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January 2011
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New Releases: "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" by KJ Parker

Subterranean Press I don't read a lot of short fiction - this isn't to say that I avoid it due to literary snobbery (I reserve that for certain subgenres), I just tend to find that the experience is a little jarring. I like the experience of sinking into an author's particular style - unfortunately, when that experience is only a few pages long, and then I'm vomited back to the surface, I feel a little cheated.

What's this all mean? I suppose, even more than usual, when I'm poking me crit-stick at shorts, buyer beware.

Fortunately, there's nothing to be wary of when it comes to KJ Parker's latest effort, "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong". Here's the short version of the short story: it is brilliant.

Were I in some sort of cruel alternate universe where I was forced to rank Parker's work in order to save the lives of big-eyed puppies, I'd probably set "Birdsong" up near the top, peering up at the imperial majesty of the Engineer Trilogy and trying its best to stamp the Scavenger Trilogy down.

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"The Goddamn Plane Has Crashed Into The Mountain!" by Den Patrick

[Editor's note: We're very pleased to have another guest post from Den Patrick, whose writing, lettering and editorial work can be found in Weaponizer, the upcoming DECONSTRUCTED and every issue of the Transformers Comic.]

The Goddamn Plane Has Crashed Into The Mountain!
(Or Thoughts On My First Panel at the SFX Weekender 2)

I found myself under the blazing lights of the screening room, sat alongside Pat Mills, Tony Lee and Bryan Talbot. Bryan Talbot has been making comics longer than I’ve been alive, and Pat Mills launched 2000AD. 

Paul Gravett I am not. A quick look at my shelves confirms most of my purchases as Hellboy orIron Man. That said, I do have some non-US titles and had dutifully packed them to take with me as talking points. Plus there’s the small consideration that I edited (at the time of the Con) two children’s titles for the UK newsstand.

With hindsight, I now realise the panel went sour very quickly. Instead of talking with enthusiasm about the wealth of comics being originated in Europe, Japan and the new wave of Indian creators, the tone quickly settled into ‘Why Comics Don’t Work In The UK’.

Continue reading ""The Goddamn Plane Has Crashed Into The Mountain!" by Den Patrick" »

PK Draft: Valentine's Slash

SO MUCH SLASH We're going to try something new and host this competition simultaneously both on the blog AND on our newly-designed, re-funkified Facebook page

And we're not the only ones trying something new and different today - we'd like you to pick two of your favorite genre characters and slash 'em. What pair of star-crossed lovers have been separated for too long? Feel free to mix and match between authors, settings and media.

Whomever suggests the most romantic new couple will win a romantic gift pack including Gary Erskine's [email protected], Jesse Petersen's Married with Zombies and whatever else we can find to throw in. If we're having a hard time making up our mind, we'll just randomly draw based on "Likes" or something. Give us a break, we're experimenting (and so are your entries).

We'll decide on Tuesday, 15 February, 9 pm GMT. So get to lovin'.

New Releases: The Sentinel Mage by Emily Gee

The Sentinel MageOne of the most commonly addressed themes in fantasy fiction is that of identity. By tradition, this is the pig boy/High King. He may start out swilling the livestock, but by the time book five rolls around, Timmy has harnessed the power of the All-Flambé, married the Imperial Princess and drawn the legendary Dragonsword. He now knows who was he was all along: super-special!

In The Sentinel Mage, author Emily Gee uses the freedom of the fantasy setting to explore the concept of identity in unusual and, potentially, quite daring ways. After writing two well-received stand-alones, The Sentinel Mage is the start of her first trilogy. Ms. Gee also uses the added space and breathing room of the series format to stretch her legs and set up some intriguing characters.

The trilogy’s set-up is fairly straightforward, and fantasy-conversant readers will quickly pick up the tropes involved with a minimum of fuss.

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The Week that Was

We came back from SFX awfully ranty - in case you missed any of the week's fun, here's what happened:

Next week? A Valentine's Day competition tomorrow, a guest post on DOOM in the comics industry later in the week, and we finally start catching up on our reviews. Some of them.

Monsters & Mullets: The Neverending Story (1984)

Neverending Story Eighties high fantasy cinema wasn't just boobs and barbarians and mommy-issues.  There were a number of films produced specifically with a young audience in mind, films like Legend, The Dark Crystal, and The Princess Bride.  And why not?  The success of Conan the Barbarian translated into the action-figure-shilling animated powerhouse He-Man, so clearly kids were digging on the swords and dragons stuff.  Why not move into high fantasy cinema? 

The high fantasy kids' movies have a lot in common - most were box-office flops that became cult classics and the colossi of a collective youth with the spread of VCR technology in the mid-'80s.  How many of these films did you watch at parties and sleep-overs?  How many did you own?  How many do you own today? How many can you still quote? 

