Saturday, June 03, 2006

It's no Surprise...

I’ve been thinking about conspiracies.

Okay, here’s the thing: the secret’s out. Aliens crashed at Roswell, and the government has been working with the remains, or the survivors, or human-dog-fishbaby hybrids ever since. To make stealth bombers and particle cannons for use in Iraq, or somesuch thing. Everyone knows it, right? Or at least, everyone knows that it either did happen like that, or else if it didn’t a lot of people have got a lot of mileage from circulating the rumour. But by now, we’ve ALL heard the rumour, so if WE have, then so have our characters.
And Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a baby while touring England. The Catholic Church has secret Vatican Documents™ that trace the lineage throughout two thousand years of Templar and Freemason/Illuminati plotting and scheming. They’ve used gold from Solomon’s Temple to manipulate historical figures like puppets on a string. Da Vinci knew about it. He was the secret head of the Society of Left-handed Mirror-Writing Gnostics, and he used medieval alien-wreckage to build the first pedal-powered wooden stealth bomber to put the serious frighteners on Templar head-worshipping goat-fornicating heretics hiding out in an Ethiopian citadel built on the ruins of Black Jerusalem. Or was it a Merovingian citadel in Turin? Anyway, he told Michelangelo about it through the use of cryptic gene-ciphers tattooed on a young paintgrinder’s glans.
Surprised? Of course not. Everyone knows about it. Same as everyone knows that the Anti-Christ is going to be born (or has been born) with a curious mole-pattern shaped like 666 somewhere on his (or her) body. Except it isn’t curious, is it? Because everyone knows about it.
You can’t write horror or SF where the kicker hangs on the revelation of a conspiracy anymore, because we’re all overdone. X-Files saw to it. The Omen saw to it too, and so (now) has The Da Vinci Code. If a story hangs off a big ‘revelation’, chances are readers will have difficulty suspending belief. But not suspending belief in the revelation, but rather suspending belief that a character hasn’t already heard of something like that… er…already.
Which sucks, really, because if you can’t have a character act surprised when they are confronted with the revelation that vampires actually exist, or ghosts, or aliens or whatnot – one of the writer’s tools is taken from the tool-chest. If you do it, you’re just asking more suspension of disbelief(SOD) from your reader than you actually need. The best genre stories should ask no more SOD from the reader than they absolutely require.
We writers all just have to work a little harder and hang our stories off something other than the BIG REVELATION.
I hate those X-File wankers. They all need a damn good flogging with an Opus Dei monk-flail.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I'm a friend of Apex

Apex Publications is holding a weekend-long Memorial Day sale. All copies of Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest will be 25% until the the 30th. All subscriptions are also 25% off.
This means that:
Issue five is only $4.50 US/$5.50 CND/$8.88 International
Subscription rate is only $15 US/$18 CND/$27 International

Get them all at the Apex Shopping Mall.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Information Revolution

Mainline Sequence
Apex Digest online - February 2006

Regular readers of Mainline Sequence should know by now that I like dark spec-fic. Funny that, given the publication preferences of Apex Digest. So it will come as no surprise (unless you've been overindulging in recreational mind-fucks and are now trying to function with the cognitive faculties of a lizard) that I worship the work of Brit spec-fic comic writer Warren Ellis.

Ellis's work appeared in the 90's with one-shots for various UK comics including Judge Dredd and Blast! Magazine, and then later in US titles such as Marvel's Doom 2099. But his tour de force, and arguably the work for which he will be most remembered, was the 1998 60-issue gonzo-punk dystopic saga of rabid reporter Spider Jerusalem: Transmetropolitan.

In Transmet, Ellis rubbed our noses in an exploration of a world where information is everything. Information is at the heart of corrupt government; it results in genetic re-engineering for "alien" cult followers, and utilises attack-cancers and bowel-disruptors which are not just incidental window-dressing spec-fic props, but speak to the perversity of modern techno-sociological trends.

In other words, he holds a dark mirror up for us to see ourselves clearly.

In December 2002, Wildstorm published issue 1 of Ellis's first major post Transmetropolitan project: Global Frequency. The contemporary setting of Global Frequency lends strength from being published in the post-9/11 era. A global network of 1001 ordinary people who each possess an area of specialty are linked by cell-phone to the Global Frequency. The co-ordinating field officer Miranda Zero can bring members of the Global Frequency together to respond to emergencies:

ring ring

"Hello, Mr Stark. You're on the Global Frequency."

And just like that, an ad-hoc team converges to deal with a guy whose head is going to explode into a min-black-hole, or mutant six-million dollar (wo)men, or aliens, or the appearance of an angel. But in between, Ellis's vision deals with real-world terrors (including a terrorist attack on London), and violence, violence violence. The important thing is the idea of the Global Frequency, the idea that information can not only lead to corruption and degeneracy (as in Transmetropolitan), but that it can be used to respond to those things.

Interestingly, I recall reading Ellis's blog in 2003, while he was still working on some of the issues of Global Frequency. He sat in his local pub and uploaded his blog from his PalmPilot via a WiFi connection. It is fitting, then, that this issue of Mainline Sequence is being written on a PalmPilot in my local pub, and will be uploaded via a WiFi connection. Commonplace now. Exotic back then.
Furthermore, Global Frequency was made into a TV pilot by Warner Brothers. When the executives decided not to air the show, a copy was leaked to BitTorrent and the P2P reception was overwhelming.

