Working Man

I didn't mention it before because I'm lazy that way, but I'm finally back in a working gig, once more as a graphic designer. This time it's full-time rather than part time, the latter being preferable because it allows much more time for writing. But my savings dwindled at a horrendous speed during the several months I couldn't work, and I feel the need to recoup as much of it as possible. The writing, needless to say, kept me afloat at the worst of times - just - but it feels nice to actually have money coming in again every week.

Still, it's crossed my mind the reason I've had such a very positive reaction to the new manuscript is because I was forced by circumstances to do nothing but write, without leaving the house, for some months. I'm beginning to understand why some writers (at least, the ones who can afford to) choose to spend a couple of months somewhere a long way away with nothing to do but write.


Upon perusing an online list published in the latest issue of Esquire magazine (found via Boing Boing), called '60 Things Worth Shortening Your Life For', one finds at number forty:
40. Attending a Glasgow Rangers versus Glasgow Celtic soccer match.
Preferably in the Scottish Cup final. Imagine: Red Sox versus Yankees, if the ALCS involved sectarian hatred, hooligan rioting, and the occasional death threat.
It's at times like these I almost - almost - regret not being a sports fan.


Since we're on a roll with tv shows and films I love to hate, I've been watching the BBC series Life on Mars with some interest. A thousand blog entries and casual conversations have taken place over this series (and the upcoming US remake) that I don't particularly want to go over the details of what it's about in any great detail, but it's probably worth a very brief recap; Sam Tyler, a police officer from the present, gets hit on the head and winds up in 1973, where he frequently hears the voices of people around his hospital bed in the 'present'. In the meantime, the evidence he's merely trapped in a coma-derived hallucination is occasionally disturbed by the notion he might really be in 1973.

Where. To even. Start.

Let's get it straight; I've mostly enjoyed this series. 'Mostly' because I could smell what was coming, as far as the series resolution went. Is he in a coma, in 1973, is he awake or asleep, yadda yadda. Fun, up to a point, despite the constant awareness on my part that given the overwhelming evidence he was in a coma, I was therefore supposed to care for a range of supporting characters who, therefore, clearly did not exist, and did not enjoy any objective life outside of Sam's wild coma-induced imaginings whatsoever.

I don't know about you, but for me, that's a stretch. But I went with it, and watched the finale the other night. It was pretty much what I expected; a complete abdication from rationality, logic, the fundamental rules of storytelling, and altogether a denouement that makes the conclusion to the Marx Brothers Duck Soup look like an exercise in Bergmanesque existential realism by comparison.

He's in a dream. And now he wakes up. Except now he's finally back in the real world, he finds he prefers the imaginary world of his coma.

So he ... throws himself off the top of a building in a clear act of real-world suicide ... and wakes up in 1973?


In fact, put aside whether or not the end of the series actually makes a blind bit of sense whatsoever, and consider the kind of message being delivered here: given the choice betwen fantasy and reality, is the BBC trying to tell us it's better to kill yourself and enter a fantasy for eternity, assuming (as many have noted with varying degrees of incredulity) that Manchester in 1973 is some kind of substitute for Heaven?

At this point, it's usually the case people will say something like 'oh, it's only a bit of fun, a television drama'. Yes, but here in the UK, we pay for our television.

And my counterargument is often look, imagine the conversations going on in the boardrooms and creative departments of the BBC; are you sure there isn't even the tiniest sliver of contempt for the audience wedged in there somewhere? And further - given my audience for these arguments is usually other writers - if I presented this story and this conclusion to you in the context of a writers' workshop, would you really let me get away with an ending like that? Wouldn't you pull me up and say, look, what the hell are you trying to say or do here, in this final episode?

I do have an idea why there's this constant trend away from workable plotting and rationality in series like Life on Mars and films like Sunshine. It has to do with character development, over plot development.

Balancing character and plot can be a tricky thing to do, and a very crude definition of genre as opposed to 'mainstream' writing is that genre is plot-oriented, and non-genre is character-oriented. To put it another way, a genre book might be (remember, crude definitions here) heavy on action and stuff happening, but low on development on characters. Non-genre might be something very low on action, but heavy on character.

