Paul Raven @ 14-10-2010

Looks like someone at Wired decided to test Stephen King’s aphorism about undead-themed movies being tied to the movements of the fiscal economy (i.e. zombies populate a boom, vampires haunt a bust). Bad news for fans of simple explanations: either the theory is bunk, or the zombie movie genre bubble is about to do a dot-com and burst spectacularly.

Well, a guy can dream, right?

High-street Hollywood: UK supermarkets as movie studios

Paul Raven @ 11-08-2010

While Hollywood dithers about, lobbying governments and suing its customers in an effort to maintain its box office numbers (which, despite all the moaning about piracy from them and about crappy cookie-cutter movies from us, are riding higher than ever before), new players are looking to get a slice of the action. Enter UK supermarket Tesco, who have started producing straight-to-DVD films for sale in their own stores [via TechDirt].

It looks good on paper – lots of middlemen being cut out of the loop, for a start – but quality control will be an issue, not to mention the VHS-era stigma around films that skip a theatrical release. But whether it works isn’t really the point: the point is that you don’t have to be in the movie business to make and sell movies any more… and that should be much more worrying to Hollywood than piracy.

Philip Palmer glorifies violence

Paul Raven @ 14-07-2010

It’s not my accusation, mind you; he’s claiming it himself. Sf novelist and screenwriter Philip Palmer’s had it up to here with people bemoaning sensationalist violence in cinema – don’t they realise that sensationalism is the entire point of the medium?

What I’m saying is; let’s stop pretending.  Of course violence, when it’s in fiction rather than in life, is fun.  It’s part of the imaginative experience; imagination is our way of living other lives, and since we can do so without incurring actual injury, the more violent the better.  It’s cathartic, it’s exhilarating, it can be beautiful; but the key point is; IF YOU’RE A SANE AND MORAL PERSON, WATCHING VIOLENT MOVIES DOESN’T MAKE YOU VIOLENT.  Reality, fiction; fiction, reality: two different things.


Hell, I read this stuff all the time, and what I write is often WORSE in terms of gruesome barbarity. […] So does that mean I have calluses on the tenderest parts of my mind, the bits that are used to focus empathy, as Adam so beautifully if cruelly phrases it?

Well perhaps so.  But on balance I feel that constantly wallowing in imaginative violence has made me not one whit more aggressive, or capable of violence. I remain as timid, fearful, and cowardly as I have  always been. I would happily slay a Barsoomian plant man with my long sword; but I am not in the habit of mugging elderly ladies, or randomly shooting people in pubs.


But why, I am forced to ask, does violence in fiction appeal so strongly, to me and to so many of you?  Why do we not daydream about peaceful characters, who broker peace and leave a trail of concord and amity behind them? Why do we prefer the Man with No Name, or Conan, who are more inclined to leave a trail of corpses behind them?

I guess the answer is obvious; we’re never more alive than when we are in fear of dying. And to experience that intensity of life while reading a book, or watching a film, and without any ACTUAL possibility of dying, is vicarious ecstasy.

Having met Philip in person a couple of times, I struggle to imagine a less aggressive or more softly-spoken man (with the notable exception of his part in discussions regarding the funding models of the film industry); having read a few of his books, I can also assure you he’s not overselling his own pleasure in writing (and by extension consuming) media with violent content..

For my money, I’ve always been opposed to campaigns against violence (or sex, or controversial topics) in media, not so much because I feel that they aren’t at all problematic, but because I believe that censorship is far more problematic to society than the media it seeks to control. The internet is something of a vindication to me in this case; as ill-informed and banal as some of them can be, the fact that we can (and do) have passionate debates about what art and entertainment should and shouldn’t say is one I take great comfort in. Let those who want to watch violent movies do so; if you don’t like ’em, don’t go see ’em. Censorship starts and ends with your own thumb on the remote.

That said, I’m not at all fond of gratuitous violence in movies. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lived without a television for over a decade (and have thus become resensitized), but really graphic violence physically unsettles me to the point that I can struggle to watch a film that has more than a few moments of it*. But perhaps it’s as much to do with being more of a reader, too; strong fiction writing is all about implication, letting the reader’s mind fill in the nastiness in the gaps, and I still find implicit violence in cinema or television far more effective at generating a brainkick without booting me out of the narrative completely.

But what about you lot – are you gonna follow Philip down to your local multiplex for a ninja-swords gorefest, or stay at home and put your feet up with something more subtle?

[ * – My ex-girlfriend convinced me to watch P2 with her last year. Half way through, I had to leave the room. If you’ve seen the film, you probably know the scene I’m talking about; much as I understand Philip’s argument, I don’t know how I could justify the graphic nastiness of that particular bit of cinema on any level that makes a real difference to the story being told. And don’t even get me started on the Saw franchise. Your mileage, of course, may vary. ]

Chronoslexia: new British indie sf movie in the works. Also: Nazis on the Moon are go!

Paul Raven @ 07-07-2010

Chronoslexia movie posterIn the Futurismic post-bag this week comes news of a new independent science fiction movie called Chronoslexia. It’s being made here in the UK by an outfit with the very Marxist moniker Opiate Of The People Films, and its plot is summed up as follows:

What if in your everyday life you experienced glimpses of your future, and for moments relived your past? Talking about a childhood pet could send you back to the times you had with it – meeting a potential partner could throw you forward to your eventual breakup. How do you live a life knowing what’s around the corner? This condition is called Chronoslexia – and our movie seeks to ask those questions.

