Worldcon here I come

The preparations have been a year in the making, the countdown began in February when I bought the tickets. Now finally, I have three more sleeps to go before I head off to attend my very first overseas Worldcon. I have been very lucky to have had two local Worldcons to attend, Aussiecon 3 and 4. Aussiecon 3 was my very first science fiction convention, and what an introduction to fandom it was. I was happy to help out and soon was drafted into managing the Hugo ceremony which was one of my best experiences ever.

Ever since then I have gotten into the spirit of volunteerism by helping organise various conventions, club nights and so on, culminating in Aussiecon 4 where I helped organise the dealers’ room. I have derived great enjoyment from being on committees and helping out but to be honest I am really looking forward to this event where I can just be one of the crowd, happy to go with the flow and not miss out on any of the events which I have marked in my calendar.

So I will be hopefully updating this blog a little more regularly than my usual efforts with experiences from my trip and hopefully a few photos (I bought a spiffy new camera just for this trip, hoping that my indifferent photography will suddenly morph into professional quality) and some interesting tidbits along the way.

Don’t worry there won’t be anything profound. I don’t do profound. Next time you hear from me I will be in the sunny state of California, sipping Napa wines by the poolside. Envy me, yes envy me please 🙂

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Outland – an interview with creator John Richards

This interview will also be appearing in the next issue of Ethel the Aardvark, but I thought I would post it here as well in case you don’t read that before the air date of next Wednesday 9.30pm on ABC1

 

Outland is premiering on the ABC on February 8th.  Tell us a bit about the premise of the show.

It’s about a gay and lesbian science fiction fan club. They’ve just split from a larger club and are forced to hold meetings in their homes, revealing secrets the members would rather keep hidden. Each episode is set during one meeting in one location, and it’s more an English-style comedy, similar perhaps to Spaced or The Book Group. The five members of the group all come from different worlds so the science fiction is the only thing they really have in common. Oh, and it’s funny. And it looks great.

The characters in Outland are quite unique for Australian TV.  Are they based on real life people?

They’ve definitely got elements of real people in them! I always approached Max as being me – he’s nervous, he worries about other people, he over thinks everything… and Andy was the person I’d like to be. He may be a sex-crazed leather man, but he’s also the most balanced member of the group and he has a good job. Andy’s the one you’d go to in a crisis. Or Rae. I short-hand Rae as “Monash academic” and she’s like a lot of women I know, and I’d never seen a lesbian character like her shown on telly before. Fab is obviously a version of Adam’s “performance persona” so he came in fully formed – Adam said the other day that Fab is just him when he’s drunk. Toby’s probably the least like someone I know, although some of his dialogue I took verbatim from real life.

Adam and I worked on the characters together, and then they were further developed with Princess Pictures, but Max came first. Actually, even his name is a weird geeky joke – he’s the average guy, the “everygay” so he’s named Max after Max Normal, a character from Judge Dredd.

There are several geek/nerd references in the first two episodes that resonated particularly with me, did you automatically know these or did you have to research geek culture to come up with them?

Everything came off the top of my head except the Stargate references – we decided Toby was a fan of Stargate and I took all the names off Wikipedia. This meant when it came to filming no-one knew how to pronounce them correctly and we’d have to call Narrelle M Harris. She was our “Stargate pronunciation consultant”. But all the Doctor Who stuff was from me and Adam, it was all just there. And the crew joined in as well. In episode 2 you can freeze-frame the open suitcase to see a copy of Narrelle’s book “The Opposite Of Life” and a copy of “Horn” by Peter M Ball, and in episode 1 the cinematographer made sure the real street sign for nearby “Lytton St” was properly lit so there was another subtle Dalek reference. Everyone wanted to make sure the fan elements were constant throughout the series.

How much of the story lines in Outland are based on your own experiences?  Have you personally felt embarrassed about being a science fiction fan?

