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50 Books on Imagining and Re-Imagining Cities

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Moil houses from China Miéville's Un Lun Dun

I've been thinking about cities - and how we imagine and definite and interpret them - since the panel at Nine Worlds was announced. The panel itself, chaired by architect Amy Butt, and featuring Verity Holloway and Al Robertson, was brilliant and free-ranging.

One thing we didn't do is lapse into 'here are some books about cities that I recommend'. I'm grateful we skipped that because a) that's boring on a panel and b) that makes cracking blog content. Listicles are good fun.

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Mouseburster

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Tomorrowland 2055 was to be an updated version of Tomorrowland..... One of the main attractions that was to be added was Alien Encounter. Initially Disney owned the right to the alien from the movie Alien and planned to use that as the alien, but some Imagineers thought that it would be too scary. There was debate over it and the Imagineers got George Lucas to convince Michael Eisner that it was too scary for Disney.

- Chris Ware, Disney Unbuilt: A Pocket Guide to the Disney Imagineering Graveyard (2016)

The book itself is not particularly well-written (I think, despite the Amazon/GR tagging, this is not Jimmy Corrigan-Chris-Ware), but there are a lot of interesting fun facts in here. As well as the Alien inclusion in Tomorrowland, there were also plans for a separate Nostromo ride. Other fun facts include the Black Cauldron and TRON attractions that never happened (but design fragments from the former wound up in, of all things, a Cinderella ride), as well as MYST Island, because, ... MYST.

Other, slightly creepier, ideas include the various country pavilions (all with planned corporate sponsorship!), with the Soviet Union Pavilion a baffling highlight, and about 10,000 different creative re-imaginings of 'American Mythology', including a Civil War themed attraction that is about sixteen types of terrible idea. Walt Disney's original scheme for Epcot - a Utopian micro-city - is also included, and would make an excellent backdrop for fiction.


Heavens to Betsy (1955)

UFO sighting in Oregon (1950)

Listen along here.

Thoughts Before Listening

I was actually going to watch a movie called End of the World with Christopher Lee in it because it had Christopher Lee in it. But I kept falling asleep while watching and then I started to feel homesick for the radio drama of yesteryear, if one can feel homesick for that sort of thing. So here we go with a radio drama called "Heavens to Betsy" which I’m going to listen to because it’s called "Heavens to Betsy".

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Fiction: 'Four Feet' by Kirsty Logan

Howard Hardiman - Four FeetOnce upon a night, a girl tiptoed on slippered feet into a garage, clutching a rag and a tin of beeswax. The only sound was the steady tick of the watchman's cane as he passed, but Eliska stood motionless on the step for another moment. The garage smelled of cold air and the sweet tickle of beeswax. She checked again to make sure that her feet were properly encased in their slippers – a cold floor might cause untold damage to a girl's feet – and stepped across to her animus.

The animus was a bull with golden horns and engraved wheels, and Eliska rose before dawn every other month to polish the horns until the tips were sharp enough to pierce the clouds. She knew that she cut a pretty figure, perched high in her animus with her hands resting on the controls.

With the rag gripped in her fist, Eliska scooped a fingerful of beeswax from the tin and started to rub tiny half-moons onto the clouded haunches of her animus. Within moment she was lost in her task. The servants never polished the animus properly, and Eliska could feel it down under her lungs: the shining surface hushed by cloud-fat whorls of grime and grit. She could not bear to have her breath tightened and her eyes blurred by her imperfect animus. It was a part of her, and the servants – they with the shell-hard soles and flattened arches – could never understand that. They could polish from dinner until breakfast and still Eliska would find a smudge at the very tip of her animus's horns.

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SPFBO2017: The First 26 Reviews!

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I'm participating in this year's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition - all the background, details and updates are here.

The first step is to filter through the buffet of 301 books that have been sent my way. Although I'll bring some fancy-shmancy grading criteria in later in the process, at this stage I'm being unabashedly subjective: do I want to keep reading it?

