Virtual Science Fiction Festival–Nov 15 and 16 2014

A free Virtual Science Fiction Festival called #BFIVoyager will be taking place on the 15th and 16th November. A collaboration between HarperCollins and the BFI, the festival takes place as part of the BFI’s major three month celebration of Science Fiction, Days of Fear and Wonder. The festival takes place at BFI Southbank and venues across the UK until December, full of science fiction films and television, including Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, Barbarella, the cinema rerelease of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a programme of talks, lectures and discussion with film and TV directors, actors and screenwriters.

Virtual Sci-Fi Festival logo

The aim of the BFIVoyager Science Fiction festival is to explore the link between Science Fiction literature and film and the program will reflect the 3 main themes of the BFI’s film season:

  • Tomorrow’s World – from post-apocalyptic wastelands to megacities to far-flung dystopia
  • Altered States – the science fiction of ‘inner space’ mad scientists, mutants, man-machines and mind-bending trips
  • Contact! – time to explore life from all corners of the universe and across multiple dimensions

The festival will be free to ‘attend’. Register now to be sent the full programme closer to the time and receive 2 free science fiction ebooks.

What If? by Randll Munroe

Every now and again I get to read a non-fiction book which blows my socks off. Over the years the contenders have mostly been historical in nature — as is my particular bent — but this time, and completely unsurprisingly, things are a little different.

“What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” is a book by Randall Munroe, most popularly known as the creator and author of the phenomenally popular “XKCD” webcomic.What If

And it lives up to its name.

The first question Munroe answers — with some authority, as a man who started life out as a NASA roboticist — is this:

What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?

It is not a question I had ever contemplated, nor do I imagine I will ever be able to put into practice the information I have gleaned from Munroe’s answer (which, in typical XKCD fashion, starts out simply saying: “Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting.”).

However it’s damned fun!

The premise of the book is simple: Munroe’s XKCD website features a regular column in which the author answers ‘What If?’ questions. The best of these (as well as some of the more worrying — see below) are answered in detail in the book, along with Munroe’s beloved artwork — helping, illustrating, and laughing at some of his answers.

The questions answered range across the whole scientific spectrum, including my favourite:

What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?

The answer, inevitably, results in death, but the how and why is a fascinating learning experience.

And that’s the trick of why this book is so good. Yes, it’s hilariously terrifying at times (“How many houses are burned down in the United States every year? What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say, at least 15%)?” — as a note, Munroe doesn’t answer this question), and absurd (“How much force power can Yoda output?”), but in the end, the book is also really informative. Entire high school science curriculums should be built solely around Munroe’s method of education.

Periodic Table
Image Credit: Wired

So the audience for this book is many and varied: If you’re into science, young and not into science, a parent of someone young and not into science, a parent, a fan of XKCD, a fan of weird scientific questions answered …

Now I come to think of it, I think it’d be good if Randall Munroe did a What If? about who his book doesn’t appeal to. The science would be fascinating.

Pick it up at your local Amazon (or wherever).

Spotlight: Scions of the Storm by Alan Scott

‘Scions of the Storm’ is the second instalment in the ‘Storm Series’ trilogy, and covers the next sixteen years of this epic tale. It concludes the tale of Nathanial and his daughter, details the rise of the ‘Midnight Man’ and for the first time reveals hints about the two deadly, but hidden, forces that are using the Twin Kingdoms as a pawn in their eons old game of domination.

As ‘Scions of the Storm’ draws to an end, it prepares the reader for the final episode of this dark bittersweet trilogy and sets the ground work for the final story ‘A Dark and Hungry Storm.’

For more information and updates search Facebook for ‘EchoesOfAStorm’ or visit www.alankscott.com.

Amazon.co.uk buy button

Amazon.com buy button

Scions of the Storm book cover image

Learning the Language of the Dothraki, thanks to Living Languages

Every now and again a package rocks up at my doorstep, completely unasked for, and completely awesome. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen, it definitely makes my day.

So last week, after unwrapping Terry Pratchett’s new non-fiction anthology, I picked up the second parcel and, low and behold, what did I find?

living-language-dothraki-a-conversational-language-course-based-on-the-hit-original-hbo-series-game-of-thronespaperback-book_500The “Living Language Dothraki” package, a “conversational language course based on the Hit Original HBO series Game of Thrones”.

