Monday, 1 December 2014

Happy Christmas

...from all of us at the Northampton Speculative Fiction Writers Group to the readers of this blog.

Happy Christmas and our best wishes for the New Year.


The blog - with its usual eclectic mixture of articles, news and various lists - will be back in January, with a round-up of the year from co-chairman Ian Whates.

See you in 2015!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Shoes, Ships and Cadavers (or, "an ebook is a perfect gift!")

Do you have a speculative fiction fanatic in your family?

Are you friends with someone who loves reading science-fiction, fantasy or horror?

With Christmas just around the corner, are they looking for something new to read?

May we suggest...

Shoes, Ships and Cadavers
Tales from North Londonshire
The Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group
Introduction by Alan Moore



Northampton:
A town that sits at the heart of England. A town that has played host to kings, saints, parliament, public hangings, and hot air balloons. A place steeped in history, laden with mystery, and bursting with wonders just waiting to be realised.

Let us be your guides...

“The writers represented in Shoes, Ships & Cadavers: Tales from North Londonshire have crafted visions of the town that are distinct and separate, covering a generous and sweeping arc of this tiny and yet deceptively expansive area of spacetime… I read this in a single sitting, something that I can’t remember managing with an anthology for a considerable while. I don’t expect to read a book this year that is more personally satisfying or a greater cause for optimism. Passionately recommended.” – Alan Moore, from his introduction.

Twelve tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy and HorrorEstablished in 2002, the NSFWG exists to enable local writers of genre fiction to learn their trade and hone their skills. The group includes both established novelists and exciting new talents. This volume features twelve original stories set in Northampton and acts as a showcase for their work.

12 stories, 256 pages, 80,000 words of intrigue, humour, magic, terror and conjecture.

Originally available as a limited edition (of just 50) dust-jacketed hardbacks and an A5 sized paperback, both of these have sold out from the publisher though Amazon have a few copies of the paperback.

However, NewCon Press has just released an ebook edition for £3.99 - available from NewCon Press here

Full contents:

1. Introduction – Alan Moore
2. A Walk of Solace with my Dead Baby – Ian Watson
3. Lifeline – Susan Sinclair
4. These Boots weren’t Made for Walking – Ian Whates
5. Mano Mart – Andy West
6. What we Sometimes do without Thinking – Mark West
7. Arthur the Witch – Donna Scott
8. Goethe’s Wig – Steve Longworth
9. The Old Man of Northampton and the Sea – Sarah Pinborough
10. The Last Economy – Paul Melhuish
11. Hanging Around – Neil K Bond
12. I Won the Earth Evacuation Lottery – Tim Taylor
13. The Tower – Nigel Edwards
14. About the Authors

Monday, 17 November 2014

Characters Must Eat, by Ian Watson

Group Chairman Ian Watson on all things culinary...

Photo credit: Enrique Corominas
Science Fiction and Fantasy cookcooks are an established tradition.

One of the inspirations of my 2-volume science fantasy saga The Books of Mana (Lucky's Harvest and The Fallen Moon) was Finnish cookbooks because now my characters would have something to feast upon.  More recently myself and my beloved Cristina (cookery author as well as Spanish translator of George Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire) co-wrote a cookbook about 50 meals named after famous people for the 50th anniversary of the leading Spanish book club Círculo de Lectores (Readers' Circle).  After a while meals began to cross-reference as though a secret history of the world was emerging gastronomically.  Here are the histories of a couple of "named" dishes, in English for the very first time.



Oysters Rockefeller
In 1840 Italian immigrant Antoine Aliciatore founded America´s oldest family-run restaurant in culturally French New Orleans after lack of success in New York.  In 1899 a shortage of imported French snails caused his son Jules to turn to the local oysters, resulting in a dish which he named after John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937), America´s first billionaire, because Jules´sauce was very rich too.
The sauce was also green, a purée of green vegetables famously scorning any use of spinach, though its exact ingredients were kept a family secret.  Since Antoine´s has sold 3.5 million Oysters Rockefeller between then and now, many chefs attempted copies, often courtesy of spinach.  In 1986 apparently a laboratory analysis showed the presence of parsley, puréed celery, chives, and capers as well as olive oil—one must imagine a diner suddenly running out of Antoine´s with an Oyster Rockefeller clutched in his hand and escaping in a waiting car to that laboratory.
Rockefeller grew rich by revolutionising the petroleum industry, and he was a pioneering philanthropist, endowing much medical research and two universities.  He was also a teetotaller, whereas Jules´ sauce was said to benefit by a dash of "the Green Fairy", absinthe, the preferred tipple of many French artists of the time.  So Rockefeller may never have tasted his namesake dish, or at least not in its full original glory...

Chicken Marengo
On 14 June 1800, having taken his army over the Alps into northern Italy like a latterday Hannibal, Napoleon brilliantly triumphed over the Austrians at Marengo, after which in a nearby farmhouse his cook Dunant improvised from the few items available a meal of chicken—diced by a sabre! and fried in olive oil—plus a tomato-based sauce topped with crayfish and fried eggs, a dish which became immortal, and a symbol of France.
Except for some awkward facts such as that... Dunant only began to work for Napoleon 2 years later, Napoleon didn´t eat in any farmhouse or old inn but went back to his headquarters, olive oil hardly existed locally, and Napoleon was extremely lucky to win, with huge casualties on both sides.
A master of spin, Napoleon had official maps of the battle destroyed and redrawn to conform with his vision, and was still revising the facts years later in exile.  A recent book in English, Napoleon´s Chicken Marengo: Creating the Myth of the Emperor´s Favourite Dish (2011) by Napoleonic expert Andrew Uffindell reveals fascinatingly how the name Marengo was spun for political reasons, as well as the meal itself till "Marengo" was simply a title covering a huge range of variations in the competing newfangled restaurants of Paris in the 1820s where a clever owner could make a fortune within 5 years. In 1988 the first French astronaut took tinned veal Marengo, adjusted for zero gravity, to the Mir space station, carrying this mythic meal beyond the Earth.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Member in the wild

Last week was a busy one for NSFWG member Mark West.

Ellen Datlow, leading horror anthologist, published her annual list of 'honorable mentions' (stories that don't appear in her "Best Of" but which she feels are worthy of pointing out to readers) and included West on it, with his story "The Bureau Of Lost Children".  This originally appeared in the anthology "ill at ease 2" and was workshopped at the group.

He was also part of a quartet of Writers at a reading event held at Leicester Central Library on Thursday evening.  He read from his novelette "The Mill" (which was used as his audition piece to get into the group) and took part in a lively Q&A session.

from left - James Bennett, Hardeep Sangha, West, K. T. Davies
The icing on the cake was a glowing review of his novella "Drive" (also partially workshopped in the group) from Peter Tennant in Black Static magazine.  Tennant writes; "[Drive] is a crowd pleaser, a horror story set in the urban landscape and tapping into our fears of what could so easily go wrong in this setting, a finely tuned tale that delivers all the thrills it says on the tin. I loved it, and I also think it would make a splendid little film."

More details can be found at his blog.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The House Next Door, a review by Mark West

NSFWG member Mark West reviews Anne Rivers Siddons, first published in 1978

It was an architectural masterpiece - every young couple’s dream house.  Suddenly, within it and everywhere around it, families began to suffer, to go mad…to die.

And then, with mounting terror, the family next door was struck with the paralysing fear that they were next…that the pure horror of the house could not let them live…

that their salvation lay in fire and murder…and that to survive, they must enter and destroy - 
The House Next Door

(from the back cover of my 1982 Ballantine Books edition)


Their love would never be the same.
Colquitt and Walter Kennedy enjoyed a life of lazy weekends, gathering with the neighbours on their quiet, manicured street and sipping drinks on their patios. But when construction of a beautiful new home begins in the empty lot next door, their easy friendship and relaxed get-togethers are marred by strange accidents and inexplicable happenings.

