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Pornokitsch: That was 2014...

ChampersOur annual look into the mirror. Not that this is any way about narcissism. No. This is about the historical record and perserving valuable data and uh. Whatever. US. ALL ABOUT US.

By the numbers:

Total posts: 348

Books reviewed: 97 (excludes Friday FivesPost-Scripts and list posts)

TV shows, films and comics reviewed: 60 (also excludes Friday Fives, Post-Scripts and lists)

Eerily, although the total number of things reviewed is almost identical as 2013, the proportion of book/non-book reviews has changed in favour of the latter. That's due to Anne, Jon and Mahvesh. And Jared slacking.

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Happy New Year! & Jurassic London Giveaway

Ring in the new year with some free books from Jurassic London!

New Year GiveawayPut to Silence by Rose Biggin (US / UK)

Four Seasons in the Floating World™ by Jesse Bullington and Molly Tanzer (US / UK)

The Kiss by Kim Curran (US / UK)

Black Paintings by James Smythe (US / UK)

Stocking Stuffer 2014 with Becky Chambers, Erin Horáková, Richard de Nooy, Paul Ford, William Curnow and Rose Biggin (US / UK)

Pandemonium: The Rite of Spring with William Curnow, S.A. Partridge, Rose Biggin, Martin Petto and Esther Saxey (US / UK)

Pandemonium: Big Jim's Shadow with Archie Black, Martin McGrath, Damien Kelly and Stuart Suffel (US / UK)

The Brick Moon by Edward Hale, with an afterword from Marek Kukula and Richard Dunn and a new story by Adam Roberts (US / UK)

Lost Souls, a complete anthology of reprinted and 'remastered' fiction, featuring stories by Stephen Crane, Robert Chambers, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and almost two dozen more, including original fiction by David Bryher and introductions by the editors (US / UK)

All of these are free on Amazon today and tomorrow (31 December and 1 January). Fill your boots!

An Amazon wishlist of all nine is here. And a complete list of all Jurassic London's 2014 publications can be found here

Fiction: "Chrysalis" by Becky Chambers

Stocking Stuffer 2014I didn’t take it seriously when she told me. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked, over mac and cheese and broccoli. It was the only way I could get her to eat vegetables — slathered in sauce until the green was a distant concern. 

“I want to go to space,” she said. 

“A pilot,” I said. “Cool. You know, your great-aunt was a pilot. She took tourists up and down.”

“No,” she said. “I want to be an Explorer.”

I stopped chewing for a moment. “Do you understand what that means?” I asked. Noncommittal. Unfussed.

She looked at me, that same wise stare she had first greeted me with as they cleaned blood and fluid from her hair. “Yes,” she said.

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Completing Dahl: Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety

Here we are, at the end of December. This will be the final installation of my Roald Dahl series, as I have completed my mission. I’ve now read everything he wrote (that can be found—never got a hit on his play). It’s hard for me to believe it’s been a year since I first wrote about “The Sword,” and “Smoked Cheese,” but there it is. Before I wrap things up with Roald Dahl’s Guide To Railway Safety, however, I think it would be a good thing to look over the past year and take stock. There have been ups… and there have been downs. But it’s been a thrilling ride. 

I’d read quite a lot of Dahl’s writing before this year, of course—but delving into his more obscure titles has given me so much of a deeper sense of him as a writer. His more obscure short stories gave me insight into his weirder, more experimental side. Going Solo showed me how Dahl wrote about himself as a man, not a boy—and how many more of his stories than I realized were drawn from his life experiences. His flying stories made me aware of just how much he loved flying, his cookbook how much he loved food—not just chocolate, which he is naturally most famous for adoring.

GuideDuring the last year, I’ve seen Dahl at his worst (...gremlins...), but I’m happy to say that over the course of this project, I’ve also seen him at his best. To that end, let me say I’m ever so thankful that I decided to save Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety for last, instead of Two Fables. Two Fables… well, I made my opinions clear last month. I have no mixed feelings about the Guide

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety (1991) is a slender booklet, and the inside front cover tells us that “British Railways Board asked Roald Dahl to write the text of this book, and Quentin Blake to illustrate it, to help young people enjoy using the railways safely.” It was published by the British Railways Board. But the Guide… it is so much more than a booklet to help young people not get run over by trains. Yes, it contains advice such as “NEVER NEVER NEVER STICK YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE WINDOW OF A MOVING TRAIN” and “NEVER GO ONTO A RAILWAY LINE. NEVER NEVER NEVER” with appropriately gruesome illustrations by Quentin Blake. But more excitingly to me, it begins with a series of philosophical musings on the nature of writing, reading, and travel.

“I have a VERY DIFFICULT job here,” the Guide begins.

