Casual Fridays: A Big Week

First of all, I know I said I wouldn't do any more promotion, but it took Asimov's a couple of days to get the link to me.  You can now read the whole of my BSFA Award-nominated novelette 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' online as a PDF file.  I hope you enjoy it.

It's been a serious work week, which is good, in that I was starting to pace and frown a bit, having had only back burner projects to pick away at while I waited for notes.  But now they've arrived, and I'm pushing hard to make deadline on a new draft of the novel, Cops and Monsters.  The book, several months ago, first benefited from some truly life-changing structure notes from editor Julie Crisp.  Now, with Julie on maternity leave, I'm being delighted by similarly awesome line notes from Bella Pagan.  These typically consist of pointing out where a paragraph has become too dense, where I need to slow down and lay out what's happening more carefully.  It's the voice of the reader, anticipated.  I'm very much in tune with what I'm being asked for, and the rewrite is proving pleasurable.  (And I've nominated both ladies for Hugo Awards.)  From here, the book goes to the legendary Peter Lavery, for his line by line editing, something I'm looking forward to.  This is actually what you're buying when you purchase a book from a major publisher like Tor: all that expertise.  I feel I'm in the home strait now, sprinting for the finishing line of what's been an ambition of mine for many years.

I also this week am plotting something in an entirely new medium for me, alongside an old friend, and managed, before the notes arrived, to put some more work in on the latest Jonathan Hamilton novelette.  I've done some Saucer Country writing today too.  Ryan's been delighting me with some very scary pages in my inbox.

On Monday, I popped back to Faringdon, to record my first ever audio reading, of 'The Sensible Folly', the story I wrote in support of the Folly Trust, who look after my old hometown's tower on the hill.  I was very pleased with the fifteen minute reading we ended up with, and you guys will get to hear it soon.

On Wednesday, I went to see Christopher Priest be interviewed by Paul Kincaid at the BSFA open meeting, the first at a new venue.  Which could turn out to be the last there, because the bosses of the pub chain decided to gazump the cellar for their own meeting, leaving our greatest living author of the fantastic waiting for an hour past his advertised start time.  Chris was calm about it, and talked with the elusiveness one might expect about The Islanders and his long career.  As long time readers will know, he's my favourite author in any genre, and I was pleased to be able to have a quick few words with him afterwards.

This coming weekend I'll be with Big Finish, attending the recording of the new audio version of Love and War, to mark Bernice Summerfield's anniversary, with Lisa Bowerman, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, and a great guest cast.  Jac Rayner's provided the wonderful script, which I've mucked about with just a little.  It's very faithful to the book, with a couple of neat reimaginings on Jac's part.  I'll blog about this at length when it's out.

There's a new episode of The SF Squeecast out, this one guest-starring Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the creator of The Middleman.  We discuss, among other things, Poul Anderson, Gail Simone's Birds of Prey, and, erm, Seanan McGuire's love of the SyFy Channel's original movie Swamp Shark.  Yes.

Here's a lovely preview of the first few pages of Stormwatch #6, which is out next Wednesday.

And one of my favourite comics critics talks, yet again, in a very flattering way, about Knight and Squire.

The SFX Weekender is, of course, next week (and I'll be striving to complete that new draft in time for it).  I hear they're packed out, with something like 4000 people going along.  I'm looking forward to staying, with my fellow authors, in the Tor Cottage.  Here's my schedule, all these items being on the main stage.


2pm: Rewriting History: how do you make the past work for your story? (It'll be good to be on a panel with Adam Christopher.)

5pm: Just A Minute. (I'll be hosting this, with guests Joe Abercrombie, China Mieville, Sarah Pinborough and Toby Whithouse trying to speak for a minute without hesitation, deviation, or repetition.)


11am: What is urban fantasy? (Me and Ben Aaronovitch will get to talk about our mini-genre of Modern London Metropolitan Police Based Urban Fantasy, or, as we like to call it, Metropunk.)

1pm: Ready, Steady, Flash!  (A panel game I'll be a contestant in, hosted by Lee Harris.)

2pm: Did we win?  Conquering the mainstream.  (With Tony Lee and Phil Ford!)

3pm: Signing at the Forbidden Planet stall.

I like the look of that.  I'll be bringing along many piles of DC 'New 52' and Vertigo comics to give away to the audiences of those panels, shamelessly buying your applause and, hopefully, respect.

We've been watching RideBack, an anime about Rin, an injured ballerina who finds freedom (in a rather Black Beauty sort of way) with an SF mecha/motorcycle vehicle, the imagery involved being that of pro motorcycle racing.  The 'horse story' aspect makes her a compelling heroine who only wants to learn to ride and compete, but this all takes place on a near future Earth that, almost incidentally to begin with, is ruled by a military dictatorship.  As in most modern dictatorships, this impacts the lives of Rin and her friends not at all, as they happily pursue their sport, not even mentioning the political situation (because what is there to say?)  But then politics and sport accidentally cross, and, well, it's become very interesting indeed.  The visuals of 9/11 have impacted anime, and the scenes of urban destruction here give a sense that the medium's previously purely local interest in devastating force in urban environments has become internationalised.  Those smoke trails and news broadcasts feel immediate and uncomfortable.  RideBack features characters who are realistically drawn (in every sense), well-designed mad bikes, a relatable (and, as it turns out, hard as nails) heroine, who isn't just a man with breasts, and that lovely Madhouse animation style that enjoys nothing more than the heat haze on a track.  I recommend it hugely.  Unless it nosedives after episode six, that is.  I may well report again.

We've also started watching How I Met Your Mother from the beginning, having become obsessed with it and seen everything from the end of season four.  The first thought that occurred was that the writers had worked out who those characters were from the very start, and have kept them immensely stable since.  Except in the case of Robin, who is initially a purely romantic lead who isn't given any comedy.  A good thing, then, because that really wouldn't have worked, that Cobie Smulders must have at some point convinced them of her range, timing and willingness to do anything in pursuit of the laugh.  The show feels slightly empty without eccentric, extreme Robin.  We remain obsessed.  But thank goodness they got rid of the between scenes music.

I was also very pleased this week with Toby Hadoke's contribution to the new Doctor Who DVD, 'The Sensorites'.  'Looking for Peter' is a short documentary in which Toby goes in search of relatively-unknown writer Peter. R. Newman, and, while it makes use of that 'I'm going on a journey' doco format that I find really tiresome (I may blog about that at some length soon), it's charming because it's Toby, and what he finds out swiftly gives us a bittersweet picture of a man who was previously a mystery to Who fans and media historians.  The story is, in the end, a bit of a tragedy, but the fact of the documentary being made gives it more of a happy ending.

Frankly, I inherited a certain strand of my musical taste from fellow Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts.  He's why I own so much by The Sweet.  And he also convinced me of the tremendous versatility and lyrical talents of Sparks.  With 'that little one who looks like Hitler' as my Mum used to call Ron Mael.  They don't seem to have performed 'Looks Looks Looks', their extraordinary attempt to make big band swing for screaming teenagers, on their natural home of Top of the Pops, so here it is instead from Supersonic.

I do think the music you get from your friends is the best sort of pop, because it carries not just the associations of the time it was made, but the feeling of that person too.

Our guest today, also with the SFX Weekender in mind, is my fellow Tor author Adrian Tchaikovsky.  Take it away Adrian...