Though Colquitt's rational mind balks at the idea of a "haunted" house, she cannot ignore the tragedies associated with it. It is as if the house preys on its inhabitants' weaknesses and slowly destroys the goodness in them -- ultimately driving them to disgrace, madness and even death.

Anne Rivers Siddons transports you deep into the heart of a neighborhood torn apart by a mysterious force that threatens their friendship, their happiness and, for some, their very existence.

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time - ever since, in fact, I read Stephen King’s analysis of it in “Danse Macabre” - and although it took me a long time to get hold of a copy (I finally found mine, the 1982 Ballantine edition from Canada, in a charity shop), it’s definitely been worth the wait.  Written as a contemporary novel and published in 1978, this still works perfectly with only a few hints betraying the fact that (as I write this review) it’s 36 years old.  

Col narrates the novel (apart from a brief epilogue) and she and her husband Walter are normal people, as the prologue spells out.  Thirtysomething and deeply in love, they’re not rich but not poor, they have good friends, they have a nice house in a nice area (plus a summer cottage on ‘the island’) and life in Atlanta treats them well, with Walter a partner in an ad agency and Col a freelance PR person.  When Col hears that the McIntyre lot next door to them is due to be developed, she hates the idea since it means that a lot of trees and wild life will have to go, along with their privacy.  Then she meets Kim Dougherty, the architect, who is very proud of his creation and once the house is up, Col falls for its beauty.

"[The house] commanded you, somehow, yet soothed you.  It grew out of the pencilled earth like an elemental spirit that had lain, locked and yearning for the light, through endless depths of time, waiting to be released…The creek enfolded its mass and seemed to nourish its roots.  It looked - inevitable."

The first occupants - part one of the book - are Buddy and Pie Harralson, expecting their first child and from moneyed Southern families.  Buddy is a lawyer, Pie is a perky kid who has a complex about her “daddy” and it’s clear the two men don’t get on.  Very soon, small animals - birds, chipmunks, the Harralson puppy - are killed, “smeared out of life”, though after the police are called, the murders stop.  “It was as though the murderer, having made some small point to the Harralsons, had moved on.”  The Harralsons host a house-warming party and everything goes wrong - a display of homosexuality leading to a heart attack - in a way that not only destroys lives, but the trappings of it, the reputations and standing.  It also takes its toll on Dougherty - he’s very proud of his creation but it blocks his creative drive and at the party, he realises “there’s something wrong with this house.”

Part two picks up the story as Buck & Anita Sheehan move in.  She’s been ill and he seems over-protective, though as the days and weeks pass, it comes to light that they lost their only son in Vietnam (in a tragedy similar to the one in which Anita lost her father and brother).  Anita receives phone calls with no caller and she sees her sons death in a TV movie that no station was carrying.  As she retreats into depression another neighbour, the well-respected Virginia Guthrie, helps out but can’t prevent the ultimate betrayal.  Although I won’t say what that is, Col witnesses the incident and she’s unable to tell anyone else, which ties her into the dark secrets of the house.  The house affects Kim further, leading him to try it on with an uncomplaining Col and their almost-tryst is witnessed by Walter, who is driven into a rage that they only just manage to avoid.  From this point on, as our heroes become keenly aware that something is askew, the tension begins to crank up.

Part three has the Greene’s move in.  On the surface, Norman is an overbearing, ex-army college lecturer and his wife Susan is quiet, tolerant and moneyed.  Their daughter, Melissa, is 8 and during a party she has an accident that - again - causes distress but also highlights that Norman is a monster.  At this point, the house comes between Col and her close friend Claire Swanson, another neighbour who has always been supportive and this section is beautifully written and full of pain.  When the end comes for the Greene’s, that resolution - a tragedy of the mundane - is heartbreaking as it plays out.  At this point, Col and Walter decide enough is enough and finally make a stand but the reaction is one they expect - ridicule, ostracisation and pity - and we see this once lively couple driven to extremes that couldn’t have been contemplated at the start of the book.  As everything collapses around her and Col mourns her previous life, with friends and laughter and good futures to look forward to, there’s a real sense of loss.

Then we get the final, shocking twist of the knife.

This is a wonderful book, that had me enthralled from the start to the gut-punch finish.  Wonderful written (and simply told), the whole thing is perfectly constructed and the language is often beautiful (when the Swansons move out, Col observes - “About a waiting house [there is] a sort of mournful abandonment, a wistful air of ‘Why are you leaving me?  What went wrong?'").  For the most part, Col has a lovely narrative voice and the home she shares with Walter, their sanctuary, is the exact opposite of Dougherty’s modern marvel and Siddons uses it to create a warm, homely base.

The Atlanta location is well used, from the seasons (Siddons writes the heat of summer and the coolness of the evenings so you feel as if you’re sitting on the Kennedy patio) to the mixture of old and new money (and old and new values) and the dialogue has a lilt that is pleasant to read.  The characters are well-drawn and believable within the situation (even if, as with Col sometimes, they are occasionally too stuck-up about things to be sympathetic) and the book has a nice pace to it, taking its time to set things up but with a mounting sense of tension behind it all.  The three stories (each new neighbour has its own part) give it a feel of interlinked novellas, but that works too, with Col acting as the bridge between them.

However, the novels masterstroke is the house itself.  Whilst a lot of bad things happen in it, most of them - as characters point out - could be ascribed to terrible bad luck and it’s only as a sum of the whole that gives Col’s fear of it being haunted any credence.  But is it, or is it just the fact that we have an unreliable narrator who is slowly unravelling over 278 pages?  Personally - especially regarding the ending - I think it’s the house because it doesn’t only wreak havoc on its occupants but destroys the people around it, fragmenting the neighbourhood, wrecking long-standing friendships and creating terrible secrets that help to grind down daily life.  As the blurb says, “It is as if the house preys on its inhabitants' weaknesses and slowly destroys the goodness in them -- ultimately driving them to disgrace, madness and even death” and that’s perfect.  

“The House Next Door” is a great read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

This review originally appeared on Mark's blog here

Monday, 20 October 2014

RECOIL! Science vs. technobabble in military sci-fi

An article by NSFWG member Tim C. Taylor

In the early 1990s, in Star Trek The Next Generation, Geordi LaForge became famous for figuring out that a quick reconfiguration of the ship’s equipment — in a way no one had ever considered before — would solve the impending crisis. Realizations along the lines of: if we reversed the polarity of the shield generators and channeled the resulting feedback into the Jefferies tubes, we can slip back in time a few seconds: just far enough to escape the enemy missiles.

The term technobabble was born. But the idea of stringing together clever sounding words to break the laws of the universe whenever convenient was old long before Geordi’s phase generators.

The Doctor, reversing the polarity
of the neutron flow
Twenty years earlier, for example, Jon Pertwee hated the nonsensical pseudo-science jargon in his Doctor Who scripts, notably his Doctor’s catch phrase: ‘reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’. (Of course, neutrons don’t have any charge, hence their name).

Doctor Who and GeordiLaForge: these characters are powerfully popular. Somehow, talking nonsense had become an endearing eccentricity, rather than a failing of the writing team (although I felt Star Trek’s technobabble was used a little too often to get the Enterprise out of trouble).

I think the explanation for this acceptance is that with a TV show, you can see and hear the actors portraying the character. It’s much easier to believe that they are real people, to identify with them, and — crucially — trust them.

I mean, take Jon Pertwee’s time lord. He might talk nonsense about the charge on neutrons, but who could possibly fail to trust a craggy old man dressed up like a stage magician, and driving the same yellow toy car as Parsley the Lion?

