Previous month:
June 2011
Next month:
August 2011

Friday Five: 15 Aliens We Admire

If Friday Five has taught the Pornokitsch hamsters (us) anything, it's this:  we really, really like monsters.  We spent days agonzing about our morally ambiguous characters last week, but this time around we decided on a subject and had our lists written out within about half an hour.

And our subject?  Aliens.

Our choices span universes.  Be sure to land a few of your favorites in the comments.


I could use this to write about the five most likeable or amusing aliens, but then I'd just end up talking about the Doctor and Alf, and where's the fun in that? So here are my five favourite alien aliens:

AlienNicholas Fisk's books were weird. In Trillions, a shower of crystals land on a British seaside town, and they want... well, no one quite knows. They mimic what they see, but they're so truly alien that understanding them seems impossible. How cool is that? And all in a kids' book that can't have been more than 150 pages long.

Talking of cool, when I was around eleven and reading Trillions, I thought first contact with an alien race would be the greatest thing ever. Then I grew up and watched Alien. They look like they come from another planet, they move like they come from another planet, and they want to IMPLANT THEIR ACID-DRIPPING BABIES IN US! I rest my case.

Even in literature, humanoid aliens often feel a bit too human. The Ortheans of Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed had recognisable emotions and motivations, but a culture that was fully worked out and interestingly different – the product of an alien race that only differentiates into male and female at puberty. Clearly Ursula K Le Guin's brilliant The Left Hand of Darkness was an inspiration, but Orthe has always been the one that stuck in my mind.

If SF authors are to be believed, the universe is littered with the remnants of long-departed super-powerful civilisations. Andre Norton's Forerunners were the first example of this I ever read and they've remained my personal favourite of Those Who Came Before and Left Only Mysterious Ruins Behind.

Yes, I know Avatar was just Dances with Blue Skinny People, and the Na'vi are yet another example of alien noble savages, but I loved Pandora. The amazing spectacle of its alien ecosystem was what I dreamed of seeing when I was a girl reading Andrew Norton and Nicholas Fisk in her local library, and for that I'll forgive Avatar almost anything.

Continue reading "Friday Five: 15 Aliens We Admire" »

The 2011 Kitschies: Introductions

2011 marks the third year of our annual award, the Kitschies. Initially, this began as a standard "end of year" feature, but last year we saw it grow into something bigger and (we think) better. Now, we're pushing the award to become even more.

To borrow from previous introductions, the guiding principle of the Kitschies is to reward those books that elevate the tone of geek culture. This doesn't mean using big words or having dully philosophical plot lines - it means creating something that we're proud to have represent our socio-literary community of genre fandom.

Every year, we look for something that is progressive (but not wanky) in terms of perspective and craftsmanship, intelligent (but not arrogant) in terms of character, plot and composition, and, crucially, entertaining (but not trite).

We give out two (sometimes three) awards. The Red Tentacle goes to the novel that best fulfills the criteria above. The Golden Tentacle is based on the same standards, but goes to a debut novelist. The Black Tentacle goes to a work that doesn't meet the criteria, but knocked our collective socks off anyway. The intention is not to give out a Black Tentacle every year, but who knows?

We're open for submissions thoughout the year. The Red Tentacle's short list will be chosen in January, with the five finalists all debated in excruciating detail. The final selection will be made at the start of February 2012. 

This year, we've made a couple of exciting changes...

