Thursday, July 26, 2007

John Connolly on Youtube

Quick interview with John Connolly chatting about signings, violence in thrillers and deep themes vs. entertainment value in novels.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Robot Chicken

Stumbled across the Robot Chicken Star Wars spoofs on Youtube. Some are funnier than others but this is probably my favourite.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sod it

I'm fed up reading stories I don't enjoy.

Time was I enjoyed nearly everything I read. Oh, there'd be the occasional misstep where a book would catch my eye and then fail to deliver upon its promise but for the most part my reading experiences were happy ones. But for quite a while I've found more and more books are leaving me dissatisfied. And I think I know why.

More people are recommending books to me than ever before.

As a child discovering a new author was often a happy accident. Stories on Jackonary would catch my interest, a film I enjoyed would be novelized, or I might spy a book in the local library and closer inspection would lead me to believe that I would enjoy reading it. And of course people would recommend books to me.

But these recommendations were reasonably scarce, tending to come from only one or two trusted sources, friends who shared similar tastes to my own. Nowadays I'm constantly assailed by people badgering me to read their favourite authors. And it's not just people I actually talk to, it's the people on message boards and websites and newsletters and magazines and all the other stuff that I never used to bother with as a child. All of them saying, "You must read this new book!"

This would be a lot easier to ignore if it wasn't for the fact that I'm a writer. As a reader I can just read whatever I want to read and to hell with what anyone else thinks. But as a writer I'm supposed to have a solid background in all kinds of fiction. I'm supposed to be wellversed in the classics, to have a thorough knowledge of the history of the various genres that I write in as well as keeping up to date with all the current developments in those same genres. Plus, I'm supposed to read outside these genres in order to prevent myself merely recycling the cliches of the kinds of fiction that I write.

So when people tell me about an author who is a literary genius or whose work had a profound effect on a particular genre or who is currently redefining a genre I add that author's name to the list of stuff I'm supposed to be reading. Which means I'm relying on other people's recommendations on what I should read instead of my own judgement. Hence my reading so much stuff that I don't actually enjoy.

Now as a writer I'm not supposed to actually enjoy everything I read, the reading is supposed to be part of my work. But -- and I don't know if I'm alone in this -- I find that the more stuff I read that I don't enjoy then the less I actually write. The dreariness of the work I'm reading permnates my entire being and robs me of any desire to write any stories of my own. Now you can say this is just my excuse for being a lazy bastard, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong, but it is true that the less I enjoy the stories I'm reading then the harder I find the writing process.

Therefore I am currently saying the hell with it and am concentrating on reading stories that I think I will like and not what other people tell me I should like.

So there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Quick thoughts on some films I watched recently:

Die Hard 4.0. Okay, I'm of the school of thought that says they should have stopped making Die Hard films after the first one as they're never going to improve upon it. So I tried to view this less as a Die Hard sequel and more as the continuing adventures of John McClane. That way I'm not constantly judging it against one of my all-time favourite action films. (Yes, I'm aware that this is a bullshit rationalization that only makes sense inside my own mind but it's my mind so I can do what I like in there.)


Good things about the film: Justin Long is a likeable sidekick, and his presence isn't just shoehorned into the film like Samuel L Jackson in the previous film. The FBI chief isn't a complete moron like most authority figures in action films; he actually comes across as good at his job, it's not his fault that the villain is even better at his. And, most importantly, Maggie Q looks great in her slinky black outfits.

Bad things about the film: Kevin Smith's dire cameo. The increasingly ludicrous action scenes -- I'd be watching them thinking, "Yeah, that's great, just stop there and that'll be a pretty cool scene. No, seriously, stop 'cos if it goes on any longer ... okay, they've ruined it." And Bruce Willis's invulnerability -- there's one bit where Willis and one of the bad guys receive almost identical injuries yet the villain dies and Willis just gets a flesh wound.

Hot Fuzz. To be fair I was a bit tired when I watched this but my initial reation is that it's nowhere near as good as Shaun of the Dead. Too much stunt casting. Not enough decent jokes. All the supporting characters are caricatures. The hero is too uptight to actually do anything to get the audience to sympathise with him -- and if he's such a wonderful supercop why does it take him so long to unravel such a simple case? The references to action movies are blatantly signposted and are used as a substitute for characterization. The shift in tone from Heartbeat to Midsomer Murders to generic action flick never really convinces. I could go on but I can't be bothered. Now that my hopes have been dashed I might watch it again and enjoy it on its own terms but right now I can't help but feel that Pegg, Frost and Wright just pissed about while making this film, relying on the good will from Shaun to produce good box office.