But when you tell your story through the written word, winning trust and empathy from your reader is much harder. And technobabble is one aspect of storytelling where I believe readers are less forgiving than viewers.

Authors, don’t do it!

(Me included!)

I’m reading a lot of military sci-fi at the moment. I’m reading it because it helps fuel my mindset to write it.

And, let’s face it, I love reading it.

I’ve read stirring tales of great wedge-shaped fleets of spaceships crashing against each other like charging heavy cavalry squadrons, flashing pretty beam weapons at each other just before the front lines make contact, in the same way a cavalryman of the 18th century would fire his pistol. Having made shattering contact, the ships swoop into a confusing space dogfight.

A space marine with feet firmly planted on the planet’s surface raises her super-advanced combat rifle to her shoulder, and lets rip with 500 shells per second at the enemy gun emplacement she can see in her HUD.

UFO attack.
This is a wonderful image,but the physics is wrong in
so many ways.
image (c) mik38/Fotolia.com
Now, sometimes, I have problems with these descriptions. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want lots of science and technical data in my military sci-fi. I want action, adventure, and how-do-they-going-to-get-out-of-that? But what I also don’t want are technobabble and lazy, improbable physics, because that takes me out of the story in just the same way as spelling errors and clumsy wording.

When the advancing space ships close to beam weapon range, what is that exactly? What range? In the vacuum of space, why is a laser, or other beam weapon, any less effective at a distance of, say, 10,000 miles, than it is at a distance of 200 yards? There’s no atmosphere to scatter the beam in a vacuum. In fact, there is an answer: diffraction, meaning the longer the range, the wider the beam’s cross-section when it hits the target. But effective range for lasers and other directed beam weapons is much greater than some authors depict. And spacecraft cannot ever swoop around in a Star Wars style dogfight because there’s no air to redirect your momentum.

And as for the space marine letting rip with a gun that has the fire rate of a 20th century heavy machine gun on fully automatic, how can they possibly aim with all that recoil force? Even if they could aim, if they’re in heavy armor, and are firing from the shoulder, wouldn’t the recoil topple them over and pound them into the mud? It would be like pushing on the end of a lever. For that matter, where is all the ammo stored? If you look at classic HMGs, they’re typically tripod mounted with belts of ammo folded into boxes. And they aren’t normally fired at full speed because that makes them difficult to aim accurately and the ammo runs out real fast.

Recoil?

I don’t pretend to be any kind of weapons expert, but I’ve fired guns and my shoulder tells that the bigger the bang at the business end of the barrel, the harder it kicks back at me through the stock.

If you look through amazon.com reviews of military science fiction, one of the most common complaints is that the author doesn’t take account of recoil.

So when I wrote the Human Legion books, I thought I’d better follow my own advice: talk to some combat professionals and get my research in. Once I’d gotten my facts straightened out, hopefully I could feed that naturally into my military sci-fi writing without needing to dump indigestible lumps of exposition onto my readers. I’m going for believability rather than complete accuracy, and I’m prepared to bend physics a little if it serves the storytelling. But I don’t want to get the science blatantly wrong because I haven’t bothered to research it.

One of the most surprising answers I found was with railguns. I’ll explain that in more detail in a future post.


This article originally appeared on Tim's blog here

Monday, 13 October 2014

Goldilocks and Little Green Men, by Ian Watson

An article by NSFWG Chairman Ian Watson

In the fairy story, in the bears' home, Goldilocks tastes three bowls of porridge.  One is too hot, one is too cold, and one is just right.

The 'Goldilocks' zone around a star, such as our Sun, is the zone where water on a planet will be liquid.  Too close to the sun, and the star's heat will boil the water away; too far, and the water will be frozen ice.  We assume that liquid water is essential for life as we know it, so we hunt for planets around the Goldilocks zones of their stars.


Does this mean that a planet in the Goldilocks Zone will certainly have life in the way Earth has life, including creatures with complex brains who can think?  Not in the least!  The processes of chemistry suggest that such a world may well have microbes, but not necessarily anything more complicated.   The existence of life today on Earth is like winning a lottery twenty times over.   Just for instance, we have a giant moon, which stabilises the tilt of the Earth (at about 23 degrees).  Without this stability, we might have Summers when our seas boil, or Winters when the whole Earth freezes.  The likelihood of such a moon seems very low—and this is only one of the lotteries that have to be to be won.  Rare Earth by Peter Ward & Donald Brownlee, published in 2000, details many other lotteries.  In fact the unlikelihood of complex life on Earth is considerable.  It even seems plausible that micro-organisms first evolved on Mars billions of years ago when conditions on Mars were less hostile than now, to be blasted into space within a rock by an asteroid impact, falling to Earth many years later—yet another level of lottery!

The universe contains billions of galaxies which each contains billions of stars, consequently some planet somewhere is likely to win all the lotteries.  Complex life might indeed also evolve elsewhere than Earth, but the nearest ETs might be so far away that we could never know that they exist, or did exist in the past.  So much for flying saucers.

Warm water and some sort of life may also exist within some of the moons of the giant worlds of our own solar sytem, Jupiter and Saturn.  Far from the Sun, these worlds of gas and their solid moons are very cold; but, as the moons orbit the gasgiants, the gravity of Jupiter and Saturn, very much stronger than Earth's gravity, constantly pulls at the insides of the moons, causing heat which can maintain oceans of warm water under the crusts of ice many kilometres thick.  If intelligent life evolved in those oceans, it could probably never know that beyond the thick ceilings of ice there is a distant Sun and other worlds and stars—unless we go there and drill a borehole 50 or 100 kilometres deep, which we may indeed do.  But imagine explaining cosmology to an alien squid, intelligent in its own way.

Really, we are all very unlikely to exist (merely not impossible).  So we should enjoy life, and beer, and trying to understand the universe, while we can.  People sometimes say they wish they'd been born elsewhere or elsewhen, but this is nonsense.  Even with exactly the same DNA (astronomically unlikely) you yourself would become quite a different person if born a few hundred years ago in London, or a hundred years from now.   You are here, you are now.

Monday, 6 October 2014

A parody of fantasy...

I’m not much of a one for singing the praises of bandwagoners and spoofers.  You know: the people who seize on somebody else’s great idea and then make money from parodies and poor-relation spin-offs.  However, there is one program on the TV that parodies so brilliantly they deserve a bit of real credit.  I’m talking, of course, about The Simpsons (and yes, I like The Simpsons a lot!)


 There are three in particular that I absolutely adore (but in no particular order):
·         The Hobbit ‘Couch’ (http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/83631895/)
·         The Game of Thrones intro (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsUD282hCL8&feature=share)
·         And The Lord of the Rings ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTiAhbv4BpA (Preview) ) – this is a French language version, but it has the best video quality from a bad bunch that I could find on YouTube

There was also an episode where Lisa was reading a Harry Potter story, where she played out the fantasy in her mind’s eye, which I found quite charming.  Haven’t located a viable vid on YT for that one, I’m afraid, but enjoy the above clips anyway!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Falling Angel - Angel Heart

An article/review by NSFWG member Mark West

When I began writing my novella "The Lost Film" back in 2010 (it's due to be launched at next years FantasyCon and a few of the chapters have been through the group critiquing process), I started reading a lot of crime.  One of the books I decided to re-read (after a perhaps twenty-year break) was "Falling Angel" by William Hjortsberg (1978).  I enjoyed it so much that, the weekend after I finished, my wife & I watched “Angel Heart”, the 1987 film written for the screen and directed by Alan Parker.