SFX3 : The Welsh Connection.  It surely doesn't seem that two years have gone by since that first spectacular over at Camber Sands.  SFX was big news for me - my first experience of the convention circuit (although it's far from a 'typical' con) and my first chance to actually meet up with other authors.  For reference, although my first book came out almost four years ago now, I still tend to think of myself as 'the new guy.
     It was an experience meeting people like Paul and Peter F. Hamilton and China Mieville in person (and sharing a room with Mark Newton for that matter).  I will always be a fanboy at heart, no matter how many volumes I get on the shelves.  I confess I was expecting to find an elitist clique, but instead I was welcomed with open arms.
     SFX itself I found bewildering in the sheer range of different media and spectacle and weird things that people were trying to sell me, but that was pretty much the same the second time round too and I firmly expect to be further baffled this year.  Even more so if I just get lost in the wilds of Wales on the way there. An early Torchwood episode comes to mind...
     This year, though, I feel I can relax into it a bit more.  I'm not the Grand Old Man of the genre by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not the new guy, any more.  Shadows of the Apt sees its eighth instalment, The Air War, out this year, in which I'm doing my damndest to bring my epic fantasy world kicking and screaming into its own tortured version of the twentieth century.  I've got the following volume written in draft, and the first chapter of the final book is on the wordprocessor with the ink still wet.  The fan response to the series has also stepped up since last year - including a fan-made wiki for the series - as has my own activity on my blog.  I'm also facing the question that series authors must always come to: once the final volume is dispatched, what happens next?

Thanks, Adrian, I look forward to seeing you, and the rest of Team Tor, and indeed, some of you lot, in Prestatyn.  Until then, Cheerio!

The This Time Next Year Game: Update

Okay, our first points have been scored!  Question 8 in the This Time Next Year Game, as detailed in the first of the Twelve Blogs of Christmas last year, was this:

Will any of the 2012 Academy Award (Oscar) nominees for Best Picture be (within a generous description) in the genres of science fiction, fantasy or horror?

And the answer to that is YES, with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris being indisputably a fantasy movie.  (I was worried about debates over Hugo.)

So our first points table reads (alphabetically):

B-Guymer: 1
C.A. Young: 1
Fizzle: 1
Kendersule: 1
Liz: 1
L.M. Myles: 1
Michael Lee: 1
Nick Pheas: 1
Paul F: 1
Penny Heal and Jason Stevens: 1
Phil Hansen: 1
RHeitzmann: 1
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre: 1
Soru: 1
Tom: 1

Sorry, Uther Dean and N.J, you should have limited yourselves to Yes or No.  (I didn't penalise those who picked Yes but then went on to guess which movies.)

Some points have been scored in one other category (the New 52 one), but we'll wait until the appropriate month to total them.  You're all doing very well!

The Copenhagen Nomination

Something big did happen before Friday!  I'm very proud to announce that my Asimov's short story 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' (the third in my Jonathan Hamilton series) has been short-listed for the BSFA Awards.

It's also brilliant to see so many friends on that ballot, including Al Robertson in my category, and a very strong field in the Novel section.  I do, however, now regard myself as the Taiwan of awards nominees, in that I'm worried that I'm going to get my arse kicked by China.

As per my own personal rules concerning awards, that's the last you'll hear from me on that subject.  The playing field is now level (because the BSFA will presumably send out their usual voter pack including all the stories), voters will be able to read all the stories and decide between them, and my input will be nil.  (I won't vote in my category, either.)  But I once more emphasise: what anyone else decides to do is between them and the electorate.  I wouldn't condemn anyone for taking any alternative course of action, up to including swinging from the chandelier with a banner calling upon us to vote for them.

It's time for a celebratory dance, I think.  One two three.... la da da dee dah, la da da da da da da dah, la da da da da da da dah!  And to the left!  And to the right!  And sway, and sway, and click, and turn!  And dance like Snoopy!


Talking of awards, Cheryl Morgan is one of the brains behind the very worthy SF Translation Awards, for works of science fiction and fantasy translated into English from foreign languages.  They're running a fundraiser where, if you donate towards the cash prizes for the winners (or, this being a very legally-minded affair, even if you're mean enough not to), you can win one of many lovely items, including a complete signed hardback run of my Lex Luthor stories in Action Comics.  Do take a look.

And finally, but excitingly for Doctor Who fans, if you're quick enough (in the next 19 hours as I write this), you can own a signed pre-release copy of Jac Rayner's new Who novel Magic of the Angels, which isn't out until February 2nd.  All proceeds from the sale are going to Let's Do It For ME, the charity which funds research into that terrible condition.  So go on, you want to have something no other fan has, don't you?

I'll see you on Friday from the usual Casual blogness.  Until then, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: The Sherlock Solution

Well, I didn't expect to only be blogging on Fridays, and I suspect that's just the way it's happened for these first three weeks.  Still, at least you know when and where I'll be.  This week I've been writing the new Hamilton novelette and plotting comics, including issues of Demon Knights that are getting close, numerically, to my previous personal best of fifteen issues and an annual (both Captain Britain and MI-13 and Action  Comics). I have high hopes to see an issue sixteen this time!  I'm waiting on both novel and TV spec script notes, and developing something new in a medium I haven't tackled before.  Also this week...

Scott Handcock is one of the producers of Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield range, a Doctor Who production person, writer and actor.  He's supporting a very worthy cause, Invest in ME, by running a marathon in May.  Invest in ME seek to fund research into myalgic encephalomyelitis, and thus change the media perception of it. I've had first hand experience of what this condition can do to people's lives, and I urge you to contribute.

I did an interview with Comic Book Resources about Demon Knights, which seemed to go down well.

I suppose I've been asked odder questions, but, as a former Captain Britain writer (?) this leading politics site asked me how I felt about the prospect of Scottish independence, and I told them.

You can find the solicitation for Demon Knights #8, which is a one-off about the history of Xanadu and Etrigan's romance, with guest art from Bernard Chang here.

This is Ryan Kelly's terrific cover art for Saucer Country #2, coming in April...

And my friend Simon Spurrier has put out into the world, in support of his new novel, A Serpent Uncoiled, the following...

I went along to see War Horse this week, and there follows a review, which thoroughly spoils the plot, so if you're planning on seeing it, you may want to skip the next (long) paragraph...

