Archive for August, 2015

Seraph Chronicles

Hello and welcome once again to the site’s final post of the month. This time round we’re focusing on what Jack Black in School of Rock referred to “a little nepotiz”, by providing a platform for a quick update on some of the other writers beavering away in the local cluster. Geographically we’re dispersed across the UK but, whenever we have the chance to connect, we’re unified by our ever hopeful, ever ponderous engagement with the speculative genres.

Storm Constantine, owner of Imannion Press, continues to display her multitasking prowess by juggling a successful publishing house alongside penning thought-provoking shorts and immersive novels. Sadly, the recent and tragic death of Tanith Lee will no doubt focus Storm’s attention on preserving the author’s legacy in print and on the web. It’s definitely a worthwhile endeavour but one that will, hopefully, still leave enough creative space for Storm’s own brand of beguiling prose.

Fellow publisher and author, Ian Whates, has also been managing his two chosen professions with aplomb. While Newcon Press goes from strength-to-strength, his latest novel, Pelquin’s Comet, is also generating interest across SciFi review sites – Drozbot included. Ian’s also just announced his attendance at an author’s meet and greet in the National Space Centre, Leicester on the 9th Feb 2016. Not only that, but one of his published shining lights – Chris Beckett – has just released the sequel to his much lauded Dark Eden.

Elsewhere in space, Alex Lamb’s first novel, Roboteer, was launched at London’s Forbidden Planet in May of this year. Pulling in positive reviews from a host of media outlets, and promising another two books in the series, it looks like a blistering commencement to this writer’s catalogue of SciFi novels.

Finally, we return to well-trodden territory for this site with Modiphius Entertainment. Novelist John Houlihan has already penned four titles within Achtung! Cuthulhu, giving ample scope for exploration of Seraph – his eldritch special operative battling it out against Nazi-fuelled desires to tap into the powers of the Great Old Ones. He’s also the editor responsible for Dark Tales From the Secret War, in which my short story Der Albtraum appears. There has already been some promotional activity around last year’s Dragonmeet, with a second engagement lined up for Bristol Horrorcon this October. The anthology itself should be available for purchase by the end of 2015.

So then, if you like your speculative fiction, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for a good stretch of time without straying too far from the Drozbot fold. Dig in, and do pass on your comments if you get the opportunity to read any of the above.

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Alan Moore Jim Baikie Skizz

Back in May of this year we reported on all the joys of the Sad Puppy flap, and this site’s decision to defend SciFi’s ability to act as a space for experimentation – even for those whose political/moral stance we wholeheartedly disagree with. It’s refreshing then to read Samuel Delany in the New Yorker offering a similar deconstruction of the dispute, but to also take on-board his rational analysis that the driving force behind the collected hate is socio-economic. For him, as the disempowered rise in status and commercial heft, so the hegemony lashes out.

This being Drozbot, the pondering doesn’t simply dry up there. As the narrative voices within SciFi diversify – and we bear witness to the unfolding tragedy in Calais, France – the question about the representation of immigration in science and speculative fiction arises.

Delany himself has wrestled with what it means to write from the peripheries. To produce challenging work that has been critically acclaimed by a conservative old guard who couldn’t help but buy into his wonderful brand of experimentation. Meanwhile, a contemporary of his – and another regular to these pages – Ursula le Guin, has also explored the diaspora of humanity from multiple vantage points via her Hainish Cycle of books.

Historically we could also easily include the works of Octavia Butler and a few select others from the New Wave, but what of contemporary writers? Thankfully, there are now a host of fresh, multicultural voices where once there were only a few. And, inevitably, their stories focus upon the disposed. Of course, if we attempt to list even a few here, we immediately exile so many others. But to not evidence such diversity would be equally remiss.

Monica Byrne, for instance, is currently enjoying a wealth of critical acclaim from the SciFi community for her novel The Girl in the Road – a story that charts two female refugees fleeing their homelands as a result of power shifts and impending revolution. Meanwhile Alif the Unseen, by G Willow Wilson, describes the adventures of an Arab-Indian hacker who protects those escaping from political persecution under a Western culture of surveillance. Dig a little deeper and regional subsections of the genre percolate through the inclusiveness of the web. Latino/A Rising, AfroSF and many others pop up regularly on this site’s radar, and all contain tales of cultural tension as a result of worlds colliding.