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2014 in comics

SabrinaThere have been a lot of good things about 2014 in comics; mainstream US (superhero) comics became more deliberately diverse than ever before, though mostly at one publisher and still not to anything like a great enough degree; Image comics announced their most ambitious line-up ever at the Image Expo in January many of which turned out to be worthy hits; Archie’s unexpected excursion into adult stories and horror paid off for them in the form of more visibility than the brand has had in years; DC finally began to break the artistic mould (or as some would see it straitjacket) that had defined their line since the launch of the New 52 and publish series that at least tried to be different. It was also of course yet another year where comic-based material dominated other media; most notably film and TV.

On the other side of the scales: there’s the wealth of the other stuff DC continues to pull, including their inexplicable decision to dumb down and sexism-up Wonder Woman, the erosion of everything that used to make Batwoman strong and interesting to the point where she’s recently become a vampire's mind-controlled girlfriend just ahead of the cancellation of her title; and the licensing of those kids’ clothes (oh, and these); though Marvel also did some stupid stuff, like the Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover and the ongoing ‘thing’ about minimising the Fantastic Four to deprive Fox’s upcoming film of Marvel-generated visibility. And was it this year that Dynamite published the graphic ‘comedy rape’ panel in Game of Thrones? Yes, I think it was.

There’s no point even attempting a ‘best of the year’ list, because I obviously didn’t read everything. So these are just some highlights and lowlights - it's all quite mainstream, but that's how I'm feeling at the moment.

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Friday Five: 5 Awesome Avengers Alliance Allies

LatestWe're a teeny bit obsessed with Avengers Alliance - the super-popular Facebook-based fightin' game based around Marvel Comics. (It is now on iOS and Android as well, and therefore inescapable.) It is half-tactics, half-click-farming, as the player takes on the role of a SHIELD agent and, with the help of various Marvel characters, beats the crap out of villainy. 

The game is now 3 years old and has a mythos as elaborate as the Cinematic Universe - indeed, it has its own SDCC panels, with thousands of people eagerly awaiting clues over which C-list character or alternate costume will be revealed next. The game actually links in to the MCU, with special updates and missions that are clearly hand-wavey homages to the latest movie releases - including those from Sony and Fox, as well as Disney. Plus there's PVP and time sensitive special missions and bonuses and side-games and and limited edition weaponry and and and... Basically, the game is a crafty, evil technology that is sucking in time and dollars from millions of people around the world. If the whole thing goes meta and turns out to be a plot by Doctor Doom, we wouldn't be that surprised. In fact, we'd probably send him a thank you note.

Anyway, one of the reasons we love the game is that the game is clearly developed by GEEKS LIKE US(tm) who also love the Marvel Universe - including incorporating hundreds of silly backlist heroes and minor villains into the roster of playable allies.

We've each selected five of our favourite evil-punching sidekicks. Maybe not the best ones, but certainly the ones we're enjoying the most.

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Friday Five: 8 Extreme Last Minute Gift Ideas

ReadingpenguinFor the literary activist - Membership to English PEN. Terrific organisation, that supports free speech, works in translation and wonderfully diverse literary activities. You'll get invited to neat events and you get lots of goodies in the mail and you're part of a great cause. £50/year or a rather ridiculous £10 for those under 26.

For the vintage design lover - join the Penguin Collectors Society. Founded in 1973, the PCS obsesses over old Penguin books - the type, the logo, the quirky stories. They produce their own (absolutely gorgeous) publications, swap meets, lectures and exhibitions, and a regular journal that is packed with fun-facts and kitschy charm. A £30 membership fee, and worth it for the publications alone.

For the creative futurist - a subscription to Hack Circus. A quarterly magazine filled with... lateral insights into technology, with a focus on the surreal, improbably and inspiring. For non-fiction, it stretches the imagination in every possible way. Plus, regular events, a podcast and an email newsletter. Currently on sale: a year's subscription is only £16.

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Poking at Awards: WFA, BFA and BSFA changes

Yay genre!Tis the season for nominations! I've been keeping an eye on some of the genre awards and, as I haven't seen any discussion elsewhere, I thought it'd be worth pulling this together in one place.

World Fantasy Award

Not a rules change as much as a quiet modernisation: all five of this year's judges accept either pdf or mobi submissions. Hard copies are still preferred, but this is still a major - and welcome - change. Awards that insist on physical copies are, even without formal submissions fees, quietly discouraging small presses and (not so quietly) self-published authors - who may not have the operating funds to gamble on a prize submission. Also, in some cases, physical copies may not even exist.

Whether a formal or a de facto rules change, this is long overdue (and much appreciated).

British Fantasy Awards

If you're a BFS member and you've received issue 13 of the BFS Journal, it contains the results from a recent survey of the membership. There were no questions specific to the awards, but a few that helped reveal the make-up of the society. For example, when asked what sort of speakers people would prefer at events, authors (34%) came out on top, and independent publishers (29%) pipped mainstream publishers (27%). The British 'indie' scene was also mentioned in some of the responses. Many of the other comments - both positive and negative - were about the BFS as small or tight-knit community.

