Archive for October, 2013


American author Zachary Jernigan wrote that headline to go with this article on Staffer’s Book Review, Justin Landon’s excellent site. To my extreme satisfaction, it’s about Champion of Mars (warning: if you read the article, there are spoilers).

In this game you can get a little down. Books sales are low. You do your bit and nobody cares >sob<. In his piece, Zachary makes a good point about the way so many books sink without trace. It’s a crowded market, after all. Books that don’t get a lot of marketing/ get really lucky/ capture the zeitgeist somehow disappear all too easily.

I won’t lie and say it’s all about the art. Sure, I’d love people to buy my books by the bazillion so I can get myself that motor yacht I never wanted (warning 2: writing is not a get rich scheme. The number of people who can be Stephen King is limited to Stephen King). But although it’s not all about the art, it mostly is.

I write because I’m a show off, I suppose – meet me in the pub some time when I’m three pints down and you’ll see exactly what I mean. All creative types (I feel I can, you know, legitimately call myself that now) are show offs. I decided to write as, among other things, it seemed to be a way to put on a performance without having to face the audience (I decided on this career before the internet, okay?), because I could be also have been described as the tiniest bit cowardly – certainly not brave enough to do stand-up (at least I wasn’t), which is what I dreamed about doing when I was a teen.

Anyway, times have changed. The internet means you face your audience no matter where you try to hide, indeed, as authors now bear the greater part of the burden in marketing their books, you absolutely have to. I’m older and wiser, and yes, braver. Brave enough now to perform without a filter. But that’s not the point. I digress. I’m big on digressions. There was one time when…

Sorry. The point is, all writers write because they want their writing to be read. Even more than that, they want their books to be got. I’m sure Champion of Mars, with its tricksy structure, unashamed retro styling and gleeful mixing of SF and fantasy isn’t for everyone, but it was for Zachary. He got it. He loved it. Because he decided to tell us all why, I got to know. And to know that your work has clicked with someone, well… That’s what it’s all about.

Although I’m still holding out for the boat.


Ezine Strange Horizons is a notable publication, so I was glad to get this review of Crash there by Anne Charnock, a journalist like myself, only, looking at her biography, of much higher pedigree. Not unalloyed praise (the kind we writers like the best), but positive nonetheless.

Strange Horizons Reviews: Crash by Guy Haley, reviewed by Anne Charnock.

A note to make here. It’s been said of a couple of my novels by readers, like Anne here, that they’d have liked more of this or of that. What they want varies, but the sentiment comes up from time to time. I myself feel a little frustrated occasionally, for there are parts of my stories I would linger on. However, at this stage of my career I am very much constrained by the length of my books. Longer books cost more to produce, transport, and warehouse, for the simple reason that they are bulkier. Therefore, for relatively new writers like me, the word count is tightly enforced, of around 100,000 words or so. This limit led to Reality 36 being two books, when it really is one story, and has likewise forced me to make hard choices as to which parts of a story I can dwell on in other novels. I’m in a similar position to a film editor in that, I reckon.

But I will not pretend that my books would be much longer, given the choice; only a little. As a reader, I am not overly fond of stories that give every detail or recount every thought of the characters (this is my personal preference. We all want different things from our entertainment). Furthermore, I am a fan of stories that are somewhat ambiguous. A book is a joint exercise in storytelling between reader and writer, and I like, when I write, to give the reader plenty of room. There are no “real” endings in history – I think my books probably fall under the “future history” umbrella in spirit – only the actors bow out to make way for the new.

Anyhow, I’m not writing this in order to plea for different opinions, or to answer reviews – a fool’s errand if ever there was one, although I will say I am grateful for each and every one – but as reviews make me reflect on my work, I figured you might be interested in the resultant thoughts. Each review, positive or negative, has a small effect on what I write. The individual impact is negligible, but the aggregate, I suspect, will have no small influence. This doesn’t bother me; I like to be responsive. Some writers don’t read reviews because they want to remain free of this influence, others simply don’t read reviews because they fear what they may read. Personally, I like to know, so thanks to everyone who puts hands to keyboard.


A review of the continuation. Or reboot. Or remake. Or whatever. From Death Ray 16.

TWO STARS

Directors: Various

Writer: David Andron

Starring: Justin Bruening, Paul Campbell, Yancey Arias, Deanna Russo, Val Kilmer.

The latest iteration of the talking car show has failed to wow critics stateside. We’ve seen a few episodes, here’s our verdict.

Like a beautiful classic car struggling up a modern motorway, Knight Rider‘s biggest problem is that of context. This remake manages, just, to recapture the spirit of 80s adventure SF. Ten years ago this would probably have been a hit, but now? Times have changed, and Knight Rider‘s cheese feels outdated. It’s being broadcast at a time when TV SF is going through a bloom. We’ve had dozens of fantastical TV shows over the last few years, and though by no means all have been good, there have been enough jewels to silence the mardiest cynic. SF TV is no longer just about a gimmick.

