There’s so much to watch these days, there’s always the ‘one that got away’ (to quote Katy Perry, latter day philosopher). And for me, turns out, it was the tv show Fringe. I have now finished the epic (21-episode) first series and it’s darkly fanruddytastic. It’s a proper ‘dark science’ series. At last, proper dark science. For years I’d been asking myself why there weren’t more books in the vein of Jon Marco’s The Jackal of Nar (he’s interviewed on this site, if you wanna know more), and I think the answer is that it’s so hard to write/create. But when someone manages it, it’s brrrrrrrilliant. The plot of Fringe? Well, an FBI agent, mad scientist and dodgy dealer are tasked with holding back the tide of weirdness leaking into our world from an alternate reality. It’s a modern Twilight Zone, if you will. The series has solid urban legend stories for each episode and a tantalising story arc, but it stoically refuses to spoonfeed the audience. It’s worth paying close attention too, as there are hidden messages and clues aplenty. And…wait for it…series 1 features the legendary Leonard Nimoy! What more could you want? It’s a 9.5 out of 10 from me. An absolute must for fantasy and scifi fans alike. Oh, and all other human beings and their pets!
So, we’ve seen libraries and book shops close across the UK – apparently because people didn’t want hard copies anymore and e-books were cheaper. We’ve seen the undignified bun fight between Amazon and the main publishers – because book prices had been forced so low that publishers could no longer justify taking such a big cut from the pittance that authors were making. And we’ve seen an era of mega-mergers between publishers – as they sought to realise economies of scale and thereby continue to survive.
It was looking apocalyptically bad for publishing. But was the view of things described above the whole picture? Not really. The main problem has been the behaviour of the publishers – they have been victims of themselves in large part. Where other industries have survived changing markets (via innovation and changing themselves), publishing has only made an already bad situation worse. Let’s look at a few behaviours as examples…
- Publishers are more reluctant to ‘take a punt’ on authors these days. They don’t want new authors who have no established fan base. Seems sensible? It’s not. How can a genre evolve and remain relevant unless it’s through new blood? If a publisher publishes the same old names over and over, it will soon begin to see a decline. Look what’s happened to the book sales of scifi and horror. Dead. Why? Because no one would take on Necromancer’s Gambit by the young A J Dalton, a book that he was forced to self-publish, a book which proved to be the UK’s first new wave zombie book and which became the best-selling self-published title in the UK. The book was rejected by publishers as not being ‘squarely within the genre’ – the fact it was fresh and different was seen as a weakness! Bringing us to the next issue…
- Publishers over-read trends and markets. True Blood by Charlaine Harris was rejected by every publisher in the western hemisphere for two years. She was close to giving up. Twilight became successful in 2008 and then there was an insane scramble to secure the rights to True Blood. Publishers then ONLY wanted vampire fiction. They started rejecting anything that didn’t have a vampire, no matter how good the book was (and Empire of the Saviours by one A J Dalton probably got its deal back in 2010 cos it contained blood-drinking saints). What happened? Various rejected authors gave up, meaning that the ‘new blood’ the genre needed was lost, meaning that we ended up with the same situation in example no.1 above. Sure enough, the market was saturated with vampire fiction, people got sick of it and it all died off. Dead.
- Publishers are reluctant to commit to a series anymore. Say the first book in a series sells pretty well, but the second one doesn’t sell so well, are you gonna publish the third book or ‘cut’ the series (anticipating even more of a fall-off in sales)? More and more, publishers are cutting a series before it’s finished. It happened to Paul Kearney’s Sea Beggars Trilogy (which was never a trilogy!). And what about Joss Whedon’s Firely? Seems sensible? Not really. Readers have got so fed up with series being cut, that they now won’t commit to buying a series until all the books are out (or they’ve heard the next series instalment has been commissioned). This reader behaviour makes the situation worse, cos it means that sales of books 1 and 2 in the hypothetical series we started with will be even lower, meaning the publisher will be even more inclined to cut the series. Dead.
- Publishers are insisting on game-changing novels. As in example 3 above, publishers won’t commit to a series. Instead they insist that authors submit a ‘game-changing’ first novel that will all but guarantee immediate and massive sales. The number of brilliant books that get rejected because they aren’t ‘game-changing’ enough is disgraceful – and, remember, it means we lose the ‘new blood’ the genre requires. If you meet a publisher demanding a game-changer, tell them where to get off. I wrote a brilliant scifi called Lifer, but it got rejected in precisely this scenario. (By the way, it’s still available if anyone’s interested.)
- Publishers over-extend series. If a series does emerge as relatively successful, publishers then insist the series-author writes more and more titles in that series – it doesn’t matter how good the book is, it’ll sell anyway. Yes, in the short term it will, but in the longer term it’ll die a death. Look at the Joe Abercrombie Gollancz series (ending with The Red Country). Or the True Blood series, which ended up with 12 or 13 titles. At the same time, the publisher puts all its marketing resource, time and effort behind that one series, ignoring all the other authors, meaning that other stuff starts to fail, no matter how good it is.
