These Final Hours: time well spent

these final hours movie posterThese Final Hours is what it says: the last hours of Earth, burning to ash as a planet-killing meteorite does the business — the science feels a bit dodgy, but the story is superb.

In the tradition of On the Beach, this beaut Aussie flick traces how James (Nathan Phillips), who admits, finally, that he’s made a few bad choices — hence the prison tats, the wake of disappointment he trails after him — chooses to while away his last moments. Among the options are with his girlfriend at the beach, waiting for the end; with his other girlfriend at a killer party; or less likely, with his sister and her family, or with his mother. Others have chosen different courses: suicide, violence, hedonism, and desperate survival tactics such as wrapping a house in aluminium foil or digging bunkers.

James is en route to party away his fears when he chances upon, amid the anarchy, a young girl in need of help — for once, he makes the right decision. Rose (a delightful Angourie Rice) brings with her conscience and a sense of sacrifice — yes, this road movie is about redemption and finding a sense of self-worth where perhaps there was none. Rather than wanting to numb himself to the pain of that last moment — that last realisation — of mortality, James is given the option of embracing it, and being a better person for it.

There’s a sepia tone, a summer heat, infusing the film, and the soundtrack is well crafted — a jazz number out on the farm, dance for the pool party at the end of the world, and nothing anywhere else but the natural sounds of the world ending. The absence of music adds to the atmosphere and enhances the attempts to drown out reality.

There’s a voice on the radio counting down the hours as the planet boils and James dashes from one event to the next, meeting himself everywhere he goes, with the perceptive Rose riding shotgun.

There is a wonderful conversation between James and his mother that says so much without having to say much at all; the reactions of the characters not only to the apocalypse but to James are convincing and telling.

Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, it’s a relatively minimalist movie, intensely focused, offering tension and pathos in equal measure. As one of James’s girlfriends, Zoe (Jessica De Gouw), says at one point: it’s beautiful.

  • Check it out at the These Final Hours website.


  • Snapshot 2014: Australia’s speculative fiction scene

    2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot
    The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

    In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, I will be part of this team blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

    Last time, in 2012, the Snapshot covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community – can we top that this year?

    To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done:

    And you can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

    X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Edge of Tomorrow — not the time (travel) of our lives

    Two movies in a week: be still my beating heart! And both to do with time travel.
    My friend and I emerged from X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which Wolverine is sent back, fairly convincingly, to prevent the birth of the Sentinels and the apocalyptic mutant/humankind vs machine war that eventually follows, wondering, what is it about this time travel thing?

    I loved the Sentinels when I was reading X-Men back in the day; they were a lot less sophisticated than the movie ones. And just for once, there was no real time paradox, which is what usually does my head in when it comes to time travel narratives: the whole chicken and egg, cause and effect thing. I didn’t see the previous X-Men movie, First Class, but enjoyed the first couple for their ability to explore some themes of prejudice and put interesting, sympathetic characters on the screen. That’s kind of stopped now, it appears: in fact, this movie seems to have reduced all those that came before to being nothing more than a dream. Any fiction writer knows: you don’t do that. You don’t invalidate the investment of your reader, or viewer. It reminds me of the first season of what had been an enjoyable Witchblade (based on the comics): no overt spoiler, but I still haven’t watched the second series.

    But even if I’ve got the bull by the horns in my understanding of why all is shiny in the X-Men world, I didn’t much get much to care about in this flick. Not even James McAvoy’s tortured Xavier and Jennifer Lawrence playing Raven/Mystique on the knife edge of good/bad (or law/chaos, if you prefer) could make me give a damn. A popcorn movie, with no lasting crunch.

    And then there was Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise dying over and over again in a computer game fashion as his reluctant soldier learns to be all GI Joe in a quest to defeat the lead alien, with a little help from Emily Blunt’s scarred veteran. Had me going there, Tom, on your fun ride, and I could really sense the frustration and weariness, as any gamer could, I suspect, of having to start all over again after every wrong turn. (My kingdom for a save point RIGHT NOW!) But what was with the whitewashed ending? Once again, hit the reset, all is well: victory without cost. He even gets to keep his good name and rank. And the girl, of course.

    Is this something in the Hollywood psyche at the moment? That we can keep making the same mistakes over and over again until we get it right, and all the wrong alternate worlds just go away? Peace in our time, mission accomplished: look mum, no bodybags? It reminds me a little of the sour taste left over by Source Code, in which a hell of a lot of people die in a whole bunch of universes, but that’s okay because the hero finally gets his happily ever after. Icky.

