Banished, the GIF review.

Banished

Apologies in advance for anyone using a phone or slow internet, or if they get distracted by a forest of blinking, constantly moving images. I can’t stop myself. It’s an addiction.

*Cough* So, caveat established, on with the show – the show being me “reviewing” books by waffling for a bit and then covering up my total inability to deliver on or communicate the sort of insight that makes a review worth reading by flobbering a handful of GIF images all over the shop. It gives me something to do to fill the time when I should writing/hoovering/weeding/etc.

More caveats! Well, a confession, really. I got a proof of Banished at World Fantasy Con. I got it signed, and everything. It took me a couple of days to read, and then I passed it on to my girlfriend to read. It ended up forgotten on a KLM flight from Sweden, so if I fail to drop specifics to solidify a point you should know it’s because I don’t actually have the book any more. Sorry, Liz.

RuinedUniverse

A prediction of what Liz will do to me for losing her book next time I see her.

So yeah. Banished. It’s a contemporary fantasy, centred around the uneasy parallel existence of humanity and the Fae. More specifically, it focusses on the Blackharts. They are a human family that not only has deep connections to the other, but also a duty. They are the line between humanity and the darker, more predatory aspects of the fae. Well trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened, the Blackharts are nevertheless stretched thin by the demands of their role and the tensions that it creates for them in both the human and faery realms. Kit Blackhart is one of the youngest and least-trained members of the Blackhart clan, but she’s got an edge that hasn’t been seen in a generation: magic.

Bewitched

Everyone over thirty can now hear the theme tune in their head.

I was a little wary going into Chapter one, if only because I’ve been a little burned out by contemporary fantasy. I think the last thing I really got into were the Harper Connelly books by Charlaine Harris, if only because they were something different to the standard He’s a shifter! She’s a detective! Sparks FLY! narrative that seems to saturate the market. It took a while for me to find the correct GIF for my reaction to Banished.

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In short, it’s a lot of fun to read, and a pleasant surprise. One of the big problems that the genre faces is power creep. As the foes get bigger, the hero has to become more powerful in order to have any hope of facing off against them, and after a certain point it just starts to feel silly. Anyone familiar with Anita Blake, for example, will know exactly what I mean. It’s a problem that could have plagued Banished from the get-go, with the Blackharts established as figures of power and respect, but de Jager enacts a scorched-earth policy that is satisfyingly dramatic and problematic for Kit and her whole familt. I mean, she really puts a torch to it.

Explosion

Note: spoilers for book 1, 2, and doubtless 3.

So, Kit rescues a fae prince, they are hunted by the forces of darkness, and adventure ensues. You can read the blurb. You can, you clever people. It’s fast and neatly put together, and surprisingly visual considering how little space de Jager has to fill in the gaps between people running or kicking one another in the head. The world of the Blackharts – an existence on the boundary between the Real and the Other – runs through the book like a thread, catching your eye between breaths and there are treats galore for anyone with a passing knowledge of folklore. The world of Banished is big, and varied, and endlessly imaginative, but it’s never pushy about it. Here’s some cool stuff, it says with a wink. It might be useful later.

It’s no surprise that the author has extensive Pinterest boards related to the book and characters. It does surprise me, though that there aren’t many anime or manga-derived influences in there, though. Banished has the same feel to it in my head – the powers, characters, and conflicts have a flavour that reminds me of devouring episode after episode of an animated advventure show. That might seem like oblique praise, but if you’ve ever found yourself at three in the morning thinking, just one more episode, you’ll know that it’s not.

SamuraiChamploo

Samurai Champloo, btw. It’s on Netflix, iirc, and is *excellent*.

And that’s it. Banished comes out on the 27th of February, and I can heartily recommend picking it up.

Reign of Fire

An edited version of this rant review appeared on the very lovely Geraldine Clark Hellery’s blog during the build-up to the Nun & Dragon release (*cough* still available! still has a story by me in! *cough*). I thought since Gerard Butler popped up in a post the other day, I’d do the full version on here now that a suitable period of time has passed.

Fair Warning – I do go on a bit about a movie that appeared in 2002 and promptly sank like a fucking rock.