How fitting.

Each issue of Global Frequency is self-contained, so the plot is tight, the art is hot and immediate, and the issues add up to one of the best convergences of the various skills that go into making speculative fiction sequential art storytelling.
Dark? Yes.
Disturbing? Oh yes.
If you like reading Apex Digest, then chances are you will love Global Frequency. It has recently been re-released as a two-issue graphic novel.
Buy it.
Warren commands you.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Not for Children

Mainline Sequence
Apex Digest online - December 2005

Picture books in modern times have come to be associated with children’s books.

There have always been illustrated stories, right from the time the first cro-magnon slapped her bloody hand on a cave wall after a successful hunt brought a few mammoth steaks back home (I’m assuming a ‘she’ because the guys were likely too busy leaving bloody handprints on each others’ backs and thighs as they slapped each other in congratulations and talked themselves up). “Hmmm,” she thought. “That looks a bit like Og. If I just add a smear here for his head, and another one here for his arm, then…” and so it went. Stone Age Stan Lee or Michaelangelo?

Rudolph Dirk's Katzenjammer Kids, which appeared on December 12, 1897, was the first strip to use sequential panels and in-panel dialogue balloons. Superheroes turned up in 1938 with DC’s Superman, they started getting introspective in the 1960’s with Marvel’s Incredible Hulk and Amazing Spiderman. The 1980’s and 1990’s saw comics go edgy and dark with titles such as Frank Millar’s interpretation of Batman, and Alan Moore’s many works such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and From Hell.

And so on.

One of the titles that helped fuel the X-generation comic renaissance of the 90’s is Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novel series (read: “epic”).

The central character in the series is Dream, one of the seven Endless who are other than gods – they are the embodiments of aspects of existence. Destiny, Death, Destruction, Dream, Despair, Desire, and Delight(Delerium). Dream is captured in 1916 by an occult group, and held prisoner until he escapes in 1988. The consequences of his imprisonment become clear in the course of the 75 part series.

The series ran several storylines, all combining in a grand story arc that left fans wanting more at the conclusion. Gaiman went on to other projects, but has returned from time to time to re-visit Dream of the Endless. One of those returns was Sandman: Dream Hunters (2000), a classic Japanese tale (adapted from The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming) that Gaiman has adapted and absorbed into his Sandman universe.

But the Dream Hunters is not told in sequential panels. It is prose text with magnificent full-page painted illustrations by one of Japan’s premier and most popular modern artists, Yoshitaka Amano. Amano is famed in the West for his work with the Final Fantasy video game series, and his depiction of Vampire Hunter D. The combination of Gaiman’s prose style (developed through writing Neverwhere and stardust) with Amano’s fluid multi-medium illustration, results in a book that delivers a reading experience that can only be described as “sensuous”.

Moving right along, Amano teamed up with award winning comic and novel writer Greg Rucka to create Elektra and Wolverine: The Redeemer (2002) for Marvel. The story is classic: Elektra Natchios plans to assassinate a wealthy and powerful scientist, but is interrupted by the victim’s daughter. Logan is employed to protect the girl by government agents, and the two supremely skilled fighters face off in the streets of new York. The grand finale is haunting.

Both books are more than prose with illustrations: the art helps drive the story on an emotional level, as well as breathing movement and action into the words. But they are also more than standard panel sequences. Amano exhibits internationally, and his talent is a unique fusion of ancient and modern; East and West. The art is sexy, and so the stories become sexy even though one is a fable and the other is a superhero story. But the art is also raw. The primeval handprint can be seen in Amano’s work, and again: the art infuses the text with some of that raw, primeval, energy.

Most of all, both these “picture books” are serious. They are for grownups. They are not for children.

If you like Gaiman, get hold of The Dreamhunters. If you like Elektra or Wolverine, get The Redeemer. Most of all, if you like sensual, raw, beautiful art to infuse your reading, then get hold of both.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

You're not so cock-sure now, Christopher Robin

Results just in from the Apex Digest competition:

Dear Finalist,

I regretfully inform you that your story did not place in the top four and therefore not eligible for publication or prizes. Rest assured, all twelve stories were top-notch, and was the primary cause of the delay in the announcement of the judge panel's decision.

On the positive side, Ben Bova, Jason Marchi, and M.M. Buckner has offered their professional expertise to help expand on your story, if this is something you're interested in pursuing. I'll have contact information for you in the next few days.

I asked Dr. Bova if he'd like to look at one of my short stories and offer advice. The silence was deafening.


Jason Sizemore

I am Joe's SF writer...

I am:
Stanislav Lem
This pessimistic Pole has spent a whole career telling ironic stories of futility and frustration. Yet he is also a master of wordplay so witty that it sparkles even when translated into English.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I actually have a hefty chunk of polish ancestry. My great-great grandmother would be proud!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I'll never write another word.

Why bother?

There is nothing left to write:

Thanks for the memery...

I stole this from Martin Livings' blog:
If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, (even if we don't speak often) please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory of you and me. It can be anything you want - good or bad - BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE.

When you're finished, post this little paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Flux Capacitor

I just constructed a
Flux Capacitor out of a tightly coiled rubber band, and three map pins.

Cool, huh?

Now all I need is 1.2 "jiggowatts" of power...