Sunday, 21 December 2008

A strange responsibility

I seem to spend my life telling people what to like. Well, not exactly, but my life does revolve around telling people what is worthy of them parting with their money for. This can be something of a burden sometimes, but it has made me much more honest in what I write. In both of my professional capacities I tell people how great or how bad bits of entertainment are, and the knowledge that I am passing judgement on projects that a great deal of time, money and effort have gone into is always present when I write my reviews.

It is easier to write movie reviews or merchandise reviews than it is to write about new albums. I think this is down to feeling more empathy for struggling musicians than ultra-rich movie companies who are able to make films so expensive that their effects budgets alone could feed a country for a year. With film and TV I can be more vicious- I'm just another hack, and my bile or hyperbole won't really do much for their sales either way. Film reviews are so common and so varied that even the worst aberration will get a shining review somewhere, from either a madman or a studio plant.

With music, it is much more complicated, as my words do actually carry some weight. A great deal of the music I review for the magazine is from small labels and new acts, who are also facing the struggle of playing music in genres that are not currently massive sellers. Reviews of these releases can have a huge impact on sales, and do actually have some say in the success of the album.

Even if the music you're having to listen to is not of a genre you are particularly into, you cannot just dismiss it outright. You need to listen with an open mind and recognize that there is some talent at work. As well as the songs, you must take in the performances, the production, the mix, the presentation. Everything. Even if I am sent a promo by a band I have an abject dislike of, it will receive the same honest review it would get if I loved them. That's how things are. The knowledge that the 200 words or so that I bash out has the task of summing up months of work for these musicians is always hard to think about. It is also why it has to be really, really bad to get a negative review from me. Absolute honesty in writing reviews generally will help you find something positive in the most difficult of releases.

The point? Reviewing anything can have a great effect. Think of the work that went into what you are listening to/watching, and the effort that people made. You'll find it much harder to review things, but you'll also find that what you write is much clearer, much more informative, and much better.

Monday, 15 December 2008

British Science Fiction and Fantasy TV adaptations- where next?

In the wake of Doctor Who becoming such a massive institution once again on British screens, there have been various attempts to capitalize on the gap left in the listings when the Doctor isn’t on the air. This has been done with varying levels of success on both the BBC and ITV, who have both attempted to create something new that would engage the science fiction and fantasy audiences as much as the new adventures of the Doctor and his companions have done.

Let’s see. Aside from Primeval, there hasn’t really been much in the way of original new material out there for families and younger viewers to enjoy. The Sarah Jane Adventures, of course, are a Doctor Who spin-off, so they don’t really count, as good as the series is. Aside from Primeval’s tales of Dinosaurs, future beasts and former S Club 7 members, the science fiction and fantasy scene on British TV has seen duds like Robin Hood and the overly fantastical Merlin attempt to fill the Saturday slot for speculative adventure, and they haven’t really had the impact that was hoped for. Robin Hood was dire in every sense, and Merlin, while showing promise, struggled to fill one series.

So what else is there out there for TV companies to adapt? There are thousands of properties to consider. Terry Nation’s SURVIVORS has just come back to some fanfare, starring Doctor Who’s Freema Agyeman, and there’s the eventual Blake’s 7 recreation to look forward to as well. The thing is, TV companies are being a little short-sighted in prospective new projects.

How about adapting E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Skylark stories? Or what about Lensman? With advances in TV special effects, these are both possible. Another reimagining of The Tomorrow People has the potential to be great too. Hell, what about turning their attention towards the many fantastic (and very British) ideas from 2000ad? How about a Rogue Trooper or Strontium Dog miniseries? Or perhaps Slaine?

One avenue of adaptation that is proving to be rather good is Discworld. The stories that have thus far been adapted for the screen have been compelling, entertaining and have drawn suitably impressive ratings. More would be appreciated.

British science fiction and fantasy works at it’s very best when it takes place in an almost contemporary setting, or a completely contemporary setting in which something is a little askew. British TV has always done that very well. In which case, how about going the whole hog and resurrecting Quatermass as a series? Or, what about a new incarnation of the Avengers? There’s so much out there.

