Monthly Archives: September 2010

News Post –5–

  September draws to a close, mellow fruitfulness turns into just plain cold, darkness descends on the land as we hunker down to the new regime of austerity. As we speak there is a coup d’etat boiling away in Ecuador and Mad Men has been snapped up by SKY TV in their quest to trash the telly. Pay your taxes, Rupe, then go screw yourself.

Resistence to Coups d'etat. Not that easy...

But better news is afoot in the collective dingley-dell of my fair city. Here’s some of the highlights.

** Avatar issue one was great (I was in it) could it get much better? Oh, yes. Avatar 2 is now out with a story of mine. Again! So happy.

** Last night Graham Joyce came to visit The Speculators. He gave a really insightful talk about how he goes about the whole writing thing. He even gave out copies of his novel Requiem to those in attendance. Interesting to hear his views on re-writes (he does about four for each novel manuscript, the first being about structure, the last a line-by-line polish. Interesting stuff). I will probably blog more extensively about it unless someone else beats me to it.

** Speculostarbaser friends Chris Burnham and Mark Cotterill have both started blogs. Well done, dudes! The trick is to just keep going (as far as I’m aware that’s the trick. Might not be of course).

** Just read a fantastic novel The Five Moons of Planet Shangar. Probably the best high fantasy concept since, well, since Tolkien was a lad. Who is the author, though? And what will be the fate of the Princess Miskatonia?

** Couldn’t make it to Fantasycon (Holding out for Novacon and Newcon later in the year). Sad I missed it, particularly as Factor Fiction were up for a prize again (beaten by the mullet-headed Gaiman, but that’s no shame is it?).

** My retro kick is going into furious overdrive. Been reading Edgar Wallace, Sapper (Bulldog Drummond) and Mickey Spillane recently. Boy, those old timers could do plot! Lots of good technique in there as well as a few cultural gems (apparently the phrase “do you get me?” was around in the 1930s).

Mickey Spillane

** On a related old-time thang, my sister (a member of the Hazelmere Players amdram soc.) got to play a bit part in a professional production of Agatha Christie’s Witness For The Prosecution. Went down to see her on stage (she was just a member of the jury, no speaking, just there as a spearcarrier). Play was great, typical Christie – three plot twists in last two minutes – well done the Wycombe Swan theatre and cast.

 

** Met the talented John Coster, who runs the Citizen’s Eye newsagency. He has a plan to train up 2012 community reporters to cover the Olympic  games. It sounds an amazing project. Might even break the habit of a lifetime and volunteer.

** By next week the Getting Leicester Reading project should be cranking up. Lots of good stuff happening including Will Ellwood’s ‘Kick’ creative writing sessions, lots of stuff coordinated by The Bookdoctor, The Literacy Network, Writing East Midlands etc. Not involved myself (work and stuff getting in the way) but I will try and support events if I can.

When Two Become One

 It’s finally starting to come together. Two Leicester groups, both with a fine pedigree in promoting all things SF/Fantasy, are beginning to form links that will, hopefully, bind them (perhaps not in the darkness and with any luck not in the land of Mordor, where shadows lie). I am talking, of course, about The Speculators writing group and Starbase Leicester, the SF fansoc extraordinaire. And it all happened this week… Suddenly, there was three Starbasers at a Speculator meeting and two Speculators at a Starbase one.

Three members of Starbase Leicester, before appearing on the radio

I was overjoyed. I have carried the lonely path of following both groups for years now, trying to get them to reach out and see what the other had to offer. Glad to see kindred spirits finally meeting. Should I take the credit? I think I shall. Smug self-satisfaction is so hard to come by these days. And I have been the sole link between them for a while; going to both groups’ events and spreading the word of their mutual existence to whoever would listen. I feel like a back-street marriage-fixer, bringing two sex-starved individuals together: I show them to their hotel room and walk away with a smile on my face, counting the money, before the grunting and panting starts.

Grubby metaphors aside, I hope it all works out. Starbase are five years old next month and a fine little club dedicated to all things SF. They hold regular events throughout the year including film nights, manga nights, console game nights, comic book hero events, lego-building nights… they even hold charity events and climb mountains. Their fanzine, Avatar, is on its second issue and going from strength to strength. The Speculators, on the other hand, have only been going for little over a year. They are, however, the only writing group in the East Midlands specifically concerned with SF and fantasy. We meet every week and write. So far we have come up with one issue of a newspaper; The Speculator, edited by yours truly on a one-off basis, and there is no reason why we should not do more. The talent is definitely there. My hope is that both these groups will flourish, both together and apart, to show that Leicester is the true home of UK science fiction.

In fact, Leicester has a lot going for it already on that score. The National Space Centre is here (a wonderful resource – with proper spaceships) and there are no fan or writers groups to compare in the region. Certainly not in Nottingham, Derby or Northampton. Compared to Leicester, these are cultural deserts as far as SF and Fantasy fans are concerned.

Speculators in insouciant mood

And yet we get so little recognition for our achievements. Even conference organizers see fit to spit in our faces: the British Fantasy Society is holding its annual conference in Nottingham (again) as we speak, Novacon is scheduled for the same city in November. Newcon will be held in Northampton in October and Alt.Fiction was held in Derby. Derby?

I’m starting to get paranoid. The fact that every city in a 20 mile radius is favoured over Leicester is starting to look a wee bit suspicious. What next, a Neil Gaiman theme-park in Peterborough, Coventry to be twinned with Babylon 5, Sleaford to host Worldcon? Do we smell or something?

On second thoughts, don’t answer that.

But this I know for certain. If you are interested in SF or writing or fantasy or genre films/games or just sharing your passion for these things, there is no greater gift that the gods can bestow upon you than placing you in Leicester. We are the fortunate and blessed. And there’s nothing that those pesky SMOFs can do about that.

Comic Book Classics –10

  Bill Burden’s Flaming Carrot

I have drafted a number of versions of this article only to ping them straight into the cyber-dustbin. The reason for this wastage is not a loss of confidence in my own abilities as a wordsmith (perish the thought!), but the very subject tackled by Bill Burden’s Flaming Carrot. It is, quite simply, the best and most savage parody of the superhero genre ever concocted. It is very hard when discussing FC not to go off on an anti-Marvel/DC rant (I failed often, hence the waste-bin use).

 

Like all true lovers of sequential art, I loathe superheroes. On countless occasions I have dismissed the Marvel/DC universes as childish, emotionally stunted claptrap (on one or two occasions I have even won the argument). You’ll be glad to know that my hatred is not due just to my wounded sense of aesthetics. My fear, based on sales trends over many decades, is that Superheroes threaten to kill off the entire medium; their audience is aging, young people (rightly) reject them, women are repelled by the blatant sexism, the curious and imaginative by their banality and characters denied any possible development by the straightjacket of back-story. If it wasn’t for the film tie-ins, they would have long ago ceased to exist. Sadly they will stumble on, perhaps taking down the entire comic book industry as they perish. Nobody should try and save the Superhero: even Alan Moore has turned his back on them. Good for him.

But back to the topic at hand. Flaming Carrot is also more than a mere cultural critique. It is an absurdist, ebullient comedy of great depth. It starts (like the founding novel of the Western cannon; Don Quijote) with a mad protagonist, delivering a flawed and unreliable narrative and tilting at windmills as he goes.

 

The eponymous ‘hero’ differs from the normal genre types as he wears ordinary clothes (an unremarkable shirt and trousers). His superhero costume consists of a couple of absurdist additions that foreground the irreality of costumed heroes as a trope/meme/whatever post modern term du jour you wish to insert here. They are (from the bottom up) a pair of huge flippers on his feet and his signature mask: six foot long, carrot-shaped with a real flame blazing from the top of his head.