Continue reading "The 2011 Kitschies: Introductions" »

Monsters & Mullets: Gremlins (1984)

GremlinsIf there is one name that looms large over the cinematic landscape of the 1980s, that name is Steven Spielberg. Spielberg had already proven his credentials with his break-out Jaws, and cemented his reputation with Raiders of the Lost Ark: both movies were popular and critical successes, and have proven enormously influential over the last three or so decades.  But ET the Extra-Terrestrial, released in 1982, brought Spielberg superdooper fame.  ET was, at the time, the most successful film ever produced, making more money at the box-office than Star Wars, garnering nine Academy Award nominations, and making Reese's Pieces famous. Today the film has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It also has a lot to answer for.  ET pretty much set the formula for kids' movies in the '80s.  Twinkly suburban setting?  Check.  Lonely kid, usually a caucasian boy? Check.  Kid-heavy cast?  Check. Fantastic being/ability/occurrence that adults find frightening or incomprehensible, but which improves lonely kid's life? Check.  Valuable life lessons? Check.  External authority subverted?  Check.  Central importance of family reasserted? Check and check.

And somewhere, amidst all these Spielberg-inspired - even Spielberg-created - sweet and unchallenging exercises in schlock-making for the kiddies, something else sneaked in. The Spielberg-produced Gremlins.

Gremlins is not a great movie.  It's not even a very good movie.  But it is a deeply, profoundly weird movie. 

Continue reading "Monsters & Mullets: Gremlins (1984)" »

Extract: Grant Morrison's Supergods

Our fun with Grant Morrison's Supergods continues...

We're pleased to host the extract below, thanks to the kind people at Random House.

We'll also be giving away more copies of the book this week. The first competition is over (we got some awesome responses), but we'll be sprinkling the book around on Twitter over the next few days. Make sure you're following us for a chance to win.

Continue reading "Extract: Grant Morrison's Supergods" »

It's Possible I'm not a Better Person Than David

I’ve always assumed I’m a better person than David. It’s not because of anything he does in real life. In the real world, David makes his friends strawberry cupcakes and takes them to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing for their birthday. But whenever he plays RPGs, he’s like a cross between Stalin, Ming the Merciless and John Wayne Gacy. In Knights of the Old Republic, he didn’t so much turn to the dark side as leap joyfully into its arms.

PK - Fable evil

I’m not like that at all. Within about five minutes of starting to play the first Fable, I was surrounded by butterflies and rainbows, whereas David had red glowing eyes, horns and a fatal attraction for blowflies. Moral choices are all the rage in games today, and I just can’t bring myself to make the bad ones. In BioShock, I saved all the Little Sisters. I mean, of course I did: they’re helpless little girls. What kind of monster wouldn’t? And I’ve always thought this must be because the way I play RPGs – the self I choose to project within them – is the essential me. And let’s be honest, I’m clearly pretty damn lovely.

Continue reading "It's Possible I'm not a Better Person Than David" »

Harry Potter and the Listicle of Pornokitsch

Well, we've read them all, and now we've seen them all. Clearly it's time for a listicle!

Potter_Puppet_PalsFavorite book: Goblet of Fire.  The early Harry Potter books (and films, Prisoner of Azkaban aside) are not works of art, not by any stretch of the imagination.  But they do convey a combination of awe and utter, staggered delight with the idea that magic is real and people can do it.  Man, these books are saying, this shit be awesome.  The later books lose much of that innocent pleasure in favor of shit getting real, and then realer and realer, until nothing's left but a bunch of balding, middle-aged characters who lived the best years of their lives before they turned 20 and are glad for it.  In the Harry Potter plot Venn diagram, Goblet alone stands as the perfect combination of "shit be awesome" and "shit be real." Goblet was also the last book where Harry Potter was, essentially, likable.

Continue reading "Harry Potter and the Listicle of Pornokitsch" »

Tonight: Sophia McDougall at the BSFA

Sophia McDougall, a Pornokitsch favourite, will be interviewed by Roz Kaveney tonight at the BSFA's monthly meeting

The venue is The Antelope Tavern, 22 Eaton Terrace. No tickets or entry fee (or BSFA membership) required. The room is open from 6 pm, with the interview starting at 7.