Just not Crime Traveler. Anything but that.

Then again, how about, shock horror, something original?

Sunday, 14 December 2008

X Factor - Karaoke for Dolts

And lo, the country did fall into a blank-eyed trance as X-Factor swallowed what remained of its collective soul. Seriously, this sorry excuse for entertainment, this overblown karaoke show aimed at the lowest common denominator, is a blight upon our screens the likes of which we have not seen since Eldorado. You can argue that it is 'Just a bit of fun', but you can't ignore the fact it is a selection of tired songs being 'performed' by people with all the talent of navel lint.

While it will no doubt make me sound older and grumpier than my 30 years should allow, I am longing for a time when people were known for passionate music (of their own composition, no less) that they believed in and that carried some kind of message, not grotesquely ululating cacophonies will all the artistic merit of a Motley Crue B-side. The pop idol/X factor phenomenon has given the culturally challenged masses a voice, and it really isn't one worth singing the praises of.

Encore? No thanks. Just lower the curtain and clear the stage. Hopefully it will then be graced by some genuinely talented people.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The best of Jim Baen's Universe – Volume One

Yes yes, I know: I was supposed to be reading that Steampunk collection, but I got waylaid by the rather superb first collection of the best of the late Jim Baen's website. Bringing together the finest of the fiction posted on that most auspicious site, it is making me wish I'd checked the place out long ago. With a marvellous mix of pure SF, fantasy and lots of stories that flit between the two, it provides a strong overview of the modern SF scene. I'm still reading it, and a full review will follow once I'm finished. Just wanted to pass the title along as it is really worth your time.

==========

In other news: Taking a brief break on the new novel to get a bit of distance from the material in order to look at it with fresh eyes soon. In the meantime I have a stack of other new material to write, including the title novella from my forthcoming collection, TO BANISH THE DARK. The outline and research have been fun. This one's going to be epic. Expect spaceships and explosions, as well as a very surprising guest...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Steampunk – The genre comes of age?


That's a rather odd title really, as the Steampunk genre has been around pretty much since the era that it is so obsessed with. I have some lengthy train journeys ahead of me this weekend and thus picked up a couple of paperbacks, one of which is Extraordinary Machines, the 'definitive' Steampunk anthology (according to the cover). Now, I love the idea of the genre itself, but have never really read much, if any fiction that is labelled as such. I have friends that are huge fans of the whole concept, the whole shebang, right down to creating their own outfits and props, but that all seems a bit much for me personally. I do love the notion though, and the imagery is undeniably powerful.

But what is the draw of Steampunk for the modern audience? It can't be nostlgia, as the era that Steampunk encapsulates is much too distant for current readers. I'd put it down to a number of things, but one of the main things I think that gets people into the genre is the sense of adventure that it seems to create, a gung-ho sort of feel that isn't reliant on the latest gadgets at least not by our current standards). The genre has been bubbling away in its own little corner of SF, fantasy and horror since the seventies,SF old and new, who is only just taking a dip into the genre.

I'm curious. I'm curious about how the stories work within their era specific contexts. I'm curious as to what the characters will be like. You see, I'm picturing dashing adventurers and dastardly villains, with a healthy dose of airships, brass robots and cog-driven Doomsday machines. I'm hoping at least for escapism. That much, I think, is certain to be offered in these pages, but I'm more curious than excited. I want to see if the genre has some substance. It certainly has a readership, and it certainly has a growing fanbase all over the world, but is it actually any good?

Looking at the talent on offer in this anthology, there does seem to be a great deal of weight behind it (Robert Reed's name on a list of contents tends to always be a good sign). Really though, I am thrilled that the genre is around, as it reminds the contemporary audience of the origins of the speculative genres, not to mention pointing them in the direction of some of the books that tarted it all, and that can never be a bad thing. While the current crop of writers may never match the wonder of Verne, Wells and their peers, they can still inspire and thrill. I look forward to bringing you a full review soon, and more thoughts on a genre that seems like it shouldn't work, but does so well.