Now, for those wondering, Living Language is a genuine foreign language self-study publisher, who provide very popular language packages for the more boring languages, such as Japanese and Russian. That they had branched out into fictional languages is completely new to me, though I should have known better.

The pack contains a book to help you as you work through the 5 separate lessons provided on an accompanying CD: dealing with Pronunciation, Basic Expressions, Grammar, Vocabulary, and Dialogue.

In much the same way as any language learning tool, the Living Language Dothraki takes you from the small, and then builds up as you go. I’m not an expert at languages – in fact, I have proven multiple times my inability to learn anything other than English – but this proves to be a lot of fun for fans of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, as well as “The Game of Thrones”.

You can find out more about the Living Language package by heading on over to their Dothraki website, for more reviews, the app, and more.

Fantasy / science-fiction book name crossword

Fergus found himself with some spare time on his hands so he set his deviously Moriarty-like brain to creating a crossword where all the answers are very well-known fantasy and science fiction books. See how you get on, the answers will be published tomorrow.

Box

Across

  1. Working for Jimmy ‘The Tulip’ Tudeski (19)
  2. A sunny remembrance (14)
  3. Against living, restraining Order (12)
  4. A building is constructed well on this (10)
  5. A period or state of obscurity, ambiguity, or gradual decline (8)
  6. I’m trip’n (6)

Down

  1. Gemmell’s first novel (6)
  2. Character forgets his handkerchief and is most worried (9)
  3. Copperfield and Houdini are one of these (8)
  4. Alloy-ticker (10)
  5. The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust, Track 4 (7)
  6. Skinny sleep-giver (11)
  7. Mirror, taraba (6)
  8. The Tattooed Fellow (13)
  9. Parent of the piglet (12)
  10. Finisher of Sports (10)
  11. Wyvern aviation (12)
  12. To Er is to leave (6)

Sandman Slim Nursery Rhymes

Send your child to bed the right way!

As you lay your head to Sleep (Metallica, Enter the Sandman inspired)

When I lay my head to sleep,

I pray to Samuel, my soul to keep.

Beast below the things that bite,

No more day, no more light.

Beneath my bed, eternal night, Dream of hands griping tight,

What’s that noise behind door,

Speak his name dead forever more.

Sandman Sandman, I see you there,

Sandman Sandman, have a care,

Sandman Sandman, my life you take,

Sandman Sandman, I must awake.

One , Two, Sandman is Coming for you! (Freddy Krueger inspired)

1, 2, The Sandman is coming for you,

3, 4, lock your door,

5, 6, grab your crucifix; rocket launder; tactical nuclear warhead; WHATEVER,

7, 8, better stay up late,

9, 10, never sleep again

Sleep baby Sleep (Inspired by an old nursery rhyme)

Sleep, baby, sleep, Sandman guards your dreams tonight;

His Kiss blessed arm holds the door, Gun and knife and a lot more.

Rest your head on dreams shore;

The Sandman is going to count to four.

Sleep, baby, sleep.

Review: Asterix and the Picts by Ferri and Conrad

For those of you who don’t know how the book review-gig goes, it’s pretty simple. Each publishing house generally has their own specific method of going about things, but in essence, every month or three an email will go out with a list of books being published. You can then request those which meet your specific genre or tastes, and hope for the best.

A few months ago, such an email came through, and my mind was immediately cast back to my childhood when I saw the title ‘Asterix and the Picts’.

For those of you who grew up under a rock (because I’m assuming that would be the only possible way to escape the sheer width and breadth of distribution the Asterix series of books enjoyed) Asterix (and his fat friend Obelix) is a French comic written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo that received massive popularity around the world. According to some numbers, 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making the pair exceedingly bestselling authors.

I’ll skip the rest of the history lesson, in lieu of sending you towards the lengthy Wikipedia entry, suffice to say, the moment I saw there was a new Asterix story had me feeling very nostalgic.