    So, to return to the original question: why we are so fascinated with time travel? Marty McFly and Quantum Leap, Star Trek, The Time Tunnel! And on, and on. Yes, yes, all right: Dr bloody Who. (For the record, I can’t choose between Pertwee and Tom Baker. But ‘Blink’: that had a cool time travel premise, didn’t it?)

    It offers a chance to compare and contrast different cultures, different times; to make predictions, HG Wells style, of what current philosophies or technologies might wreak in the future; and to challenge perceptions of historic events.

    But perhaps most often, it seems to be the allure of the second chance, whether it’s another shot at love, or to save one life, or a whole planet, or universe, or right a wrong. To withdraw that statement, to pick the box, to walk instead of drive.

    At the end of the day, though, I reckon the old adage holds true: wherever (whenever) you go, there you are. Now pass the popcorn — it’s time I was somewhere else.


    Continuum X, at which Kirstyn wins an award and I wear a top hat

    Home again from Continuum X, the national science fiction convention held in Melbourne at the weekend. Knackered, but happily so, after much catching up with friends old and new. It was a most excellent convention.
    Briefly, because the catching up with work is kind of catching up with me, a few of the highlights:

  • Waving my walking stick around at the launch of a new collection by Rosaleen Love and Kirstyn’s Perfections, new in paperback — an exercise in creative thinking in the latter instance, as a print error caused the book — for this launch only — to be retitled Imperfections, and the author providing a personalised tale on a page unintentionally left blank
  • Mulling over the challenge presented by guests of honour Jim C Hines and Ambelin Kwaymullina in their speeches addressing equality and appropriation
  • Chinwagging with Jack Dann and co-host Gillian Polack at the launch of his back catalogue, and specifically Jubilee, and nabbing Janeen Webb’s collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, and seeing Jo Anderton’s trilogy made complete with the launch of Guardian.
  • Chewing over topics such at witches, the Gothic and the evolution of various critters, on three panels of learned friends
  • presenting a Ditmar for Best New Talent to an absent Zena Shapter from a quality field
  • seeing an absent Garth Nix (though he was on the phone!) recognised for a career of achievement with the Peter McNamara award
  • seeing Kirstyn land a Ditmar for her story, The Home for Broken Dolls — she was also highly commended in the Norma K Hemming for her collection Caution: Contains Small Parts. (Full awards list below)

    Photos from Continuum by Cat Sparks

    Other things to emerge from the event:

  • the Chronos awards, for Victorian speculative fiction, need a good, hard think about the continuing inclusion of ‘no award’, and also how to increase publicity and engagement to prevent a slide into irrelevance (a list of eligibles has already been started for next year)
  • a bar that charges $9 for cider and $15 for wine is a big aid for avoiding hangovers (but good on them for extending their hours to midnight on Sunday)
  • you can buy awesome burgers and sweet potato chips at Perkup Expresso Bar — even on Christmas Day.

    2014 DITMAR AWARDS

    Best Novel

    Winner: Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, Robert Hood (Wildside)
    Finalists:
    Ink Black Magic, Tansy Rayner Roberts (FableCroft)
    The Beckoning, Paul Collins (Damnation Books)
    Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)
    The Only Game in the Galaxy: The Maximus Black Files 3, Paul Collins (Ford Street)

    Best Novella or Novelette
    Winner: The Home for Broken Dolls, Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts)
    Finalists:
    Prickle Moon, Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon)
    The Year of Ancient Ghosts, Kim Wilkins (The Year of Ancient Ghosts)
    By Bone-Light, Juliet Marillier (Prickle Moon)
    What Amanda Wants, Kirstyn McDermott (Caution: Contains Small Parts)

    Best Short Story
    Winner: Scarp, Cat Sparks (The Bride Price)
    Finalists:
    Mah Song, Joanne Anderton (The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories)
    Air, Water and the Grove, Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven)
    Seven Days in Paris, Thoraiya Dyer (Asymmetry)
    Not the Worst of Sins, Alan Baxter (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #133)
    Cold White Daughter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (One Small Step)