Mysterious Press edition
In 1959 New York, Harry Angel is hired by the mysterious Louis Cyphre to track down Johnny Favourite, a crooner who’s been holed up in a hospital since the war. When Angel discovers that the singer is missing, everyone he speaks to on the trail to find Favourite ends up dead. And all the time, the mysterious Cyphre seems to pop up everywhere, not least haunting Harry’s dreams. A hard-boiled private detective novel, employing (and enjoying) every staple of that genre, this takes things into far darker territory as the novel goes on. Sticking to New York throughout (unlike the film), this often seems like it was written with a pang of nostalgia for the city of old and works all the better for it. The ending, as Harry attends a Black Mass in an abandoned subway station, is painful and bitter and unpleasant and serves as a real kick in the gut, before the final denouement. Having read this before (and seen the film a few times), I was surprised at how many obvious clues Hjortsberg seemed to drop at the start (and the cover art doesn’t help), but the clues got more insidious as it went on. This is a cracking novel, working perfectly as either a hardboiled thriller or a supernatural one, never afraid to lay on the violence and gore, but also treating the love affair between Harry and Epiphany with delicate ease. Very highly recommended.

Re-reading this and watching the film so closely together, I’ve realised that they’re equally good, but Parker took a lot of liberties with the source material (some of which are understandable, some not).

Millipede press edition
The book takes place in 1959, the film in 1955 for no apparent reason (though Mickey Rourke does, at one point, mention he’s 37 when he’s clearly not). All of the book takes place in New York (city or state), but the film moves everything to Louisiana for the voodoo sequences (which gives it a different flavour and does make sense, though I like having everything happen in the city). The Epiphany of the book is an independent young woman, assertive and childless - in the film, she’s independent but hampered by circumstance, she has a child and she’s a lot more obviously sexy. In the book, the relationship develops and is mostly nice and pleasant - the film affair virtually starts and ends with the blood-soaked love-making (which is a visual metaphor for the Black Mass (see later), since nothing like this happens in the book). Ethan Krusemark plays a bigger part in the book (there’s a superb little set-piece where Harry has to do some window cleaning) and has a major role to play in the “first” climax, a Black Mass (only briefly glimpsed in the film) that is awful and gripping, which takes place in the underground system. In the film, he’s seen at the races and ends up dead in a cauldron of gumbo.

Do the changes detract from the power? No, I don’t think so, but they’re not really the same animal. It was nice spotting pieces of film dialogue in the novel but I think a film could be made of “Falling Angel”, sticking very close to the source, which would be every bit as powerful as “Angel Heart” was, without usurping its position as a top drawer film based on the book.

So which is better? I’m going to wimp out here, I can’t pick one. I’d love to see a film that sticks to the book but what we got instead is still a top quality piece of entertainment. So I’ll call it a draw and suggest that whichever you go for - book or film - you won’t be disappointed.

1987 UK quad poster

Monday, 22 September 2014

The NSFWG blog celebrates 100 posts!


Well here we are, post 100 for the Northampton SF Writers Group blog.  It's been entertaining, getting from February 16th 2011 to here and we plan on sticking around for at least 100 more posts and hope that you'll keep visiting.

In case you're new to the blog, here are some pointers to the wide and varied content we've published.

Successes of various group members

Articles from group members

Interviews with members

Posts on writing (including top tips from the likes of Group chairman Ian Watson)

Reviews of films and books

and essays about "The Book That Made Me"


Stick around, there's plenty more to come...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Two new YA books from Tim C. Taylor

An article by NSFWG member Tim C. Taylor

Running a publishing business and doing freelance book design doesn’t leave me much time to write any fiction. That’s a shame because I love to write.  During 2013 I made the time and have been scribbling away in the background, as Monday night regulars at the Swan at Bromham can confirm. Rather than write to hit market demographics and all that, I’ve written for pleasure and relaxation, taking as my inspiration my teenage joys of discovering science fiction and fantasy in such sources as 2000AD, Blake’s 7, Doctor Who, and I guess a little from Dungeons & Dragons too.

I’ve written before about how 2000AD influenced me. I didn’t realize at the time that the writers at the comic were mining every cliche of golden age science fiction from the 40s & 50s and then adding their own spin and taking them in new directions in such series as Tharg’s Future Shocks. When I grew older and started to read the golden age science fiction (and much besides) for myself, I was glad 2000AD had mined that storytelling gold because it would have been denied me otherwise. Sometimes I think contemporary adult short science fiction can be too fixated on trying something new, of needing to be clever. Other than an addiction to making jokey reference to contemporary culture and politics, the cleverness of the 2000AD that I loved in the 1970s and 80s was that the writers were (largely) unconstrained: they were allowed to let their imaginations soar in pursuit of storytelling in a way that I suspect short story writers of that time often felt they were not.

And that has been my approach in these stories. There’s Treasure of the Last Dragon, for instance, which is styled a little like the Famous Five stories I was reading to my son at bedtime, except the children are hexapod aliens. I just thought that was a fun thing to do.

The idea of the playthings of super beings being left around the galaxy was a common wonder in early 2000AD (and a cliche long before then). I combined the essence of that sense of wonder, although not the abandoned plaything idea, with a little teenage angst for my story Collision Course.

There was a craze for Dungeons & Dragons while I was at school. We had a strange spread-out school site built up over many decades with gardens that linked various buildings. There was even a gardener named Arthur who let us in his shed at breaktimes to play D&D or just have a chat. The combination of D&D and Arthur’s shed led me to create St. Rushby’s Home for the Un-parented and write a story about a young forensic sorcerer in The Snot Wizard.

Partly the inspiration for these stories came from Gill Shutt’s Alien Legends. Gill was a talented author and source of creative energy who proof read most of these stories before her untimely loss earlier this year. It was Gill who came up with the initial concept of the Repository of Imagination and who gamely let me mess around with her creation to arrive at the form the Repository takes today. The Senior Repositarian of the Earth branch is one Crustias Scattermush, and I’ve written these books under the Crustias penname. Actually, as my friend Elaine Stirling would explain, Crustias is more than a pen name; he is taking on a heteronymic life of his own. So I take no responsibility for his comments at the end of each story, they are purely his own.

Both of these stories are available as two short Kindle books, each costing less than a dollar or pound.

Click here for more info on: Tales from the Repository of Imagination #1 - Treasure of the Last Dragon 

Click here for more info on: Tales from the Repository of Imagination #2 - The Ultimate Green Energy

I’m quite pleased with the Photoshopped stamp I created for the series, and so since I’m in a mood to show off today, here’s a bonus stamp. I’ve several more stories sketched out or nearly written, so I hope to be using this stamp many more times.


Crustias portrait  © RATOCA – Shutterstock.com

This originally appeared on Tim's blog in December 2013

Monday, 8 September 2014

Without A Hitch

An article by Chairman Ian Whates

This year, the anthology ‘End of the Road’ (Solaris, edited by Jonathan Oliver) has been shortlisted for both a Shirley Jackson Award and a British Fantasy Award. The following offers some insight into how my story for the book, “Without a Hitch”, came about.

A few years ago I had reason to visit Stephen Baxter at his home in Northumberland. The journey is a long one but not especially complicated – involving, for the most part, a two hundred plus mile slog along the A1. As I set out from Stephen’s for the return trip, RDS kicked in to warn that a major accident had closed the southbound A1 ahead of me. There was a diversion in place but that in turn had become completely jammed and police were advising motorists to expect a delay of up to three hours… I kept track as I drove closer and closer, praying for a miracle. Thankfully, as I skirted Newcastle – still twenty-odd miles short of the incident – the road reopened, but the experience stayed with me. Being a writer, it inevitably triggered the ‘what if…?’ reflex, opening the door to all manner of conjecture. When Jonathan Oliver invited me to submit for the anthology ‘End of the Road’, the memorable trip back from Steve’s instantly sprang to mind.