Incidentally, posts will now be much more frequent. My brain is starting to bulge with all the ideas and articles on SF, fantasy, New Media and more that I want to offer you. There will be some changes to this blog and my online presence soon, and the amount of content will grow and evolve. Here's to 2009, and all of our futures.

Andrew Hawnt, Dec 2008

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Current State of SF

As a literary genre and a social phenomenon, science fiction has hit something of an impasse. While science and culture thunders along at an ever increasing rate, our beloved genre needs to evolve alongside real life in order to remain a viable concern. It is doing so to a certain extent, but writers and editors need to be looking to the future, as it were, instead of relying on tried and tested old ways of thinking and storytelling. I don’t mean so much in the stories themselves, more their political, technological and sociological threads, the things that give them some grounding in reality.

Space travel, instant communication, cloning and more are all a reality now. Heck, even teleportation has been achieved on a molecular level. The things that seemed so far off in the golden and silver ages of the genre are now very real, and it is only really a matter of time before more of them become commonplace, leaving science fiction looking ever more quaint. Yet, as a genre, SF was built for change and we all, as fans and creators, need to remember that we can’t just rely on a few gadgets and a few odd words to turn a story into a piece of speculative fiction.

Actually, I could be wrong. Perhaps SF is indeed moving along with the times, but the perception of the genre from the outside certainly isn’t. While we in the SF world continue to enjoy stories that blur the boundaries of SF and fantasy, or stories that feature ever harder science elements to them, the image of the SF genre remains largely unchanged in many eyes. The interesting thing is that over the past few years we have seen SF being taken a little more seriously. This is thanks in no small portion to TV properties such as Doctor Who and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, showing us that invention and ingenuity can still be brought to the masses.

But, are we, as fans and creators, partly responsible for any stigma attached to the genre? Do we not perpetuate some of the myths of fanboys and girls with big dreams and a tenuous grip on reality? Perhaps so on occasion. The fact remains that speculative fiction remains the most vibrant place to find new ideas, new concepts, and as the world moves on, I do believe SF will continue to have a place in the cultural landscape. Not only that, but I can see it becoming more important once again. After a period of such difficulty in the world, maybe it is time for a new age of optimism like that of the 60s SF boom. We’re living in the future now, people. Lets start making it come alive.

It comes as no surprise that it is primarily the realms of SF and fantasy that seem to have embraced the New Media movement. Using new technology to get stories, audio books, and even films out to audiences is a wonderful thing that ties in with the basic core elements of science fiction itself- moving on, discovering new ways of getting content and ideas out there. It is a movement that is growing ever larger, especially in these troubled times. Being able to check out new SF as PDFs or podcasts before risking money on it is something that won’t just help readers and listeners, it will also help the genre itself as, thanks to the instant feedback that is available, writers will be able to hone their craft even further, polishing and improving their work so that people will garner even more enjoyment from it. Plus, in recent studies (as reported with figures in LOCUS magazine) there is some great evidence that the try-before-you-buy idea actually improves book sales.

As long as SF keeps looking forward, but glancing back every now and again to make sure it is still on the right path, then this genre that loves the future will most certainly have one of its own.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

THE LAST MAGE - Free Fantasy Fiction Download

I'd like to offer you a little gift, if I may. Here is a FREE download of my fantasy story 'The Last Mage' in PDF form. The story was featured in ETHEREAL TALES MAGAZINE, which I urge you all to check out as it is a vibrant new gothic/fantasy zine that deserves your attention if you love dark fantasy fiction. The story was fun to write, and I would like you to share it with as many people as you like. Either send them the link to this post or just send the file itself. I am offering 'The Last Mage' under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, so you are welcome to circulate it. There will be more free fiction to come over the next few weeks, so please do keep checking back or add me to your feed.