War Horse is by no means a good movie, although it does contain some interesting, moving and memorable moments.  I've heard people call it 'saccharine', but that word's never made critical sense to me.  It's supposed to mean that one is not averse to sugar, but can spot fake sugar when one sees it.  This being the movies and not the news, however... it's all fake sugar.  And people who use the word 'saccharine' never seem to find the real sugar.  'It tried to move me but didn't' is perhaps a more honest way to put it.  (Or sometimes the complaint is just 'it tried to move me, and I hate being moved'.)  Myself, I'm all for blubbing, and I think heart strings are there to be tugged.  I got a little of that from War Horse, but actually not enough. And that's because... it's about a horse.  Every human being we meet is onscreen for a maximum of half an hour.  The script tries to make us care about them, it sometimes succeeds (that influx of Richard Curtis traits when the movie suddenly becomes about an old man and his quirky grand-daughter, and we're made to care about them very quickly and very well), but mostly fails (the German deserter boys are shot and we've hardly met them, so we don't care).  The nature of the film, a series of vignettes, is directly opposed to its aim, moving us.  And... it's about a horse.  Those of us who don't automatically love horseflesh are told it's a beautiful horse many times, and there are shots where the camera peers into its face, demanding an expression... which isn't there.  Because it's a horse.  Every now and then Spielberg does go for horse reaction shots, making it the central dramatic presence it would need to be to bear this movie's emotions on its shoulders.  But these look ridiculous.  (The 'who, me?' when nominated to pull the gun carriage is so pronounced it should have a Scooby Doo voice on top.)  So I think Spielberg went with his better instincts and largely shied away from them.  But there's nothing to take their place.  Black Beauty did the horse with many owners story with an emoting, sentient, narrating horse at the centre of it, and the movie of that was pretty weird as a result, but at least it got its full thump of emotional impact in.  This movie sometimes looks to the horse as an emotional centre, but tries to do it... realistically.  Sort of.  Maybe.  I don't know, stop asking!  That's the central problem.  I was initially quite pleased with the opening vignette of life on the farm.  A pretty realistic Devon, not American Devon, a movie about the problems of working people, okay, tottering on the edge of 'trouble 't pit' but daring that and getting points for not falling in.  But then there was that rock in the field.  And it was a Simpsons rock.  One of the standard Simpsons jokes is to portray an everyday annoyance as a grand Hollywood challenge, the moment of heroic fulfillment.  Which makes us see how artificial such moments are.  Our lad and his horse will plough that stony field and save their farm, they will make it, through sheer willpower!  Only... there's a big rock in the way!  'Go round it!' shouts the lad's mate desperately from the sidelines, like Marge might shout to Homer, but the lad is made of sterner stuff.  He puts in a last effort and the plough... slices straight through the rock, which breaks in two and lies there... obviously the sort of thing one could have picked up and thrown away.  Hmm, perhaps the mate could have done that instead of all the worried shouting.  In fact, how about just clearing the field of stones before the ploughing started?  Or, I don't know, perhaps one of those hundreds of neighbours could have lent them a ploughing horse?  Logic is an underhanded thing to use to attack a movie, but what this shows is a lack of concentration, a lack of meaning it, that the shape of a Hollywood movie rather than the real lives of working people is what it's important here.  Similarly, there's a neat metaphorical introduction to World War 1, but it trips on that business of realism.  We follow a group of professional cavalrymen, preparing well, taking every precaution, not just doing their jobs but actually being clever with it, and we start to think, hey, none of these people are fools, and this doesn't look like archetypal World War 1, this has an interesting non-cliched realism about it, perhaps this is an early battle, before the machine guns, maybe we're going somewhere interestingly different, and it'll all turn out to be the way they think it'll be.  They charge in, sending an enemy camp scattering, until... there's the completely unexpected (now) line of machine guns.  We've been suckered into believing in victory, just like they were.  Excellent.  Except... why is there a camp of genuinely unprepared soldiers, with a line of machine guns in the woods behind them?  Who was preparing for those shaving and breakfast-making lads to be routed and cut down?  'Next time,' one of them might well yell, 'how about we put the machine guns in front of the camp?!'  The power of that movie metaphor over-ruled realism, which would be the classic Hollywood way, except the magic trick wasn't good enough, we were encouraged to think about realism the moment before the metaphor hit.  There are some beautiful pictures in this movie, and some of them are too beautiful.  I accepted, in the same way, the poetry of the lad getting his horse back, but not the implausibility of the old man just guessing that was also his daughter's horse.  The nervous attempts at salt are what ruin the sugar.  Only absolute full-on commitment of a (bloody hell) Avatar kind could make this work.  You can't have a horse that's both a dramatic lead and 'just a horse, not a dog'.  You can't make a movie about the poetic epic futility of war and about the washout of the turnip harvest.  Spielberg and his writers flinch at the last moment and do not (haw) take the hurdle.  However, I must say that, if I was 12(A), and thus in one of the target audiences for this movie, the resulting shallow end depth of brief characters whose pain hurts us just a little might just feel like the most meaningful thing I'd ever seen.  And if that viewer was my child, I wouldn't want to dissuade them of that feeling.

Phew, that went on a bit.  You'll be here for the Sherlock solution, I should think.  Sorry, here we go.  (And there will of course be huge Sherlock spoilers here.)

At the end of this season of the wonderful Sherlock, Holmes seemed to be forced, in front of Watson, to fatally jump off a building.  It's later revealed that he survived.  The cliffhanger, pleasingly, is not 'did he?' but 'how did he?'  Now, I have no special knowledge, but I thought it would be fun to share with you the solution I spent the evening boring my wife with...

It's obviously all about Molly.  Sherlock tells her he trusts her and is going to need her to do something.  And then he sets up the final confrontation on the roof of the hospital where she works.  So what can Molly do?  Well, let's combine that with the only other plot point left hanging in a show which always ties off every dangling thread.  Moriarty has set it up so that the little girl he kidnapped screams when she sees Sherlock.  How did he do that?  By employing someone who looks very like Sherlock, possibly (because he's famous enough now) a professional Holmes impersonator.  Then he would have had to kill this arrow pointing to his 'discredit Holmes' plan, and might have done that in front of the child, in order to traumatise her.  So Sherlock would suspect that there's a dead body somewhere in London, that will probably have passed through Molly's morgue, that not only looks like him but is even dressed like him.  Molly has time to find that body.  There's an unknown length of time between the death of Moriarty and Watson arriving.  During that time, Molly brings the impersonator's body to the roof, and holds it up on the edge.  Sherlock, meanwhile, goes over to the roof of the building opposite, looking down on Watson from behind when he arrives, and talking to him on his mobile from there.  (He asks him to keep his eyes on 'him', and not start looking round at the other buildings.)  Sherlock jumps down onto a lower level just below the roof he's standing on (because his job here is done and he has to get away swiftly), and Molly pushes the body off the roof.  I don't think Holmes can have had anything to do with the cyclist thumping Watson, because what guarantee is there that any particular blow would produce exactly the right disorienting symptoms?  But it's too convenient to be an accident.  Perhaps Moriarty had left orders that if Watson was seen running towards the body, this medical man should be prevented from attempting to save Holmes?  (It would be really neat if Holmes was that cyclist, but there just isn't time.)  Even without the blow to the head, it's probably that after a fall like that, with Molly whisking the body away afterwards, Watson wouldn't have been able to tell the impersonator apart from his friend.  Molly works with Mycroft to erase inconvenient details like DNA identification, and we see Mycroft saddened not at the death of his brother, but at the lengths to which his brother has had to go to save himself from a situation of his making.

And that's it.  Obviously, I expect the very clever Steven Moffat to have come up with a solution that trumps that one, I'd be delighted either way, but that's how I'd get out of it.

Today's music video, from my box of favourite tunes of all time, is from The Andrews Sisters.

I've always loved swing, the first real pop music that worked like pop is supposed to, ecstatic release and teenage rebellion.  War turned that music from insidious moral destroyer to great because the troops like it.  The Andrews Sisters were The Beatles for the US military, and the sheer pop plundering of this track, plus the fact that it's right there beside the prospect of immediate death, make it vital even today.  There's the rumble of a Weimar pit band somewhere in there, the enemy's culture repurposed, as it always has been by soldiers.  Much more to the front is a huge debt to black music.  This is what pop always has been: black music played by white people.  (Louis Armstrong was famous enough when this was made for the 'jazz style' singing on one chorus to be even possibly an impersonation of him.  I've always wondered.)  And God, how much sex is written between these lines?  Look what she does to that upraised trumpet.

Our guest today is Jessica Langer, who received her PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2009.  She's published widely on postcolonial theory and practice and science fiction in many different media and geographical contexts.  She lives in Toronto, Canada.  I met her at a World Science Fiction Convention (I think it was in Japan), and she quickly became one of editor Lou Anders' 'rat pack'.  She's got a new book out.  Take it away, Jess...