It wasn’t the only possibility. I also toyed with writing a more fantasy/mediaeval tale, or one featuring an enigmatic road that traversed numerous realities (what might lie at such a road’s eventual end?). However, I kept coming back to the idea of the stranded traveller, of utilising a more mundane setting and featuring a man desperate to get home who suddenly can’t.

I had recently published Chris Beckett’s fabulous second collection, ‘The Peacock Cloak’, via NewCon Press. One of the constituent stories, “Poppyfields”, features Chris’ recurring protagonist Tammy Pendant. I can’t help but admire Tammy for her toughness and her resourcefulness – her survival instinct and willingness to exploit men’s vanities. While plotting my submission for ‘End of the Road’, Tammy came to mind, and I realised she would provide the perfect foil for the developing story. So, I borrowed her (thank you Chris). Oh, this isn’t Tammy, not quite; I gave my character a different context, different motivations, and a more defined cynicism, but the result is definitely Tammy-esque.

Jon Oliver said in his notes introducing “Without a Hitch” in the book that he was surprised, given the anthology’s theme, that mine was the only submission he received that featured a hitchhiker. This gave me pause. Had I taken the easy way out? Had I selected the obvious option that other authors spurned in favour of a greater challenge?

I like to think not. Vanishingly few concepts are truly original; the secret is to twist and shape expectations in an unanticipated fashion to create something distinctive. I’ve never read a story quite like “Without a Hitch”, though some of the constituent elements undoubtedly feel familiar. I know this was the right idea for me to develop for the book, and I’m delighted with the resulting tale. The fact that the editor also liked it is, of course, a very welcome bonus.


Monday, 1 September 2014

The bugbears of Ian Watson (part four)

Group chairman Ian Watson previously contributed two brand new poems to the NSFWG blog (exclusives!), which were - in his words - "attacking misuse of my bugbear words Actinic and Careening".

Inspired, he penned two more which we are presenting here exclusively.  The first regarded "Laying", this time he has his say about "it".

It should also be noted that NSFWG member Nigel Edwards produces IT counts for every story critiqued and fellow member Mark West consistently tops the leaderboard of worst abusers!

It-itis
by Ian Watson

It-it-it-it
Sings the tit tit tit tit
I'm so sick of it-itis.

Enter a room, see a book.
Go into it, see it.
Its cover is blue, just like it.

Take it from it
To its proper place
Where it fits, doesn't it?

I've had it
With It-itis
Non-use of nouns.

It's worse than... ellipsis...
And colonitis:
Is It-itis!

Sings the tit tit tit tit

Isn't it?

Monday, 4 August 2014

We're off on our holidays...

...and we've found the perfect location for a nice, quiet rest.  We've been advised that Mos Eisley has the best nightlife and that the Sarlaac Pit at the Dune Sea is well worth a trip out.


See you in September, with another bugbear from Ian Watson, articles from Ian Whates, Nigel Edwards and more, a look at Stephen King's "Joyland", a milestone anniversary for the blog plus more goodies from the Northampton SF Writers Group.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Fermi Paradox and all that jazz...

From Ian Whates, co-chairman of the NSFWG


To commemorate the return in 2014 of the World Science Fiction Convention (or Worldcon, which is much easier to say) to London after far too many years, I decided to put together a special anthology.  Initially I just had a vague concept of ‘original SF stories set in space’ and a determination to rope in the biggest genre names I could, but that seemed a little vague.  Then, out of the blue, Adrian Tchaikovsky (oblivious of my Worldcon ambitions) contacted me and said, “Have you ever thought of putting together an anthology themed around the Fermi Paradox?”  And there was my theme.

I set about approaching people and was delighted by the response, not only among the British SF community, many of whom I’m fortunate enough to count as friends, but also from a number of big-name American authors, people I’ve worked with on the Solaris Rising anthologies.  The thing is, I can only afford to pay a very modest amount for NewCon Press stories, far less than the Solaris Rising budget will stretch to, but still these professional authors from two continents said ‘yes’.  Of course, the best laid plans… A few would-be contributors were forced to drop out – two because they’d underestimated the amount of time and energy that pregnancy and subsequent motherhood would demand of them – but still I received a rich and varied pool of submissions to choose from.  Adrian Tchaikovsky even submitted two stories, one of which made it into the book I’m relieved to say; I mean, how awkward would it be to turn Adrian down after he came up with the theme?

I’m also delighted that scientists as well as established authors are featured in the book.  I’ve heard Dr Rachel Armstrong speak on several occasions, impressed by her vision, energy, and determination.  Then a mutual friend, Tom Hunter, mentioned that Rachel also likes to write science fiction…  David L Clements I’ve published before, in the Conflicts anthology (2010).  As an astrophysicist, Dave seemed a natural choice for this one.  Then Gerry Webb caught wind of Dave’s submission, saying, “Well, if he can have a go…”  It turns out that Gerry has long harboured ambitions to write a story or two in a milieu of his own devising, and one of these nascent tales had a bearing on Fermi…

For the cover I wanted something different, something that would make the book stand out from other NewCon Press titles.  I first encountered Sarah Anne Langton a couple of years ago, when she designed a spectacular poster for an event NewCon was involved in at Forbidden Planet in London, and it was her I approached.  This proved a very wise decision; Sarah, I subsequently discovered, has a fascination with the Fermi Paradox, and in no time at all she whipped up a spectacular modern yet retro-feeling image that cleverly references SETI and Fermi in a style all Sarah’s own.

So here we are, later than I’d hoped due to a difficult start to the year, but I’m finally able to reveal the ToC for the NewCon Press anthology Paradox, which will be launched this August at Loncon, the 2014 Worldcon.  It’s a book I’m very proud of.

1. Introduction
2. Catching Rays  – Dave Clements
3. The Big Next – Pat Cadigan
4. Baedecker’s Fermi – Adam Roberts
5. Zeta Reticuli – Paul Cornell
6. The Ambulance Chaser – Tricia Sullivan
7. Lost to Their Own Devices – Adrian Tchaikovsky
8. In the Beginning – Gerry Webb
9. The Trail of the Creator, the Trial of Creation – Paul di Filippo
10. Stella by Starlight – Mike Resnick & Robert T Jeschoenek
11. Fermi’s Doubts – George Zebrowski
12. Audiovisionary – Stephanie Saulter
13. Aether – Robert Reed
14. The End of the World – Keith Brooke & Eric Brown
15. The Worldmaker – Rachel Armstrong
16. Atonement, Under the Blue-White Sun – Mercurio D Rivera

For more details, head over to the NewCon Press website

Monday, 21 July 2014

The bugbears of Ian Watson (part three)

Group chairman Ian Watson previously contributed two brand new poems to the NSFWG blog (exclusives!), which were - in his words - "attacking misuse of my bugbear words Actinic and Careening".

Inspired, he's now penned two more (also exclusives) and this is the first, his thoughts on the misuse of the word "laying"...





Laying
by Ian Watson

He's laying on the bed
I tell you no lie
Cluck-cluck
Laying on the bed
Like the hen squeezes out eggs

He layed on the bed
No need to lie
Simply to squat
Cluck-cluck
Out of his arse, an egg

Lay lady lay
Lay across
My big brass nest
Bob Dylan sang that
While his lady layed

Eggs on a nest of brass
Cluck-cluck!  Tuck-tuck!
Tuck-tuck!  Cluck-cluck!
Eggs on a big brass nest
—What'll come to pass?

He layed on the sofa
She layed on the rug
Upon her he layed
An egg on her navel
Out of his arse, an egg

Tuck-tuck!  Cluck-cluck!
Cluck-cluck!  Tuck-tuck!

Yolks on the rug's
No joke, pal, no joke.
Yolks on the sofa
Yolks on the bed
CLUCK-CLUCK!