So. On with the show. What’s the deal with Reign of Fire? Is it really a bad movie, or is it a sadly underrated gem?

Awkwardly enough, the truth lies somewhere in between. Things were never going to go well for it. Prior to its release the marketing team made some terrible mistakes in promoting the film, the most damaging being the creation of a poster that made the apparent promise of a helicopter versus dragon dogfight.

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There *is* a helicopter in the movie – an Agusta A109 – and I count eight distinctive silhouettes of fully-armed Apaches in the poster. Failure to deliver is the worst crime that we can weigh against Reign of Fire, and it’s not even the movie’s fault.

Poor marketing isn’t the end of the world, but a myriad of smaller flaws combined to drive nail after nail into the coffin of what could have been the definitive dragon/apocalypse film.

The characterisation is weak.

The men are caricatures, with Christian Bale as Quinn, who we meet as an adult (following his VO narration of the dragonocalypse) digging away at the foundations of a castle. Contractual obligations being what they are, he has his shirt off and is working away with a muscular vigour that seems somewhat at odds with the idea that the last of humanity is scratching at the very limits of survival.

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“Bad news. We’re out of chocolate protein shakes. Only got cherry and hazelnut left. War is Hell.”

Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), summoned into the tale by the Plot Gods, is even worse: a grimy, sweat-soaked Techno Viking who demonstrates his tenuous grip on what sanity he has left by leaning forward a lot and fixing people with his boggle-eyed stare.

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Whatever you say about Denton van Zan, you’ve got to respect a man who is happy to Wil. E. Coyote himself off a building. Yes, that’s a verb now.

The sole exception is Creedy, played by Gerard Butler, who serves as Jiminy Cricket to Bale’s Pinnochio, a lone voice of (admittedly sarcastic) reason in a world given over to ridiculous idealogical clashes.

The women, by comparison, are non-existent. Alice Krige gets maybe a minute of screen time, including a memorably brilliant establishing shot of her flagrantly ignoring all forms of workplace safety by using a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher underground to flash-chill a can of beer. Added to the fact that her twelve year old son can get on-site and down the work lift with only the offer of a cigarette by way of challenge, the appearance of a dragon can be perhaps read as less a sign of the end times and more a fast-track past the red tape of an industrial tribunal.

Izabella Scorupco appears later as Alex: helicopter pilot, inexplicable Van Zan devotee, and token love interest. What little dialogue she gets is mostly spent in defence of one man, or expressing sympathy for the other. I guess we’re meant to be happy that she gets to fly the helicopter?

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“Whee! This is symbolic of my agency! Did you know I’m also a successful singer?”

What it gets right, though, is the thing that should have been promised in the marketing – a post apocalyptic vision where people are just trying their absolute best to cope and survive. In the face of the setup – dragons burninating everything until there’s nothing left to burninate – Quinn has taken the course of action that makes the most sense. He’s gathered as many people as he can, taken them to the most remote and defensible point he can safely reach, and he has started digging. Ultimately, he’s hoping that the dragons will run out of food and the matriarch will go back into hibernation before he does. The fact that she will eventually return is immaterial – the scale of her sleep/wake cycle is so vast that it is – on the timeline of the thirty or so families he’s trying to protect – essentially meaningless.

It’s a great concept, and it’s a shame that more time isn’t spent on it. The balance of people to food and the constant risk and consequences of exposure are touched on briefly in a very satisfying and surprisingly well-handled way. The group that disobey Quinn aren’t rebels – they’re just hungry. As much as they let the collective down, he cannot bring himself to punish them because he understands their desperation. The atmosphere and character of the community shines when it is shown as being just that – a community. By far the most memorable moment is seeing Bale and Butler act out the climax of The Empire Strikes Back to an audience of wide-eyed toddlers (bonus marks for Butler for his reassuring “it’s okay, I’ve still got my hand” wave) and it’s a genuine shame that we don’t see more of it.

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GaspHeWasStruckDown

Instead, we are passed over to a traditional Hollywood arc for the final third. Creedy is dispatched in an act of sacrifice that prevents him from picking holes in anything that follows, and Quinn throws every belief he has out the window before flying down to London to fight the dragon.