First of all, many thanks to Paul for lending me his space for a few paragraphs.  I've been a constant reader for a while, so it's fun to take over the microphone temporarily.  I've been invited to discuss my new book, Postcolonialism and Science Fiction, published by Palgrave Macmillan in December 2011 (despite what Amazon may tell you).  I understand that print copies just became available in North America, and you can also find it as an ebook via Palgrave Connect.
     First of all: what is postcolonialism, anyway?
     That's a question with just about as many answers as there are postcolonial critics, and everyone defines it a little differently.  Acknowledging the ongoing academic debate, though, I'll try to simplify it: postcolonialism is a field of study that relates to the consequences of the past five or six hundred years of world history, in which various major powers have been busy building and subsequently losing their empires. In some cases these consequences are vast and permanent, and are economic, cultural, political, linguistic, social, gendered, racial, sexual, religious.  Postcolonialism, therefore, is about all of those things, though different critics tend to focus differently.  For instance, Robert JC Young, one of the Big Names in postcolonial studies, calls race, culture and sexuality the three legs (or, as he puts it, 'mediating term[s]' [Young 97]) of the colonial triangle; they're all systems by which colonial authorities controlled and exploited the native populace.  Edward Said's theory of Orientalism - his critique of the European 'othering' of its colonial subjects - is another concept that is associated with postcolonial studies.  This may be starting to sound a little more familiar. 
     So what does science fiction have to do with any of this? 
     Science fiction is, at its very heart, about otherness.  Another time, another planet, another kind of intelligent or unintelligent being, another dimension, another universe, another version of reality, another version of yourself.  It is, as Darko Suvin famously wrote, a literature of 'cognitive estrangement' (Suvin 4); of trying to conceptualize something that is in some way other.  
     Colonialism is also, at its heart, about otherness.  Another culture, another language, another kind of resource, another political system.  Here, though, it's not about imagining the other, but rather about exploiting him and her: taking the useful parts and suppressing the rest, the threat.  
     John Rieder, in his excellent book Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (to which my book functions as a kind of sequel), writes that 'science fiction exposes something that colonialism imposes' (Rieder 15).  I'm afraid I'm not quite so quotably brief, but my argument is similar, though a little more specific.  I look at two particular images that come up over and over in science fiction literature: the figure of the alien, whether a humanoid alien or a robot or a Tribble or whatnot, and the far-flung planet or undiscovered land, whether the Moon or Mars or Europa or Pern or Gethen or the centre of our very own Earth.  I call these two images the 'Stranger and the Strange Land'.  (No, it really has nothing to do with Heinlein's book of the same name; his title, modified, is pretty apt for my purposes, though.) 
     And here, I'm going to quote from the book itself (a quote which you may already have read if you read the excerpt posted on io9 in December): 
     'These two signifiers are, in fact, the very same twin myths of colonialism.  The Stranger, or the Other, and the Strange Land – whether actually empty or filled with those Others, savages whose lives are considered forfeit and whose culture is seen as abbreviated and misshapen but who are nevertheless compelling in their very strangeness – are at the very heart of the colonial project, and their dispelling is at the heart of the postcolonial one.'  (Langer 3-4) 
     Throughout the rest of the book I look at all sorts of different things, from Japanese science fiction (Japan, which went from pseudo-feudal victim of free trade imperialism to imperial power to industrialized democracy over the course of about a hundred years, is a fascinating case study from both a postcolonial and a science fiction point of view) to Canadian First Nations science fiction to Indian science fiction to District 9 to World of Warcraft (yup...) to other contemporary writers like Nalo Hopkinson and Ian McDonald and Vandana Singh and Saladin Ahmed.  If I may say so, it's a fun romp, and I think you might enjoy it. 
     (References (because I'm an academic and it makes me uncomfortable not to cite things properly): Langer, Jessica. Postcolonialism and Science Fiction. London: Palgrave, 2011 Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008. Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1979. Young, Robert J.C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.)

We've never had references on here before!  Thank you very much, Jessica, and I look forward to reading the book.  Now, on these Casual Fridays I've been continuing my series of (sometimes vaguely useful) writing tips, that began with forty of them during the Twelve Blogs of Christmas.  So this week's is...

43: 'Eight'.  Numbers stand for things.  Three is the number for impact (two sensible examples in a joke, the third gets the laugh, two (very brief) ordinary messages on the hero's answerphone, the third is the killer).  Six is evil, seven is magic.  (Secret Six, The Magnificent Seven.)  Eight is 'too many'.  There's the old story of the professor heard walking along debating with his friend, ticking off points on his fingers and saying 'eighthly'.  Sherlock tells John that's he's already thought of eight theories.  That feels like more than anyone could hold in their head.  The next number with meaning is twelve, and that feels honest again, for reasons only those more tuned in to archetypes could guess at.  If you want too many people, items or concepts, too many is eight.

And that's it for today.  I might see some of you at the BSFA open meeting (with Christopher Priest as the guest) on Wednesday.  Until then or next Friday, unless something huge happens in-between, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: Outlandish Flanking

It's been a very busy week.  I spent the first half of it plotting, sorting out arcs for Demon Knights up to #12 (and we know what the arc after that's going to be too), and Saucer Country to the same point, and carrying on with the heavyweight task of plotting out the sequel to Cops and Monsters.  I also finished a new draft of my spec script fantasy TV series pilot, met with my agent, and did another edit on Jac Rayner's fantastic Love and War audio adaptation.  (This is beginning to sound like the start of Prime Minister's Question Time.)

Demon Knights #5 came out on Wednesday, and I'm loving the response to it in reviews and on message boards.  I think we've now got a dedicated audience behind us.  I'd like to say to you lot: the title's not going anywhere, so stop talking about it like it might be cancelled at any moment.  (Doing that in public encourages comic shop owners to get nervous and order less.)  My editors are keen to plan way ahead, the sales figures are utterly healthy.  Just because you like it and it's not a full-on superhero title doesn't mean it's under threat.  (I'm now wondering at what point this will sound like I'm protesting too much.)

Here is the lovely variant cover to Saucer Country #1, by Sean Murphy.

And here is the blog that features it, by my excellent editor at Vertigo, Will Dennis.

This week my attendance at two more comic conventions was announced, the small but perfectly formed first iteration of Wiltshire's finest (only?) comic fan event, Melksham Comic Con with Mike Collins, Sonia Leong and Barry Kitson, and the huge and Spanish Barcelona International Comic Con, with Rags Morales, Scott Snyder and many others.  I'm very much looking forward to them.

I received, this week, my freebies of the Superman: Reign of Doomsday hardcover, and the softcover of volume one of Superman: The Black Ring, so they should be in your comic shops and book stores very soon.

So, to the meat of this week's post.  I got into a little bit of a fight on Twitter this week.  Not a huge row (I'm very conflict-averse or yes, wussy if you prefer), but more of a slightly heated debate.  It all started when someone tutted about an author, this being the start of Hugo nomination season, who 'suggested readers buy a supporting membership for Worldcon so they could nominate them'.  Now, I thought that, at a stretch, that might have been me.  (It turned out not to have been.) Because I do let people know, online, what I have that's nominable (that's a word now) in any particular awards system, and I also tend to push the 'buy a supporting membership and get all the nominated books as e-books!' deal.  But no sooner had I established my innocence than a few others started chiming in, saying how much they hated authors 'self-publicising' at this time of year, how tasteless and shallow it all was.  Which is when I took the perhaps bold step of saying to a beloved and esteemed SF author the words 'my arse it is'.

When it comes to awards, I don't at all object to authors self-promoting.  In fact, I'm all in favour of it, and think it should be encouraged, even mandatory.  I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive, but let me explain.

Some awards systems have rules in place about whether or not you can nominate yourself (the Nebulas say you can't) or vote for yourself (the Hugos seem to expect you to).  I personally wouldn't do either.  However, that's just me.  Quite often there's nothing in the rules to disallow it, and if it's in the rules, then I would never object to someone else doing it.

But no awards system (except the new version of the British Fantasy Society Awards, which I'll come to in a few moments) has a rule in place about not promoting your own work.  What they have instead, and this used to be very much the case with the Hugos, is an unspoken agreement, an understanding.  Which reminds me of the worst aspects of British society.  Because unspoken agreements, understandings, always benefit someone.

Now, I'm absolutely not saying that the handful of people tutting about these terrible self-promoting authors on Twitter were doing it because they're the sort of author who benefits under the old 'nobody say anything out loud' system.  I genuinely don't think that entered their minds.  I should think their motives would be an awkwardness with the idea of putting themselves forward, a dislike of showiness and a desire that a book be judged on its own merits.  These are fine ideals, but ideals they are.  A book will only be judged on its own merits if readers have heard of it.  People will always vote subjectively and we can't stop that, all we can do is make sure that social pressure doesn't distort the level playing field.

I should point out here that these authors that benefit from the 'nobody say anything' system I've conjured up are not my own alternative folk devils to those the phrase 'self promoting authors' brings to mind.  They're also successful and useful authors, who've made a lot of friends, and, rather than go on the internet to announce their nominable (I do like that word, no, it really is a word) works, they'll just, probably without even realising they're doing it, talk about them in the right company, because the right company is the company they're naturally in.  I'm probably one of these people. Or I'm trying damn hard to be.  They don't have to tell you what they have up for a particular award, because, well, everyone who might nominate just naturally knows.

Now, I'd say it's a fifty/fifty bet that when I used the phrase 'self-promoting authors' before, it was that sort of person you thought of.  That's because this whole business, like all 'unwritten laws' is entirely subjective.  That's what makes it all so dangerous.

