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.

  • Trucksong — haz music!

    trucksong by andrew macraeFriend Andrew Macrae launched his novel Trucksong last night — an excellent, crowded launch with psychedelic David Lynchian underpinnings — and in the spirit of multimedia shenanigans, has a soundtrack to go with it! The book is a postapocalyptic tale of a fella in the Australian wilderness looking for a kidnapped woman with an INTELLIGENT TRUCK for an ally. Mad Max on cyberpunk steroidsd or what? The soundtrack sounds like just the thing for a Nullarbor road trip. Here’s hoping Andy gets plenty of mileage from Trucksong!

    Pre-order Epilogue – tales of hope after the apocalypse

    epilogue - tales of hope after the apocalypseFableCroft has opened pre-orders on Epilogue, an anthology of stories about finding hope in the aftermath of the apocalypse. It’s exciting to read that the anthology is to be launched at Continuum in June, where Twelfth Planet Press should also be letting my Australian Gothic Salvage loose on the public as well.

    Another title being launched at Continuum is Bread and Circuses (also available for pre-order), an anthology by the inimitable Felicity Dowker. Nom nom nom!

    There are some old hands and new chums in the table of contents of Epilogue, which should make for some interesting and perhaps atypical reading for stories in this setting. Epilogue costs $20 including postage.

    Also worth pointing out is that FableCroft has put After the Rain on special for $15 inc postage; it includes my cyberpunk yarn ‘Wet Work’.

    And here’s a clue to one of the themes of my ‘Epilogue’ story, ‘Mornington Ride’:

    Surviving the End

    surviving the end anthologyDark Prints Press has released the table of contents for its Surviving the End anthology, to be launched at the Swancon “Doom Con” in Perth at Easter next year — lovely thematic resonance, there! (Marianne de Pierres is a good choice of guest of honour, given her dystopian outings.) The antho sounds nice and tight, with extra interest thanks to the inclusion of Craig’s between-story interludes and the novella.

    As well as my yarn, ‘The Last Boat to Eden’, there is:

  • Unwanted, by Martin Livings
  • The Long Ago, by Amanda J Spedding
  • Hiatus, by Michael Bailey
  • The Stuff of Stories, by Kathryn Hore
  • Harvest, by Ashlee Scheuerman
  • the novella, The Failing Flesh, by Joseph D’Lacey
  • and narrative interludes by the ‘Story Collector’, Craig Bezant
  • The end is in sight — bring it on!

    Feed by Mira Grant: the flavour really hits you

    feed by mira grant

    Feed is a clever zombie novel from pseudonymous Mira Grant, right down to its title: not only does it refer to the famed zombie appetite, but to western society’s appetite for connectivity – hence the RSS symbol on the cover.

    In the world of Feed, the zombies reign. Created by a little-understood man-made contagion, the reanimated dead roam the wilds while an underpopulated and “uninfected” society lives in communes rated by risk. Travel has been reduced to a bare minimum, and the media – a major focus of the story’s plot – has suffered a severe reversal. Traditional news providers now face serious competition from bloggers, who have organised into their own corporations vying for ratings and the dollars they bring with them (I’m sure Rupert Murdoch would be fascinated by their income model!) to feed the connectivity needs of a largely sedentary and isolationist population. The bloggers are broken into distinct zones of interest: fictionals, who write stories that may or may not be based on current events (including slash); newsies, who act as journalists; and Irwins, nicknamed after Australia’s croc hunter Steve, who are the daredevils of the blogosphere, risking life and limb for the sake of entertainment.

    Feed’s core characters comprise one of each: sister Georgia (George, newsie) and Irwin brother Shaun and their tech-savvy fictional “Buffy”. The Morgans are rather special, having been, Bindi-like, raised in the spotlight of the blogosphere since the zombie outbreak was hijacked by their parents as a fame platform. This, and the zombie death of their infant brother, informs the pair’s relationship. It’s a lovingly rendered co-dependency and one of the book’s great strengths.

    The story is told primarily from George’s point of view, with neat quotes from various blog posts by her and others.

    We are given the history of the outbreak and how the world has changed since, how technology and society have evolved to deal with the new circumstances. It’s very clever and quite believable (insomuch as you can make a zombie plague believable).

    The story follows the trio as they are invited to join the election campaign of a US senator running for the presidency. And here is where it goes slightly off-track, with opposing forces acting in not entirely logical ways to achieve their outcomes, and the reactions of the public and officialdom likewise conforming more to authorial need than real-world likelihood. That a key piece of evidence required to trigger the story’s conclusion is handed over on a platter further diminishes the trajectory.

    And yet these are small things that could’ve been overlooked were it not for the most annoying factor of all: the Morgans. Georgia is 22 but already jaded and cynical, the bearer of a noxious self-importance that erodes her likability as the story progresses. She and her team know more about everything than everyone they meet: politicians, security staff, experienced journalists are all minnows by comparison. Even their technology is superior to that of the American secret service. Her single-minded dedication to the ‘truth’ puts her into the category of fanatic, and fanatics are by their very nature, unreliable, unsociable and boorish. Not really what you want for a main character, and one who espouses her own virtues with such cocky assurance for more than 550 pages.

    From what we see of Shaun, he suffers a similar ego-centric view of his place in the world.

    There is an element of self-delusion that Grant reveals, most tellingly when George sets out to rip into a candidate whose policies she doesn’t like. Vowing to ask the hard questions and take it up to the man, what she actually does is present a set of standard, largely non-reactive questions which he answers in sound bites according to his platform. Nothing new is revealed, no pressure is brought to bear, and yet she proclaims it a victory, even though she is forced to add an op ed piece to reinforce the win. More of this approach, showing that just maybe the kids aren’t up the spotless standard they think they are – that just maybe someone else also knows what they’re doing — might’ve helped to humanise them to the point of being sympathetic heroes.

    It’s easy to appreciate their youthful cynicism: America’s news services, particularly of the broadcast variety, are by and large woeful, little more than a dull amalgam of reality television and opinionated commentary slavishly devoted to domestic introspection. And in fairness, Australia is following a similar route, blurring the line between entertainment and information, reportage and commentary, in electronic, print and online media.

    All of which isn’t to say that the characterisation isn’t good or even realistic: the Morgans are of an age and possess a background that make their self-absorption perfectly understandable, and it is certainly a fair call to tell a story through the eyes of obnoxious characters (in fact, I’m sure the very character traits that I found off-putting will probably endear the Morgans to other readers). I just wish that such a beautifully drawn and considered post-zombie apocalypse world could have been explored through the experiences of more likable characters.

    Dead Set: zombies and Big Brother

    I’ve always though the Big Brother artificial reality shows were daft, but finally, here they are in a context I can appreciate. The Brits have done a gorgeous job of setting up a bunch of BB cast and crew (some real, such as host Davina McCall) caught up in a zombie apocalypse in Dead Set. It’s gritty, visceral viewing, well crafted and superbly acted, and very clever. And in true British fashion, short and sweet and to the point. Tasty indeed! Here’s a trailer.