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Otared, Graustark and The Winning of Barbara Worth

OtaredOne very modern book and five very old ones. Are there common themes? Is there a pattern?! Not really, no.

--- 

Mohammed Rabie's Otared (2016) is a harrowing existential thriller, set in a near-future Cairo. The city has been occupied by a mercenary army - a sort of quasi-Masonic organisation that swept through in a sudden coup with distinctly Cruaderish underpinnings. Cairo persists - everyday life plods along, despite the foreign invaders and the ominous ring of battleships.

Otared is a former policeman who, infuriated by the way the government rolled over, has joined the rebellion. His job is distasteful: assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist - everything in-between. Otared repeatedly asks the same question - how far would you go? - with different nuances and inflections each time. The voiceless people of Cairo are choosing between two - if not 'evils - brutalities. Otared decides what he will do, how far he will go, in the name of a city that he never particularly liked and certainly never liked him. It is particularly telling that the resistence is led neither by civilians nor military, but policemen - who Otared describes less as a public service and more like a necessary evil. 

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What of the fans?

Journal of Science FictionThe Journal of Science Fiction was published by a fan group based at the University of Chicago. Like many zines, it was short-lived - despite some (now) star-studded issues, it only existed for four short issues. 

I can't vouch for the tone of the first three, as I've not found them yet, but the fourth is a corker. Whether the JSF was established with this particular tone, or if the editors took to the final issue with nihilistic zeal, the content - especially the editorials - is passionate and, er, rather blistering.

The editorial begins with a succinct explanation of the Journal's demise - 'malnutrition, both of material and of readers'. The editors also note that 'if a publication fails to satisfy the needs and desires of its time; it deserves to die'. Thus they sail, with stoic aplumb, into the darkness. But not without burning some bridges behind them with this - timeless, and ever-relevant - rant...

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Review Round-up: A Queue, Two Devils, Some Magicians and an Empty City

9781612195162_custom-9dcd78cb1494554fe2ead2adb48ab8c65e917d12-s400-c85I'm way behind on writing reviews - a combination of life, SPFBO reading, sekrit projects and watching Ariana Grande and Chris Martin sing "Don't Look Back In Anger" on continuous loop. But whilst we all wait for me to get my act together, here's a quick catch-up on recent reading:

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (2016, first 2012). In an unnamed country, the people are ruled by a faceless bureaucracy. All paperwork challenging the state must be notarised by officials at the 'Gate', the accepted nomenclature of the 'powers that be' that work at entrance of the government building, but the Gate never opens...

Over time, a huge queue forms, and with it, a new society. People come and go, trade gossip, form a new, grey economy. The Gate seems to know everything and be everywhere, but its actions are nonsensical and baffling. Set against this... a mystery, of sorts. A man, shot in an uprising that never happened by soldiers that weren't there using guns that don't exist, is standing, wounded, in the queue. The maze of paperwork around him, if he exists, captures a handful of others, as they make extremely difficult choices in the face of overwhelming indifference. 

The Queue isn't quite as abstract as I'm making it sound. It is a good Orwellian thriller, with compelling, heart-breaking characters. Although inspired by Egypt, The Queue is one of the great fictional dystopias, with horrifying relevance to, well, everywhere. If you read one book on this list, make it this one.

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The Operative: Joss Whedon’s most political villain?

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Warning: This month’s post spoils the shit out of 2005’s Serenity, the feature film culmination of Joss Whedon’s gone-too-soon TV space western, Firefly. So if you haven’t seen it, (a) what is the matter with you and (b) stop reading immediately.

It was Dolores Umbridge that got me thinking about the Operative. I know – because they have so much in common, right? One is a cowardly shrew of a witch with no discernible fighting ability, while the other is a mild-mannered, stone-cold killing machine. And yet they do have a lot in common, if you scratch just beneath the surface. They’re both government employees acting on behalf of something bigger and largely invisible. And they both belong to that rarest – and arguably most dangerous – species of villain, the True Believer.

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