The list of books submitted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 2014 is here. We will whittle this down to a short list of six books and then a winner.
CHAPPiE (Neill Blomkamp, 2015)
So the afternoon was skating on ice — the gallery I was going to go to is now only open Thursday-Monday, but that gave me longer to write stuff in the coffee shop. And when I got to the cinema, they said that they might not show the film, because I was the only person to show. But two people turned up for Insurance (which I may well see sooner or later, but I would have hated today) and apparently that was enough — in fact a second person wanted to see CHAPPiE. But in twenty-five plus years of solo cinema-going I’ve never experienced that. I guess they in theory make a loss, but it hardly encourages me to return. I’d hoped to see it in Westgate on Sea, but that was last week.
So Blomkamp teases us — we have the after-the-event documentary and then we have the eighteen months earlier news footage and then, clearly, he can’t be arsed as we go into standard continuity editing. There’s this RoboCop rip-off police system of robot cops remote controlled by head sets which seems to be bankrolled by the guy who won that Slumdog Millionaire (Dev Patel) competition. Wolverine, meanwhile, has an even bigger badder robot that he’s trying to interest Ripley in.
Meanwhile, in another part of Joburg, Yolandi (Yolandi Visser), Ninja (Ninja), Amerika (Amerika) and Hoodie Guy (Hoodie Guy) have pulled off a drug deal only to be caught by Evil Subtitled Guy (Brandon Auret) who shoots one of them and demands 20,000,000 Rand within seven days. Ninja decides that he will kidnap the guy from Skins to access a RoboCop to… do something or other. Skins chappie, meanwhile, has stolen a RoboCop and has developed artificial intelligence when he clearly doesn’t have any of his own.
RoboCop is the spitting image of Sharlto Copley from District 9, or would be if they hadn’t done all that MoFocking MoCapping. It’s pretty, I grant you, but you too easily forget it’s a RoboCop and it seems to have rather too much servo motion. It needed to be more robotic. Copley gives a great comic performance but Woody Allen was a more convincing robot in Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973). Then you mix in Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), because RoboCop has a broken battery — although it’s five days rather than four years. Skins chappie is a younger and more handsome Tyrell, and you keep waiting for the burning so very bright speech. Frankenstein, too, as he’s a bad father and RoboCop gets bullied by some retrobates and some rather unconvincing fire. We have a Meaningful bit when he ponders why his Creator would give a faulty body and you just know that sooner or later he’s going to need a wife, sorry, Bride of RoboCop.
Wolverine’s robot echoes the military suit from District 9, which in turn echoes the suit from Aliens (James Cameron, 1986), or possibly the first one. It’s pretty poor stuff, frankly, which perhaps explains why the South African police force ain’t buying. By now, of course, you have the sense that it’s really an audition piece for Alien This Time It’s Three, in which Copley and Patel are going to play MoCapped aliens as some kind of mismatched buddies. A certain actor presumably was only there for about two days and you have to admire her presence of mind to grab her coat and handbag before exiting in an emergency.
Copley gets to wander around more South African waste grounds and shanty towns and CHAPPiE has a certain amount appeal even if it requires an awful lot of hand waving. Just as Evil Subtitled Guy (random alleged Nigerian) in District 9 wanted Wikus (Copley), so here Evil Subtitled Guy does too. Presumably he’s evil because he’s got knarked at having his perfectly comprehensible dialogue subtitled. There’s a rather better nonwhite acting quotient here — a Black chief of police, Patel of course, Amerika, a television journalist and so forth — but only two females with any significant dialogue. With the exception of Wolverine, I don’t recall anyone getting a backstory.
Maybe I should have gone to see Insurance? Although, of course, it seems to feature Kate Winslet continuing an audition to be Sigourney Weaver.
Beautiful Thing (scr. Jonathan Harvey; dir. Nikolai Foster; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury)
It’s striking how many articles that come into journals for review — or essays that are submitted to be marked — that lack any sense of the secondary literature. Admittedly, I learned whatever craft I have in the days of card catalogue indexes and scholarly indices of periodicals and going through bloody contents pages of journals, so I had it easier than the young rapscallions and skallywags who have to make do with mere search engines to several thousand journals.
Still, it is annoying to locate three articles on a subject that I’ve already published on, which didn’t appear to have been indexed when I’d done the research.
I have a habit of being very — what is the word? — instinctive. I’ll be convinced that X is connected to Y and get some way into writing about Y before I research X. I was convinced, say, that Mary Douglas’s work would help an understanding of The Sparrow, but I didn’t really put this to the test by reading Purity and Danger for rather too long. One of these days I’ll push my luck too far.
So I’d been reliant on my considerable gut on this particular piece and ran out of steam. I needed something else to kick start it. Oddly, I chose to read Adam Roberts’s Science Fiction, one chapter in particular, and a particular term jumped out.
Of course. Slaps forehead.
Searches in search engine for X and Z.
First two results: articles which discuss X, Y and Z. On the one hand, pay dirt. On the other hand, maybe someone already wrote the bleeding chapter. (They hadn’t.)
So, it might be a new journal collection or a new algorithm, but those three articles didn’t show up when I did the research on Y — which admittedly is about two years ago. One of them should have shown up.
But nothing’s wasted, as a chapter I have to write by May will use that very nicely, thank you very much, and my instinct is colliding ideas rather nicely. No research goes unused.
Meanwhile, I am plugging away at a conference paper on “Random Quest” and Quest for Love (you know, the one I wrote on Sunday, ahem) and am struck by how little has been written on John Wyndham. The secondary research on this story has more or less drawn a blank, but my gut says I have enough for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, here’s one learned analysis of another short story by Wyndham. I shan’t insult your intelligence by telling you which one.
It is Sunday, it is 7.30, I am in the library. I have been here since 11.00, delayed getting here by an hour because I thought I’d lost a book I needed (I hadn’t and it turns out I didn’t).
So, let’s look at the to-do list based on 26 January 2015:
- a paper to write for the Sideways in Time conference — next
- a keynote to write for the SF postgrad conference
- a book to read for review
- a book proposal to finish — I’ve had some ideas
- a conference paper to convert to an article
- a secondary bibliography to annotate — not started
- two chapters to write for companions — lots of ideas for one, no further than Christmas for the other
- an overdue biographical piece to write — Tuesday afternoon, I hope
an overdue survey chapter
- an article that’s been bounced from a special issue but has been taken up and needs another thousand words adding
- a book manuscript to rescue — I printed out chapter one…
- a submitted chapter that I’ve heard nothing back on
- several reference book entries that are missing in action
a submitted chapter that may well need a proofread
- *new*: an appreciation of Pratchett
Hmmm. Let’s see what I can do for March 31st. I have written and published an obituary and written something like three lectures a week.
While I’m at it, perhaps I should nod to
- the review article* I did for LARB of … I forget which Simon Ings novel it was … Painkillers (2000): Finding the Plot: On Simon Ings and the British Boom
- the review of David Brittain’s Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds (2014) for Science Fiction Studies 42(1) 2015.
* I was sent one of his books (although not the one I was asked to review). Fortunately I had most of the back catalogue, but I paid good money to write the review…
I was invited to do an appreciation of Terry Pratchett for the Los Angeles Review of Books blog: “Death and the Author: A Brief Commemoration of Terry Pratchett“.
(Thanks to sister Kelly Butler for additional proof reading.)