I also saw the cover design for London Falling, and that was a lovely moment, let me tell you. There'll be a day in the next few weeks when you'll be able to pre-order it from Amazon, and sometime in October you'll be able to advance order it from your local book shop. Believe me, I'll let you know!
And, blessed be, thanks to a swift bit of genius on the part of Tor, the ebook edition, out on the same day, will be free of Digital Rights Management software, so you'll be able to move your legally-purchased ebook between devices, etc. That makes my life a bit easier.
Today I was back to commuting across London to work on the mysterious Project M!
Last Friday night, I joined Pinborough, Will Hill, Phil Ford (I introduced those two: 'Will, Phil! Phil, Will Hill!' Maybe you had to be there) and various other writing chums at the Lyceum Theatre, where Tony Lee had organised a commemoration of the anniversary of Bram Stoker's death, with toasts from Sir Christopher Frayling (who I was pleased to meet), and the vampiratti. Thence to many drinks. And the day after I popped along to the Lord Clyde for the latest of Si Spencer's SWALC pub afternoons. (The acronym doesn't mean anything, but I suggested Some Writers at the Lord Clyde, and there isn't yet a convenient website.) The combination of musical acts, established creators (Si Spurrier and Kim Newman popped in) and hopefuls with sketchbooks was an intoxicating one, and I'm sure I'll pop back when I'm not on the guest list. Midweek, we played host to 'the' Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, who we took out for a curry and then down the pub. He was, as always, a great source of anecdote about matters SF and scientific, and we, erm, came second in the pub quiz. I swear the regulars at the Saracen's Head don't believe half of what I say.
I'm sorry to say that, following a series of (perfectly civil and diplomatic) conversations about Panel Parity, I'll be going along to sign things and meet the audience at the Kapow convention, but I won't be appearing on any panels. In order to get onstage and then give my place to a female participant, I'd now have to lie to people I respect, and I regard it as a personal failure that I haven't managed to get a better result in terms of fifty/fifty gender representation. Still, there have been some good outcomes already, and there'll be some better ones later this year. I suppose I under-report the good stuff, but for one thing I don't want to trumpet to the extent of making it look like it's me who's doing the work here (rather than the programmers of Olympus and alt.fiction), and also Panel Parity feels so normal in practice, because fifty/fifty is normal, that it actually seems odd to yell about it when it happens.
We went to see Avengers Assemble today. It's exactly what you're after, and a good deal better than you might expect. (SPOILERS AHOY!) The two and a half hour running time gives it room to unfold the wings of a real movie, and plot moves that might feel awkward and irksome (Hawkeye gets possessed immediately?! But we've hardly met him!) are given space to deploy properly and work themselves out. (Tony's compassion for and identification with Bruce Banner being what saves him is a particularly nice example.) There are still a couple of examples of what might be called Blockbuster Vagueness (I suspect this is caused when cuts have to be made to an edifice that's already creaking under multiple influences and conflicting storylines.) I'm pretty sure that rather forced row between our heroes was caused by the presence of Loki's staff. It was filmed like that. But nobody just hit the beat by saying that out loud, and I wonder if there was an executive somewhere who thought the row might play more dramatically if it was about genuine differences between the characters, thus underlining their need for avenging redemption. I also wonder about Thor standing in a field flexing his fingers for a bloody long time before retrieving his hammer. I suspect that might be because of his uncertainty about his previous actions, but I don't know it in the way the movie so successfully telegraphed so many other things to me (the Widow's back story being a brilliant example) and I'm actually not quite sure how I could know it from that scene. But these are minor mis-steps. Director/writer Joss Whedon gets so hugely what the central attraction of super hero comics is: action motivated by high