Monday, 14 July 2014

Drive, a novella by Mark West

To be launched at Edge-Lit 3 in Derby, this Saturday (19th July), Pendragon Press are publishing "Drive", a novella of urban terror from NSFWG member Mark West.


David Moore has one night left in Gaffney and is at a party he doesn’t want to attend. Natalie Turner, at the same party, is lost for a lift home.

Meanwhile, three young men have stolen a car, and as the night darkens and the roads become deserted, David and Nat enter into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse. . .


“Drive takes you for a journey down the darkest alleyways of human savagery.  A fast paced, high tension thriller that delivers on all fronts....”
- Jim Mcleod, The Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"Drive is a gripping, tense urban noir with prose as tight as a snare drum..."
- Paul D. Brazill, Guns Of Brixton.

“Mark West writes the kind of fiction that gets under the skin where it lies dormant until you turn out the lights ...”
- Dave Jeffery, author of the Necropolis Rising series


Published as a limited (to 100 copies) edition paperback and unlimited ebook, across platforms, with cover art and design by West himself.  The limited edition paperback includes an exclusive afterword.

More information can be found can be found at the Pendragon Press site or at Mark's site

There's also a book trailer...

Monday, 7 July 2014

Prog’s Not Dead – A personal journey through the zones where rock music and sci-fi overlap

An article by NSFWG member Paul Melhuish

As there are hundreds of books and thousands of websites dedicated to all the bands I'm going to mention here, I wouldn't bother reading any further if I were you. Go on, just Google Hawkwind or Pink Floyd or Yes or Bolt Thrower. They’ll tell you all you need to know about these bands and perhaps more comprehensively than I can. So why am I writing this blog entry then? Being a member of the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group, my intention was to write a comprehensive guide to the role Sci-fi plays in rock music. I’m not gong to do that. Instead I’ll tell you what I know.

Shindig guide to spacerock. More informed than my wittering on the subject. .

Twelve was quite an important age for me. My reading age caught up with my real age thanks to James and Frank Herbert, I got into music and became a fanatical enthusiast of the genre heavy metal. Another world of imagination opened up. I was as keen on listening to music as I was on reading horror and sci-fi. Sometimes they over lapped.

Iron Maiden’s 1983 album Piece of Mind concludes with a six minute track called To Tame a Land. Reading the lyric sheet I noticed that they were using phrases from the book I was reading at the time; Dune by Frank Herbert. Phrases such as Stillsuits and Gom-Jabbar. I even wrote to the Iron Maiden fan club to clarify this and received a note from their manager in hand-written scrawl.

Yes Paul,
You were right. To Tame a Land was inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune
Regards
Keith.

Like it wasn’t obvious, but to the twelve year old me it wasn’t.

Quite how much a writer’s taste in Music affects their work is subjective and debatable. Alistair Reynolds entitled his short work Diamond Dogs, inspired or in reference, to David Bowie’s 1974 Album. The Klaxtons called their first Album Myths of the Near Future after a JG Ballard collection. Our very own NSFWG member Ian Whates is a keen fan of sci-fi prog-rockers Yes.

The history of science fiction in music consciously goes back a few years. In the Year 2525 was a kooky sixties record by Zager and Evans. Other artists dabbled with the themes of space including Pink Floyd. Floyd’s early work is laden with space references. Cirrus Minor, Interstellar Overdrive, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun all refer to space travel; pushing out into the boundaries of the unknown but obvious references to the use of hallucinogens serve a dual concept as the spacey elements become almost metaphors for the psychedelic elements. Notably on Cirrus Minor (from the soundtrack to the film ‘More’) where the lyrics tell of  a chap taking trip from a woodland glade to Cirrus Minor. He isn’t using a space shuttle to get there, guys.

Syd Barret, Pink Floyd.
Moving into the Seventies and the progressive rock movement unashamedly ally’s itself to Sci-fi. The band most associated with Sci-fi, who operate under the banner of ‘space rock’ and wear their sci-fi credentials on their sleeves is Hawkwind. If being a rock band and associating with sci-fi were a criminal offence then Hawkwind would be sentenced to instant vaporization. Collaborations with Michael Moorcock on the 1975 Warrior on the Edge of Time LP and ten years later with their Chronicle of the Black Sword LP saw Hawkwind embrace the imaginative elements to the maximum with mind melting stage shows and brilliant conceptual pieces such as Sonic Attack and Space is Deep.

Sonic Attack and Space is Deep being monologues with sinister undertones. Sonic Attack is a mock public information soundbite on how to survive a sonic attack, chillingly reminiscent of the government’s Protect and Survive campaign a few years later advising the British public how to survive a nuclear attack.

As an adolescent I needed to be spoon fed songs and anything without immediate lyrical and musical cohesion lost my interest. Sadly I only really started to appreciate the above two bands much later on in life. For instance, my brother played me Hawkwind’s debut and I remember thinking on hearing Be Yourself ‘This is just eight minutes of weird sounds. What rubbish.’

Now I listen to it thinking: ‘Wow, this is eight minutes of weird sounds, great.’

Looking like a Mayflower paperback from the 70’s, Space Ritual. A Truly excellent live album from Hawkwind.

In the seventies there were a host of sci-fi friendly bands under the progressive banner. The foremost of these being Yes. Musically more objective than Hawkwind and certainly less influenced by narcotics (although some might debate this point), Yes made songs with titles like Starship Trooper and The Gates of Delirium. Their covers were works of art by renowned fantasy artist Roger Dean. Although Yes’s aesthetics and music appealed to sci-fi fans Jon Anderson took the sci-fi aesthetic to boiling point with a concept about space travel, Olias of Sunhillow, a good old fashioned concept album about an alien called Oilas piloting a spacecraft called the Moorglade Mover from his home planet, which has experienced a volcanic catastrophe, to a new planet called earth (small e). How sci-fi is that? The cover art looks splendid as well.

I first heard Yes being played on Tommy Vance’s radio show when I was a kid and decided I didn’t like Jon Anderson’s high pitched voice. These days I listen again and I think it suits the music. I must admit that I only really like their Rodger Dean artwork period. Tales from Topographic Oceans is an album for long car journeys unless any of your passengers hate prog rock which most people I know seem to.

Olias of Sunhillow
When I was growing up in the 1980’s there was a mini prog-revival with bands such as Twelfth Night and IQ being played on the Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show. To my knowledge, the only one of these bands to adopt the sci-fi imagery and lyrics explicitly was Pallas. Their 1983 album The Sentinel was a semi-concept album focusing in the destruction of Atlantis. The cover art alone was enough to get me to ask my parents for it on my 13th birthday. I was so cool. While all the other boys were pulling girls to Duran Duran (a band whose name was taken from a character in Barbarella) I was at home studying the lyrics to prog opuses like this. Talk about wasted youth.

Another aspect of my life that guaranteed my virginity into my twenties was my love of heavy metal. Back then girls didn’t like metal. These days girls walk around in Marilyn Manson and Slipknot t-shirts. Talk about being born too early.

Heavy metal and horror go hand in hand but metal is no stranger to Sci-fi. Iron Maiden I’ve already mentioned but Brummie metallers Judas Priest wrote some fine sci-fi themed songs. Invader from 1978’s Stained Class album begins with the sound of a UFO in take-off mode and warns of aliens invading. Electric Eye from 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance uses as its subject matter satellite monitoring but the finest conceptual song from this band, in my opinion, is The Sentinel from 1983’s Defenders of the Faith. (The one with a metal lion on the cover armed with missiles and named the Metallion. Metal-lion? Get it?)

The lyrics depict a post-apocalyptic future of upturned, burned out-cars and a shell of a cathedral where hordes of Mad Max type thugs challenge The Sentinel to a fight. He kills them all with throwing knives. The drama and intensity are ramped up to the maximum by the music and Rob Halford’s powerful voice. The times I’ve nearly crashed the car singing along to this one.