The story is exactly what you want from an Asterix story. Frozen Pict floats onto local Gaulish beach, discovered by Asterix and Obelix, soon the envy of all the women in the village, which inevitably leads to Asterix and Obelix being tasked with escorting the young handsome Pict back to his lady-love and the giant otter that lives in the local Loch.

As with every Asterix book, it’s all very short and to the point. 48 pages in length, and with obvious translation issues causing some at-times odd brevity. This would appear to be the first Asterix book not to involve either of the original creators – Goscinny having died in 1977 and seemingly finally passing on the baton.

I loved this. I genuinely did. I poured through the pages, reliving some very good Asterix art considering it was not illustrated by Uderzo (this time by illustrator Didier Conrad). The linework is just like it has ever been, with beautiful cartoon-style lines and shading, and the colours have always been brilliant, and are no different in this newest volume.

If you’ve never read Asterix, or if you’re a lifelong fan like I am, then Asterix and the Picts is an absolute must-read. Buy it for yourself, or buy it for your kids and then sneak a read – either way, it’s going to be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up.

10/10

Movie Review: Justice League – The Flashpoint Paradox

DVD cover of Justice League: The Flashpoint ParadoxUnlike many DC fans of the time, I allowed the crossover event ‘Flashpoint’ pass me by in favour of not having to read another mediocre DC crossover event. Many years of sub-par stories had left me wanting more – and I found more at Marvel, much to DC’s chagrin, I imagine.

Nevertheless, though a little late, I diligently waited for ‘Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox’ to be released as DC’s direct-to-video animated film franchise continued. And though a little sparse at times, I must admit I’m wondering whether maybe I should head back to the comic.

The premise is one of DC’s favourites – time travel by means of the Speed Force – which means our lead character is one of DC’s most beloved – the Flash. Barry Allen, to be specific, and in this story Barry’s life – and the entire universe itself – is turned upside down by Barry’s greatest threat – Professor Zoom.

Unsurprisingly, when Flash and Zoom tangle, things get complicated, and the appearance of Thomas Wayne as Batman is only one of many changes to the timeline that threaten the lives of everyone on Earth.

The artwork behind the DC direct-to-video movies has always been stellar, and Flashpoint is no exception. With hints of modern-day anime lending its influence to Batman, and some good old-fashioned Flash design, this movie looked beautiful from top to tail.

Sadly, however, the story was not as beautiful, feeling a little rushed and haphazard by the time we were done. I’m sure there was more to the story that the writers of the movie wanted to put in, but were forced to cut due to time constraints. It certainly felt that way, and I think it suffered as a result of this discrepancy.

As I have grown older I have grown more and more appreciative of good casting. A movie can be made or ruined by the right casting. Voice casting is as important, more-so even, given the extra work the actor has to go to in an effort to effectively convey emotions he or she cannot act. Andrea Romano has acted as casting director for all the DCU Animated movies (I think) and there is simply no one better.

Justin Chambers as Barry Allen/The Flash and C. Thomas Howell as Professor Zoom make a brilliant pairing. Kevin McKidd as Thomas Wayne and Dana Delany as Lois Lane fill out the alternative universe casting highlights, while everybody’s favourite Green Lantern was back to top and tail the movie – let’s just agree Nathan Fillion should be given a set-yearly salary to voice Green Lantern/Hal Jordan whenever he’s needed.

All in all, The Flashpoint Paradox was another strong addition to the DCU Animated universe, and a great telling of a pretty good story. With some minor issues, it won’t surpass the early days of ‘The New Frontier’ and ‘Wonder Woman’, but it fits in well nonetheless.

7/10

Movie review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey BluRay – Part 1

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on BlurayWhen I walked out of the theatre on Boxing Day, 2012, I was livid! I had almost walked out before the end of the movie – which would have been a first, for me – but I had held on, hoping that my troubles might end. They didn’t, at the time, and I was forced to watch what I immediately thought to be a bastardisation of one of the paramount stories of the 20th century.

Peter Jackson had ruined The Hobbit.

Or so I thought. I recently received the Extended Edition BluRay to review, and I promised myself I would go in with an open mind. Maybe I had been mistaken, and maybe the extended edition would help.

This is part one of my review – focusing solely on the movie itself – while part two will deal with the Appendices (loved by many, dismissed by even more, I suspect). So when I finished watching the movie, turned off the TV, and let myself think for a moment, I realised that Peter Jackson may not have completely ruined one of the most beloved books around.