Absolutely. In the first episode Max is one a date with a not-we and he’s “de-geeked” his house (this moment is also a parody of a gay film cliché in which a gay character removes all his gay paraphernalia because his Nan or similar is coming over – honestly, this series is a teetering tower of references). His date makes a joke about Daleks going up stairs and Max is momentarily frozen by an internal argument about whether he should correct this – Daleks have been going up stairs since Remembrance Of The Daleks – or to let it go. That moment came from real life, I was at a party and that exact thing happened. And the fannish and non-fannish parts of my brain had a fight about whether we wanted to be right or whether to let it go. As fans I think we like to be right.

And I think the gay world was quite dismissive of science fiction for a while, but then the gay world can be quite dismissive of all sorts of things. It seems to have changed now. Weirdly, the gays got on board the same time Doctor Who went heterosexual. It’s a mixed-up world.

Do you have a favourite character in the series?

I love them all, and the actors are all so brilliant. It’s a real ensemble piece so I wouldn’t want to play favourites. Although I’m extremely proud we found Ben Gerrard – he’s an exceptional performer and I like the fact that we’ll be able to say “we found him!” long after we can’t afford to use him anymore.

Outland is based on your original short film.  What inspired you to make the film in the first place?

The short film was made as a pilot, really. The ABC had turned Outland down in script form, but I thought if we made a film and put it into festivals we could come back to them saying “look! People like this!” I was following in the footsteps of SBS’s Wilfred, which was also a short film originally. So I directed it and shot in my lounge room for $500, with a really impressive cast. I think that’s what you need to do now if you want to get a show up.

On a more basic level, with Outland I wanted to put gay characters on screen that weren’t just one-note clichés and I wanted to put fans on screen without them being figures of ridicule. Gays and geeks have always been the butt of the joke; I wanted to make them the heroes.

Will there be a second series?

 I hope so. I’ve got ideas for one, I think we’ll have to see how it rates and how it’s reviewed, I guess. So watch it! And watch it again on iView! And send letters to the Green Guide, and leave comments on the ABC website, and tweet and facebook and shout about it randomly in the street! Actually, don’t do that last bit, that sounds mad.

You co-wrote the series with Adam Richard, who also stars in the show.  Were you tempted to put yourself in the show as well?  How was the collaboration?

In the show? Good lord, no. There was a two-line taxi-driver part I had my eye on but that went – more logically – to an Indian actor (and a very handsome gent, too).

The writing collaboration with Adam changed several times over the series – at first we worked on the pilot script together, emailing it back and forth. Then when we started at Princess we had more people involved so it ended up bouncing around a lot more. Then as the show got nearer – and time was shorter – I took over completely. So episodes 4 through 6 are written solely by me, but Adam would read them and make notes. Then when shooting started it was more important that Adam was learning lines than writing them, so I took over the rewrites as we went along. It was all very organic. And in the read-throughs – and on the set – Adam and the cast would sometimes change lines or come up with alternatives.

It has been a long time between the series being finished and finally being aired on the ABC.  How frustrating has the wait been?

The whole process has been somewhat… um… leisurely. Although I was reading yesterday that Life On Mars took one year longer than we did to go from concept to screen and that was brilliant, so that’s reassuring. The only truly frustrating bit was that the show was finally edited mid-2011 and there just wasn’t room on the ABC schedule to show it! The ABC has really pumped up it’s output of comedy and drama in the last few years, which is brilliant, but it meant there wasn’t any room at the inn for Outland. The truth is only a tiny number of shows get made in Australia ever, so the fact that our show got made at all is a reason to rejoice. It’s also very good, in my humble opinion, so that’s nice too.

Do you have any other projects in the works we can get excited about?

Yes, I have projects in the works you would get excited about but no, I can’t tell you what they are. There’s no point getting you all worked up over something that might never happen, but hopefully one of them might get some development soon. There are two SF-tinged dramas that would be amazing to make, so fingers crossed. Keep watching the skies! Or your television. WATCH OUTLAND!