Sarah suffers from Chronoslexia, and when offered a cure, she jumps at the chance to take it.  The solution may very well be worse than the condition itself – but what if the future doesn’t have to play out like she experiences? What if fate doesn’t have to be inevitable?

It’s an interesting if well-worn premise; one can only hope that the independent nature of the project means they haven’t felt the need to cave in to the crap Hollywood clichés that tend to hobble or maim high-concept science fiction films (“Wow – it turns out that this is how God wanted it to happen all along!”).

But decide for yourself – you can go here to watch the trailer (which I can’t seem to find a way to embed – a situation that makes the 20-second ad preceding the trailer that much more annoying. C’mon guys, use YouTube, Vimeo, whatever… d’you want people to watch this thing or not?)

Speaking of independent movies, Iron Sky – the Nazis-on-the-Moon project from the people who put together the low-budget Trek spoof Star Wreck – has rustled up 90% of its US$8.5 million budget through various participatory offerings and crowdfunding methods [via TechDirt]. With a premise that good (I mean, come on, Nazis on the friggin’ Moon – even a cinema cynic like me would struggle to resist that hook), it’ll be a shame if it ends up sucking, but even if it does, it’ll have served a higher purpose: namely to have demonstrated that crowdfunding can work for big projects like making a movie. If the film’s any good, I’ll consider it a bonus.

Sci-Fi London 2010: much more than just a sci-fi film festival

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2010

This year’s Sci-Fi London film festival is the ninth event to bear the name. Running from Wednesday 28th April through Monday 3rd May 2010, and themed around the concept of “life in 2050”, it promises an even bigger line-up of world premieres and screenings of new, rare and obscure science fiction cinema from around the world than ever before. But in addition to all that celluloid goodness, there’s lots of other stuff going on, giving Sci-Fi London something of the feel of a more traditional science fiction convention (if that’s not a complete oxymoron).

Sci-Fi London 2010

For instance, the Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony is held early in the week of the festival, and this year (should you be lucky enough to get an invite) you’ll get to find out whether China Mieville gets to take home the prize a second time. But there are also numerous workshops and discussion panels going on over the course of the week, and I’m very proud to be able to say that yours truly has been invited to take part in some of them.

The full programme can be found on the Sci-Fi London website, of course, but in the interests of mild self-aggrandizement, here are the four panels I’m involved with:

  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 1pm: FUTURE PUBLISHING? – The publishing industry is coming under assault from all sides. Are Kindles, iPads and smartphones signalling the end of traditional paper publishing? Customers no longer believe publishers can justify the prices they charge, not just for books, newspapers, magazines and periodicals are also suffering. How will the publishing industry re-shape itself for 2050? Will Apple and Google become the new big publishing houses? And if ubiquitous digital delivery means anyone can be a publisher, will we even need the big guns anymore? (PGR as panellist)
  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 2:15pm: THE 30-SECOND COMMUTE – 3D printing, rapid prototyping, offshore outsourcing, automation, evolutionary design software, expert systems, voice processing and synthesis… technologies, network economies and geopolitical shifts are currently making mincemeat out of many careers and jobs that have lasted for centuries. What will we be doing to earn a living in 2050; what will seem as archaic as a thatcher or fletcher does today? And what will fill the days (and pockets and bellies) of the unemployed? (PGR as moderator)
  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 5:45pm: MY FRIEND WENT TO 2050 AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS INDECIPHERABLE MIXED-MEDIA POST-POSTMODERNIST METAPHOR – What will the arts scene look like in 2050? What new (or old!) forms and mediums will be grabbing the headlines, filling our homes and galleries and concert venues and mobile devices? And how will their creators be making a living from it? (PGR as moderator)
  • Sunday 2nd May 2010, 5:15pm: THE FAITH WARS – The ideological square-off between religion and science is here to stay… or is it? Perhaps the dichotomy is a falsehood, and everyone will learn to live and let live. Or perhaps faith will become the fracture point of an energy-hungry civilization, a warring sphere of philosophies. What will we believe in 2050? Is believing that others should act according to our beliefs the fault that unites the two sides of the argument? (PGR as moderator)

If the topics for discussion look familiar, well, there’s a reason for that: I sent the Sci-Fi London organisers a bunch of ideas based on discussions we’ve had here at Futurismic, and they liked some of them so much that they decided to saddle me with steering the conversations in question… how’s that for karma, eh?

In fact, I’m rather awed by some of the pundits and thinkers I’ll be appearing with – that Faith Wars panel features not only the afore-mentioned China Mieville, but also Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondant for The Times; Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick; and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. It promises to be a lively (if not outright contentious) debate, that’s for certain, and I’m really looking forward to it.

(Although, to be honest, I’m also bricking it somewhat; one opinionated and scruffy webzine publisher attempting to ride herd on four super-sharp intellectuals should be a sight worth seeing, if only for the LULZ. Maybe they’ll video it, then screen it at next year’s festival? Be sure to bring popcorn!)

So, if you’re in or around London at the turn of the month, there’s no shortage of interesting diversions for the science fiction aficionado over the weekend – it’d be excellent to see some of you there. 🙂

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