    Best Collected Work
    Winner: The Bride Price, Cat Sparks (Ticonderoga)
    Finalists:
    The Back of the Back of Beyond, Edwina Harvey (Peggy Bright Books)
    Asymmetry, Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet)
    Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet)
    The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, Joanne Anderton (FableCroft)

    Best Artwork
    Winner: Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
    Finalists:
    Cover art, Eleanor Clarke, for The Back of the Back of Beyond (Peggy Bright Books)
    Illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, for Eclipse Online (Nightshade)
    Cover art, Shauna O’Meara, for Next (CSFG)
    Cover art, Cat Sparks, for The Bride Price (Ticonderoga)
    Cover art, Pia Ravenari, for Prickle Moon (Ticonderoga)

    Best Fan Writer
    Winner: Sean Wright, for body of work, including reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut
    Finalists:
    Tsana Dolichva, for body of work, including reviews and interviews in Tsana’s Reads and Reviews
    Grant Watson, for body of work, including reviews in The Angriest
    Foz Meadows, for body of work, including reviews in Shattersnipe: Malcontent & Rainbows
    Alexandra Pierce, for body of work, including reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex
    Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work, including essays and reviews at http://www.tansyrr.com

    Best Fan Artist
    Winner: Kathleen Jennings, for body of work, including Illustration Friday
    Finalists:
    Nalini Haynes, for body of work, including Defender of the Faith, The Suck Fairy, Doctor Who Vampire, and The Last Cyberman in Dark Matter
    Dick Jenssen, for body of work, including cover art for Interstellar Ramjet Scoop and SF Commentary

    Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
    Winner: Galactic Chat Podcast, Sean Wright, Alex Pierce, Helen Stubbs, David McDonald, & Mark Webb
    Finalists:
    Dark Matter Zine, Nalini Haynes
    SF Commentary, Bruce Gillespie
    The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott & Ian Mond
    The Coode Street Podcast, Gary K. Wolfe & Jonathan Strahan
    Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, & Tansy Rayner Roberts

    Best New Talent
    Winner: Zena Shapter
    Finalists:
    Michelle Goldsmith
    Faith Mudge
    Jo Spurrier
    Stacey Larner

    William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review
    Winner (tie): The Reviewing New Who series, David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, & Tehani Wessely
    Winner: Galactic Suburbia Episode 87: Saga Spoilerific Book Club, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, & Tansy Rayner Roberts
    Finalists:
    Reviews in Randomly Yours, Alex, Alexandra Pierce
    Things Invisible: Human and Ab-Human in Two of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories, Leigh Blackmore, in Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1 (Ulthar)
    A Puppet’s Parody of Joy: Dolls, Puppets and Mannikins as Diabolical Other, Leigh Blackmore, in Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Master of Modern Horror (Scarecrow)
    That was then, this is now: how my perceptions have changed, George Ivanoff, in Doctor Who and Race (Intellect)

    Peter McNamara Award
    Garth Nix

    Norma K Hemming Award
    Winner: Rupetta, N. A. Sulway (Tartarus UK)
    Highly commended: A Very Unusual Pursuit – City of Orphans, Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)
    Highly commended: Caution: Contains Small Parts, Kirstyn McDermott (Twelfth Planet)
    Finalists:
    Dark Serpent, Kylie Chan (HarperVoyager)
    Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Allyse Near (Random House)
    Trucksong, Andrew Macrae (Twelfth Planet)

  • Drowning Brisbane, or, why I love my writing buddies

    watermarks in cosmos 57: art by joe whyte, story by jason nahrung

    In 2007, I wrote a short story in which Brisbane had been inundated by risen sea levels, and where the poor squat in flooded high rises under the threat of solar irradiation while the rich survive high and dry in air conditioned comfort. But the yarn wasn’t working. Hence it’s home in the folder for unfinished yarns.

    This year, I dredged that story up, ditched some unnecessary scenes and then … It still wasn’t working. So I flung it to my writing group, Supernova, who identified structural and prose problems, chiefly a plot element that wasn’t working, ill-defined characters, great puddles of lazy prose. It was, as I admitted shamefacedly as I asked them to help me fix this broken thing, a setting in need of a story.

    cosmos 57 magazineSo I ran the changes and … It still wasn’t working.

    Luckily, a few pals (Rob, Kate and Mark, to give credit where it’s due) from my former Queensland writing group were down for a writerly getaway and I ran the rewrite past them and Kirstyn (again). As previously, I didn’t take all the advice from everyone, some of it just didn’t fit, but some of it was gold. Pure gold.