In the meantime you can always catch me on the television-discussion podcast Boxcutters – http://boxcutters.net/ – or speaking at events like Live In The Studio at ACMI – http://www.acmi.net.au/lis_sex_lies_television_screens.aspx

Note from me – I have seen a sneak preview of the first two episodes and they are absolutely hilarious.  Can’t wait for them to be on tv 🙂

The Almighty Johnsons – why can’t Australia produce TV like this?

Earlier this year at a panel at Continuum, there was a discussion about why Australia doesn’t produce much, if any, SF or fantasy television that isn’t for children.  The consensus was that we have very shortsighted tv execs as both the children’s shows and others have done very well overseas.

So we who love all things speculative must turn to other countries for the type of television we like to watch.  It is usually the United States we turn to, but I recently watched a series produced by our next door neighbours, NZ, called ‘The Almighty Johnsons’.

The premise of the show is the Johnson family, four brothers Mike, Anders, Ty and Axl, are descended from the Norse Gods, who emigrated to NZ a couple of hundred years ago to escape persecution.  Their powers, which appear to them on their 21st birthday, are diluted and only the return of Odin will herald the return of their Glory.

The series begins with Axl’s 21st, where he discovers his god identity as Odin and his quest to find Frig, his goddess, and that when they ‘join together’ all the god’s powers will return and they will ascend to rule again in Asgard.

It sounds really heavy but this is actually a light hearted comedy with very typical Antipodean humour.  I noticed it is currently screening on Australian free to air so I urge everybody to check it out.

There are a couple of really great scenes and the scene where Mike convinces Axl of his godhood by playing paper rock scissors is a classic

The titles are a no nonsense listing of the boy’s names and who plays each character but it is kind of cool.  There is also a bittersweet love story there as well.  Everything a nerdy girl could want, cool Norse god powers, cute guys (did they hire every cute actor in NZ?) and a love story, as well as Nemesis goddesses.  I absolutely loved it and cannot wait for season 2.

The Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge

Well, I am going to do two challenges this year.  Challenge my apathy and the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge.  For those of you unaware of the Challenge please click on this link http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/p/australian-women-writers-book-challenge_25.html or copy and paste it into your browser.

I think the challenge is something everyone can easily accomplish.  We are readers anyway aren’t we?  What is the difference between reading a book in the genre you love if it just happens to be by an Australian female author?  I have a list of a few different books I would like to read, and my friend Lucy Sussex (another fine Australian author) has given me a couple of books to start off my list.

I am going to try the Franklin Fantastic Challenge (why not aim high?) which is to read at least 10 books and review at least 4 of them.  I am also going to try to mix it up with a couple of different genres.  I already have several books on my shelves waiting to be read so there won’t be any trouble in fulfilling that promise I think.  The books I am going to read are the ones below (not necessarily exclusively these but these are the ones I have at hand at the moment)

The Reformed Vampire Support Group – By Catherine Jinks – YA Fantasy

Ruby Blues by Jessica Rudd – Chicklit comedy

The Siren’s Song by Miranda Darling – Crime Thriller

The King’s Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells – Fantasy

Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies by Lucy Sussex – Short Story Collection Fantasy

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres – YA Science Fiction

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood – Crime Historical ( I especially want to read this one before the series starts on the ABC next year)

The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon – Fantasy (I actually think Jennifer is a NZ author but she stays on the list anyway 🙂 )

The Dark Griffin by KJ Taylor – YA Fantasy

Witches Incorporated by KE Mills – Fantasy

Well, the challenge is set and the games begin January 1st, let the reading begin 🙂

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher – Spoilers galore!!

I’m sure there have been many books written from the point of view of a dead protagonist.  That stalwart of chick shows Desperate Housewives is narrated by a dead person, most vampire fiction is from the point of view of the vampire who is, technically, dead.  But I can’t remember a time when I last read a book where the protagonist dies at the end of the previous one and then the next book is from the Point of View of their ghost.