There’s a saying that goes, no-one ever sets out to make a bad movie, and yet bad movies still get made. In hindsight, it’s easy to see where Reign of Fire went badly wrong. It’s also easy to see where it went right, and could have gone much better. A little less man-versus-dragon and a little more of the human side of things and it could have become a classic.

Don’t believe me? Look at 28 Days Later, which also came out in 2002.

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Putting aside the incredibly weak setup (even the most ardent of animal liberators would know that opening a cage to an animal that’s been sorely abused, sticking your face in and smiling at it is a bad idea), it is a brilliant movie about how people try to cope with the end of the world. Yes, there are zombies, but the zombies are not the main event. It’s how everyone else reacts that drives the story forward, and it’s that difference that makes 28 Days Later the classic, and Reign of Fire the almost-ran.

Under the Hollow Hills

 

 

So, Dark Fiction Magazine Issue 14 is out now! For those of you not in the know, it’s an audio magazine that normally re-issues work but this time was looking for submissions with a folklore-themed twist. DFM was the home of my first story to ever actually do anything (The Rise of the Huntress) and I thought that writing a story with a remit that encompassed essentially ALL OF FOLKLORE, EVER would be a fun thing to do.

Certainly, it was a challenge working out what I wanted to write about. The one thing that guided my hand, really, was the fact that it would be an audio-only story, and the imp of the perverse struck. Why not write about the Hunting of Twrch Trwyth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out I’m not that cruel, although my story does revolve around that tale. I couldn’t resist using Bediwyr of the Perfect-Sinew, mind, because I think he’s had a rough time of things ever since Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I wanted to write about something small and personal, but influential for all that it hinges on how two people come to know one another. Basically the sort of fantasy that I love.

Also in DFM there are stories from Den Patrick, Gollancz author and all-round top chap; Caren Gussoff , a Seattle-based spec fic writer who I have just become aware of; and David Hartley, who (likewise) I hadn’t come across before but he does a lot of Flash Fiction stuff. Their stories are good craic – they go to much darker places than mine does (although I suspect I’m the only person who instantly connects King Arthur with a hesitant love story about two damaged people) and are well worth your time.

Anyway. Have a listen, and I hope you enjoy!

I think the word you’re searching for is “Space Ranger”.

So I was talking to a workmate today and she was asking a lot of questions about writing – about research and editing and so on and so forth – which prompted me to ask if she was writing anything. She wasn’t. Her twelve-year-old daughter, though…it turns out that she writes virtually non-stop, and when she’s not writing she’s reading or talking to anyone within earshot that will listen about it.

That’s the spirit, I thought.

I was kind of at a loss when she asked me if I could recommend resources or events that would be suitable for encouraging her, though. They had been to an Anthony Horowitz event and really enjoyed that, but author events in the North East tend to be notable for their scarcity. She asked if there were any workshops or groups that would be suitable, but all I could think was, at twelve? Needless to say there weren’t many things I could think of off the top of my head that would be age appropriate or successful in helping her interest along. The local theatre does a young playwright’s workshop but that was it as far as I could recall. If anyone has any suggestions, they would be gratefully received.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway. So I’ve been thinking about ways to a) up my writing tempo and b) get better at it. I’ve been sitting in a kind of limbo state tinkering with Gunslinger… since I finished editing the Fantasy novel and other than that just jotting down the odd idea as they come to me I’m not doing that much else. I’ve been reading where I can, but it feels like I’m not pushing myself forward. I need to do more things, and challenging things at that if I want to improve.

On the news front, I’ve got a story coming out soon in Dark Fiction Magazine, and another in Fox Spirit’s Tales of Eve anthology. I’ve been thinking of doing some more short fiction and my notebook is slowly filling with scribbles as I toss ideas around. I’m still toying with the idea of trying to hunt out a local writing group, if only to keep myself from spamming my Twitter friends every time I have a neurotic outburst, but it’s still the case of finding one. I would have liked to have kept up with the York Nanowrimo group, but it clashes with my other half’s knitting group and it’s a bit of a trek.

So, um, yeah. Things. Stuff. Less procrastination required. More words. Better words.

But first, tea.