There were also several comments from both new and established members that approved of the BFS' shift to be less horror-focused.

I only mention all of this in regards to the awards. The BFA is a society award, so the answer to "who is this award for?" is "the members of the BFS". The prize's tradition of (at the risk of sounding tautological) "Britishness" and an over-abundance of small press shortlistees would seem to be supported by the membership.

Another slightly Awards-related article in the Journal is a round-table interview with previous BFS Chairs, including several enlightening references to the 'high melodrama' (to quote Ansible) of late 2011. As far as I know, this is the first(?) public statement from the Chair/Awards Admin (pro-tem) of the Awards before they were radically reformatted in early 2012.

Below the jump we get to the 'big' one - the BSFA rules changes.

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Everywhere Else

MultiversityAnother round-up of the links that caught our eye (plus, where some of the Pornokitsch contributors have been hanging out away from here).

"I get off on taking money for making up daft analogues of existing characters, like 'Spore' instead of 'Spawn', 'Major Max' instead of 'Captain Marvel', or 'Doctor Nemo' instead of 'No-Man'...These are twice-removed analogues — copies of copies — where something like Busiek’s Captain Marvel stand-in, the tuxedo-wearing Gentleman, becomes Earth-34’s L’il Abner-lookin’ Good Guy. Where Rob Liefeld’s Wonder Woman knock-off, Glory, turns into Earth-35’s Majesty, Queen of Venus and so on. Riffs upon riffs of riffs. It’s like guitar feedback." - Grant Morrison being extremely meta, but The Multiversity sounds awesome.

"Under the Radar: The Books that Pinged" - another best of year list from Justin, Mahvesh and Jared, this time focusing on books that might be overlooked (and what might cause that sort of thing).

Did you know that Tom at Freaky Trigger is writing about every single UK #1 single? It is... rather spectacular. Here's ATB's "9 PM (Til I Come)" as a sample.

Anne and Jared were both guests at The Book Smugglers' Smugglivus - Anne highlighted some of her favourite 2014 covers and Jared picked out some of the SF/F community's 'hidden heroes'.

New York Times obituary of Sy Berger, who created the modern baseball card. Really neat history of the collectible.

"Books that aren't pretentious crap" - a reading list from Drew Magary.

"I think that the hardest part of starting out is being afraid of making the wrong decisions or choices.  From where I am now, I feel that there are no wrong choices - just different right ones.  Make a decision, and then react to it.  Move forward, don’t get stuck second-guessing yourself.  Turn your choices into the right ones by your actions and commitment to being the best you can at what you are doing.  No one can tell you if you are going to be a success or make it, all you can do is put in the work and not let your brain drag you down while you are doing the best you can at the moment." - Jeffrey Alan Love has advice for starting illustrators

Molly Tanzer's "Herbert West in Love" - a free short story in The Lovecraft eZine.

Patrick Ness on Midnight in Karachi.

"The Walking Dead’s producers go to great lengths to portray what a zombie apocalypse might be like. They are especially keen to show us the nasty bits: what it really looks like when dead people don’t die, what it looks like to kill the undead, and the evil it spawns in those left alive. It’s gruesome. The show is a gore orgy. But armpit hair on women? Apparently that’s just gross." - Realism vs Gender ideology: women in apocalyptic fiction shaving their armpits

7 Deadly Sins: The Best Earworm Pop of 2014

When writing about music from 2014, it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that you just hate it all. And that’s fine - a lot of it was really, really bad. There were also some really cool releases from people like St. Vincent, Damon Albarn, Beck, The Black Keys, but the smart, thoughtful music is never the stuff that plays everywhere and is heard by everyone. No, that's the lethal stuff, the earworms that make you sing along and chair dance before you’ve even worked out the name of the song.

The obvious earworms for 2014 were by Beyonce, Pharrell and "Let It Go", but they weren't the only ones. Here are a few of my own favourites (or... at least the ones I found wormiest) from 2014. I do not claim they are all fantastic pop songs - only that they dig their long sparkly highly manicured nails deep in your brain. 

So here they are, my 2014 ear worms, in no particular order. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course Tay-Tay goes first.

Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"

Taylor Swift Shake It Off on Vimeo

Taylor Swift and the Cult of the Awkward White Girl, they called it. Taylor Swift the Hurricane, they said, as she stormed up the charts with "Shake It Off", the first single from her fourth studio album, and the very first to be overtly stated as a pop album. The country super star had been a crossover hit before but never like this. And finally, all those thinly disguised confessional lyrics from her previous albums gave way to a cool, pure, from-the-heart bird-flip to everyone who ever made fun of Taylor Swift, while drawing her fans in closer than ever before. This isn’t Taylor lashing out in anger or resentment, this is Taylor beyond anger and resentment, this is Taylor rising above, while accepting that America’s sweetheart is a great big goof and it’s okay

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