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.


A double blast of outback vampires

Jason Nahrung and Lindy Cameron, of Clan Destine Press

Lunch with my publisher :) Pic: Kirstyn McDermott

Blood and Dust is about to become corporeal — and then some.

A little while back, Clan Destine Press publisher Lindy Cameron and I (that’s us to the left!) caught up over lunch and signed off on a contract to put my outback vampire novel Blood and Dust on to shelves, both digital and physical, along with its follow-up, The Big Smoke.

This will be a second life for Blood and Dust, initially released into the wilds as an e-book in late 2012. It was a finalist in both the Aurealis Awards, for best horror novel, and the Australian Shadows. But while it’s pretty much self-contained, Kevin the mechanic, now vampire, still had some work to do once the dust had settled out west. Hence, his journey to ‘the Big Smoke’.

I’m ecstatic that these two books, coming more than 15 years after the story was first conceived, are finally coming to life in paperback as well as digital. My dad might even get to read them!

Clan Destine has good people operating it, a solid stable of fellow writers, many of whom I already know. It’s a real pleasure to join them on this latest adventure.

So when will Kevin get to escape the garage on his own grand adventure? Well, Blood and Dust is getting new duco, and The Big Smoke is going in for its roadworthy. So all in good time, my friends, but rest assured, you’ll hear the motors revving!

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.

    Perfections, now in paperback

    Perfections by Kirstyn McDermottKirstyn’s novel, Perfections, is being printed in paperback and digital copies by Twelfth Planet Press, and is being launched this weekend at Continuum (I may wear my top hat). Read all about it here.

    Also at Continuum, I’ll be helping Rosaleen Love launch her latest collection, the newest addition to the Twelve Planets series (now 13!), The Secret Lives of Books. It’s very clever, slightly eclectic in style, and altogether wonderful. Yes, damn it, I think a top hat is well in order!

    The Babadook: horror out of the pen


    The Babadook is an Australian horror movie. It’s clever without being pompous or overwrought. A suburban working mother is trying to raise her needy son while stricken by grief over her husband’s death. Then a book is found, and it tells of the Babadook, who once it gets in, can never be got out.
    There is so much to like about this film: acting, setting, lighting, sound, combined with an insightful script. Deftness, depth and subtlety define this movie — the narrative pulled me along, and the ending wrapped it up beautifully, its metaphors intact and satisfied. Here are some of the credits:

  • The heroine is a working single mother, whose hair is in disarray, who looks shattered from the opening frame.
  • The heroine does not wear makeup, except for the one time she does in company who wear it better. This tells us a lot.
  • When the heroine screams, it is not a screech. it sounds real. The acting is uniformly superb, but lead Amelia (Essie Davis) and son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are particularly brilliant as they carry the emotional journey.
  • There are no aural tricks to make the audience jump. There are no jump cuts to make the audience jump. Possibly, this makes it even creepier, perhaps because tropes are used — opening doors, creaking floors, fleeting shadows, popping lightbulbs. Sound is wonderfully adept at creating mood without intruding or being overtly manipulating.
    badadook movie poster
  • The kid is a weird little guy in his own way, and despite his Home Alone precociousness in the arena of home defence, he is just a kid.

  • The characters act naturally, resulting in increasing isolation and dislocation for the heroine. Mostly through her own decisions. There are no villains, just people trying to deal.
  • The heroine does bad things, but she is not an image of hate or scorn.
  • There is no happy ending, but rather, progress, and ongoing struggle with the hope of some kind of equilibrium.
  • The setting reflects the character’s mental and emotional state.
  • Facts about the characters that inform the story are introduced with subtlety that urge a re-watching to fully appreciate just how well sewn this tapestry is — a few, minor dangling threads notwithstanding.
  • The symbolism is clever and consistent but not pretentious. You want to talk about grief, depression, dysfunction in an engaging and oblique fashion — the personal cost and the impact on family, friends and those around — this is the perfect example of how a horror story can do that.

    I hope writer/director Jennifer Kent, who adapted this feature from her short film, Monster, gets support for her next project. She went to Kickstarter to help this one get across the line, and has rewarded those supporters handsomely.

  • 1984: newspeak is new again

    1984 tour poster for shake and stirWe saw the Shake and Stir Theatre Co.’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 at Ballarat’s Her Majesty’s theatre today, and what a superb performance it is. The Brisbane company is touring, and has there ever been a better time for it?

    With Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s reprehensible use of the term illegal maritime arrivals burning in my ears — well done, minister, for ‘unpersoning’ the desperate people seeking safety in our country, and hang their right to do so — Orwell’s observations of language control, propaganda and social warfare have never struck closer to home.

    A government that has declared war on its own citizens to propagate the class structure. Demonising of an external other, or traitorous domestic foe, to justify draconian measures. Reducing access to education and awareness. Attempts to enforce conformity of belief and behaviour. Bread and circuses to help keep the proletariat amused and distracted? Even some history tweaking. And of course, adapting language to carry a specific message, and ensuring media carry only that message. Ignorance is strength, indeed.

    Admittedly, we’re not in Room 101 territory just yet, and S&S did not draw any analogies — for instance, their footage of Oceania’s wars was from World War II, as far as I could tell, and they stuck to Orwell’s script — but the Ministry of Truth echoes were powerful just the same. Orwell’s vision is undiminished.

    S&S did a superb job of bringing a relatively complex story to the stage. Winston’s monologues are delivered on big screens — clever, in keeping with the monitoring of citizens and delivery of propaganda by Big Brother — and other characters take up some of the duty. The bank of screens formed the back drop for a sparse, evocatively lit stage, with Cold War-style concrete walls evoking the barren homes and factories, and a swinging stage delivering Winston and Julia’s love nest for sexcrime. [Do check out the Eurythmics' 'soundtrack that never was' 1984: For the Love of Big Brother.]

    The screens not only gave Winston his inner voice but also allowed Big Brother to broadcast to the audience, and turned the audience into Big Brother’s observers, seeing off-stage family life and dream sequences as well as tracking the characters’ on-stage movements.

    The love scenes and torture scenes were well handled, provoking the barest of titters and squirms from the predominantly school-student matinee audience. And then there were the rats!

    Well acted, well delivered, topical. Doubleplusgood. Most excellent.