That is the premise of Ghost Story (well it seems obvious now from the title that that was going to be the stor, der!!).  Now I am going to assume that if you are reading this review you are totally caught up on the whole Harry Dresden series and have either already read Ghost Story or are about to and don’t mind me spoiling the ending because that is what I am going to do here so no complaining in the comments!

At the end of the last book Changes, our intrepid hero Harry Dresden, finds himself finally rescuing his daughter and returning to Chicago where he has to hang out on his brother Thomas’ boat because his place was firebombed by the Red Court and no longer stands.  He has finally said to Murphy that they should get together (booyah I say!) and is waiting on the boat for her to arrive when bam! he is shot and falls into the depths of the lake and it all fades to black.  Now Butcher does not out and out say that he dies but it is pretty much implied.

The screams were heard for miles as we had to wait a year for the next installment and Ghost Story is it.  It takes up (we think) where it left off, with Harry thinking he is in Heaven or the other place H E Double Hockeysticks and he is soon disabused of that notion, being told that he has to go back to the mortal plain to find his killer.  The lives of three of his friends depend upon it.  Sigh, a wizards work is never done so of course Harry agrees, I mean, after all he’s been through it would be too much to ask to enjoy his afterlife wouldn’t it?  (Of course that would be a very boring book so no dice there)

When Harry gets to the mortal plain he finds that as a ghost he cannot affect anything except other ghosts, and his magic has deserted him.  Considering that the thing I like most about the Dresden books is when Harry goes all ‘Forzare’ on the bad guys I was a little sceptical that this would have the same impact as the other books.

I do think this is a good book but I think this is more for the true fans of Harry, who like some back story.  I particularly liked where we see some of young Harry and how he was betrayed by Justin.  It satisfied something in me which I didn’t know I was missing.  The action heats up more in the second half of the book when his friends can see and hear him through the help of some magical creations and a couple of people who can naturally hear ghosts.  Then it gets back to some classic Dresden with the wisecracks and the quips flying in the usual style.

There are a couple of pop culture references (usually prevalent but in this instance very pivotal) to Classic Trek and Princess Bride which resonated quite deeply with this particular fan girl so it was comforting to know that Butcher too is a fan boy.

After going on at the top about spoilers, I won’t go into the ending too much, but needless to say that the general ending was pretty much how I thought it would go but the method was all I was missing.  Very entertaining but again a cliffhanger ending.  I have got to wonder just how long this series is going to last.  13 books so far and the story doesn’t appear to be close to ending.  And when is he going to get rid of those swords?  Sorry, now I am just fan girl ranting.

I recommend this book for fans of the Dresden Series.  I don’t know what you would think coming into this fresh without all the background information.  You would most likely be totally lost in the first chapter and give up in disgust.

The Anticipation is Killing Me

Well, I finally got the notice from the library yesterday the Ghost Story by Jim Butcher was ready to be picked up.  I have been dying to read this ever since it has been published but being on a savings kick and only allowing myself a certain amount of dollars to put toward my reading addiction, I certainly could not afford a hardcover edition (not at Australian prices anyway)

So I put my name down for the book at my local library (yay Moonee Valley council – you rock) as they have a great range of SF/F and generally get the latest books in pretty quickly, but shock horror, I was number 5 on the list.  When you multiply that by 3 weeks each person, it is generally a long wait to read it.

Instead of getting frustrated by just going out and buying it, which I nearly did but stopped myself in a dramatic moment online (well it was dramatic for me and I stand by that tale) I decided to reread the series from the beginning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher has written one of the most wonderful Urban Fantasy series I have read in a very long time.  Ever since I picked up the first novel at Borders (back when they had cheap SF and were still open) I have been obsessed with this series.  Fortunately Jim Butcher is quite prolific and there is generally less than a year to wait for the next book.

