Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quantum Of Solace

Down into town yesterday to see the press showing (the first in the world - hey) of the new Bond, courtesy of Mr Kim Newman. Security as usual for these kind of things just below the level needed to get into the MI6 building: gone are the days when you wandered into some basement screening room in Soho, sans credentials, and munched on free crisps and drank free white wine the distributor had laid on in the hope that some kind of print publicity might be generated from the crowd of slightly shabby black-clad cineastes. It's an industrial process now, and the precautions are in place to keep out the pirates. Or so we're told.

The film kicks off in the middle of a car chase and doesn't much slow down or pause for breath for the next hour and three-quarters. Bond is still mourning Vespa, the girl he loved and who betrayed him in Casino Royale, but he's hardened and no longer the callow ingenue. Just as well, as he has a lot of ground to cover, and much action to survive: as far as I could tell, he sat down about twice and never slept (even on a trans-Atlantic red-eye he spent the entire flight standing at the bar in First Class, sipping martini cocktails). The action ranges across Europe, to Haiti and Bolivia, replete with car chases, boat chases, plane chases, and a lot of free running across rooftops, the stunts all good, and never marred by obvious CGI. As well as the traditional transcontinental locations and supersmart Wallpaper* hotels, there's the usual high tech trickery, this time involving turning mobile phones into tracking devices, and a briefing using a smart desktop, and Bond gets to sleep with a girl with the requisite kooky name (that's revealed only at the very end, one of the many nice touches in this smart production) and hook up with a tough and smart girl (Olga Kurylenko) whose personal mission parallels his; in one of the few quiet, human moments in the movie, he instructs her on how to make sure she doesn't mess up the kill she has to make. The plot is, of course, preposterous, but the story keeps everything moving so quickly it doesn't much matter. Speed, not thought, is the essence of these things.

French star Mathieu Amalric very good as the popeyed, snaggletoothed yet corrosively charming villain, part of a secret international organisation corrupting third-world countries for profit. Judi Dench is as usual very fine as M, and Daniel Craig, thoroughly inhabiting the part, has refined his blue-eyed Mr Death stare so it can now burn through a couple of inches of steel. His Bond is tougher than ever, and with little time to waste on quips or hanging about in night clubs or casinos, and has to be restrained from killing just about anyone who gets in his way. In short, this is a smart, tough Bond working in an Age of Terror where no motives are pure. Only a few people get out alive; no one gets out unscarred.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Quiet War, Chapter 9

Sri Hong-Owen and her eldest son, Alder, travelled to Callisto in a small freighter, the Luís Inácio da Silva, that had been fitted with a prototype of the new fusion motor. It cut the record for transit between Earth and Jupiter by two-thirds, a fine demonstration of the Peixoto family’s technological prowess, and an important contribution to their elaborate and extensive sales pitch to the Callistans. Sri had a packed schedule: touring farms and factories and laboratories, meeting with the Callistan Senate and leading citizens of Rainbow Bridge, taking part in a ceremony to mark the first stage of the quickening of the biome’s lake, and so on and so forth. And she wanted to meet the gene wizard Avernus, too. First of all, though, she needed to straighten out the tangled business of the failed attempt at sabotage, the murder of Ursula Freye, and the defection of Macy Minnot, so she made room in her schedule for a meeting with the junior diplomat who seemed to be in the middle of it all.

OMG Hoxton Hipsters Discover Steampunk

And of course they have a shop. And of course it's owned by the son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood (the cultural signifiers are so self-engulfing they look like a Klein bottle trying to swallow a Mobeius strip).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Publication Day

Although it's been on the shelves of Forbidden Planet and available from Amazon for a couple of days now, this is the official publication day of The Quiet War. I'll put up one last free chapter tomorrow, and if you scoot over to my author's page on the Orion site, you'll find a .pdf of an old school Quiet War story, 'Reef', free to download, as well as links to Amazon so you can, if you wish, buy the book. And if you want a first edition hardback, you'll have to be quick: as with so many books these days, the hardback printing run was fairly small (or 'exclusive' as they say in ad land).