We're big fans of Ms. McDougall's work. If you need further encouragement, here's a bit of what we've said in the past:

"Romanitas is that rarest of beasts: character-driven sf." (Romanitas)

"[Rome Burning] maintains Romanitas' excellent tradition of elegantly-scripted, character-focused SF but also increases the stakes with high-powered political tension, global conflict, operatic romance and dire treachery." (Rome Burning)

"This is a genre ostensibly defined by bravery and imagination, yet it is still only on the rarest of occasions that someone has the courage to break the mold entirely. This is one of those books." (Savage City)

We hope to see you there tonight.

New Releases: Equations of Life by Simon Morden

Equations of LifeEquations of Life is the first book in Simon Morden's Metrozone Trilogy. For those displeased with the industry-standard six-year wait between books, this is your time to celebrate: all three books were released between April and June of this year. God bless you, Mr. Morden.

The scruffy hero of Equations of Life is Samuil Petrovitch, a Russian refugee and post-graduate math (that's "maths", for our British readers) student. He lives in the sprawling London Metrozone: the last city in Europe. And "lives" is a bit of a relative term. Petrovitch's rule is to not get involved. He resides in anonymous housing, keeps his eyes down, has his daily post delivered to a mail drop and gets his email routed through secure servers in Tuvalu. His closest friend is the cook at his local greasy spoon.

Mr. Petrovitch is a survivor, and he keeps to himself.

From what we learn about the Metrozone, those aren't bad tactics. Something happened (in a nuclear sense) that wiped out most of Western Europe, with the fallout taking care of the rest. Japan is... gone. The USA is some sort of fundamentalist freehold, complete with a President for Life. The series takes place two decades after Armageddon, but what actually happened is never - to Mr. Morden's immense credit - fully explained. Equations of Life is about the here and now of Petrovitch, not an infomercial about how his world came to be.

Continue reading "New Releases: Equations of Life by Simon Morden" »

Competition: Are you Supergodlike?

SupergodsWe've got not one but three copies of Grant Morrison's Supergods to give away this week. This is great power, and with it comes great responsibility. In order to make sure these tomes of superheroism get into the right hands, we'll be running a few different competitions throughout the week - here, on Twitter and on our Facebook page.

The first competition starts now...

Grant Morrison is famous for writing himself into his comics. This is perhaps most notable in Animal Man (in which Animal Man confronts his own creator), but, in Supergods, Mr. Morrison writes at length about his personal connection with other characters, such as Zenith (Zenith) and King Mob (The Invisibles).

If you - as you - could live in any comic book title, which would it be? And why?

Rules: We'll pick a winner on Wednesday afternoon. Anyone can enter, but I'm afraid we're only shipping to the UK this time. Like a radioactive spider, we choose our winner based on their heroic potential - the better your answer, the better your chances. Only answers given in the comments below will count.

Graphic Novel Round-up: Cinderella & Northlanders

CinderellaCinderella: From Fabletown with Love (Chris Roberson / Shawn McManus) is, to the best of my knowledge, the first Fables spin-off that isn't written by the series' fairy godfather, Bill Willingham. Cinderella's a good character for it, too. As far as most of the Fables are concerned, Cinderella is just another of Prince Charming's spurned ex's - an innocent Fable running a shoe store in New York. However, she's really one of Bigby's "Tourists", a group of Fable super-spies that scamper around the mundane world, protecting Fabletown from threats magical and mundane.

From Fabletown with Love throws Cinderella into a magical-weapon-smuggling conspiracy, one that ties in to the new influx of Arabian Fables and her own lost past. The plot and its many twists are closely tied to the series to date - although the characters are all minor (or new), the locations and major players all stem from the post-Empire, pre-Dark Ages era of the series. And the story is - structurally - almost perfect. In something reminiscent of The Losers, Cinderella and her untrustworthy allies (like Aladdin) work their work further and further into the layers of conspiracy, eventually finding (and defeating) the criminal mastermind.

Cinderella is a fun, twisty little side-quest in the Fables world. It doesn't, however, ever really strike its own path.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Round-up: Cinderella & Northlanders" »