Hanging out with the right people at conventions, letting a small group of nominators just naturally know that you've written stuff that's up for awards in the process of merely hanging out.  Is that okay?

Going on the internet to tell the world, in the open, like anyone could.  Is that okay?

Which do you prefer?

The people who do the former, in private, would accuse the people who do the latter, in public, of being 'self-promoters'.  The latter probably also have some nasty words that describe the former.

Some people (including a prominent critic who responded to my Twitter posts with a truly nuclear level of anger) would say neither is okay.  I responded, and still respond, that it's impossible to legislate against the former.  Even using the word 'novelette' in describing one's own story, even describing one's own story, even smiling at someone who might vote for you, these are all forms of campaigning.  You'd need to have cameras placed in front of every author at every moment of the day (and you haven't seen authors in the morning, nobody wants that) in order to fairly monitor this 'unwritten law'.

So I say, how about we accept that chatting up your electorate in private and going on the internet to announce your works are both, in principle, absolutely fair things to do?

Of course, the electorate will complain when an author does it arrogantly, or at boring length, or too much.  That's the risk any promoter takes.  The electorate will then not vote for said author.  When you, dear reader, complain about authors who 'self-promote', I suspect that you were actually complaining about those who did it badly.  You often won't have noticed the self-promotions of those who do it well.

And there's also the possibility that what you're complaining about is the idea that others might not agree that said self-promotion is a bad one.  That others might be 'taken in'.  That others, erm, might not share your tastes.

Welcome to democracy.  It's truly horrible.  But it's the best horrible we've got.

An agreement that all self-promotion is, in general, fine, expected, mandatory even, would make tutting at those terrible people who self-promote, without ever having to define who those terrible people are (because a definition would mean we might have to end up including one of our friends and that would never do), out of the question.  (One thing I noticed when people starting tweeting me about this was that everyone's definition of what was and wasn't allowed was completely different.  But nice people always get a pass.)

I said I'd mention the British Fantasy Society Awards, which do now have in place a rule against self-promotion.  (Well, a 'discouragement', the rule actually reading 'The BFS discourages the practice of canvassing for votes'.)  This came about as a response to our last round of awards, where, in a society with a tiny electorate and a culture of silence about the nominations process, author Sam Stone had a reasonable number of people willing to vote for her, and so won basically everything she could win.  I'd say she did that fair and square. Her being able to do that fair and square is an indication that our Awards needed fixing, but not because there was a need for an anti-self-promotion clause.  I think she mostly did that through friendly chat in person, in a way that would be impossible to police, rather than going on the internet.  And I think that, if everyone nominated had felt free to campaign as hard as they could, in public and in private, then she wouldn't have won.

I can also see a nightmare scenario ahead for the BFS, because while it 'discourages' self-promotion, the new awards system doesn't actually define what that is.  (And how could it?)  And it doesn't say what might happen if someone ignores that discouragement.  When the first nominee is barred (because who knows what the punishment could be?) for 'canvassing', I should think they will be able to point to every other nominee and say how that individual has done the same thing, in a different way that was probably just a little more charming.  A law without a definition is a law that says 'we'll decide who the nice people are'.  And if the use of the word 'discourages' means there's no penalty at all, is it really okay to have officially put in place the sort of Crucible-style awards culture where one can have aspersions cast on one's character because of people whispering 'In the bar, I distinctly heard her use the word "novella"'?

Having said that, I don't find folk devils there either.  I am also one of those people.  (Yes, this whole post is a stridently-worded version of 'let's all try to get along'.  Have we met?)  Apart from that one glitch, I'm all in favour of the new BFS voting system, and indeed contributed to the design of it.  You lot know from many posts past that I'm an avid supporter of the new BFS.  I just think we've made a rather terrible rod for our own backs there.

I'd also like to mention the case of writer Tony Lee and the Eagle Awards.  Similarly to Sam Stone, a few years back, he had a lot of people willing to nominate him in the small electorate of a rather shaky system.  He was shocked to find himself accused of ballot rigging and struck off the ballot in several categories.  Now, I think the definition of ballot rigging is using multiple email addresses for your own votes, creating fake identities, getting people who have no idea what they're voting for to line up by, say, paying them.  Having a lot of friends in the community who want to vote for you isn't ballot rigging, it's a successful campaign.  Following that ruling, myself and a lot of other comickers completely shut up about the Eagle Awards, because if what Tony had done was ballot rigging, any kind of self-promotion might be.  We were hoping for people to nominate us, but not too many people.  And who knew how many was too many?  Surely that number would be much higher if one was Grant Morrison?  (It's at this point that award organisers might as well just give the gongs to the people they expect to win.) The Eagles suffered from this echoing silence, and, as part of a renovation in many aspects of their organisation, did a u-turn, and, in a very healthy move, declared that everyone was free, indeed, encouraged, to promote their cause, and the awards, as much as possible.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the way to do it.

I was heartened, in the end, by the Twitter debate, by how many people came out in favour of 'everybody self-promote as much as  they like, let the electorate decide', including Jon Strahan and Gary Wolfe on the Notes from Coode Street podcast and a number of noted authors.  I think, in terms of numbers, we won the day hugely.

So I'll continue to let you know what works of mine are nominable (I do like that word, and it is a word, right?) for awards, present you with the voting form but otherwise shut up from then on, and not nominate or vote for myself.  But that's just my practice, not something I want or demand others to live by.  Everything is, in principle allowed.  It not only should be, it usually is.  Even if people tell you it's not.  Hence the banner line at the top of this website.

And you may want to go and cast your votes for novels, short fiction, comics and book covers in the (refreshingly open about accepting the turnouts from author campaigns) 2011 Readers' Choice Awards.

I know.  Shameless. 

Today's music choice (from my list of tracks that I love) is the extremely exciting Ash with 'Kung Fu', which dates me horribly.  No video could match the images this piece of music puts in my head.  I've always wanted to write a fight scene to go with it.  And it mentions the X-Men!

And now we come to our guest, Aussie TV showrunner John Richards, who I first met at the Melbourne Worldcon.  Take it away, John...

A television show is like a baby.  You conceive it, and then there's a gestation period.  You worry about how it's going to turn out, you question if you're doing the right things and then... Finally!  The big day!  When – just like a real baby - you throw it out the door, abandoning it to an uncaring world with the vague hope that random strangers won't be mean about it on Twitter. 
     Except that with a TV show that's legal. 
     If my show Outland was a baby, I'd currently be in the waiting room, nervous and clutching an unlit cigar.  Or possibly in the delivery room, with my feet up in stirrups.  Or maybe I'm the doctor?  Actually, this whole 'baby' metaphor is just causing confusion now, so let's move on.  
     In 2005 Adam Richard and myself were having coffee, discussing sitcom ideas that might be suitable for Adam to star in.  After a string of involved, intriguing and difficult-to-write ideas - including one called The Kylie Show - Adam said 'Or we could just do something about a gay science fiction fan club'.  After all, we were both gay, and we were both science fiction fans.  So at least the research would be minimal.  And thus the journey began. 
     Outland follows five people who are are forced to meet in each other’s homes when they are unceremoniously evicted from a larger science fiction club.  This forced intimacy reveals parts of their lives that have previously been too personal for public consumption – they may all be out of the closet but their skeletons aren't.
     There’s Max, insecure and looking for love; the sexually-adventurous, muffin-baking Andy; Rae, the moral centre and unofficial head of the group; the high-camp, high-maintenance Fab; and the wealthy but socially-inept Toby. 
     One of the central ideas in Outland is that our characters are all openly gay, but largely closeted geeks.  I should point out that – unlike in the UK – in Australia the words 'gay' and 'Doctor Who fan' are not synonymous.  There are no 'friends of Davros' here.  (Well, there are, but that's considered as correlation, not causation.  A gentleman's love of cock and his love of Quarks are considered two completely different things). 
     Each episode takes place at one meeting and mostly in real time.  There's pain, deceit, secrets, recriminations, anger and regret – it's comedy gold! 
     I'm really pleased with the final result – it's a beautiful-looking show, the cast are great, it's got a lot of heart and – fingers crossed – it's funny.  And to be honest, while all the characters are gay and lesbian, in some ways that's irrelevant.  It's not about being gay any more than it's about being geek.  It's about being different, how everyone feels the odd-one-out from time to time.  It's about finding a place to fit in, and how you really have to find that place within you. 
     And there's fisting jokes. 
     Joss Whedon once said 'I'd rather make a show a hundred people need to see, than a show that a thousand people want to see.'  I'd go one step further and say I'd be happy if Outland was watched by ten people, as long as those ten people thought it was the bestest show ever, and their favourite show of all time. Although that would make for a terrible business plan. 
     It's seven years since we began this project and Outland is finally about to debut on ABC1.  It's been a long gestation period – if I was still pushing my laboured 'birth' metaphor it would be like a frilled shark being pregnant twice in a row with the same baby.  Since starting this project we've been through three Prime Ministers and as many Doctors.  
     But come February my baby will be out there in the world, blinking in the light and generating angry letters to the tabloid press.  And I couldn't be happier. 
     We're in discussions with UK broadcasters and the region 4 DVD will be available later in the year.