Barrington Bayley

Just learnt that British SF's dark star died two days ago. A very fine writer whose work was playfully serious and packed with ideas and an anarchic surrealism that was both mordant and biting witty. He was often called an 'SF writer's SF writer' - much admired, but never achieving the kind of fame enjoyed by people with a quarter of his talent. He was also a consummate professional. Kim Newman and I published one of his short stories, 'Don't Leave Me', in our anthology In Dreams. A wonderful satire on the excesses of academic scholarship, it required extensive quotes from the eponymous track that was the subject of dissection by far-future scholars. Kim and I thought it word-perfect wonderful, but with some trepidation raised with Barry one possible difficulty - he would need to obtain copyright clearance. Barry assured us that it was no problem, and within a couple of weeks had sorted it out, paying for clearance to quote selected lyrics out of his own pocket. As we wrote in our introduction:
'We're particularly pleased to present one of his stories here, because, with novels such as The Zen Gun and The Rod of Light, he is a link between the fine old days of New Worlds' trippy gedanken experiments in literary speculative fiction and the ideological gurus of the current radical SF fringe.'

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Nature Of The Catastrophe

Down to the Tate Modern to see the new work for the Turbine Hall - Dominique Gonazalez-Foerster’s TH.2058. The conceit is that it’s fifty years in the future; a strange and continuous rain has caused sculptures in public spaces to swell and grow, so they’ve been brought indoors; and human refugees seeking shelter from the rain sleep amongst them on ranks of bunk beds, entertained by a mashup of old sci-fi films, and SF novels and other admonitory texts about the future.

The Turbine Hall is a challenging space. The cleverly enlarged sculptures, in particular replicas of a Louise Bourgeois spider and a bright red Alexander Calder piece, lend structure to fill its stark volume, looming over the bunk beds, which are both domestic in scale and, in their repetition, industrial/commercial, like a supermarket storage area emptied by looters. As a narrative framework in which the audience can wander, and invent their own stories, it works well enough - the schoolchildren visiting it were definitely energised by it - but the concept itself seemed somewhat thin and sketchy. Why does the rain make the sculptures grow? Why do they increase in scale and kept their exact form - why don’t they swell or mutate? Where is the human detritus we associate with vast disasters, or the intricate detailing of fully worked futures, as in Children of Men?

Outside, walking west along the river, I saw a maintenance platform beside Blackfriars Bridge -like an amphibious refuge in some global flood, full of human clutter and detail, and life. It’s the last that was missing from the antiseptic tableau in the Turbine Hall. Still, even if it didn't fully engage me, I enjoyed witnessing the intrusion of a possible future into this public space, if only because I have a professional interest how it will stimulate discussion of SF tropes.

Also seen: copies of The Quiet War in the wild - in Forbidden Planet. Reader, I signed them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Quiet War, Chapter 8

Macy rode a tram into Rainbow Bridge, got on another tram and rode across the city, and took the escalator down into the free zone, floating on a mixture of anger and anxiety. As she moved through shadows and neon glow towards the bar, Jack Frost, passing people dressed for every kind of carnival, a tall figure wrapped in a red cloak and wearing a fox mask stepped out of a passageway and caught her arm and said, ‘She isn’t there.’

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Creaking Hinges Of The World

Coming to the end of the ongoing, I'm able to slack off this weekend, for the first time in over a month. More work yet to be done, but the end is in sight. Here in London we've enjoyed beautiful autumn weather, warm temperatures and clear blue skies, and leaves tumbling down on mild breezes. Out and about on Friday evening, in my home patch, where many City workers live, restaurants and pubs were packed with suits charged with the desperate exuberance of soldiers back from the front. On Saturday, a ramble around Hampstead Heath, the breeze so slight only one person was attempting to put up a kite on Parliament Hill, and then down the hill to Camden, and Marine Ices (best ice cream in London). And today the local park was crowded with people, some shirtless, enjoying the sunshine, as people did in in the glorious August of 1914, before everything changed.

Autumn is my favourite season. You can feel the hinges of the world begin to turn, as the year winds up. Everything is changing; everything seems charged with potential. Especially now, when, thanks to the suits and the quants, the great engine of hypercapitalism has blown its valves and pistons, and everything is up in the air, and every kind of future is at hazard. Crisis frees the mind from habit. What better time to be a science fiction writer?
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