- Publishers aren’t even offering book advances anymore! Even established authors (like myself and Tom Lloyd) are being told that no advance on their next book will be paid (that or a derisory amount will be offered). Seems sensible of the publishers? Not really. If the author isn’t paid any money to live on while they write the next book, how can they actually write the book? They’re too busy doing other work, work that pays and therefore buys food. Many authors have given up. Some authors manage to keep writing, but it takes them far longer to write a book. And by the time they deliver the book, things have moved on and the book is no longer the game-changer that is required. The book gets rejected. Dead.
And I could go on. But then I’d be writing a book rather than an article. At the end of the day, publishers have made their own bed and will have to lie in it. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be their death-bed. But maybe it will. With today’s technology, how much do we really need the old monoliths of publishing? What we need are innovative, risk-taking, marketing-savvy and IT-savvy companies. We need companies that respect their authors and invest in their authors in the longer-term. A last example. Elton John says in interview that he wouldn’t succeed as a young musician these days. You see, he didn’t become successful until his third album back in the day. But record companies today don’t offer three-album deals anymore.
A curious film this one. At no point does it really explain what’s going on – which gives it quite a magical realist feel. At one point, all the strange goings-on seem like metaphors describing the boyfriend and girlfriend breaking up. Then it seems a film about youth alienation. Then a film about our place in the universe. I’m not sure if it is more confusing than confused or more confused than confusing. A bit of both maybe. For all that, it just about hangs together in ‘real’ terms. There are creepy aliens and cyborgs, and of course a government conspiracy. The ending actually brings a lot of it together (not so well that it doesn’t leave you wondering, but there is a sense of resolution). It’s a challenging film, I think that’s the fairest description. I can absolutely see why it has such a bad overall score on Netflix (1.5 stars out of 5), but I think it deserves a bit more credit. Definitely for those who like films in the vogue of Transcendence. So it’s a 6.5 out of 10 from me.
On the one hand, this movie is funny, subtle and lovingly rendered, but on the other it’s self-indulgent, slow and silly. It’s polished, well-acted and satirical, but lacking in engagement, plot and genuine heart. It’s a self-referential piece about how a nitwit Hollywood actor (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a bunch of Communist script-writers. We follow the studio owner as he juggles projects and tries to retrieve his star. As gorgeous as the filming is, we just don’t care. It’s style over substance – okay, that’s part of the film’s message about Hollywood and the movie industry, but it cannot resist betraying its own message by trying to make us care about the movie mogul (making him religious, giving him the dilemma about going to work for a more ‘serious’ company, etc). Gentle as it all is, as entertaining as the set-pieces might be, it falls slightly short in its resolution. All that said, I’m a big Coen Brothers fan and will not be deterred from seeing their future work. Hail, Caesar! seems a stepping-stone to something new for them – and I’m happy to go on that journey with them. They will probably lose a few people along the way (so many people went out to the loo while I was watching it!), but I think they will also recruit a fair few new fans. It’s a 7/10 from me (albeit that others may give it a much better score).
Wow. What a clever film. The title seems like a spolier, right? It actually means John will die at the end of the world, which he keeps preventing, so he never actually dies! Clever, like I said.
How to describe the genius of the plot? It starts as a zombie film, then becomes a highschool geek’s fantasy of his life, which turns out to be true but actually a bad drug trip, but the drug is sentient and enables him to see the dead (explaining the film’s beginning) and the demons that are trying to enter our world in order to destroy it. And the supreme demon needs to be confronted in his own realm if we are to be saved! Clever, clever. The frame of reference and genre of the film constantly changes, meaning we are never ever cleverly bored. It keeps us on our toes, constantly surprised and constantly entertained. And there’s a good dose of irony and humour.
Go watch it, honestly. It has decent production values and Paul Giamatti has a decent role in it. It scores a triumphant 9/10 from me!
So, now all the short-term hype and reactionist fuss has died down, it’s important to take a more considered, longer-term view of The Force Awakens. Does it matter that the movie is a rehash of New Hope, Empire SB and Return OTJ? Does it matter that the character of Maz is just Yoda? Kinda. It means the movie lacks originality and the world-changing impact of the first movies. BUT it means the movie takes on themes about how crimes of the parents are visited on their children, only for those crimes to be repeated by the children, and about how human history often repeats (because we are the same as we ever were – we are not developing or we have fairly essential values). Arguably, then, The Force Awakens has a better sense of its own place within history and time than the other movies – it is more self-aware. And the audience isn’t being patronised really, because the audience is more self-aware these days (look at movies like Dead Pool, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc). More than all of that, The Force Awakens isn’t just a rehash – it makes important changes to the original three movies – including updating gender roles and removing the racist midichlorian bloodline explanation for the power of the Force.
Where does all that leave us in terms of a final judgement then? Sadly, due to its derivative nature, I don’t think The Force Awakens will really stand the test of time (despite its superior understanding of time). Far worse movies have of course successfully stood this test, mainly because they demonstrate true creative originality. That does not mean The Force Awakens is a waste of time though – it may turn out to be a crucial adjustment and forerunner for a movie that does then change the world, a movie that might not have been possible otherwise. Let’s damn well hope so. The Force Awakens, then, is a crucially important ‘holding’ movie. And it’s a lot of fun too, which is important. In and of itself, it’s 7/10 as a movie, but in the larger scarier scheme of things, it’s potentially a 10/10 (which ain’t too shoddy).
Just done an interview on self-publishing and getting a book deal. Here tis: