Monthly Archives: March 2011

News Post — 7

Greetings!

 Ooh, been months since I updated you on what’s been happening in my little corner of the multiverse. As always, there have been big chunks of ennui, despond and insouciance to get through, and the world outside is getting scarier by the day (see New Zealand -quake, Japan -Tsunami, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Iran – political turmoil, Portugal – economic meltdown… etc) but apart from the impending apocalypse, the main edited FBS news highlights are these:

* Jim Worrad has been accepted to the 2011 Clarion Workshop in San Diego. This six-week Californian summer school trains the next generation of superstar SF/Fantasy writers and is usually taught by top genre authors (John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear) as the students’ writing skills are honed through constant workshopping. Congratulations, Jimmy boy! Sadly, even this life-changing opportunity has a downside. Poor Jim has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the authorial fast-track of webdom. This involved the ignominy of signing up for facebook and twitter. Facebook, as it does, suddenly threw up a bunch of long-forgotten embarrassing images of poor ol’ Jim. This one is perhaps the best of them.

Jim Worrad in a fin de siecle mood (I guess).

* A bunch of writers I’ve been meeting with for ages to critique our scribbles has just got a name and logo (see below). I remember our early get-togethers in pubs, cafes and wherever we could commandeer a table to share writing, gossip and future plans. Well, we finally have some status as the Phoenix Square Cinema has given us a place on their website. We are now official! So, to my fellow ‘Phoenix Writers’; Maria Smith, Keith Morley, Keith Large, Sheila Kondras, Krys Wysocki, Pat Kings, Pete Kings, Sally Knight and Brenda Bernard, a tip o’ the ol’ topper from me.

 

* I have had a number of stories and articles appear since I last posted. Mostly, these have been in horror publications (Dead Mans Tome, Violent! (forthcoming) and Sex & Murder). The Avatar also published a wee story of mine in their third issue. Meanwhile, I had a couple of articles on this very blog featured in the Starbase Leicester/Avatar 2011 Annual.

 

* Talking of Starbase, they held a couple of fun events that I managed to attend. A Quiz Night (February) and a Superhero Night (March) both held in Lucie’s splendid Dark Side Cafe. Word on the street is that there will be a Starbase film festival at the Phoenix Square in the summer. May 7th

* Conferences seem extremely popular at the mo. A bunch of people I know are off to Eastercon in Birmingham, I myself ventured to the 2nd States of Independence day conference organized for the small presses of the Midlands. Catherine Digman is also going to the York literary festival and is rounding up a possee for Winchester.   Alt.Fiction is coming round again as well. All go, it is.

* The Speculators, ‘Leicester’s Foremost Speculative Fiction Writers Group’ ™ is growing. We’re going to need a bigger room as weekly meeting numbers are starting to regularly attract double figures. Plans are afoot for more dreams and schemes and circus crowds that will hit the pipeline as soon as poss.

* Started reading lots of fantasy and sci-fi to bring my knowledge up to date. So far I’m faced with a China Mieville, a Gaiman, an RR Martin and a Bacigalupi. It should be fun, but the door-stop sizes do intimidate me somewhat. On a side-note, my WWII Stalinist vampire novel, Vampsov 1938 is now finally complete and looking for a publisher/agent. If I don’t place it within a year, gentle readers, I’ll let you have a free copy for your kindles/i-pads. If I do place it, drinks are on the house.

* Comic Book Classics will be on a hiatus for a few months. I have sixteen cracking comic books/authors in the series and I need to make sure the site does not become unbalanced in terms of content. It will be back in a few months, I expect, when I’ve run out of other stuff to write about.

Sorry kids, no more comics for a while...

All the best and may the springtime be kind to you.

El Dedo De Oro (The Golden Finger)

 A Novel  by Guillermo Sheridan

 

Do you like obscure subjects? Recondite knowledge, yes? Well, here’s a little post about a Mexican satirical Science-Fiction novel that’s been out of print for decades and is unavailable in English. Impressed? Thought not.

 So, let us begin. El Dedo De Oro (The Golden Finger) is more satire than Sci-Fi. Its main thrust is the critique of Mexico’s one-party state. At the time of publication (1996), the PRI government only had four years to go, but had dominated Mexican politics since the 1920s (admittedly the party had mutated in that time, changing its name and its organization quite radically, but still maintaining its status as the sole party in power). The story is set in 2026. Mexico City is darkened by a cloud of smog so thick that helicopters have attempted to tow it away. The rich live in skyscrapers tall enough to pierce the cloud of pollution, the rest live in permanent semi-darkness under the smoggy murk.

Guillermo Sheridan

A lot of the best Sci-Fi and fantasy holds up a mirror to contemporary life. The distance from the object offered by speculative fiction allows, I would argue, a better perspective on society than a lot of straightforward realist treatments. A more accessible example of this type of speculative fiction (for all you non-Mexicans) is China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. The portrayal of the fictional Dickensian/Peake-ish city, ‘New Crobuzon’, holds up a mirror to contemporary London that compares with strictly realist interpretations of Britain’s capital (Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis, etc), which cannot (or won’t) offer the breadth of vision that Mieville does. Mieville’s city is a heaving, multi-cultural, grimy, violent place underpinned by hidden slavery and industrial strife. Its corrupt parliament, brutal Metropolitan Police (sorry, militia), Glasshouse (combination of Crystal Palace and Millenium Dome) and station that is a hub of a crumbling urban rail network – eerily familiar to users of the Northern Line – are some of the more intriguing parallels. All in all, the ‘step back’ that you take when exploring the fictional city, brings you closer to the real one. Back to Sheridan, though, enjoyable though this digression was.

A recent overview of Mexican Science Fiction in Strange Horizons magazine concludes that what little exists tends to be dystopian and at times satirical. Not surprising, given the history and politics of the country. El Dedo de Oro fits neatly into this scenario. The plot centres around an old, decrepit union boss, Hugo Atenor Fierro Ferraez. He is over a hundred and fifty years old and heads a council of four ‘Substitute Leaders’ who run the country behind the scenes. The actual presidents are, by 2026, so weak and powerless that the government party just clones them.

Hugo Atenor is based on a real-life political figure, Fidel Velazquez, leader of Mexico’s government-controlled trade unions (he was head of the union movement for over fifty years, until his death, aged 97). The satire on the old, lumbering, corrupt scumbag is wonderfully savage. In the novel, the old man’s power springs from his possession of a talismanic object; the golden finger of the title. This object (a statuette of a pointing finger, made from pure gold) has a spooky effect on Mexicans; it makes them subservient and obedient to its wielder. Any Mexican who wields it, has power over his compatriots.

Fidel Velazquez: milking the trade union movement, 1941-1997.

Again, the finger has a political significance [see this on the Dedazo]. Hugo Atenor keeps the source of his power jammed up his rectum. It is when making love to his teenage Argentine pop-star girlfriend, Solida Soleil, that the finger is taken from him. At the point of orgasm, the old man suffers a serious spasm which causes him to be rendered unconscious and for the finger to shoot out of his ass and smash into the bedroom wall – along with a snake-like cable of shit that points toward the finger. When Solida emerges from underneath the comatose, walrus-like centenarian monster, she assumes he is dead and decides to leave before the police find out (and blame her for his death). She finds the finger cleans it and takes it with her. The hunt is then on for this allegorical mcguffin, which takes the plot to all kinds of strange places.

More cutting-edge Mexican SF

The strength of the book is in the pungency of its satire and its ear for dialogue and different registers of Mexican Spanish. It is, I’m afraid, an almost impossible book to translate (the Mexican political in-jokes would be baffling to most readers). I loved it. How refreshing to read something so angry, so political, so fucking defamatory… no British writer or publisher would ever dare imagine a book like this. Not ever .

Shaggy Dog Story

A VIKING SAGA

Eric, the blind viking, sat on his porch as the spring winds swept the clouds slowly inland. Up the steep path leading to Eric’s small house came Olaf, the village elder, eager to speak to him.

“Eric?”

“Who’s that?” said Eric, for he could not see.

“’Tis I, Olaf the village elder, we’re organizing a pillaging trip to England. As we’re short of warriors, we were hoping you might come along.”

“Sounds like fun. I’ll ask the missus about it and see what counsel she can give me.”

“Fair enough, Eric. Don’t get up, I’ll see my own way out.”

“As if you’ve got a choice.”

 

Later that day, Eric was met by his wife, Brunhilde, who’d just come back from the shops.

“Eric.”

“Who’s that?” said Eric, for he could not see.

“’Tis I, your wife Brunhilde, back from the shops.”

“Ah, Brunhilde, I have news. Olaf the village elder came to see me and offered me a job.”

“A job, my love?”

“Yes. I am to be a warrior again, to sail to England and loot, rape and pillage.”

“Well, Eric. I don’t know what to say. What if you have an accident or something?”

“It’ll be fine love. Go on, say I can go. I’ll bring you a present…”

“Well, I don’t know…”

“Any present you like! Just name it, it shall be yours.”

“Err… we could do with a new sink unit.”

“A sink? Say no more about it, my love. It shall be yours, I promise.”

And so it was that Eric was taken on board the longship on the journey to the coast of England. The trip was eventful with storms, sea-monsters and half-drowned berserkers weaving a saga of bravery, courage and good fortune. Eventually, the craft arrived upon its objective; England.

 

“Land ahoy!”

“It’s England, my vikings! Soon we shall raid the be-Odin of this poxy little island!”

“Hurray!” shouted the vikings.

Eric, however, looked worried. Chief Wolfgang spied his apprehensive, blind reaver and went over to talk to him.

“Eric.”

“Who’s that?” said Eric, for he could not see.

“’Tis I, Chief Wolfgang. I’ve been thinking. When we disembark I’ll get Lief to point you in the right direction so you can loot, rape and pillage everything ahead of you.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Eric.

The vikings spilled onto the English coast with blood-curdling yells to loot the undefended coastal villages. In a matter of hours, houses burned, defenders routed and barns had been stormed. Eventually they noticed that Eric was missing. The vikings immediately sent forth a search party to get him back.

 

Eventually, Eric was tracked down to a building site some miles inland. They found him running around in a circle waving his axe around and shouting. Lief, the leader of the search party, spoke to him.

“Eric!”

“Who’s that?” said Eric, for he could not see.

“’Tis I, Lief, I’ve come to get you. Put your axe down. The pillaging is over. We have to get back to the ship.”

“Oh.”

“What’s wrong, Eric?”

“It’s just that I need to find a sink unit for Brunhilde. I promised to get her one before I left.”

The search party split up to look for a sink unit. Their search was fruitless. Eventually one of the vikings picked up the first thing to hand; a bricklayer’s hod. [got the joke yet?]

“Sorry Eric, we couldn’t find a sink unit. This will have to do. I’m sure Brunhilde will understand…”

Soon the search party had returned to the longship with Eric. The vikings boarded the craft and made their way back toward their village in distant Norway. Storms and sea-monsters battered the craft on its return as they had when outward bound. After weeks at sea, the small vessel finally made its way back to their familiar harbour. The womenfolk waited eagerly for their men to disembark. Eric, hod perched on his shoulders, shuffled along the quay towards the awaiting Brunhilde.

“Eric.”

“Who’s that?” said Eric, for he could not see.

“’Tis I, your wife Brunhilde, it’s good to see you home again and well, my husband!”

“Aye, ’tis good to be back. And here, my love, is the present that you asked for.”

Brunhilde looked wide-eyed at the object her husband had presented her. “But this is not what I asked you to bring me,” she said.

“ I know but [altogether now…] A HOD’S AS GOOD AS A SINK TO A BLIND NORSE!”

Thank-you and good night.

Comic Book Classics — 16

This is the last comic book classic for a while. I think the series stands up well and offers up some of my favourites. OK, so the list isn’t exhaustive, but no list of these things can be. I think I need a break from the whole thing for a wee bit. Let things settle down before I go on. Anyway, the last entry for the present is a man who transformed the comic-book aesthetic in a number of genres. His name is Jean Giraud and he is one of the reasons why French comics grew up and became a medium for adults. For a more rounded assessment of his (many) works, you could try his official site  or this. What you will get from me, is a brief, impressionistic sketch of the man and his work. Most of his comics are in English and are Amazon-ready so they should be easy enough to enjoy.

Jean Giraud (born 1938) worked under a series of pseudonyms. In his earliest incarnation, soon after he cut his teeth as an artist on French children’s comics, he signed off as GIR. It was in this ‘Gir’ phase that he transformed the comic-book Western. Westerns had been a staple of European comic books since the first Roy Rodgers B-features made their way to Europe’s cinemas in the 1940s and 50s. The craze for ‘Cowboys and Indians’, led to many editors jumping on the Western bandwagon. Tex Willer, an early example, sold in considerable numbers throughout Italy (its home), France and Spain.

Giraud's fantastical vision of a future Venice

Gir shook up the genre with his own series, Lt. Blueberry. For a start, the style was different from the other cartoons. The eponymous hero, modeled on the French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, is an unshaven, dirty-looking officer in the Union army. The look and amoral stance of the comic (that differed from the clean-cut cowboys in most films and comics) prefigured the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and others. Gir’s use of line, etching and composition are still affecting today.

Later Giraud would move into Science Fiction. It is here, perhaps, that his influence is greatest. Under the pseudonym Moebius (named after the Moebius Strip) he penned some amazing illustrations and helped found the ground-breaking comic book Metal Hurlant. His most visually stunning creation is the textless comic book Arzach set on a world of strange yellowed cities and odd-looking flying creatures. Other works include his Bande Dessinee albums Le Cauchemar Blanc (The White Nighmare), Le Baudard Fou (The Mad Wanker) and John Watercolor Et Sa Redingote Que Tue (John Watercolor and his Killer Overcoat). He also collaborated briefly with the Marvel/DC talent-killing monster and did some illustrations for the Silver Surfer. Moebius also collaborated in the design of the film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’.

As a writer, Moebius was always an ethereal, surrealist cove. His world-building is odd and spectacular, his cities breathtaking. Humour and play are always close at hand even when plot takes over (as it sometimes has to). His only problem is that his strange landscapes are just too good. I’d rather stay and explore them than follow the story to wherever its going next. Perhaps its just me, not wanting his strange twisted visions to ever end.

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