Of all the youth-oriented high fantasy films of the '80s, there are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest.   The Princess Bride ("never get involved in a land war in Asia!").  Labyrinth ("You have no power over me!") And, of course, The Neverending Story. I'll bet you can still hum the theme song, maybe even sing a few lines of it - "the neverending stoooooreeeee," that synth-heavy, reassuringly wholesome power ballad with its up-inflected lyrics and melodic waterfall of "ah ah ah"s.  Was Artax the horse's muddy demise in the Swamps of Sadness your first real and meaningful movie death?  Were you horrified by the wolfy-monster-thinger's unalloyed villainy; grossed out by the giant turtle's sneezes; charmed by the dog-like luck dragon and his itchy ears? 

Frankly, as a kid growing up in the heyday of '80s high fantasy movies, The Neverending Story was at the top of my list.

Continue reading "Monsters & Mullets: The Neverending Story (1984)" »

Underground Reading: The Stand by Stephen King (Part 2)

[This is the second half of our review of Stephen King's post-Apocalyptic epic, The Stand. In unintentional homage to the book, this review is as meandering as possible, with a hastily-added and unfulfilling conclusion. The first half is here.]

The StandBy the time the introductory portion of the book is complete, all the character portraits have been painted, dried, retouched, varnished and framed. The major characters have split into two factions: the Bad Guys (like Lloyd and Nadine) follow Flagg, Mr. King's antichrist figure. The Good Guys (like Stu, Nick and Larry) go to Mother Abigail, who is the Jesus figure. The Bad Guys go to Vegas, the Good Guys go to Boulder.

Why? Well, Vegas is a mere press of a button away from re-activation, whilst Boulder needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. 

If the first section of the book is dominated by aimless wandering and internal monologues, the second is devoted to committee meetings and corpse collection. Although The Stand never reaches the same unhealthy obsession with agriculture that Swan Song and The Passage both do, it certainly takes the cake when it comes to thinly-disguised sociological lecturing. (Mr. King is also a fan of John D. MacDonald, and it is hard not to see shades of JDM's Meyer in Mr. King's Glen.) Our handful of characters are suddenly responsible for an entire community of survivors, and the reader is with them, every bureaucratic step of the way.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Stand by Stephen King (Part 2)" »

The Literature of Ideas; or, please stop laughing at me

Idea! One of the many revelations that came out of the SFX Weekender was the ubiquity of science fiction being defined as the "literature of ideas". 

I can understand the temptation - and seeing how widely used the phrase has become, clearly I'm not the only one. Being "the literature of ideas" gives science fiction the authority of science. Or broadening it out - it gives speculative fiction permission to speculate. Yours is the fiction of the kitchen sink, ours is the literature of the future. Your fiction cares only about petty, worldly things - Booker Prizes and the New York Times Book Review. Our fiction is concerned with more lofty matters - the future of the human race, or the farthest reaches of the imagination.

There is a triumphant poetry in its very use: "The Literature of Ideas."

This is, of course, complete bullshit.

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Underground Reading: The Stand by Stephen King (Part 1)

The Stand The Stand (1978/1990) is the great-grand-daddy of modern post-Apocalyptic literature. Even when it was first published, the end of the world was old news, just ask John "Triffid" Wyndham or Charles Eric Maine. But time and enthusiasm have steered The Stand into pole position. 

And why not? The Stand serves as the template for this particular sub-genre, the tell-tale signs of which include:

  • Big disaster (gov'mint caused)
  • Survey of "ordinary people", prior to their transformation by extraordinary times
  • Moral bipolarisation of the surviving populace
  • Christian eschatology
  • World re-building
  • Crap ending

If you've spotted all those in your book - congratulations! You're looking at some offshoot of The Stand (that includes you, Mr. Cronin).

Continue reading "Underground Reading: The Stand by Stephen King (Part 1)" »

PAT MILLS' EPIC FAIL; or, why don't the wimminfolk read funnybooks?

Vampire Babe Disturbing news for the comics industry from Newsarama: "comics and graphic novel sales are down 22.91% compared [with] January 2010." Although the SFX Weekender's Saturday panel "Beyond the US: the wider world of comics" was ostensibly devoted to a discussion about "what's going on outside of the big US comics publishers," the conversation inevitably turned internal.  Why are US and UK audiences so devoted to US superhero franchises?  What's wrong with the comics industry in the UK that readers don't seem interested in the higher-concept stuff?

We're fortunate to have our guest editor Den Patrick on tap for the inside scoop. Den confronted these issues and more alongside the other panel members - Tony Lee, Bryan Talbot and Pat Mills - so I'm going to leave the afterword to him.


The issue of female readers reared its ugly head a number of times during the discussion. Why aren't there more comics written by women, drawn by women and read by women? What is the deal with girls, yo?

Well, Pat Mills has a thought.  Publishers won't publish stuff women want to read!  You see, he knows a woman who wrote a comic for women, "kind of a British Sex and the City," which hasn't been able to find a publisher.  But it's awesome! It's all about these "women who are a couple of steps down from a hooker. Not hookers, but close." 

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