    I realised what the story was and who it was about. Structure emerged from the fog.

    With the Android Lust album Crater Vol.1 on repeat, I added the detail to breathe some life into a formerly pallid world — detail is king — and, hooray, the story, now called ‘Watermarks’, has sold, to this month’s Cosmos magazine, issue 57. That sensational artwork above, for the cover page for the story, is by Melbourne-based Joe Whyte. (I’m now a fan. It’s the use of light, I think. Seriously, check this out!)

    To have a group of like-minded writers able to tease at a story and make constructive suggestions, to brainstorm with, is just so valuable. I love my writing buddies.

    And the good thing is, in writing this story, I’ve realised just how huge its world is. There’s more to come — I just hope it doesn’t take another seven years.

    Dimension6: we have lift off

    dimension6 speculative fiction magazineA quick plug to say today is the day for Australia’s newest spec fic magazine: the free, digital Dimension6. It’s available here and includes yarns by Richard Harland, Charlotte Nash and yours truly. You can get a taste of what each of us (and editor Keith Stevenson) is about thanks to an interview series conducted by Angela Slatter — just click those links. Or just read the magazine!
    Dimenion6 runs three issues a year, so stick around!

    The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf: a spirited first novel

    the interrogation of ashala wolf by ambelin kwaymullina

     

    In the future portrayed in The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (Walker Books, 2012) by Ambelin Kwaymullina, a new order arises: the world reduced to one continent, the people decimated past the point of racism. The new order follows a decree of Balance, handed down by a Noah-like figure, Hoffman, and a series of decrees are implemented to attempt to avoid such global catastrophe again. Technology is restricted, for instance; no nuclear power of genetic modification, few cars, a limited number of laser-like weapons for the security force. The full extent of just what tech is available to whom is is sketchily drawn, with just enough details provided to allow the story to unfold.

    Several hundred years after the Reckoning, humanity has found its own genetic modification – the development of powers, restricted one per person, a little like the X-Men: one chap can move air to cause effects such as flight and telekinesis; a girl can interfere with memories; our titular heroine can sleepwalk into a dream state where the rules of physics do not apply, but the results are enacted in the real world. It’s exciting stuff, especially when one adds in sentient trees and telepathic dinosaurs, and creation spirits who have helped breathe new life into the devastated planet.

    These powers are the source of conflict for the story, with government enforcers testing children for special abilities and decreeing them either useful or detrimental to society. Using those powers is not without its risks, which helps to make them more convincing, and offers balance to what can be a simplistic ‘technology=bad nature=good’ argument.

    Ashala heads a band of child runaways who live in the sentient forest, hunted and feared by society at large, but not without supporters: there is a rebel movement of families tired of giving up their talented children, of free thinkers who don’t like to see the gifted persecuted and locked away.

    The story opens with Ashala a prisoner, her Mengele-like persecutors seeking to identify an imminent threat to their program, and Ashala harbouring more secrets than even they, or she, might suspect.

    australian women writers challenge logoThis is a story of community, of mutual care and understanding, as well as a plea to respect the planet and the beliefs that have formed it.

    While ill-defined ‘advanced technology’ is seen as the key cause of the end of the world, and spirit the tool of the natural world’s rebirth, it is not technology alone that is to blame, but rather, as Hoffman is quoted as saying, ‘advances in technology could never compensate for failures in empathy’. Reading current headlines, it’s a point worth making.

    In this action story with its underlying and competently drawn romance subplot, the theme of the strength of the pack – of mutual care and concern – gives the book its heart. There are echoes of the colonial devastation of Indigenous Australia subtly vibrating through the story as Ashala draws strength from the memory and inspiration of her friends.

    The ending is perhaps too neat, but love will out, and the story is wrapped up so that one is left wondering where to from here, given this is the first of The Tribe series. The answer lies in the synopsis for book 2, The Disappearance of Ember Crow , which came out in November last year, and begins a new plot set in the same world, with a new challenge for Ashala to overcome. No doubt this will see further exploration of intriguing elements of the world to come, such as the totem animals the children of the Firstwood embrace, and the structure of the broader world with its delicate balance of nature and technology.

    Western Australian Kwaymullina, of the Palyku people, has written several picture books, with this her first novel; it’s a quick and engaging read with clear appeal for young adult readers.

  • This is the second of my reviews in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.