Thursday, 28 June 2012

Say you're happy now - once more with feeling

Today's entry may turn into something of rant. For today I wish to touch upon a very delicate, oft controversial topic.


I bring this up because today I discovered that they (the mysterious, amalgam Hollywood "They") are remaking Starship Troopers. This is on top of Total Recall (coming out 29th August in the UK) and RoboCop (no release date as of yet as far as I know). The first thing I noticed here is the disturbing trend - these are all Paul Verhoeven films. And the first thing I want to say here - Leave Paul Verhoeven alone!

Okay, so I'll admit, I'm actually conflicted. First off, the trailers for Total Recall look pretty damn cool. I'm a little disappointed by the fact that there won't be any mention at all of Mars as there was in the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger version because I'm quite fond of Mars as a planet and general sci-fi locale. But because of the lack of Mars, I'm intrigued as to what they're going to do with the film's plot. What is it that Doug Quaid has inside that head of his, eh? In the five seconds of that sentence I came up with a strange idea - are they going to go down a Prometheus-style route, have them discover (on Earth though) some kind of mysterious alien artefact that explains human existence or something like that? Or are they going to run away from that aspect of Total Recall (1990)?

From the look of the latest trailer though (kindly furnished by SFX magazine) it appears that, with the exception of Martian locales, Total Recall (2012) will be a straight up remake. Ish. Again, I'm conflicted. There are elements in the trailer that you can connect straight to the 1990 movie, but the sticking point for me is Mars. Without Mars, this should be an entirely different story. Also, they've cast Bill Nighy as Quato...or, well, the Quato-esque character as they appeared to have renamed him. Either way, Bill Nighy is in this film. I'm going to see it.

Next on the list of conflicted emotions about remakes is RoboCop. Now, the title of this blog is Sufficiently Cyberpunk. RoboCop is quite possibly one of the best existing examples of the cyberpunk genre in movies. It's a classic, a true product of the 1980s, where fear over escalations in the Cold War seemed to produce the perfect mindset for cyberpunk to arise - it was in this very decade that William Gibson wrote the iconic Sprawl Trilogy, the definitive starting point of cyberpunk, a vision of a decaying, dystopian future. A future everyone back then thought they were heading too.

Now the classic 1987 RoboCop wasn't 100% dystopia - okay, so Old Detroit, the movie's primary setting, was a crumbling, decaying cityscape that provided quite a beautifully gritty backdrop for the whole affair. No, the cyberpunk aspect that RoboCop elegantly captures is corporate greed and domination - represented perfectly by Omni Consumer Products and their Senior Vice President, Richard "Dick" Jones, wonderfully portrayed by Ronny Cox. If there was ever a definitive, vile corporate stooge villain, it's Dick Jones.

If the last two paragraphs haven't given it away yet, I love RoboCop. It's an incredible piece of cinema and like I've said, a brilliant, shining example of cyberpunk at work. Which is why I really, really want to say HELL FRAKKIN' NO to a remake. But from what I've read online about it, this isn't going to be a straight remake. It's apparently going to be set in the time between Alex Murphy being brutally murdered by Clarence Boddicker and his gang, taken to the hospital, then built into RoboCop. On some levels, this does sound intriguing - the director, José Padilha - has talked about exploring how OCP stripped Murphy of his humanity, thus turning him into RoboCop.

The other conflict - a similar one discussed about Total Recall (2012) - is casting. First off, we have Gary Oldman as an OCP scientist in charge of the project. This is good - we like Gary Oldman. Second and most conflicting is something of a casting rumour, but if it turns out to be true, I might be broken by this film.

Hugh Laurie as the villain.

Whether he plays it with his native British accent (Hollywood seems to love those British villains) or his gruff, American House accent, I will need to see this film. If the rumours are true. If Hugh Laurie is the villain...well, there's a Futurama meme going around, a picture of Fry, holding a fistful of dollars (yes, deliberate pun), with the words -"The Dark Knight Rises? Shut up and take my money". Confirmation of Hugh Laurie will result in a similar scene from me, substituting The Dark Knight Rises for, obviously, "Hugh Laurie in RoboCop".

It goes without saying that The Dark Knight Rises has already laid claim to my money.

Since I've only just discovered they're going to remake Starship Troopers, I feel no conflict. My precise feeling is "HELL FRAKKIN' NO". Starship Troopers is brilliant. As a kid, it was an exciting sci-fi action film where soldiers went around the galaxy killing massive bug-things. As an adult, it's a glorious satire of military fascism, which makes you giggle about the fact that, as a kid, you were totally rooting for a bunch of fascist, oppressive jerks.

Then some jackass went and made a second film. It was awful. All the satire was dropped. I haven't seen the third film. Not sure I want to. So this is the challenge to the poor unfortunate soul who has dared to even consider remaking Starship Troopers. If you leave out the satire, I don't care if you've faithfully decided to stick to the armoured exoskeletons used in Robert A. Heinlein's original novel. No satire, no monies for you. You got that? Good.

