Thursday, 30 October 2008

Women and children first!

Just started reading "Lifeboat" by Gordon Dickson and Harry Harrison. I may have to review my opinion of the former writer - first chapter engages the reader effectively, introducing a society where a ruling class expects automatic, hypnotic obedience from the underclass; and setting up a claustrophobic life-raft environment following a disaster. I will send updates from this universe - hopefully it will live up to the promise of the first chapter.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Magician, Fourth Class, of the Night Watch

Night Watch is the first in a fantasy trilogy by Sergei Lukyanenko, translated from the Russian. The forces of evil have signed a truce and each side made arrangements to keep watch on the others and enforce the truce; the Night Watch is the good magicians etc. keeping tabs on the bad sorcerers and witches, and vice versa. Here are the IMDb links: and There's a third book, Twilight Watch, which may yet be filmed.

Night Watch and Day Watch have both been filmed by Timur Bekmambetov - and are absolutely bonkers, high energy experiences. Both films feature imaginative and utterly mad driving sequences (the Night Watch race across Moscow in a dump truck; the Day Watch witch Alicia drives a sports car along the sides of buildings etc.) The characters appear to be deliberately unfashionably dressed, a relief after the incessant product placement of, say, the Matrix or Bond series. However I could be wrong - this may actually reflect Moscow fashion. The films take elements from the books but tell slightly different stories, with different endings, and there are elements from the first two books in both films. Incidentally if you are watching with subtitles these are animated dramatically rather than just appearing at the bottom of the screen.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Virtual crime

I was going to write a review of Charles Stross' novel Halting State, a crime thriller that begins with a police team being called to investigate the theft of virtual goods from a MMORPG, when I read this recent story on the BBC website. You've probably seen it there or in the papers by now.

"Woman in jail over virtual murder.

"A woman has been arrested in Japan after she allegedly killed her virtual husband in a popular video game. The 43-year-old was reportedly furious at finding herself suddenly divorced in the online game Maplestory. Police say she illegally accessed log-in details of the man playing her husband, and killed off his character. The woman, a piano teacher, is in jail in Sapporo waiting to learn if she faces charges of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating data. She was arrested on Wednesday and taken 620 miles (1,000 km) from her home in southern Miyazaki to Sapporo - where her "husband", a 33-year-old office worker lives."

It's the 5-year sentence that makes this a serious story - in the UK you can still kill someone by dangerous driving, or under other circumstances falling short of murder, and receive a less severe sentence than this. Suspension of disbelief is sometimes necessary in the real world too.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Search for the sci-fi gene

I enjoy watching bad films.

I am sure I am not alone. For a start the films are out there - for every Escape from New York there are only too many Escapes from L.A. - so someone other than me must also be watching them.

I am increasingly convinced that the ability to sit through and enjoy these films may be a genetic flaw. It's not limited to film either but works for other media too - I inherited my interest in science fiction from my father and his collection of C.J.Cherryh (good) and Gordon R.Dickson (less good) paperbacks. Sometimes it's hard to put into words exactly what I'm getting out of a novel, watching a film or a TV show, or playing a PC game - the enjoyment is often accompanied by full awareness that the experience carries no merit whatsoever. My hypothesis is that there is a gene, the sci-fi gene, where inheritance of two deletions prevents the linkage between critical thought and emotional response to a film.

I should add I enjoy good films, books or games too - sci-fi or otherwise. There are plenty of sci-fi classics that really deserve their reputation even if they are only recognized within the genre. Terminator. There are also plenty of films that have some merit despite their shortcomings. The Star Wars sextet reminds me of a fireworks display. Some films have a great concept and may be worth watching despite serious deficiencies in acting or direction - Sim0ne, say; while others are inexplicably joyful. I am proud to be the owner of Spiders, Spiders 2, Octopus and Octopus 2 all in one box set.

I'm not looking for a cure for this affliction, but think the phenomenon merits further study. I'd love to hear of other people with unusually high tolerance for absolute crap delivered in a sci-fi wrapper.

Why a blog? In addition to reviews, occasionally I find myself thinking about the nature of sci-fi, sci-fi concepts and life itself, or I may share experiences of marginal relevance to sci-fi. It all makes sense to the holistic detective within me. When reviewing I sometimes find it helpful to compare books or films, this doesn't easily lend itself to a one-title review system. I'm writing for the pleasure of writing, and because I enjoy reading other articles and blogs on these topics.