In tv and film, character development most often follows a kind of 'arc of revelation', where the character learns something they didn't know at the beginning. Crudely, a male character might go from being a boy to a man, through the learning - usually the hard way - of the rules of adult responsibility. Spielberg's War of the Worlds follows the template fairly closely. Tom Cruise's character starts as a fairly feckless individual who's not too hot in the personal responsibility stakes. His character is developed by his overwhelming need to protect a child, played by Dakota Fanning, whom he needs to get to safety. In this way, his character is seen to mature and develop.

A very common character arc in genre fiction - particularly fantasy - is for a character to seek escape from some fantasy world, only to realise at the last moment that the world in which he has been trapped - but now has the option to escape from - is in fact now his real home, and so elects to remain. Life on Mars reflects exactly this arc, and even though the end of the series makes not the tiniest bit of sense whatsoever, what happens to Sam Tyler on an emotional, personal level makes perfect sense, regardless of whether or not the events around the character make Dali look like a cold-eyed realist.

This also applies to Sunshine - if you ignore the hackneyed plot and abundance of special effects designed to prevent you noticing the multitude of flaws, there are elements of the development of hte central characters that make sense - after a fashion. When the Maths Genius is trapped on board the bomb plummeting into the Sun, the solar plasma begins leaking through the walls. It explodes towards him - but doesn't burn him. He reaches out and touches it with what might be described as a sense of wonder.

End of movie.

This is the kind of thing that probably reads pretty nice in a script. Especially if you're developing the script, or producing it, and neither know nor care whether or not the Moon is actually made out of green cheese. There is a strong trend towards the idea that if you're dealing with a scenario even marginally fantastic, then whether or not the story is blindingly idiotic or not doesn't matter, as long as you can demonstrate a character arc that will satisfy the needs of whoever is putting up the money.

I don't regard this as a healthy development. And let's be clear - I am not suggesting all and every sf movie made should be based only on existing, known scientific information; I'm not suggesting you can't entirely enter the realms of fantasy, as long as its internally consistent with the world being created. But what we're talking about here are movies whose central thesis is that you and me - the audience - aren't worth the effort of adhering to even the simplest, most basic elements of storytelling.

And this might just be down to the fact that a lot of people in the visual arts want to be filmmakers first - and storytellers second.


Before I forget ... got a mail from Sandy Auden asking me for a few words about Stealing Light, so there'll be a mini-mini interview with me in the next Starburst (I think), talking the usual bollocks about the new book. Look out for me in tiny print somewhere in the back.

sunshine my arse

Saw Sunshine on Monday night and it was depressingly awful, not just because it was a bad science fiction film, but because it was a bad science fiction film by the same man responsible for Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later. What the hell happened? It was utterly nonsensical, rambling, unimaginative, badly thought out garbage. The kind of movie some kid with too much imagination out there is going to watch, and think 'shit, if someone can write something like this and get millions of pounds spent on getting it made, then maybe I can write something better and get it made'. And you know what? He'll be right.

Let's skip over the fact the only guy alive who knows how to work the bomb intended to reignite the sun is allowed to go outside the ship on an astonishingly deadly mission halfway through the proceedings with barely a comment from the rest of the crew. Let's skip over the fact the crew consists of several frequently highly emotional individuals who wouldn't be allowed within fifteen miles of anything even capable of getting into orbit in real life (has Danny Boyle even seen Apollo 13?). Let's skip over the fact the movie supposedly relies on cutting-edge science courtesy of the CERN Laboratories (science clearly abandoned at an early point of writing the script). Let's cut to the chase and go for the stunningly unimaginative central conceit, shall we?

SPOILER ALERT time. Okay? Scroll down until it appears (apologies if you read it and didn't want to, but believe me, I'm saving you time and money).