So, to sum up: Total Recall, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and watch you. RoboCop, cast Hugh Laurie and my money is yours. Starship the words of the Alan Rickman cut-away gag in Family Guy - "Do not disappoint me".

Sunday, 17 June 2012

If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, science-fiction writers are its court jesters

Today I'm borrowing the wise words of sci-fi author Bruce Sterling, words I first came across in the foreword for William Gibson's short story collection, Burning Chrome. These have special meaning for me. All through my time studying Creative Writing at university, there was this tiny little struggle - every now and again - to be taken seriously. In fact, for a third year feature article assignment, I pretty much wrote a rant (an eloquent one, I might add), on how it felt to be marginalised in a subject that struggled so valiantly to justify its academic merit.

But today, today is not a rant. No, lately I've found myself in this strange kind of equilibrium, a sense of acceptance of both things outside of my control and feelings that I have. However, today isn't about this either. No, today's random rambling (off to a very nonsensical start), is about something else entirely. It's about writing. Of a sort.

Okay, more than of a sort. See, today's ramble is inspired by this video, made by a dear friend and fellow writer. It was inspired by the very first lines of this video. Because, not only I am a writer, but - shock horror - I'm a big reader too. And I'll be honest, it sometimes really, really surprises me how many writers, how many big names, actually know each other personally. To put into some perspective, take William Gibson (American-born, Canadian-based) and Douglas Coupland (Canadian-born, Canadian-based). I've read pretty much everything Gibson's ever written, while I've only (so far) read jPod (brilliant book, also awesome short-lived TV show), but one of Coupland's many, many works. But it was in the acknowledgments of Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition that I learned that more connected these two authors than Canada. Apparently, coffee was consumed, high above Shinjuku, new perspectives on Tokyo shared that evidently affected what Gibson wrote in Pattern Recognition.

This is, of course, but one connection amongst a sea, nay ocean, of the fundamental interconnectedness that is the universe. Or, as The Slush Pile Project video states, The Writerverse. This is becoming a thing. It's so totally a thing. But back to topic. So yeah, one of many connections in The Writerverse.

So this is kind of a response to my friend's video, to the notions presented about the loneliness of writing and importance of a community (aka, The Writerverse. You got that now? Writerverse? Good). So I'm going to take you all on a journey. I'm going to tell you where all this random crap started. I'm taking you 2004.

It was around here that I twigged. I'd been writing stories, mostly only when they were assignments in school, for years. I loved it, I always had. Every chance I had, I would write a story...sometimes, I would stretch the assignment details to their very limits to write what I wanted to. Once though, my imagination in one assignment culminated in an interesting result - when I was in Year 6 of Junior School (this would've been around 1999-2000), a student teacher taking our class assignment as a creative writing task. She gave each table of students one picture and a back story on what was happening in that picture and they had to write the rest. She came to me, gave me the picture - one I remember vividly to this day. Back then, I didn't get it, but now, seeing it clearly, it was a pair of Israeli riot police and their van. Anyway, she gave me this picture and said "I'm not going to tell you what happened here, you've got such a good imagination I'll let you make up whatever you want."

That kind of faith in my imagination was exactly the kind of thing I needed and over the following years, I found myself writing more and more little stories at home. But something changed, something twisted in 2004. I can't quite tell you what it was, but I know the story that changed everything. It was 15-page short story, entitled The Fallen Angel. It was the first ever story I set on Mars. The year was 2207. The setting was the city of New Seattle, on a terraformed Mars, the main character was Angel O'Neal, a contract assassin.

From here, my writing, my ambitious imagination, it grew and grew. And I had my first taste of The Writerverse, of being a part of a community. I was part of a fan forum for the TV show 24, called 24Natic. Here, in the fan fiction section of the board, I posted my stories - one long, 24-related project and many, many others, completely non-24 related. Original works of mine. People liked them, commented to that effect. The first time my work was truly nurtured by a community. We may have only been fans, occasional dabblers in a spot of fiction about the show we loved, but it didn't make us any less part of The Writerverse, giving each other feedback on our work.

Time-jump to 2007. One of the biggest years of my life. Love and loss, moving away from home, university. It was the first step into a brave new part of The Writerverse. Suddenly, on my course, I was surrounded by like-minds, fellow travellers on this long and treacherous road we weave through The Writerverse, where road metaphors can suddenly give way to faster-than-light travel metaphors, dinosaurs or dragons, depending on whose company you were in.

We were, suffice it to say, an eclectic mix. You had your literary fiction types, people who seemed to be aiming with a massively ambitious cannon at some far away zeitgeist idea they wanted to be the pioneer of. You had your genre fiction people - those who loved certain times in history, or like me, people who loved imagining times to come, visions of what humanity could become in a few centuries' time. And together, we supported each other.

In the three years I studied Creative Writing, my writing grew leaps and bounds. I can honestly say that while I may have been a good writer when I was in school, when I came out of university, I was so, so much better. And this was not only thanks to my amazing classmates, who told me what I was doing wrong, what I was doing right, and for the love of the gods, would I stop making a huge song and dance of how frakkin' hot that holographic girl is with those freaking angel wings! It was the tutors too - those who supported me and those who seemed determined to get me to write anything but sci-fi. Especially the latter bunch in fact. They forged me, put me through a fire, challenged me and made me come out swinging. I'm still a sci-fi writer, they failed to stop me from being that, but by gods I'm damn frakkin' gorram proud of being a sci-fi writer.

But honestly, one of the most important things, what The Slush Pile Project is trying to do, what it will frakkin' well succeed at doing, what really matters when you're a writer, is to have people around you, people to bounce your ideas off and point out things that don't make sense to them. Everything might make sense to you, but if you're the only person it's making sense to, then there's something really, really frakkin' wrong here, kids. And it's that the community, those fellow writers flying around The Writerverse, who can help you.

So not only is this blog me talking about my origins as a writer, it's my unwavering declaration of solidarity and support for The Slush Pile Project. For The Writerverse. Watch the video. Heed the words. Seek out new writers and new imaginations. Boldly go where writers have gone before and where you can damn well make your mark. The Writerverse is ours, but we are most definitely not alone in it. We conquer it together.

Welcome to The Writerverse, children. It's a wonderful place to exist. We hope you enjoy your part in it.

(Song of the Mind: Dissolved Girl - Massive Attack)

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: The Man in the High Castle

Slowly but surely, my massive stack of reading material is going down. I don't think I've mentioned it before, but, well, I have quite the stack of books to get through. My burning desire to get through them quickly stems from the impending arrival, in July (barring any further delays to release), of the boxset of Volumes 1-5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series (in paperback). That's a nice stack of seven books. And I want to read my hardcover, signed copy of A Clash of Kings before the boxset arrives. So, mission to get through my stack of reading.

Now, the other day (/a week or two ago), I treated you all to my thoughts and feelings on Perdido Street Station, the largest book in my reading stack. Since then I demolished a James Ellroy novel (not to be reviewed here, alas, but maybe one day) and, not ten minutes ago, I finished The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

I'll admit, I've only read one Philip K. Dick book before - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And it weirded me out a little. So maybe I was a little hesitant in picking up another Philip K. Dick novel. But numerous friends kept on telling me of the brilliance of The Man in the High Castle, so whenever I wandered into my local bookstore and had a browse, I picked up The Man in the High Castle, read the blurb, flicked it open and gave the first page or two a little read. Eventually, I caved - but mostly on account of the cover, a neat little hardback number in Gollancz's SF Masterworks series. And finally, on Wednesday morning while on the train to Reading to visit my friend Thief, I finally sat down to read the book properly.

So, to those uninitiated, The Man in the High Castle is set around the 1960s, (I imagine 1962, when the book was published), in a world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II. The United States is pretty much in three parts - the Pacific States of America, administrated by Japan, the Rocky Mountain States in the middle, with the Nazi-controlled puppet state of the United States existing on the East Coast. In the Rocky Mountain States is the eponymous "Man in the High Castle", an author of a work of fiction banned by the Reich in all its territories, but popular in the PSA - a work of fiction that describes a world where Germany and Japan were on the losing side of the war.

I have to say, the world-within-a-world idea of the book being about a book that pretty much describes our world was what hooked me. I was intrigued by the post-war world that Dick described - the parallel between what happened here in reality and what is happening there in fiction. Instead of Europe being the buffer zone between the superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union, the Rocky Mountain States are the buffer between the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany, as their former allegiance drifts apart and a Cold War scenario emerges.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, my first experience with Philip K. Dick weirded me out. Just as I imagine that sentence could in the wrong contexts, but moving on. The Man in the High Castle, while not exactly any less weird, was a different kind of weird. An extremely enjoyable kind of weird. Dick brilliantly draws together the characters, painting a broad, strange portrait of American life under Japanese rule (we only ever get to see events in San Francisco and the Rocky Mountain States - the puppet USA is mentioned, as are various political intrigues in Germany), all drifting around their daily lives and somehow becoming entangled by the book within the book. Some more so than others.

I'm reaching that awkward point of wanting to say more, but not wanting to spoil the plot. This is about where I wrap things up. My friends, for all their pestering about this book, can sit smugly knowing that they were right. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it is well, well worth reading. It's a quiet little book, not one that goes around blowing things up and screaming your face, it just gently nudges you, draws you in and  makes sure you can't put it down and have to read it in four days.

Now, on to the rest of my book pile...