Thanks very much, John.  I think I can tell which sentence of my blog today is going to generate the most comments.  Cheers for that.

And now it's time for this Friday's writing tip, in our continuing series, it's:

42: Flanking.  Whenever there's a military action in a US TV show, and the writer wants to convey some tactical expertise on the part of a commander, 'flanks' will be mentioned.  There'll be 'outflanking'.  This has probably evolved to be the shorthand for every other form of tactics because a viewer with no knowledge of military goings-on will have heard of outflanking someone as a metaphor, and so gets that this is a clever thing to do.  But it's been used so much now that it's a sign of laziness.  Sooner or later, a writer will do a bit of military research and find another word that does the same job, and the first use of it will be the rolling out of a devastating new weapon that makes said writer look damn clever.  How about that writer is you?  It could even always be you.  But then you'll have become a writer of military fiction, the job of whom is to delve deeply into these matters, to know what all those tactics words mean, and to find some new ones from truly extraordinary sources, such as actual soldiers.  It's not just military matters, of course; every specialist field that's touched upon by the general media probably has its 'flanking'.

And that's it for today.  I'll see you midweek if something interesting happens, otherwise let's meet back here at 5pm next Friday.  Until then, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: The Monty Python Yes

Hello, and welcome to the first Casual Friday, my new regular blog feature in which we try and keep the spirit of the 12 Blogs of Christmas alive throughout the year, with guests, chat, music and contests.  And, hopefully, the occasional bit of writing advice.

This week I've script edited Jac Rayner's new audio version of Love and War (which basically amounted to removing a few typos, it being amazing stuff), done half a draft of Demon Knights #7 (#8, the next between arcs issue, is nearly finished too), written some of the new Hamilton story and done some serious plotting on the sequel to Cops and Monsters, as well as starting to talk about publicity for said book with the good people at Tor.  I also went out yesterday, first for lunch with the ever-hearty Terrance Dicks, and then to the launch of Adam Christopher's Empire State at Forbidden Planet.  (I was able to surprise Who fan Adam with Terrance's good wishes.)  There was also a fabulous afterparty, with Lee Harris, Lavie Tidhar, Tony Lee, Emma Morgan and Danie Ware amongst the many having a jolly time.

During the 12 Blogs, I mentioned how I was looking forward to the season finale of Merlin, but how I found the way the series airbrushed all organised religion out of its worldview tiresome, and wondered how it would tackle Arthur and Gwen's wedding.  Well, the writer in question, Julian Jones, performed the show's usual feat of neatly sidestepping any awkwardness in favour of narrative clarity, and basically had Arthur marry them himself by just making Gwen his Queen.  It's rather awful seeing such fine skills displayed in the cause of stopping a priest appearing on BBC1 by all means necessary.  But still, I await next season with anticipation.  Some people have asked me if I similarly have problems with the utterly religion-free angels in the new lawyer show Eternal Law, but I actually find that approach more palatable.  If I was writing a series about scuba divers, I'd go out of my way to tell people that it wasn't especially for divers, that you didn't need to know anything about scuba, that it was for everybody.  What I wouldn't do is write a series where divers plunge into the depths without breathing equipment and never talk about how they did that.  (Hmm, if you see what I mean. I'm saving all my good metaphors for the books.)

I'm still so in awe of Steven Moffat's first new Sherlock episode that it's actually hard to talk critically about it.  I think in the last year he's been advancing British TV scriptwriting into completely new territory.  It's exciting like Aaron Sorkin is exciting.  It's exciting like jazz.  Moffat's playing, to continue that metaphor, is so extraordinary, and so extreme, that, despite the fact that clearly and obviously the script's only purpose is to tell a story, what this ninety minutes of television is about and even what happens in the plot is actually secondary to that playing.  I can just about see how he's doing it, but I know it's at a level I could never match.  The series of 'irrelevant' cases at the start, all but one of which turn out to be meaningful (and surely that other one is a set up for a later episode), have their significance concealed by also being two other things at the same time: a set up for Holmes' growing blog fame and a run of parodies of Holmes story titles.  The revelation of their significance is the climax of a magic trick, the writer doing exactly what the detective does when he reveals who did it.  Everything in Holmes' world has relevance.  To the character, it must be like living in a TV drama.  The genius of this episode was that it set up once again that completely rational world, then rocked it by having Irene Adler come at Holmes from an emotional angle, her nakedness being an absence of cues as well as clues, leaving him suddenly in the wrong genre.  When we hear she's died, we're tricked into believing it because Mycroft has already lied about it, and her death is the big reveal, and we decide that, since we're in a show that can hop between levels of seriousness at the same speed as Holmes chops through reality and swaps emotional states, that's the sort of show we're in now.  Except, reveal reveal reveal, hey presto, we're in a much more over the top and romantic show than that.  What did you expect?  Did you forget you were watching Sherlock Holmes?  Just because the playing rocketed us along through a case that wasn't a mystery, and formed one out of what looked like side issues.  The magician, like the dominatrix, asks us to surrender control, and in return we demand of them mastery of their work.  And we got it.  I have no idea where he can go next.  As I said, I am in awe.

I mentioned this in passing the other day, but I think it stands repeating: if you're going to nominate in the Eagle Awards, why not opt for Frank Hampson in the Hall of Fame section?  The creator of Dan Dare, possibly the greatest British comic book artist of all time, should surely be honoured by an award that bears the name of the comic for which he did his most famous work.

I've also decided to use these Fridays to share some of my favourite music, starting with this piece from Woodstock.  I like a lot of CSN.  The combination of romanticism, odd real world emotional shocks and close harmonies suits me down to the ground.  Something that calls itself a Suite should earn that, with different movements, and this does, but simply.

And now we come to our guest.  The author of a forthcoming book entitled The Doctor's Monsters: Meanings of the Monstrous in Doctor Who...

Paul’s very kindly offered me some space to talk about my forthcoming book on Doctor Who. I guess I should introduce myself first: my name’s Graham Sleight, and I’ve been writing about SF and fantasy for a decade or so now. Mostly, I concentrate on written sff – for instance, I review for Locus, and write introductions for some of Gollancz’s SF Masterworks. But I’ve also been a Doctor Who fan from way back when, and Paul outed me a few years ago

I can’t remember when I had my first contact with the series, but I think it was through a very battered jumble-sale copy of Terrance Dicks’s novelisation of 'Planet of Evil', at around age six. 

I can’t say that I understood it fully. (I still don’t. What’s beyond the mysterious pool? Why does it release Sorenson at the end?) But something stuck with me about that story of a monster in a jungle at the end of the universe. I started following the series on TV from, I think, 'The Ribos Operation' in 1978. When the show vanished from the screens in 1989, I went on to other things – like, as I say, writing about SF and fantasy books.

