: one in a million

I haven't yet introduced you to Literal Man via Comic of the Week yet, but you can get a sneak preview over at the One Million Masterpiece.

The deal is, you donate 3.5 quid to charity and you get to draw a square. The finished picture will be 80 metres wide and the effort, if completed will go into the Guinness Book of Records.

It's cool how you can see how artists drew their picture, by clicking on the 'play' button in the bottom right-hand corner.

He looks pretty rough -- I had to draw him right-handed using the mouse (I'm left-handed) and there weren't that many tools available.

But it's all for a good cause.

In other news... check out this Star Trek maze, it's full-on. And I've also had some good feedback to this week's Movie Minutiae. (Readers telling me I screwed up, but they were nice about it, so that's cool!)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

'Satan's Scribe' makes Ripples

I've just heard from Sam Cousins, editor of Ripples Magazine, saying that my story 'Satan's Scribe' will appear in Issue Six in October.

The story, which Sam describes as "a nice little tale of apocalyptic destruction", was my first attempt for The Devil in Brisbane.

It was rejected because editor Zoran Zivkovic was looking specifically for stories about 'writers', whereas the central character in 'Scribe' is a journalist, so I'm glad I've found a home for it.

Comic of the Week: Interview with David Malouf

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Staking a claim

I was a bit shocked this week when I found out horror writer Joe Hill is actually Joe King, the son of Stephen King.

When I interviewed Ellen Datlow earlier this year she rated Hill's stories amongst the creepiest she has read, which is saying a lot considering thousands of stories have crossed her desk, editing for the horror section of Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.

The name percolated in my mind for a couple of months, and then surfaced again when Hill's debut collection 20th Century Ghosts recently won a Bram Stoker Award for best collection.

And then, when researching for an interview with Hill (Ellen kindly passed on my email, so I'm hoping he will get back to me), I found this post, about plans to turn Hill's upcoming novel Heart-Shaped Box into a film.

There is absolutely no reason why I should have known. I think maybe because I've read so much Stephen King, I feel I should have picked up some sort of disturbance in the force when Joe Hill's name first popped up on my radar. It's almost as though when we connect with someone's creative work we stake a claim on their personal life.

Anyhoo, I tried to buy his book at Pulp Fiction today but they can't seem to find it anywhere, so I may have to buy it direct from here.

(In it's place I bought a copy of Locus, which features an interview with Hill, and also Prismatic, which I've been meaning to pick up since I interviewed the authors a while back.)

Q&A: rediscovering Troy

If you think reading The Iliad and watching Eric Bana and Brad Pitt duking it out on the big screen tells the full story of Troy, think again.

How about Achilles against the backdrop of 1930s Germany, an encounter between an elderly literary critic and the first conscious artificial intelligence, Ajax, or the Trojan War set in the distant future, featuring a race of eight-foot-tall Greeks?

All of these visions of Troy, and more, feature in a collection of short stories that was originally slated for publication in 1998 but has only just made it into print.

Troy's journey from the first short story to eventual publication by independent publisher Ticonderoga is almost an epic in itself.

I spoke with author Simon Brown and editor Russell B Farr, and you can read the feature here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Turducken: the 'other' white meat

When you're staring down the barrel of eight shifts in a row, as I just have, subbing heaps and heaps of stories ('heaps', for those who don't know, is journo-jargon for 'shitloads') I think you tend to go a little bit crazy, in that the smallest thing can seem incredibly funny.

Take this for example: Japan's hot dog hot shot prefers tofu (Yes, that's my tacky headline).

Scroll down to the bottom. Check out this par:
"Competitive eating is a popular sport in America, particularly at holidays, with contests for everything from chicken wings to "turducken", turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken."

Turducken? Turducken! It really exists. If you don't believe me, check out wikipedia. To mis-quote an old burger ad: "It's meat and stuffing and meat and stuffing and meat... and stuffing".

Friday, July 07, 2006

'I *am* legend, motherf*cker!'

There has been some discussion (and lamentation) over at the Southern Horror newsgroup over plans to (again) turn the 1957 sf/horror tale I Am Legend into a film starring Johnny Depp and Will Smith.