To do these two reviews justice, I also took the time to read the relevant chapters of ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien, in an effort to really gauge whether the changes made for the movie were necessary, or simply egregious.

Some of the changes made from book to movie are obvious and necessary. No matter how hard you try, dwarves with bright blue hoods and yellow beards tucked into silver belts just doesn’t work these days, just as Tom Bombadil would not have worked in the Lord of the Rings movies. Similarly the treatment of the dwarves’ stay in Rivendell is somewhat excusable, as it allows for an adult telling of the story, rather than the uncomplicated rendition found in The Hobbit – the reality is that there was bad blood between the elves and dwarves, as is seen in ‘Fellowship of the Ring’, and the tension portrayed by Peter Jackson adds an element which has continuity with Tolkien’s overall Legendarium.

Similarly excusable are the scenes within the Misty Mountains. While these scenes are absolutely beautifully crafted – specifically the dwarves and Gandalf’s race from the goblins over the intricately complicated network of bridges – they also combine to create a less-childish version of their capture by the Goblin King (who might have gone a little too Dame Edna Everage for my liking).

The fundamental issue I still have trouble accepting is the rewriting that allows for the inclusion of Azog, the pale orc who is supposed to have been dead 150 years. Having not had the time yet to sit down and watch the Appendices for An Unexpected Journey I am yet to encounter any reasoning for his surprising immortality, his inclusion, and the impact he makes on the movie – namely his confrontation with Thorin and the dwarves in the scene depicting the chapter ‘Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire’.

The scene is a moving, tense, and beautifully choreographed piece of storytelling, amping the stakes and allowing Thorin’s distrust for Bilbo to be erased (an interesting shift in the story which I never really minded, given its execution and likeliness).

All in all, watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a much more enjoyable experience this time around, leaving behind my literary rage and opening my eyes to the decisions that had been made. I am excited for the Appendices, and for getting a look into the storytelling decisions that were made, why they were made, and the behind the scenes look at how they were executed.

Unsurprisingly then, I would heartily recommend the Extended Edition BluRay of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s a beautiful package that looks really nice next to the BluRay collector’s edition of The Lord of the Ring.

2014 Book Illustration Competition winner announced

A Masters student at Camberwell College of Arts has won the 2014 Book Illustration Competition. Sean McSorley’s illustrations for Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s intensely visual masterpiece set in 19th-century Congo, beat hundreds of entrants from more than 30 countries. McSorley’s winning illustrations form part of a prestigious Folio Society commission, worth £5,000, to complete nine illustrations and a binding design for a new edition of Heart of Darkness, which is published by The Folio Society in October.

Sean McSorley illustration #1Sean McSorley illustration #2Sean McSorley illustration #3

© Sean McSorley, 2014

The annual Book Illustration Competition is open to student and professional illustrators, aged 18 and over, who have not been published by The Folio Society. The winner receives a highly sought-after Folio Society commission and five runners-up each receive £500 cash. Each year, three prizes of the six are awarded to student entries.

After intense deliberation, the winner was selected from a shortlist of six by a judging panel comprising artist, critic, curator and committee chairman for the Royal Academy Tom Phillips, independent curator and broadcaster and House of Illustration Trustee Kathleen Soriano, last year’s competition winner Finn Dean and Flora Craig from House of Illustration, together with The Folio Society’s Production Director, Editorial Director and Art Director.

“The aim of The Book Illustration Competition is to encourage and celebrate new illustration talent, and the consistently high standard of entries proves that there is a wealth of such talent out there – it was a pleasure to take part in the judging,” commented Kathleen Soriano, independent curator and broadcaster, House of Illustration Trustee.

“It was a real privilege to have been chosen to work on Heart of Darkness, and a real challenge too, since it was my first book illustration commission and I was juggling it around my MA work. I learnt a great deal throughout the process and I hope I’ve done some justice to Conrad’s complex and fascinating text,” added Sean McSorley, winner of the 2014 Book Illustration Competition.

The 2015 Book Illustration Competition will open for entries at 10am on Thursday 25 September.