Anyway, I suppose that train of thought led me, a few years ago, to saying Yes to a suggestion from Philippa Brewster, an editor at I.B.Tauris. Tauris have an extensive line of rigorous-but-accessible books about SF and fantasy tv, including Matt Hills’s Triumph of a Timelord and several by my friend Roz Kaveney. Philippa’s suggestion was a book about the monsters in Doctor Who, and I grabbed the idea with alacrity. This was a question that had always fascinated me: what are monsters for in stories? I mean, they’re there to menace the protagonists, of course, but what else? I found myself coming to the conclusion that monsters are very often presented as standing for something – some human trait taken too far, for instance. As an example, the Sontarans have humanity’s desire for war to the exclusion of all else. The Cybermen are an embodiment of the desire people often have to get rid of flawed bodies that get colds or break their legs, and replace them with something that can’t fail. Once in a while, you get monsters that are based on something else, like an animal’s characteristics – the Wirrn, say, or the Zarbi or the Macra. Perhaps the most interesting are Malcolm Hulke’s Silurians and Sea Devils, which in a sense are just humans that happen to look different from us. 

The book consists of over 30 chapters covering most major Doctor Who monsters, from the Daleks to the Silents, from this point of view. I describe how they’re depicted and, in the case of long-running monsters, how that depiction has changed over time. The tone of the book, I hope, isn’t too academic. I’ve tried to write something that’ll be interesting to adult fans of the show, but also accessible to, say, a smart twelve-year-old. 

The writing took a little longer than anticipated, partly because of an unexpected stay in hospital. But Philippa’s been very patient, and the book is now in the hands of the production team at I B Tauris. It’s due for publication in October, and you can pre-order it from Amazon here. If you’re interested, I’ll be updating the book’s page on my website with cover images and more news over the next few months.

Thanks, Graham.  Now, I promised some writing advice, continuing from my 40 Things About Writing blog last year.  I said at the time that that was all I had to say on the subject, but I keep thinking of more points. Whenever I do, I'll share them with you on a Friday.  So, we start with:

41: The Monty Python Yes.  The Pythons, and indeed anyone else satirising advertising in the 1970s, had jaunty announcers saying things like 'yes, new Whizzo, the soap powder for sea serpents' (I'm making this example up.  Oh, you noticed.)  I get the feeling this was already the selling style of a previous decade when they did it, but at least it was fairly current then.  But I still hear it (a little) in radio comedy now.  Probably because it's just one syllable.  But it's a syllable that says the writer isn't looking at how things are in the world, but at previous fictional depictions of it, ones that are now out of date.  It's a bit like how Doctor Who fan fiction during the old series was full of 1960s stock British characters who said things like 'stands to reason'.  Attempts to modernise that approach felt shocking to an audience that had got comfy with a portrayal of a world that no longer existed (if it ever had).  That comfy place isn't where a writer should be, which is one of the reasons why moving from fan fiction to a professional approach can (and should) feel like having a bucket of water thrown over you.  You have to make sure you're depicting the world as it is.

Here endeth the lesson.  Hmm, I'm not sure.  It feels odd to lecture people out of the blue like that.  You decide whether or not it works, and let me know, eh?

And finally, Esther, we come to our contest.  (While so far no points have been scored in our ongoing This Time Next Year game.)  The prize is a copy of issue two of Vworp Vworp, the extraordinary fanzine about Doctor Who Magazine, along with some stunning extras like a new Weetabix-style Doctor Who board game.  And that will go to the first person who posts in the Comments section correctly answering this (easy) question: in which televised Doctor Who serial are the silent gas dirigibles of the Hoothi mentioned?

(Don't add your address, I'll get the winner to email me with their contact details.)

And that's it for our first Casual Friday.  Cheerio!

Stormwatch, Eagles and Hugos

Today Stormwatch #5 will be in your comic shops.  I think that in this issue the plan we've been working towards, indicating the future of the team, becomes clear.  Do check it out.

The nomination phase of this year's Hugo Awards is open. I'd like to point out that I have several horses in the race this year...

In the Novelette category, 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' in the July issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

In the Graphic Story category, 'The Black Ring' in Action Comics or 'For Six' in Knight and Squire.  (A story needs to be complete to qualify, so no Demon Knights or Stormwatch yet.)

In the new Fancast category, The SF Squeecast, which is brought to you by me, Kat Valente, Seanan McGuire, Lynne Thomas and Elizabeth Bear.

To vote in the Hugos, you need either to have attended last year's Worldcon in Reno, be going to this year's in Chicago, or buy a supporting membership for Chicago, great value in that you get e-editions of all the nominated works in return.

This is not the case, however, in terms of the other awards system I'm mentioning today, the Eagle Awards, which is open to anyone.  Go take a look at their new ballot and vote for your favourite comics.  (Demon Knights, Action Comics, Knight and Squire and Stormwatch are all eligible for this one, but please don't vote for me as Favourite Newcomer.  I won that last time.  Jimmy Broxton, though, would be a cool write-in as that, or indeed as Best Artist.  I think this is one of those polls where write-ins stay in the drop down menu, so he may well be on the list by the time you look.)  Doctor Who fans will want to help DWM in its quest for Eagle recognition.  And could I just say that it's a shame that Frank Hampson has never been voted onto the Hall of Fame in an award named after the comic he spent so much time working on.

In other business, CBR asked me and a whole bunch of other creators about their comics picks for 2012, and if you've ever visited the Broken Frontier comics website, they've got a survey up asking about that.

I'll be back on Friday, with the first of our Casual Fridays, featuring music, special guests and chatter.  Until then, Cheerio!

The This Time Next Year Game: The Entries!

Hello, and welcome back to the blog after my post-Christmas break.  I'm feeling rather wonderfully rested, and ready for what I hope will be an exciting 2012 (the new novel!)  From this Friday I'll be starting a new feature on the blog, Casual Fridays, which will hopefully continue the spirit of the 12 Blogs of Christmas all year round, with music, guests and regular writing advice (because that was the really popular bit).  

A couple of things have happened in that gap.  Stormwatch #5 is out on Wednesday, and you can see a five page preview of the issue (where the format we've been working towards comes clearly into view, I think) here. And if you were after a Harry Tanner/Midnighter fight scene, this is the issue for you.

And Vaneta Rogers at Newsarama interviewed me about Saucer Country, wherein I reveal a lot of detail about what that title will be aiming for.

Now, we come to the matter of our This Time Next Year Game.  On the first of the 12 Blogs, on December 13th, I set a number of speculative questions, for one point each if the entrants got them right, about what might happen in the 365 days between that blog and December 13th 2012 (which is when we'll tot up a final score and declare a winner).  I'm delighted at how many of you took up the challenge.  We have 27 entrants, namely:

Jennifer Kelley.
Adarnallen. (Ads.)
Adam Short.
RunIago. (Ed H.)
C.A. Young.
Matthew Hyde.
Uther Dean.
Fizzle. (Lee Sailor.)
Phil Hansen.
Paul F.
Michael Lee.
Unknown. (Which is a bit steep, since I asked for a name, but this is the only one.)
L.M. Myles.
David Bishop.
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. (Kev F Sutherland.)
Dean Hazell.
Penny Heal & Jason Stevens.

And here, to remind you, are the questions, and some of the more interesting responses we got for each...

1: Name *one* musical act, other than any that took part in (that is, was a contestant in) TV talent show The X Factor, that will have a UK Number One single (on the standard chart the BBC use) between February 1st, 2012 and December 13th, 2012.

Rihanna was your most popular choice, for obvious reasons, and stranger things have happened than The Wombles or GWAR making it back to the top spot.  

2: Who will be the British Prime Minister at midnight on December 12th, 2012?

Everyone but three of you went with David Cameron.  (Two for Boris Johnson, one for Alan Moore.)  But twelve months is a long time in politics.  

3: Who will be credited as writer on the last issue of Action Comics that comes out before December 13th, 2012?

Again, in a similar way, Grant Morrison is widely seen to be staying put, with outside bets on me and, again, Alan Moore.  (I should think it's more likely he'll become Prime Minister.  If he does both, I think that's proof magic works.)  Joe Casey, Si Spurrier, JMS and Garth Ennis are all interesting middle-odds punts. 