It is also quite a long series, with Ghost Story the 13th book released.  It is quite a task to go back and reread the whole series and I bogged down at book 4.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying them, but I kept getting distracted by shiny new books that I hadn’t read before, and I kept telling myself that my booking of Ghost Story was ages away so I had plenty of time to get the rest read.

Well, I have it now, and I can’t decide whether to jump to the book preceding it and read that first or just go ahead and start it.  The second one I hear you all calling out, why would you bother rereading something?  The thing is, I read so fast and so many books, that a lot of it doesn’t really stick the first time out.  I do like to revisit books, especially those I loved, and I continually find new and interesting things about the characters and the worlds the author has created.

This has been very much the case with the Dresden Files.  Everytime a new book comes out I find myself revisiting the whole series.  Maybe in this case, the anticipation will get the best of me, plus I only have the book for 3 weeks and if I don’t read it now I will find myself running out of time and not finishing it before it needs to be returned.

That’s it, I’m decided, I am reading it now, anticipation be damned!

Review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Well now I finally understand the massive lines for John Scalzi’s autograph at Aussiecon 4.  I must say that I am a latecomer when it comes to his books.  Before Aussiecon 4 I hadn’t heard much about Scalzi’s books although I had heard his name in passing.  I am not a great reader of Science Fiction per se, preferring the sweeping epics of fantasy or the torrid paranormal romances that are taking over the shelves at the moment.

After starting this blog I started reading a lot of other blogs about reviewing books.  It came to my attention that the majority of these blogs rated Old Man’s War in their Top 10 books.  That grabbed my interest as most of these people had very different tastes.  Another reason it grabbed my attention was that someone mentioned it had been optioned as a movie so I wanted to read it before someone could ruin it by making a movie out of it.

So while browsing my local library I saw a copy on the shelf and immediately grabbed it.  Instead of getting several books at a time like I normally do, I limited myself to just this book so I could have no reason to delay reading it.  (Sometimes I do that, I don’t know why but I often really want to read a book but delay reading it so long I have to take it back to the library because someone else has booked it.  Mine is not to reason why)

I had guests staying with me this week (my parents so you have to be a good host) so my usual reading speeds were well down.  It took me 5 days to finish this book.  If I hadn’t had guests this weekend I think it would have been a single sitting.  I absolutely loved it!  It brought me faith that no matter how many books I read there will always be something good that I have missed.

The premise of the book is that in the future humans have colonised space and have come across innumerable alien species who also want the same planets that humans do.  Earth has been isolated from the rest of the known galaxy by the Colonial Defense Forces.  So the only humans who go into space are from the densely populated countries mostly in Asia.  Those others who want to go into space must go through the army.  There is no lack of volunteers for this army for the simple reason that recruits must be aged 75 and they know that somehow when they join they will be made young again.

The story is in first person from the point of view of John Perry.  It starts like this:

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.  I visited my wife’s grave.  Then I joined the army.”

We follow John’s adventures as he discovers new friends, goes to exotic locales, meets new aliens, and kills them.  John’s experiences throughout his life and his wry outlook on life help him through some very tough moments.

Scalzi’s style throughout this book is quite gentle considering the subject matter.  In one scene, John is experiencing a crisis while fighting another alien species all of one inch tall.  He breaks down after being told to stomp the little aliens to death.  You are so absorbed with John’s suffering you don’t really comprehend that they are basically going Godzilla on these aliens.  Until John points it out.  And then you feel a bit queasy, like he does.

This tale gently moves from his friendships forming, to being in battle, to a final twist which brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.  While it isn’t particularly fast moving at times, that didn’t bother me much as the writing was excellent and the simple interactions between characters was interesting and pertinent to the story.

I recommend this novel for both lovers of pure sf and also those who are interested in stories that favour characterisation.  I am glad I have come to this late as I noticed there are a couple of sequels already published.  I am looking forward to them very much.