Thursday, 30 August 2012

"Soupremacy" screening: Kino London

My animated music video for "Soupremacy" by David Novan will be on the big screen at the Kino London short film night on 14th September. Kino has moved to a new venue: the Horse Hospital near Russell Square. It's not a hospital and there are probably no horses. However there will almost certainly be popcorn.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Stepping Out [Review: The Long Earth]

Step Day: the day a blueprint for a potato-powered circuit is released onto the Internet and everything changes. Thousands of people construct their own device and instantly vanish, travelling “east” or “west” along a chain of Earths in parallel universes. The chain may be endless, and although it’s full of life there are no signs of humanity anywhere. The ease of stepping, at least for most people, creates a land rush and a lawless frontier society as humanity expands into the Long Earth.

Two travellers – Joshua Valiente, a human with a natural ability to step, and Lobsang, a computer who claims to be a reincarnated Tibetan, set out on a journey that will take them over a million Steps to the west. Along the way they meet other Steppers, explorers and colonists, and discover more of the secrets of the Long Earth multiverse. Joshua is ambivalent about humanity, drawn to silence, needing human contact but shy and awkward up close. Lobsang is another HAL 9000 or GERTY, human-ish and apparently caring but alien and difficult to trust.

The Long Earth is the first, much anticipated collaboration between two of science fiction’s greatest living authors, Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett. This would be exciting enough, but this is no licensed novel in a franchised series – both writers have put their heads together to create something newer. Of course the idea of parallel universes itself is not new, science fiction writers have been exploring it for a long time. I've already reviewed Iain M. Banks’ recent novel Transition; also Pratchett and Baxter have both been there before. It’s fair to say that The Long Earth shares themes with Baxter’s Manifold novel Origin. However I don’t recall reading a novel that deals with colonization of parallel universes in this way.

The novel occasionally feels like the result of a brainstorming session, and indeed the authors did hold such a session at a sci-fi convention along the way. Some interesting limits are placed on Stepping – the device will only work for the human who completed its construction, suggesting that it may have a psychological or metaphysical mode of action. The chain itself, with only two directions of travel, instantly makes the whole concept easy to grasp. Iron cannot be Stepped although iron compounds such as haemoglobin seem to be OK – so every new colony has to set up its own foundry, and guns cannot be transported, at least for about ten minutes until humanity solves that particular issue. This seems to serve as a way of slowing the rate of colonization on each new world, and creating a more interesting narrative.

The Pratchett influence is more subtle, although the characters are very much in his style. I didn’t pick up on any obvious references to Discworld. However, while most parallel Earths are only slightly different from the last, each Step bringing gradual changes in the geography, evolutionary outcome or climate, there are occasional outliers where anything goes – a world dominated by tall forests, a crocodile-infested waterworld, etc. These acquire the name Joker Worlds - as a fan of Pratchett’s early sci-fi novel The Dark Side Of The Sun, this makes me happy.

Friday, 24 August 2012

“We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear” Screening: Braine Hownd

 “We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear” is up for a screening at Braine Hownd Film Night, September 4th at the Hideaway, near Archway. In addition to a great selection of short films the line-up also includes a premiere of Braine Hownd’s own sitcom pilot “Off The Charts.”

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" Competing For Shooting People Film Of The Month

"We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" is an entry in Shooting People's Film Of The Month contest. In the final round, the top 5 films will be judged by Plan B but the first round is a public vote - if you liked it, please visit, vote and share. As an incentive, if we make it to the final round then I promise to make the sequel ;)

[Post script 24.8.12: We didn't make the final round so plans for a sequel have been shelved for the moment. Congratulations to the finalists]

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Sci-Fi Lies and Butterflies [Review: The Metalmark Contract]

An alien parks his spacecraft in orbit and makes contact with humanity. His arrival creates tension amongst the politicians and divides nations and religions, while scientists try to make sense of his message and his seemingly generous offer.

Year after year, sci-fi novels and films keep on re-writing this story of our first contact with an intelligent alien. Do they declare outright war, as in War Of The Worlds or Independence Day, or try to conquer us by stealth, as in The Tripods, V or Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers? Might benign aliens make contact in order to share knowledge or guidance, like Klaatu and Gort, or the broadcasting intelligence in Contact? Or perhaps they’d rather wait mysteriously for us to come to them, as in 2001 or Rendezvous With Rama.

What’s clever about the cagey Metalmark is that he could be any of the above. When he makes first contact, he appears in the guise of a slick, human-like salesman offering a win-win trade of tech for resources: a little of your Solar System, and in return the stars. He’s also a pacifist and an enthusiastic student of human culture, particularly that of the US – but he’s smarter than he appears, and he’s holding back one or two key pieces of information, not least his own, alien nature. Taking the name of an endangered butterfly is a literal and also metaphorical clue to his identity, as well as a cryptic message intended for one of the characters.

The Metalmark Contract is written by NASA astrophysicist David Batchelor and is the first in a planned series. The plot takes in national and international politics but focuses on mild-mannered scientist Dr. Steve Simmons: I’m glad about this because Simmons is a good, believable hero, and much of the science feels plausible too. Other plot strands are less strong: I’m not sure I’m quite as convinced by Simmons’ possible love interest, translator Ilana Lindler, nor by the many politicians who also figure. To be fair, it’s hard to write convincingly about the corridors of power – The West Wing and The Thick Of It are very rare examples.

Another subplot concerns terrorism – when Metalmark appears to endorse a Christian leader there is a backlash led by a fundamentalist imam. I’ve got no objection to generic Islamist terrorist bad guys, but I don’t buy the entire Arabic world uniting behind this sort of leader. It’s much more likely that huge divisions would open up between different states. There are hints that this conflict might actually be engineered by Metalmark, which would make more sense.

I think the most enjoyable aspect of this novel is that there really is a puzzle to be solved, and a race against time to solve it. There’s a skillful drip-feed of clues about Metalmark’s body, or what he might want with Mercury and Triton, and even at the end of the book only a little of the solution is revealed, so there are plenty of unanswered questions to drive the sequel.

Available as paperback or e-book.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Olympics Brick By Brick

A friend visiting the Olympic Stadium earlier this week was extremely impressed. Why? "The audio-video equipment is something terrific - I saw cameras which I've never seen before." Admittedly he is a photographer but he has a point. The quality of the BBC coverage is one of the real success stories of this Olympics.

Over at The Guardian's website, meanwhile, Olympic highlights are being broadcast in a different way - through the medium of Lego. Usain bolts:

and Aly and friends fly to success:

Warning: may contain adverts. Go to the website for the full Brick-By-Brick series, including a cool timelapse of the set construction. Amazingly, apart from the sets, they are being produced within a day of each event. There's also plenty of humour: look out for Phelps' high protein diet, and who has sneakily managed to get tickets for the gymnastics?

Monday, 6 August 2012

FILMSshort results

Congratulations to the FILMSshort winner Ali Asgari for Tonight Is Not A Good Night for Dying, and to runner-up Leo Burton and team Devils Tower Social Club for Paul's Meditation - a completed film from this year's SFL48! You can see both on the FILMSshort website, where you can also find a collection of some  of the greatest shorts from the festival scene.

Of the other entries, I personally loved this fashion short - La Prochaine Fois by Duffy Higgins and John Jaxheimer. Manon des Sources meets Groundhog Day with some stunning camerawork and editing.

La Prochaine Fois (The Next Time) from A76 PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.