Look, the metallion, teeth, claws, missile launchers and all.
Birmingham’s other, more famous sons, Black Sabbath have flirted with Sci-fi. Planet Caravan; a nice, laid back ditty describes a travel through space while Into the Void tells the story of refugees escaping a dying earth to begin a new life on a better world.

 From space, looking to the Earth, it would seem as if all the sci-fi excesses in music happened in the Seventies with Yes and Hawkwind (I don’t count ELO in this even if they did have a spaceship). So what about now?

By now I mean the last twenty-odd years. Well, our old friends Iron Maiden had an album out in 2010, The Final Frontier, which had a wrecked spaceship on the cover. I’ve discovered a few sci-fi gems myself. In 1998 industrial thrashers Fear Factory had released a concept album called Obsolete. The protagonist of the story being a terrorist/freedom fighter who calls himself Edgecrusher, battling a megacorporation hell-bent on taking the Earth to the edge of destruction and oppressing its people in the meantime. The Edgecrusher fights the system without much success before finding inner piece in a ruined church. Liner notes written by Burton C. Bell, vocalist, describe the concept written as a short story. This was the only time Fear Factory dabbled with the concept album idea which was a shame as it worked very well. They even had Gary Numan on guest vocals.

Eighties thrash band, Bolt Thrower based their concept around the Warhammer role playing game. Their debut Realms of Chaos boasts a track listing of songs exclusively based on the Warhammer world such as World Eater and Through the Eye of Terror. As with most extreme metal, the lyrics aren’t always decipherable and the music is just too much for the normal ear. Not mine, of course, I love this sort of stuff.

Put this on at a party when you want your guests to leave.

Finally, in this day and age, the sci-fi concept album as something of a re-emergence with modern prog bands such as Transatlantic, Star One and Spock’s Beard. Leading this resurgence is Ayreon (no, I can’t pronounce it either), a band formed by Arjen Lucassen. Lucassen is a Dutch Multi-instrumentalist who gets his mates involved with his projects. Mates such as Fish from Marillion, Devin Townsend, Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth, Sharon Del Adel from Within Temptation and the bloke who played the flute from Focus. Ayreon release good old fashioned concept albums that span two whole discs and that is a lot of Music. 010111001 is the title of one of the concept alums and not a Stockholm telephone number, as is The Theory of Everything and Universal Migrator (parts 1 and 2)

I’ve only heard two of these double disc concept albums. Musically there are influences from Yes and Marillion as well as a lot of what could be termed Eurometal. The Human Equation is a concept album about a bloke in a coma going through his life. The other one that I’ve heard is the sci-fi epic Into the Electric Castle: A Space Opera (He even entitles it a space opera, how sci-fi is that!).Various characters from history get taken out of time to the electric castle by a seemingly benign entity voiced by Peter Daltrey (no relation). He begins by telling them not to be afraid then tells them that some of them may die in the tasks they will be expected to undertake (so no need to be afraid, then) and ends by having some kind of vocoder melt down as the minds of the characters that the entity has captured are the only things keeping him alive. Some songs sound like they could be entered for Eurovision and to the cynical ear this is nothing but flamboyant and pretentious. I don’t have a cynical ear and simply enjoy it for what it is; imaginative, slightly cheesy and as I can’t play a note I’m really in no position to criticise music. Also, there are some great keyboard parts and the guy from Focus can really play that flute.

So, if you made it this far you have either a) been given some musical pointers b) been taken on a tour of songs and bands to avoid. Thanks for listening.

Originally published on Paul's blog at http://paulmelhuish.wordpress.com/

Monday, 30 June 2014

The bugbears of Ian Watson (part two)

Group chairman Ian Watson has contributed two brand new poems to the NSFWG blog (exclusives!), which are - in his words - "attacking misuse of my bugbear words Actinic and Careening"

The first was posted a fortnight ago (see it on this link) and here's the second...






Careening Towards Alpha C
by Ian Watson

In her hibernation casket on the hundred year journey
Anne dreams, monitored by the ship's A.I. named Nod.
Slumbering crew of six.  Anne was inspired to become
a stellanaut by science fiction stories.  Now she imagines
careening along the corridor as per exciting tales
of emergency situations.  But actually careen means
turning a ship on its side to scrape off barnacles.
Nod quickly surveys the hull—anomaly—
and brings Anne out of hib, using CNS stimulants
then espresso.  Collect from the housekeeping cubicle
one stainless steel scrubber plus one putty knife!
Suit up for first EVA of estimated six!  Why?
Why?  We seem to have barnacles, Anne.
We need to careen!  Nod briefly increases centrifugal spin
to simulate rolling a ship on its side in the void.
Magnetise your boots outside, Anne, use a long tether!
Anne remembers mad HAL.  Compliance may be wise.

Outside, as stars wheel around the hull, Anne discovers
scarcely visible stiff black jelly polyps (sessile ones,
not pedunculated with a stalk) which may be dark matter
—this is a bit like a colonoscopy of interstellar space.
While scrubbing and scraping, Anne collects samples;
returns inside after three hours, job one-sixth complete.
More espresso.  Lab analysis.  Dark matter revealed!
Whatever else the crew may find at Alpha C,
Careening is the climax of Anne's career.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Interviewed: NSFWG Member Susan Sinclair

In order to highlight and showcase the talents of the group members, each of us has completed the same interview.  Hopefully these will be interesting and enlightening and will also include links to websites and books.

Eleventh up is Susan Sinclair.


What made you want to become a writer? 

Instinct, I suppose. I was an awkward solitary kid using my imaginary world as a buffer from a confusing real world. Teachers compelled me to put thoughts onto paper despite dyslexic tendencies and were presented with pages and pages of ill spelt illegible scribble.  Stories with a beginning, middle and no end in sight, enthusiastically illustrated in my rough book.  English language books filled up quickly, rough books even quicker.

What was your first success?

My only properly published story is a short in “Shoes, Ships and Cadavers”. Most of my short stories are miniature epics, often too long to fit any conventional short story slot, while three novels sit on the shelf awaiting the perfect rewrite. It’s not just that I’m scared of rejection, I’m also aware of the stupid writing errors still littering my work.

What do you think the group does for you?

NSFWG is a support group in the real sense of the word.  Not just a polite nod from fellow writers who listened to me read, although friends from these types of group have encouraged me over the years.   NSFWG members offer real constructive appraisal of work they’ve taken time to study. The trick, for me, is to separate their personal preference from actual writing mistakes so as not to be too disheartened if they have a lot to say.

What was your last piece of work?

A friend recently put up a short fantasy romance on kindle, “On the Trail of the Mountain Monkey” which I hope someone might read.

What's coming up from you?

I’m just illustrating another short epic, “The Blackhawk Legacy” so I guess there is another re-write due on that, and my friend will put that up on kindle. Then I’ll just slog slowly on, getting all these weird ideas down before I run out of time.


You can find details of Susan's "On The Trail Of The Mountain Monkey" at this Amazon link

Monday, 16 June 2014

The bugbears of Ian Watson (part one)

Group chairman Ian Watson has contributed two brand new poems to the NSFWG blog (exclusives!), which are - in his words - "attacking misuse of my bugbear words Actinic and Careening"

We'll post the second in a fortnight but, for now, here's...




Actinic: Beware!
by Ian Watson

The portal to elsewhere: a dazzling ravening eldritch blue radiance
destabilising his mind along with his vision,
distorting dimensions.

He'd read of that type of terrible light in stories about explorers
of the Unknown, such as himself, encountering
otherness.