This bizarre (and impractical) attire mirrors the erratic psychology of the character. He behaves in a way that most superheros would not (apart from wanky Wolverine; the Edward Cullen bad boy of the Marvel stable). He drinks and carouses in late night bars, gets into fights (and will beat up on those weaker than himself – if he can find them), follows mysterious ‘signs’ for no apparent reason and is aided by a bunch of kids on bicycles who do all kinds of errands for him. He also fights against preposterous villains.

Carrot’s villains are, of course, parodies. In book 2 he fights against a communist plot to turn the cellulite removed from fat women during liposuction operations into atomic bombs to destroy America. He is hindered in this task by complacent authority. The mayor who, after some sort of ray-gun attack, has been left with a baby’s head, opposes him. Faced with an uncaring establishment, only Carrot can save the day. Which he – sort of – does.

 

Burden’s art is also quite arresting. Heavily silhouetted (almost an over-eager version of the ligne claire tradition). It carries the odd, surreal narratives with verve and gusto. Most of the time when I read it, I am carried off by it into its strange, parodic 1950s-themed alternate reality. It’s like Mad-Men filtered through Salvador Dali. A wonderful, wonderful thing.

Science Project

  Jehovah glanced round at the door as Shiva came in. The visitor grinned with momentary embarrassment.

“Alright Jay?”

“No bad Shiv. OK?

“Yeah. Your mum let me in. She’s nice.” Shiva took a look around the bedroom. Sports trophies and schoolbooks were stacked on the shelves above the bed in a pleasingly random manner. The bed was unmade and the floor covered in discarded clothing. “Nice room.”

“Yeah, it’s OK”, agreed Jehovah, “although mum keeps nagging me to clean it.”

“Bah! You should hear my mum nagging. Never bloody stops. So, what are we going to start with? Geography is first period and we got an assignment due..”

“Alright, but first I’ll show you this. It’s dead funny it is!” Jehovah crossed the room to the computer. He flicked the switch with a tentacle and it powered up with a jangly musical note.

“Ah, is that for the science project?”

“Yeah. Creation class. I’m really going to give Mr Thor a heart attack with this one.”

Shiva smiled. Mr Thor was perhaps the most unpopular teacher at the school. “So, what have you done, then?”

Jehova grinned. “Well, I fucked up the primary intelligence species for a start. Look!”

Shiva gasped as the image of the chosen species appeared on the screen. “That’s fucking hideous! How did you get to something like that?”

“Well, it’s basically an ape.”

“I can see that. But you’ve taken all the fur off. It’s gross!”

“Oh, come on! I left some on there.”

“You mean the tufts on the head? Man, they look revolting. Biped ape-things with no body hair? Thor’s gonna kill you!”

“Well, I figured everyone else would do an octopus or a pachyderm of some sort, so I thought…”

“But an ape! And what have you done to its muzzle?”

“Turned the nostrils upside down.”

“You are sick, Jay. That’s horrible.”

“Look further down, wait, there!” Jehovah flicked a switch. Two specimens (one male, one female) appeared side by side on the screen, rotating so that all details could be examined.

“That’s… weird.”

“What I’ve done is put the sex organs of the female at the front.”

“Why?”

“So they have to look each other in the face when copulating! Ha, ha!”

“Have I told you how sick you are?”

“Oh, come on! That’s funny.”

“Funny? You’ll fail the module, man. Zoroaster tried it on last term with a mealybug, remember? They put him in the remedial class.”

Jehovah shrugged. “Don’t care if I fail.”

Shiva stared at his friend, so replete with youthful bravado. “Come on Jay, be sensible. Next year Creation studies will be a breeze with Miss Aphrodite taking the class. Don’t blow it over something like this.”

“Bah, perhaps you’ve got a point. Maybe I should trash them and start again.”

“With those sort of aggression levels they’ll die soon anyway. Besides, it’s not like they’re in your own image or anything.”

Jehovah smiled. He knew Shiva was right. “Sorted. I’ll let the program run until they die, then start again with some ants. Right, what should we do about this Geography assignment?”

Both friends got down to their assignment with gusto. As the computer-sim ran on, the hairless ape-things discovered nuclear fusion. They’d wipe themselves out well before teatime.

ian sneath

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