I particularly like Martin Livings' take on the situation:

List of lines Will Smith *will* utter just before killing a vampire:
"Bite me, motherf*cker!"
"Suck on this, motherf*cker!"
"I *am* legend, motherf*cker!"
"Fangs for the memories, motherf*cker!"
"You want blood? You got it, motherf*cker!"
"Get these motherf*ckin' snakes off the motherf*ckin' plane!"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Nick Earls: Omnibus edition

Finally got around to posting my Nick Earls features.

Part 1 - Nick Earls: finding life's novel moments

Part 2 - '48 Shades': the Brisbane connection

Then there's an aside on the science behind 'Zigzag St'

There was far more than I had room for in my features, so here's some extra bits and pieces.

Nick Earls on why he initially didn't want to read the 48 Shades script:

"I think my experience of people adapting author's works, personally it's, I've had some good experiences and I've been lucky but it doesn't work out every time and I try to pay attention to what other people have gone through when their work's been adapted, and it often doesn't work out well, and I think that sometimes the best thing you can do is separate yourself as much as you can rather than invest emotion in it.

"And if you sign something up to people you're obliged to give them a crack at it, you're obliged to give them a shot at finding their way through that story in a new medium and I don't want them to be completely constrained by the novel I've written.

"I mean it's a dream result for an author I guess if you turn up and see on screen characters who look and sound and feel like yours and a story that feels very like yours and works, but I guess in the end I'd really happy with something that works, I'd be really happy with a good film and if I connected with any of the elements of it personally I think that'd be a bonus, but if you're going to be practical about it you can't even expect that you'll get a good film, you just have to expect that ... I don't think you should be more optimistic than to hope that the cheque will clear and then beyond that anything might happen.

"So I try generally to spell that out to people early on and I, film-makers, if they've really responded to your novel, they want to make you happy and I've found myself having a number of conversations with film-makers where I've been the one to say to them, 'I don't expect you to make me happy, your job is to make the best film you can within the constraints of your medium and more particularly the restraints placed on you by the people signing the cheques because they won't make things easy for you, because they want hundreds of thousands if not millions of people to see the film so they're expectations are very different to creative expectations', and I think that's one of the big challenges you face.

"So the short answer to that is that I was reluctant to read the script at first and that's partly because there's a natural reticence I think when it comes to other people handling your characters and your story but also because if you read a novel you're reading a finished product, if you read a script you're reading a recipe for the finished product. It's not the same. So many factors, and it was going to be a first draft, and I thought, it's better to step aside and let them have a go at it but rob the producer didn't let me, he made me read it."

On script development:

"I'm interested in film now in a way that I haven't been before because I've started to learn some things about the medium and I think that's really good, but really there's far too many steps between that level of interest and a finished feature film and there's a lot of things to stop it along the way.

"People say all the time that Australian films suffer from not going through enough script rewrites and I think sometimes they suffer from going through too many stupid rewrites and too many people get involved and feel that in getting involved they're not doing their job unless they have input, with input being advice to change something, and sometimes things don't need to be changed and you can get into this rewrite cycle where you just get stuck rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and losing the heart of the thing that you started with."

On the challenge of turning Zigzag St into a film:
"Zigzag Street is in development as a film, and there's a really good team of people working on that, I haven't looked at the script for quite a lot of years and I'm leaving it totally in their hands and I know that one of the challenges that comes along with a story like Zigzag Street is that the person who looks like the female lead, the Rachel character, appears in chapter 43 out of 55.

"And in a novel you can do that and no-one's going to go, 'You can't do that in a novel' whereas, that's not how film structures work, so that gives them something that they've got to address and I don't know what way they're going to find to deal with that but I know why, when writing the novel, she first appears in chapter 43 of 55 and we don't get any hints before then that she's going to."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Free music: Theodore Brunswick

Some Sunday vibes for you.

My mate Theodore Brunswick, from his album The Radio Wars.

I particularly like "Spaz", which is based on a true story!

There's talk of maybe some live gigs coming up - I'll keep you posted. (All four of you.)