4: Name *one* writer (apart from Steven Moffat) who will write a script in the next season of Doctor Who (specials and charity episodes don't count).

Mark, Gareth and Toby were your recurring obvious bets, with one thoughtful punt on John Fay and a surprising long shot on Geoff Johns. 

5: Will life on another planet (not necessarily intelligent life) be generally regarded by the scientific community as having been discovered before December 13th, 2012?

N.J. and Dean Hazell are the only ones of you that say yes. 

6: Which book will win Best Novel at the 2012 Hugo Awards?

A Dance With Dragons, Embassytown and Reamde are your most popular choices.  Some of you have picked interestingly-plausible alternatives (Vernor Vinge, Jo Walton), some of you seem to be promoting your friends' books, or know something I don't. 

7: What about Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form at the same Awards?

'The Doctor's Wife' or 'The Wedding of River Song' are your runaway favourites, with interesting side bets on 'The Pointy End' from Game of Thrones and the last episode of Misfits.  Just specifying a series title (as a few of you did with Doctor Who) isn't good enough to get you a point.  

8: Will any of the 2012 Academy Award (Oscar) nominees for Best Picture be (within a generous description) in the genres of science fiction, fantasy or horror?

Most of you think so.  I'm really tempted to go with the literal wording of the entrant who said 'all of them', but actually I'll just take that as a yes. 

9: Name *one* historical figure (apart from H.G. Wells) whose name will be mentioned in a new episode of Warehouse 13 broadcast in the UK before December 13th, 2012.

Jules Verne, JFK and Abraham Lincoln each got two votes among a varied and almost entirely plausible field.  Unfortunately, I forgot that the agents' weapon of choice is called a 'Tesla', and so the several who said that are almost guaranteed a point.  But fair enough, I missed that and you took advantage.  The game is the game.  

10: In the three Test Matches played between England and the West Indies in May and June 2012, which England bowler will take the most wickets?

Onions, Tremlett, Finn, Anderson, Swann, Broad, Rashid or Tredwell (two nice long shots those last ones), sure, Kevin Pietersen... well, what sort of match are you anticipating, Ed? (And you just copied Ed, didn't you, RHeitzmann?)  To many of you this was one question too far.  Sorry.   

11: Will any more missing episodes of Doctor Who be discovered before December 13th, 2012? (I know some of you are just going to say 'I hope so', but only concrete answers get you points.)

The episodes that were discovered before the game started don't count, so I hope those of you who voted Yes didn't think you were guaranteed a point.  You're pretty evenly split either way, but I do like the courage of the people who guessed they'd be from 'Reign of Terror' and found in Zambia.  (I won't hold you to the details.)

12: Name *one* author with a story in the June 2012 cover dated edition of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

Many of you think that was my coy way of saying I'd sold another story (it wasn't), but amongst several plausible choices (and some mad ones: a Mark Millar career change?) Connie Willis and Allen M. Steele were mentioned a couple of times. 

13: Name *one* (with all episodes existing) Doctor Who story that will still not have been released on DVD (in the UK) by December 13th, 2012.

'The Ambassadors of Death', 'The Mind of Evil' and 'Terror of the Zygons' are your leading bets.  I feel very sorry for the (quite a few of you) who went for 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' (and then presumably saw the release schedule for next week) or 'The Sensorites', and I think that 'Dimensions in Time' is a clever punt on Kev's part, so I'm allowing it. 

14: Name *one* (new, not reprint) Marvel Essentials volume that will be released (in the USA) between June 1st, 2012 and December 13th, 2012. (You don't have to give a volume number, just name a series.)

Many interesting and informed long shots (Excalibur, Warlock, New Mutants) and someone who just liked the idea of more giant-sized Man Thing.  

15: Which musical act will provide the main title theme song of the 2012 James Bond movie, Skyfall?

Adele, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Coldplay are your favourite guesses, with Kendersrule intriguing me by opting for Queen.  Hmm, that can't be, can it?

16: Will the physics community generally accept (to what they call a 5-sigma level of uncertainty) the discovery of the Higgs Boson before December 13th, 2012?

Surprisingly many of you bet against.

17: And for that matter, will they, in the same way, before the same date, accept that neutrinos (in that particular well- reported experiment or any other) can travel faster than the speed of light?

Six of you went for yes.  Hopeful people.

18: Name a DC New 52 comic (one of the 52 launched under that banner) that won't have an issue released in August, for whatever reason. ('They'll all have one' is allowed, and what I'd hope for.)

Pleasingly many of you think they'll all have one.  

19: Other than The Lizard, name another villain who'll appear in the movie The Amazing Spider-Man. Or will there not be any other?

The Rhino, Vulture, Green Goblin, Mysterio, and one vote for the Man-Wolf.  No, Flash Thompson doesn't count, and I've decided those of you who put that are actually voting for 'no other'.  

20: In what month of 2012 will the Archbishop of Canterbury retire? Or not this year at all?

February, March, April, June, July, August, October and November are where that roulette ball's run will attract your attention.  But most of you think he'll stay put. 

21: Name *one* song performed or heard in Glee in a new episode shown between March 1st 2012 and December 13th, 2012. (Let's go with UK broadcast dates, which are just a couple of days after the US ones.)

I'm assuming, L.L., that you're betting on Rage Against The Machine rather than insulting the person who will decide on your points.  'Edge of Glory' by Lady Gaga and 'Price Tag' by Jesse J attract a few votes among a field of interesting options ('Rocket Man' with William Shatner, I can see it now!) Those of you who voted in a witty vein, oh no, I'm taking your bets absolutely seriously.  

22: Of the actors who have played the Doctor (in any medium), who will have the most Twitter followers at midnight on October 1st, 2012? (Genuine accounts only. Anyone within 100 either way gets a point.)

Yes, Colin Baker, obviously, but many of you bet on Matt Smith or David Tennant opening an account (and one thought Matt already had).  I'm counting those who went for Joanna Lumley or Mark Gatiss, because 'in any medium' could be taken to include comedy sketches. 

23: And how many Twitter followers will I have at midnight on August 1st, 2012? (Don't be rude, now. Same rule as for question 20.)

From 15,000 (Soru thinks I'll be losing two thousand followers this spring) to 1.3 million (no pressure), most of you are guessing somewhere around 20K.

24: Which country will top the official medal table at the end of the London Olympic Games in 2012?

'Top the medal table' is very specific, so I've taken Nick's 'to get the most overall medals' as his answer.  Most of you said the USA, then China, with individual bets on Jamaica (!) and one on the UK (thanks, Tom).

25: Will Captain Britain appear in at least a single panel of any new Marvel (US) comic released in September 2012?

A pretty even split there.  David Bishop said NO in block capitals. 

26: Who will get the Republican nomination for US President? (Just a name, please, not an essay.)

Romney leads Gingrich, with single votes for Perry, Palin and Bachmann. 

27: Will Kate Bush release any new music (that is to say, any track that has so far been unreleased) between January 1st 2012 and December 13th, 2012?

Most people think not.  ('Sorry,' says Nick.)

28: Will Peter Dinklage's character Tyrion Lannister slap anyone onscreen in Season Two of Game of Thrones?

Most of you think so and look forward to the prospect.  Those who know the books well tell me this isn't likely, but this being an adaptation, they may well decide to repeat such a popular move.  We shall see. 

29: Will the makers of the upcoming (2013) Star Trek movie reveal that the character of Khan will be appearing in that movie before December 13th, 2012?

Sorry, I did say '2013' in the original question, but most of you think not.  No, it hasn't happened already, there's just an internet perception that it has, hence the luring question.

30: Who will win this year's Boat Race? Oxford or Cambridge? Or will both sink?

Most of you think Oxford. If Adam Short's bet on an underwater victory for Cambridge happens, I'll suspect sabotage.

Thanks, everyone, for taking part.  Whenever a point is scored, I'll post about it here, and put up a league table as soon as possible.  The earliest that points will definitely be scored is January 24th, when it's the Academy Award nominations announcement.

Good luck, and until Wednesday (when I'll remind you about Stormwatch), Happy New Year and Cheerio!