emotion. He lets us get to know these people in a lot of depth before and while havoc ensues. He gives Pepper and Natasha huge dollops of agency, so much so that it shines a light on how little depth/motivation women normally get in blockbuster movies. That four minutes or so is the best material Gwyneth Paltrow has ever got as Pepper. Natasha is basically our point of view character. There are quite a few deliberately set up 'super hero battles', and who would have bet beforehand that 'Black Widow vs The Hulk' would be such an even match? That she would be such a warrior? Someone should do an essay on Whedon's un-knowable other; the cannon-fodder here are devised at entirely the right level of 'they're terrible things from out there, about which we don't want or need to know', just like so many things in Buffy. One brilliant decision: casting someone as Bruce Banner who is not puny. Turns out we're only scared of what he might become if he himself looks capable of physical threat. And it's smart Dr Watson all over again; Banner being big says the Hulk is bigger. Another brilliant decision: there's almost no continuity porn, tips of the hat, in-jokes, call them what you will. The only real one is saved for the last line, and it's a terrific pun that rewards the knowledge of the fan audience and might take them a while to get. A third brilliant decision: the Hulk must talk. Just not very much. Avengers Assemble (it's called that in the UK because, presumably, of John Steed, and is thus given a crappy screensaver of an onscreen title here) isn't much like The Ultimates, though the look of it obviously is. It's much more warm-hearted than that, with the character stories all being about redemption and courage. (It reminded me more than anything of the Jim Shooter run.) There is still that difficult blockbuster awkwardness with authority (yes, yes, one imagines Nick Fury saying, of course I used the Tesseract to make weapons, I thought that might be obvious to any sane adult), but it's used in the end as just another of the many, many, lovely tricks that a series of very clever people play on each other. And it takes cleverness to write those. I don't know how, among all this cleverness and heart, nobody could be found to make a Captain America costume that looks as good as it does in the eponymous movie. But come on, all in all, you've got to admit, that was a great time in the cinema. I think if I was ten it would have blown my little mind, and even in my forties, it still very nearly did.
This week, our hardback copy of the first edition of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass arrived, and sure enough, it was missing the first line! Now, Mary has made tremendous lemonade out of that lemon, and she was kind enough to send us (along with one of her trademark hand-written letters) some of her first line temporary tattoos, which we will wear with pride at Worldcon. We're particularly excited about the book because, to her delight, Mary has used my wife's name for a character.
The SF Squeecast has now reached Episode 11, without me on this one, but it's full of delights like Seanan McGuire on Stephen King and Cat Valente on Geoff Ryman.
You may be aware of how much I love the Hugo Awards. Well, courtesy of SF Signal, here's a lovely informational graphic showing you all you need to know.
If you're anywhere near Oxfordshire and you fancy booking a fifteen piece rhythm and blues orchestra for your function, for an evening of Jools Holland -style full brass section/quadruple singer gorgeousness, then you want to get hold of my wife's former band Boogie Me. They will make you dance. This week also brings our two final after-convention reports from those I talked to before their first Eastercon. First up, it's Peter Anghelides (who's on Twitter as @anghelides and can be found here)...
"I wasn’t sure what to expect from Eastercon. I’ve been to conventions before – many, many conventions – but asides from working on the Melbourne Worldcon in 2010 they have all been quite small with around 250-350 attendees at each one. They’ve also all been in Australia, so I honestly had idea what kind of atmosphere or content I could expect in Heathrow. Now Heathrow isn’t exactly the most glamorous location I’ve been to for a science fiction convention, but I’d be lying if I said my inner eight year-old didn’t get excited by all of the 747s taking off across the road from the convention hotel.