The plot in brief: the Icarus II is on its way to reignite the sun with a Big Bomb. The Icarus I disappeared years earlier without completing its mission. The captain of the first ship is in fact still alive on board the original - now in orbit around Mercury - and he's gone mad, convinced that reigniting the Sun is against God's wishes. So he manages (somehow, it's never clearly explained) to sneak aboard the second ship. He then goes around messily killing the crew one by one as they approach the end of their mission. You never see the first Captain clearly, but he's got a distinctly demonic, sunburned appearance.

Yes, that's right, the plot of this movie comes down to: someone goes crazy and tries to kill everyone on board. A dozen cheap lo-fi indie movies could have been made for the money wasted on this shoddy exercise in film-making.

The two word review: Event Horizon. But worse. As much as I admire 28 Days Later, it nonetheless borrows huge chunks from the early Eighties television production of Day of the Triffids. Similarly, Sunshine tries to borrow ideas from movies such as Dark Star and the daft and similarly nonsensical Black Hole, and winds up with only a baffling pudding of half-baked ideas than anything even resembling a coherent, engaging narrative. Story not only should be, but must be paramount in the making of a feature film, and clearly this fundamental and absolutely necessary rule has been entirely abandoned.


Normally I wouldn't be blogging right now because I'd be at Eastercon, but I've decided - along with quite a large part of the Glasgow contingent, actually - to skip the 'con this year. Partly because of money issues - you'll recall I was scraping by on savings and occasional payments from Tor while my back healed - and partly because I just wasn't really up to it that much. Finding out my publishers weren't going to be down pretty much sealed the deal. Instead, I wound up in Uisgue Bheatha last night for the occasion of Chris's 30th, along with several others.

Hal and some of the others have talked up the British Fantasy Convention, as I think it's called, that takes place later in the year, and I might think about that. There's a smaller convention happening up this way in a couple of weeks time - its name escapes me at this moment - just a two day quickie, but maybe that'll fulfill my con-going mojo without necessarily going south of the border.

The finished, wraparound, glossy cover for the hardback publication of Stealing Light came through midweek from Tor , and I'll probably be showing it off tonight. I've found, however, something always seems to go a bit wrong during the process somewhere down the line: in the past, the taglines on my books have been written by my editor, but for once I decided to come up with my own: 'Some Secrets Are Best Left Buried'. The original Tor tagline had been 'Be Careful Where You Run To' ... and that's what's on the cover, apparently because a production note got waylaid somewhere down the line. Such things happen.

I got thinking about titles again, thinking maybe something a bit more 'thematic' might be the way to go. At first, I thought 'Stealing Light', followed by 'something else' Light, followed by 'something else again' Light. Get the picture? Then I was chatting with H/al and Bob - who's threatening to start up a writer's group in Dundee - and an alternative name for book two came to me: Stealing Fire.

So that would be Stealing Light, followed by Stealing Fire, followed by ... what? Ideas were bandied about in a darkened corner of the Uisgue Bheatha. Stealing Space ... Stealing Stars -... and H/al came up with one which may be my favourite, Stealing Time.

So there you have it: Stealing Light, Stealing Fire, and Stealing Time. I'll see if I still like the sound of them in another week or so.


rss my shiny, metal ass

A quick note about RSS feeds, since my ex-girlfriend was noting mine appeared to have gone missing from the webpage (thanks, Mandy). If you use Firefox (as I do, and you should too), and type in my garygibson.net domain name into the browser bar, the rss icon does not appear to the right of the name, as it should.

However, if you type in the blogger name - whitescreenofdespair.blogspot.com - the rss feed button does appear in the browser bar. So if you had ever thought of using the rss feed on my barely-updated blog ... that's one way of getting it.
Now I have to think of more specific ideas for potential sequels. I dug up the rough outline for book two, and it seems pretty solid, if lacking in detail. Now I need to come up with something more ... substantial.

Looking ahead, there's also a possibility of a third book. For the moment the working title for that is probably 'Horizon's End'. Not a bollocking idea what that means, but it sounds not bad, if a touch ... meaningless, and it is only a working title. So there you go.

I was most amused to watch a trailer for 'Grindhouse' online the other day, noting that one of the main female protagonists was called ... Dakota.