The show makers have half-grasped this. There’s a glossy skin of 21st of intrigue, sex and violence round the middle, as conspicuous as Edam’s waxy coat, but this is wholly misjudged and just as inedible. Knight Rider‘s bright simplicity does not take the added complications well. The concept, as always, is aimed at kids, so how’s that work with a man getting his thumb cut off? Do 10 year-olds really need to watch a sexy bikini party? Most offensive is the sociopathic nature of the supporting cast. We have Zoe (Smith Cho) linguistics expert and obscene flirt whose joy at her colleagues discomfort is downright callous; there’s a dodgy government stooge Alex Torres (Yancey Arras); Battlestar Galactica‘s Paul Campbell plays another character called Billy, though this one is an unlikeable, porn-obsessed nerd, while Bruce Davison as KITT’s creator Charles Graiman wanders round their hi-tech base, hysterically bawling at Knight as if he were his daughter’s irresponsible teen boyfriend. Which, age apart, he is. At least the original had its morals more or less in the right place.

The darkening up of the concept adds the whiff of treachery to this detestable bunch. Half the characters encountered appear to have had a bad experience in “I-raq”, and Michael Knight’s patently done some really bad stuff he can’t remember. For a series which is trying to emulate the original’s orthodontically enhanced, bubble-permed charm, this is playing with fire. Let us not call into account the sloppy film-making, the poor location work, the repeated shots of the same bit of road. Let’s leave unturned the stones of bad science. It’s broad mass-market TV, and these things are of secondary importance to this kind of telly. Charm, however is crucial, but even Hasselhoff’s unctuous brand of smarm might not have been enough to glue this revamp together. It’s a kid’s show recreated by middle-aged geeks, and their biggest mistake is to make it “adult” without making it grow up.

The car’s still the star, the new KITT is realised with escapist glee, with Kilmer as his voice being appropriately deadpan. Such is the strength of Knight Rider‘s core ideas, if NBC can sort out the juvenile mess round it, and make it just for kids, it could still have a ratings hit.


Who remembers this TV show? Interesting, but unsuccessful. From Death Ray 16.

TWO AND A HALF STARS

Directors: david Semel, Adam Kane

Writer: Jason Smilovic

Starring: Christian Slater, Mädchen Amick, Alfre Woodard, Mike O’Malley, Saffron Burrows

Two-faced drama from the man behind The Bionic Woman

If you can ignore the ludicrous premise of My Own Worst Enemy, it is good TV. The set-up is that Henry Spivey (Slater) is a constructed front for deep-cover assassin Edward Albright (er, Slater) who works for a very secretive black-ops part of some unnamed US intelligence service. When the chip that activates the dormant Edward goes awry, Henry finds himself in Edward’s bloodstained shoes, and vice versa. Rather than just kill him, Edward’s boss (Woodard) keeps him alive and in action, because to reveal the failure of his brain modifications would lead to the liquidation of her department. This really is no way to run the spying game at all.

Once you get past this Alias-esque nonsense, you can appreciate the dramatic situations and moral questions the show throws up. There is even space for levity, with Henry constantly waking up next to his grinning wife, who is sexually blissed out thanks to super-spy Edward’s bedroom skills. We could make some grandiose point about America’s relationship between its light and dark sides: Henry enjoys the American dream, yet terrible things are done to uphold it. That, however, would be a stretch.

Otherwise it’s a typically slick piece of UStelevision, though, like Alias, its numerous far-flung locations are mocked up in a slipshod way. They might get the sound of sirens right in London, for example, but cars drive on the left here, and you only get “thru” on signs written by illiterates in this country, chaps.

The best thing in the show is Slater’s performance as the split man. This alone sells the shonky concept, but for how long we’ll swallow it is very debateable. Fun, but flawed.

A review of Iron Man

Posted: October 20, 2013 in Archive posts, Journalism, Reviews

My take on the first movie. From Death Ray 16.

THREE AND A HALF STARS

2008/125 mins

Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marum, Matt Holloway

Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Terence Howard

Shellhead goes all out on DVD, bells and whistles definitely included.

Flawed, rich, drunk, wrapped in hi-tech tin, Tony Stark has long been a fan fave (he’s popular here at Death Ray). Robert Downey Jnr., no doubt drawing on some of his own experience with excess, pretty much nailed the character, although disappointingly he did it without looking like a ’70s porno star. The suit – wow, a shiny supreme provoker of envy. We’ve always wanted one of those, now we want one more. And Jeff Bridges, a fantastic study of the very unpleasant Obadiah Stane.

But the story? The origin was polished off well, plenty of hints laid in for future movies, Iron Man and otherwise, the rest was not so hot. Once the aforementioned elements had fought for space with the obligatory learning-to-use-powers sequence, there was only so much running time, and that was taken up by a villain who was too similar to the hero. The finale, yet again in a super-flick, was two similar guys duking it out in the dark. The biggest problem with Iron Man, though, is that the alter-ego is so much more interesting than the hero.

The end result is many great scenes strung together in a somewhat lethargic way, with a little too much right-wing seasoning. Pretty good, but could have been better.


I am once again at a period where the amount of work I have isn’t quite enough  to induce some sort of brain infarcation, so I’ve been topping up my load by posting more frequently, especially as I’m still trying to get the majority of my journalism onto the web. But here’s a new post I’ve been meaning to write, like oh so many others, for some amount of time.

The below are answers to some of the most common questions I’ve had this year about writing. (more…)