I was also running late. I volunteered to sit on a few panel discussions over the weekend, and also offered to give a presentation on science fiction movie posters. Unfortunately the presentation was scheduled for 1:00pm on the Friday, a day when I woke up on holiday in Wales and had to persuade my wife and best friend to drive me all the way to Heathrow Airport by lunchtime. I arrived a little short of time, only to discover that the AV set-up of my presentation wasn’t what I had asked for. I was expecting a small room with a laptop hooked up to a data projector. What I got was a massive ballroom, recently vacated by guest of honour George R. R. Martin, with a dedicated media team and an inability to control the slide presentation from the front of the room. I also discovered that I was supposed to have handed in my presentation data a week earlier. After some exceptional last-minute efforts by the technical crew, and a delay of a few minutes, I managed to deliver the presentation – a little panicky, a little rushed, and way too fast. I was so concerned I’d have to make up the 10 minutes I had lost that I accidentally made up about 20 minutes by mistake. Apologies to anyone who came to the presentation. It was not a promising start.
Thankfully once I’d finished the panicky rush through the movie posters presentation, I had a chance to relax, slow down, and explore the rest of the convention. It was, to be completely honest, not dissimilar to Australian conventions. There were a few differences, of course. For one thing, British fans drink a lot more beer. This might sound odd coming from an Australian – we’ve got a reputation for being pretty boozy people – but to be completely honest Australian fandom has quite a large number of teetotallers. Beer just seemed to be everywhere at Eastercon; in the fan lounge, at parties, even on the discussion panels. Another difference was the quite fabulous ‘green room’, where panelists were able to gather in advance of their
discussion and receive free drinks to take with them to their event. This is something I want to introduce back here in Australia – it makes the most remarkable difference to the quality of the program.
The program was fantastic. I participated in a few that I felt went incredibly well. I moderated a panel on fantasy in William Shakespeare’s plays with four absolutely incredible and engaging women (that was a sharp contrast to the previous day, when I found myself explaining why I thought Philip K Dick was a bit misogynist from an all-male panel to an almost entirely male audience). I ran a videogames-themed game show with another four remarkably funny panelists. I watched an absolutely outstanding solo presentation
about extra-solar planets. I even got to see the 2012 Hugo nominations get announced, and personally congratulate several of the nominees. I managed to catch guests of honour George R. R. Martin and Paul Cornell in a bunch of their items, and they were both outstanding speakers and very open and friendly to the fans.
It was a very social convention. I didn’t know many people going in, but I knew many more going out. On my first night I was invited out to dinner, which was lovely. I was never short of a conversation in a
Travelling to another country to attend a science fiction convention is a very scary prospect, and I was delighted to find that British science fiction fandom is just as varied, opinionated, frustrating, weird, welcoming and utterly wonderful as I’ve found it to be in Australia. It was a great experience all round: entertaining, inspiring and rewarding. I’d recommend anyone who’s never gone overseas to a convention to try it.
End note #1. If you’re keen to try a convention in another country, allow me to
recommend Swancon, which is the annual Western Australian convention and very much my home turf. It’s the longest-running SF convention in the southern hemisphere (at the same time as Eastercon 2012, WA hosted its 37th Swancon), and is very much like an Eastercon only smaller and on the other side of the planet.
End note #2. One of the panels in which I participated at Eastercon was a discussion of fan awards and editing fanzines. This has inspired me to edit a new fanzine of science fiction, fantasy and horror titled
Doubleplusgood. So if you’re reading this, and have an article, an interview, a review or some artwork, e-mail me at my gmail account – which is fanboy. You can find more information at my blog."
Thanks very much, Grant. (It's weird hearing myself referred to in the third person in those pieces.)
A bit of an oddity for my favourite music this week. I've always loved Ron Goodwin's Miss Marple theme, mainly for the way in which it manages to suggest all the things required of it: old but sprightly; very English; so groovy you can dance to it even if the title character can't. But just look at how hard everybody else as well as Goodwin is working in this near-perfect opening sequence from Murder At The Gallop...
I don't think that if I told my wife I'd just put Margaret Rutherford and Robert Downey Jr. in the same blog post she'd ask to speak to the real Paul. I may see some of you at the opening of Sci Fi London (I'll be helping judge their short film contest this weekend) or the Clarke Awards next week. Until then, Cheerio!