Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Friday I'm In Love [Review: Delirium]

Delirium is a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver, soon to be a film. It's set in the future, in a religious totalitarian state where love has been identified as a disease: “amor deliria nervosa,” and is eradicated surgically at every child’s coming of age. The blurbsmiths would like this novel compared to “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret “not science fiction” Atwood, so here goes: “Delirium is a bit like The Handmaid’s Tale.” Lena, a teenager approaching the procedure, must challenge her own faith and the version of reality imposed on her by society: Delirium is therefore science fiction.

Actually the scenario is much more reminiscent of the movie Equilibrium, where daily doses of an antidepressant eliminate all feeling, while the surgical “cure” is a crude treatment, taking away much more than the capacity to love, and sometimes failing - not unlike the Capping ceremony carried out by John Christopher’s Tripods.

The plot is unfortunately the weakest link – 100% predictable from the moment Lena sets eyes on Alex, a young man dressed as a security guard but clearly an outsider who should not be present or even exist under the regime. The scenario and characters, on the other hand, are well thought out and executed and the end result is believable and interesting. There’s nothing wrong with the standard forbidden-romance plot – after all, the great playwright Anonymous used it to good effect in her classic science fiction play “Romeo and Juliet” – but I would have liked to see a more original use of such a good backstory.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Watchin' The Ships Roll In [Review: Ship Breaker]

[Old-school clipper Cutty Sark.
Photo: Sci-Fi Gene]
"Ship Breaker" is a short YA novel or novella by Paulo Bacigalupi, the author of the award-winning "The Wind-Up Girl." It's set in the near future in a world where oil has become scarce. Nailer (whose nickname is extremely rude in future-slang) Pima and Sloth are teenage members of a "light crew" who live in shanty towns and make their living by scavenging the abandoned, beached oil tankers for metals and anything else of value. Nailer's talent is for crawling through the exhaust ducts and bringing back copper wire. Far out to sea, new, sleek sailships - the clippers - have replaced the old oil-powered ships and Nailer and his teenage crewmates dream of being rich enough to sail in them.

The first part of the novel is set amongst the shanty town folk where your allegiance to your light or heavy crew matters the most - families aren't so great. Nailer experiences betrayal by a member of his crew, but then makes an extraordinary discovery within the ship - this in turn leads to a meeting with someone from a different background entirely.

In the second part of the novel events lead Nailer and his new friends to a sailship and an apprenticeship and this becomes a naval adventure. The new clippers are fast, hi-tech sailships that can harness both sail and solar power. When conditions are right they can fire kite-like high sails into the upper atmosphere for extra speed, a tactic which also has implications for combat. On the other hand the culture of the sailors is more or less Age Of Sail, with piracy, mutiny, privateering, boarding parties and prize crews very much on the agenda. If this was the first in a series of futuristic naval adventures I personally would be extremely happy to read them.

"Ship Breaker" is short but it's simply a great read from cover to cover. While I loved the setting, this is mostly down to some great characterization - not only Nailer and his friends but all the characters are fully three dimensional. There are the romantic plot lines that seem to be essential to YA fiction but the author handles them with a light touch and so they never overpower the central themes about allegiance and friendship.

[embarrassing mistake corrected 17.4.13]

Friday, 5 April 2013

Soupremacy Screening: Tight Shorts Film Club

NASA may not be sending anyone to Mars any time soon but "Soupremacy" will be screened at the Tight Shorts short film night on April 30th, at the Wenlock And Essex in Islington.

[Update: this screening of Soupremacy did not go ahead due to unforeseen circumstances. I'll post news about future screenings when confirmed]

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Thoughtful Paws

I have been writing The Sci-Fi Gene blog for almost four and a half years. I don't always mark blogiversaries or make serious New Year's resolutions but just occasionally it's worth putting on hold the fame, excessive wealth, groupies and rock'n'roll lifestyle of the modern-day blogger and taking some time to reflect.

2012 was a good year for me as a filmmaker and this has carried on into 2013. Serendipity (possibly my favourite out of all the groupies) played her usual role and many projects I've taken on have grown from some kind of chance encounter. I've had my first festival screening with "2007" at London Independent 2012, and now my second with "We Can Get You Some Really Cheap Gear" at St. Albans 2013. Serendipity was at work again - "Cheap Gear" came about after I accidentally broke the house rules at Kino London, which is worse than Crossing the Streams, almost as bad as talking about Fight Club, but in this case has turned out OK.

It's also been good to return to "Soupremacy" and bring it to some screenings - I think it's OK to say I'm really happy with this animation, and even more happy to see the composer's music out there. More news on this film shortly.

2012 has also been a bad year in some ways. One reason I started the blog was to keep my creative projects on track and place myself under pressure to complete them. That's only been half successful - for all the films that have gone right, there are still two short films from the past few years that I've shot but never completed the edit, and a third project that is still only half done. I've entered my fourth 48 hour competition but despite drawing together a team of incredible people I still failed at the final hurdle and the mess I eventually submitted was a long way from being a film.

So I have to learn that there are things I can do well and things I can't - and use this self-knowledge when planning future teams and projects. It sounds obvious but when you start out as a filmmaker there's a misleading feeling that you can just pitch in and do anything yourself if needed - but actually my best films have come about from collaborations where everyone plays to their strengths.

Meanwhile those unfinished projects are a dilemma - return to them in the distant future, delete them and move on, or focus on completing them now? It's not just about me. Everyone involved in shooting these projects has contributed in so many ways - time, hard work, creativity and skill at the very least. If I don't complete them there's a feeling that I'll be letting down the other participants.

So on into 2013 and there are some plans afoot. I recently completed an animation project for a film crew - but until I know the fate of that film I can't tell you any more. I'm also hoping to make two conceptual music videos this year and I have some other music-related plans as well. As far as the unfinished projects go, I don't think I'll be able to sort them all out so I'll have to choose which ones I'd like to return to - but on a more positive note, I've learnt a lot in the intervening time, and the software I'm using has also grown in strength, so goals which might have seemed impossible in the past are now starting to feel merely stupendously difficult. I will of course be ready for Serendipity if she chooses to help out again.

The best thing about the past year has been getting to so many enjoyable short film events and festivals, and seeing so many different kinds of film. It feels good that my own successes and failures haven't in the slightest dented my love for film.