X-Men: The Last Stand. After the panning this film got from the critics I'm surprised how much I enjoyed it. Granted, it's no masterpiece and it's riddled with plotholes and bad acting but it never seemed to become truly awful. Yes, Cyclops is criminally underused yet again. Yes, Vinnie Jones cannot act to save his life. Yes, Magneto's characterization veers inconsistently from one scene to the next. Yes, the film has not one but two cop-out endings (watch right to the end of the final credits). Yes, it expects you to care about characters who have bugger all screentime (the Beast, Angel, Kitty Pryde, Collossus and a cast of what seems like thousands). But somehow it captures the spirit of the comics better than Singer's efforts. While Singer made the better films they felt more like SF films than X-Men films. X3 feels more like the comics. Not the best of the comics to be sure but it did capture that sense of leading inexorably to a massive super-battle that is pretty much the cornerstone of superhero comics -- "We're dealing with complex ethical issues here which should be discussed in a mature and rational ... oh, sod this. FIGHT!!!"

Admittedly, from what I understand Singer was planning to take X3 in a similar direction anyway and he probably would have made a much better job of it than Brett Ratner. And I'm pretty sure X3 won't stand up to repeated viewing (I've already had someone point out a major plothole that I hadn't spotted) but it was kind of fun at the time.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Deja Vu

Weird thing happened whilst I was watching House last night. The episode revolved around House treating someone he had been dreaming about despite House never having previously met the person. Fair enough, but about halfway through the episode I found I could predict what was going to happen in each scene.

This was a little strange. This was a new episode so I couldn't have seen it before. And why could I only predict the second half of the story? Even if I had somehow managed to see the episode prior to this I would have remembered the whole thing due to its interesting premise and the cool opening scene. Plus the geek part of my brain would have remembered that the patient was played by Marc Blucas who was Riley in Buffy.

Puzzled, I continued to watch the episode.

Eventually I realised what had happened. A couple of months back I was thrown when a scene dealing with a subplot felt jarringly out of place with House's continuity. That same scene was in last night's episode but now it felt right at home continuity-wise. Okay, Five had obviously screwed up and shown the episode ahead of schedule and now they were showing it in its correct place. But why couldn't I remember the first half of the episode? I don't have a definite answer for that but the simplest solution is that I just missed the first half when it was previously aired. That would also explain why I didn't remember the Buffy connection; for the portion of the show that I remembered Blucas only made a brief appearance and had a shaved head due to aborted brain surgery.

Mystery solved.

Apart from the freaky coincidence of my experiencing deja vu due to a vague memory whilst watching a TV show where the main character experiences deja vu due to a vague memory. *Twilight Zone theme plays in background*

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mutants, Supermen, Aces and Crooks

Here's some quick thoughts on some of the comics I've been reading recently.

Astonishing X-Men: Torn by Joss Whedon. Third volume of the Buffy-man's X-book. Plenty of action and humour along with some nice character moments. Whedon's a big Chris Claremont fan so the book has a classic feel but with a modern sheen. One problem with the book might be X-continuity, if you haven't read enough of Claremont or Grant Morrison's runs you might not quite get who some of the villains and supporting characters are supposed to be. But if you're an X-expert I'm told that some of the plot twists are a little predictable as they're new takes on old ideas. Fortunately I seem to have just the right amount of continuity knowledge for neither of these problems to bother me.

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison. An attempt to squeeze all the essential elements of Superman lore into one book. So sarky Lois Lane doesn't realise that klutzy, awkward Clark Kent is really Superman. Jimmy Olsen is a master of disguise. Lex Luthor is a hissably evil megalomaniac. Superman's powers can be distilled into a poition. Supermen of the future drop by at a moment's notice. It's all very Silver Age with a large splash of Christopher Reeve's take on Clark Kent but Morrison seems to be trying too hard. For all the book's brightly coloured sense of wonder Morrison has never been great at writing characters I can warm to, the archness of his style creating distance. He does try to generate emotion but he always seems more interested in moving on to the next piece of crazy super-powered sci-fi.

Battler Britton by Garth Ennis. North Africa WWII. Wing Commander Robert Britton and his squadron are assigned a bunch of US pilots and are told to show them the ropes. Cue much bickering between the war weary Brits and the trigger-happy Yanks. Ennis does his best to make this interesting, with a mixture of idiots and sympathetic characters in both camps but this still feels like storytelling by numbers. The cast is too large for anyone to develop a real personality and having everyone in uniform sometimes makes it a little difficult to distinguish between characters. Still, Ennis obviously has fun writing the exploits of one of his childhood comic book heroes. And he drops in lots of authentic details about WWII aerial tactics.

Criminal: Coward by Ed Brubaker. Picked this one up on a reccomendation from Simon. Leo is a planner, and a cautious one at that. The first sign that one of his criminal schemes might go awry and he's out of there. He never takes risks. But of course that makes for a very boring story so he ends up being coerced into a job where he has to take risks. Lots of them. Gritty characters spout gritty dialogue as they doublecross each other. Much more subdued take on crime than say Sin City, with the emphasis on character interaction over mindless violence. Even so, you know it's just a matter of time before the bullets start flying.