What then of the white male legacy that still holds dominance within the genre? Well, one particularly switched on writer associated with, but definitely separate from, those reacting to the voice of the ‘other’, the voices from ‘elsewhere’, managed to sum up the inevitably of his own future. As reported on by Damien Walter in The Guardian, author Adam Roberts – in response to a question during the New Genre Army conference asking about where he saw his work heading – explained a shift towards increasing irrelevance. In his view he would, ultimately, be eclipsed by new voices from other countries and other experiences than those of the white male. Kudos to him and his experimental ability to imagine such a bitter sweet future. How very SciFi.

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Planetary The Four

While any kind of listicle is inherently crass and manipulative, there occasionally comes a time, place and adequate reason for building just such a piece. The launch point being, in this particular instance, a growing incredulity about what has happened to The Fantastic Four?

While I wasn’t reading the comic back during the formidable Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era, by the time I did arrive – via the Micronauts (1979) – the mind-expanding powers of the series were still in full effect. I empathised with Benn Grimm’s continual struggle to return to a disempowered humanity on the one hand, and loved just how inhuman The Silver Surfer was on the other. It was vast, weird and yet constantly grounded by Mr Fantastic’s ‘scientific’ reasoning. All the other characters that arrived and muddied the water via that continual narrative bleed of the Marvel cross-over could go hang. When it was just the team – with all their conflicted natures – coming together to face down the Inhumans, that was me totally and utterly invested. But, somehow, somewhere, something went badly awry.

The films – in every iteration – are terrible. The original animated series? Terrible. The 2006 anime reboot, while stylistically expansive was still riddled with glib one-liners and baggy plot lines. And yet, the intergalactic/inter dimensional settings of the comic book managed to bootstrap Marvel superheroes away from Earthly concerns. Brilliantly, the weird and warped realms that were populated by the likes of Moebius and Enki Bilal – mostly via the pages of Heavy Metal magazine – became a comparable destination for the Fantastic Four.

Everything that’s now attached to the series seems glib, dated and crying out for a shot in the arm. Such is its languished state that the biggest impact my old-school heroes have had on me is when they were brilliantly demonised as The Four in Warren Ellis’ unsurpassed 1998 Planetary series (John Cassaday image above).

So what next for The Fantastic Four now that the series has reached its current nadir? While I have absolutely no qualification to advise, I’ve been reading a lot of the negativity surrounding Josh Trank’s film and there is a remarkable consensus among its detractors. The collected call-outs for change focus upon:

  1. Bring back the otherworldly weirdness! An off world setting with some big dumb object about to totally annihilate the Earth.
  2. Ditch the origin story. Have it be the result of something *alien*, and then have the team recall conflicting accounts via false memory syndrome.
  3. Include the Silver Surfer as an angelic emissary of impending doom, then have him enter a black hole to find something to aid the team in their endeavour.
  4. Make Sue choose between her husband and her brother who both need rescuing at some point. Comic book geeks have been raised on a diet of strong, smart and resourceful women. Give them what they want!
  5. Don’t try to make Ben Grimm palatable. Just let his humanity shine through in intimate moments and then have him totally lose control in a horribly exultant, ‘bathed in the blood of vanquished aliens’ kind of way.
  6. Avoid any cross-over! Guardians of the Galaxy was good because it resisted any heavy-handed input from the rest of the Marvel universe.
  7. If you’re going to include Doctor Doom, show him killing a planet full of children at the start, and then work his evilness up from that point.
  8. Select your stars very, very carefully. If there’s no positive and negative chemistry between Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben, then the best script in the world isn’t going to help.
  9. Get Kenneth Branagh to direct. Thor became Shakespearian in his hands. The Fantastic Four deserves the same treatment.
  10. Finally, only use the wise cracks if they’re actually funny. If no one laughs in the read through, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite…

Yes, it’s easier to critcise than create, but when the outpouring of fan derision has so many common themes, Marvel would be foolish not to listen. Here’s hoping the next reboot is markedly different.

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