He announces: "Actinic light ahead!"  His smartsuit consults its sensors
and its vocabulary, which are in conflict—
for actinic is the kiss

Of sunshine upon the petals of a daisy, the bronzing beach caress;
but by default a human being is always
right.

A smartsuit lacks the perceptions and insights of Homo sap.
So it´s actinic, that light.  React accordingly!  Protect!
Adjust suit as required.

Factor 40, to be on the safe side.  He isn't camera film, nor photosynthetic,
but he might get sunburned, or sneeze.
Apply!

Protected, he advances; encounters hellfire energies;
briefly dances as fluids begin to boil;
jiggles, joggles, splat.

Actinic,
not.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Awards and nominees (both Ian's, in this case)!

Congratulations to Chairman Ian Watson on making the shortlist for the Sidewise Award... with a story workshopped through the group, no less.

Come on, Ian!

The Sidewise Awards are presented to recognize excellence in alternate history and named for Murray Leinster’s 1934 short story “Sidewise in Time,” the winners will be announced at Loncon 3, this year’s Worldcon, in London.

Short Form:
“The Weight of the Sunrise,” by Vylar Kaftan
“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel,” by Ken Liu
“Tollund,” by Adam Roberts
“Uncertainty,” by Kristine Kathryn Smith
“Cayos in the Stream,” by Harry Turtledove
“Blair’s War,” by Ian Watson

Long Form:
1920: America’s Great War, by Robert Conroy
The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi, by Mark Hodder
The Windsor Faction , by D. J. Taylor
Surrounded by Enemies : What If Kennedy Survived Dallas?, by Bryce Zabel

In further awards news...

As previously mentioned (on this post), NSFWG members Donna Bond and Mark West have been asked to serve on the jury for the British Fantasy Awards, which will be presented this September at FantasyCon in York.  Donna is on the jury for Best Magazine/Periodical and Mark is reading for the Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth Award) and the shortlists for all awards have now been announced.



For the NSFWG, congratulations to co-Chairman Ian Whates, whose NewCon Press is on the ballet for Best Small Press.

The other nominees:

Best Fantasy Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award)
Between Two Thorns, Emma Newman (Angry Robot)
Blood and Feathers: Rebellion, Lou Morgan (Solaris)
The Glass Republic, Tom Pollock (Jo Fletcher Books)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Headline)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press)

Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth Award)
House of Small Shadows, Adam Nevill (Pan)
Mayhem, Sarah Pinborough (Jo Fletcher Books)
NOS4R2, Joe Hill (Gollancz)
Path of Needles, Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)
The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes (HarperCollins)
The Year of the Ladybird, Graham Joyce (Gollancz)

Best Novella
Beauty, Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)
Dogs With Their Eyes Shut, Paul Meloy (PS Publishing)
Spin, Nina Allan (TTA Press)
Vivian Guppy and the Brighton Belle, Nina Allan (Rustblind and Silverbright)
Whitstable, Stephen Volk (Spectral Press)

Best Short Story
Chalk, Pat Cadigan (This Is Horror)
Death Walks En Pointe, Thana Niveau (The Burning Circus)
Family Business, Adrian Tchaikovsky (The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic)
The Fox, Conrad Williams (This Is Horror)
Golden Apple, Sophia McDougall (The Lowest Heaven)
Moonstruck, Karin Tidbeck (Shadows & Tall Trees #5)
Signs of the Times, Carole Johnstone (Black Static #33)

Best Collection
For Those Who Dream Monsters, Anna Taborska (Mortbury Press)
Holes for Faces, Ramsey Campbell (Dark Regions Press)
Monsters in the Heart, Stephen Volk (Gray Friar Press)
North American Lake Monsters, Nathan Ballingrud (Small Beer Press)

Best Anthology
End of the Road, Jonathan Oliver (ed.) (Solaris)
Fearie Tales, Stephen Jones (ed.) (Jo Fletcher Books)
Rustblind and Silverbright, David Rix (ed.) (Eibonvale Press)
Tales of Eve, Mhairi Simpson (ed.) (Fox Spirit Books)
The Tenth Black Book of Horror, Charles Black (ed.) (Mortbury Press)

Best Small Press
The Alchemy Press (Peter Coleborn)
Fox Spirit Books (Adele Wearing)
NewCon Press (Ian Whates)
Spectral Press (Simon Marshall-Jones)

Best Non-Fiction
Gestalt Real-Time Reviews, D.F. Lewis
Doors to Elsewhere, Mike Barrett (The Alchemy Press)
Fantasy Faction, Marc Aplin (ed.)
Speculative Fiction 2012, Justin Landon and Jared Shurin (eds) (Jurassic London)
“We Have Always Fought”: Challenging the “Women, Cattle and Slaves” Narrative, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

Best Magazine/Periodical
Black Static, Andy Cox (ed.) (TTA Press)
Clarkesworld, Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace (ed.) (Wyrm Publishing)
Interzone, Andy Cox (ed.) (TTA Press)
Shadows & Tall Trees, Michael Kelly (ed.) (Undertow Books)

Best Comic/Graphic Novel
Demeter, Becky Cloonan (Becky Cloonan)
Jennifer Wilde, Maura McHugh, Karen Mahoney and Stephen Downey (Atomic Diner Comics)
Porcelain, Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose (Improper Books)
Rachel Rising, Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
The Unwritten, Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Best Artist
Adam Oehlers
Ben Baldwin
Daniele Serra
Joey Hi-Fi
Tula Lotay
Vincent Chong

Best Film/Television Episode
Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, Steven Moffat (BBC)
Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)
Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón (Warner Bros)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro (Warner Bros)
Iron Man 3, Drew Pearce and Shane Black (Marvel Studios)

Best Newcomer (the Sydney J. Bounds Award)
Ann Leckie, for Ancillary Justice (Orbit)
Emma Newman, for Between Two Thorns (Angry Robot)
Francis Knight, for Fade to Black (Orbit)
Laura Lam, for Pantomime (Strange Chemistry)
Libby McGugan, for The Eidolon (Solaris)
Samantha Shannon, for The Bone Season (Bloomsbury)

* * * * *
In further Awards news, it should also be noted (because we didn't do so at the time), that SOLARIS RISING 2: THE NEW SOLARIS BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Ian Whates (from Solaris Books) was a "Finalist for the 2013 Philip K Dick Award".

More details can be found here

Monday, 2 June 2014

The NSFWG Top 50 SF Films

Earlier this year, as we were discussing items for the blog, NSFWG chairman Ian Whates suggested the group could put together some "Top 10" style lists.  We agreed, decided to do SF Films first (fantasy and horror to come!) and everyone went off and created their own list.  These were collated (there are twelve of us in the group) and the films ranked.

This is that list, with the films grouped by ranking (ie, the winner got 8 votes) and then listed chronologically by release dates.

Do you agree, disagree, think we missed something?  Then leave a comment!

 THE TERMINATOR (1984)

THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)


ALIEN (1979)

BLADE RUNNER (1982)

WESTWORLD (1973)

LOGAN'S RUN (1976)
ALIENS (1986)
 
JURASSIC PARK (1992)

METROPOLIS (1927)

The War of the Worlds (1953)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Star Wars (1977)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Back to the Future (1985)
Total Recall (1990)
Strange Days (1995)
Men in Black (1997)    
The Matrix (1999)

Forbidden Planet (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Silent Running (1972)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Inception (2010)

Scanners (1981)
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Mars Attacks (1996)
Event Horizon (1997)
The Fifth Element (1997)
Starship Troopers (1997)
Minority Report (2002)
Children of Men (2006)
Sunshine (2008)
District 9 (2009)

The Lost World (1960)
The Thing (1982)
Brazil (1985)
Predator (1987)          
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Alien vs Predator (1993)
Waterworld (1995)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Independence Day (1996)
Dark City (1998)
Moon (2009)