So, without further ado, please download the file. I hope you enjoy the story, and any feedback is most welcome.

Download 'The Last Mage' by Andrew Hawnt

Creative Commons License
The Last Mage by Andrew Hawnt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

NANOWRIMO 2008 - Thoughts and progress

Well we’re almost at the halfway mark for this year’s NaNoWriMo event, the tenth event of its kind and the first I’m taking part in. I chose my STOLEN FATE project for the event, and the first draft currently stands at 15,000 words. I’m a bit behind with it due to other writing commitments, but I’m aiming to have that total hit 20,000 by the 15th. I have my work cut out for me, but it is work that is a hell of a lot of fun to do.

I haven’t taken much interest in the community side of the event, which I probably should, but I think that might be down to wanting to work on the book rather than talk about doing so. I know, that’s exactly what I’m doing here and now, but I’m getting right back on it once this is posted.

So how is it going? The book is deviating from the original concept a little, but not much. This pleases me as the original vision is still there, just rather more honed than before. The set-up is complete. The story getting into the meat of proceedings, characters getting carried away with themselves without much help from me, and the plot is most definitely thickening.

The hard part of it all is keeping going. There is a massive temptation for me to go back to earlier pages and edit, alter and refine, but that must come after this first draft is complete. There’s plenty that needs reworking and polishing, but the threads are coming together and I am starting to have something resembling a first act.

Another aspect I am concerned about is the pacing, which, again, I will look over once the initial version is complete. As I go along I am discovering things that don’t work just as much as things that do, and it is proving to be a frustrating and inspiring endeavour in almost equal measure.

Right, I can’t sit here babbling about it all day. I have work to do.

Follow my progress on my NaNoWriMo page.

There will be further news on this book, and it’s future, soon…

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Watchmen - The Greatest Graphic Novel of All Time Comes to the Big Screen

The wait for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal graphic novel WATCHMEN to take the leap from the printed page to the big screen has been going on for almost two decades. Now that the film is on its way for real (pending Fox's lawsuit against WB), the light is at the end of the tunnel for comics fans who have waited so long to see the story come to life. The graphic novel, originally published in 12 individual issues by DC Comics in the 1980s, became the benchmark by which all other similar works would be judged for years afterwards. It turned the superhero genre, and indeed the comics industry, on its head, it became a New York Times bestseller, and it achieved that most rare of accolades for a comics based story: Actual respect.

At its most basic, the story is a whodunit, but that is a gross oversimplification of a tale that has so many layers, so many dimensions, and so much going on in its pages that you will still be finding new things in various frames after several readings. A dense, enthralling masterpiece, it has stood the test of time for the simple fact that it is GOOD. The writing and art work so well together that it transcends a mere comic book story. This is a novel in its own right, a weaving, plot and character driven story of redemption, love, emotion, violence, politics and ideas so grand that they would only really have been given any attention in comics in the first place.

WATCHMEN is something that is a byword for quality. The graphic novel has been a bestseller for several years, and that isn't down to marketing, advertising or product placement. It is largely through word of mouth and the legend that has built up around the book. "Read this, you'll love it," people have said the world over, and they've been right.

When it came to light that a feature film adaptation of the book was finally going into production after years of false starts and various people attached to it, the comics industry feared the worst. Zack Snyder, director of the visually stunning 300, was signed up to direct, and work got underway on turning the most loved graphic novel of all time into a movie. Many had said that it wouldn't be possible to do the story justice in one film, that it should be three, that it couldn't be made properly, that the characters and their relationships were far too complex for Hollywood execs to approve of. Thankfully, it seems that throughout the film's production, Zack Snyder and his team, the cast, the effects artists and indeed Warner Brothers, have taken on the same mindset of the book's original creators and created something seminal.

Early showings of footage from the film, coupled with an incredible trailer and test screenings that have left people astonished suggest that the impossible has indeed become possible. WATCHMEN is coming, and even though Alan Moore disowned the project (as he did with 'V For Vendetta'), it seems that Zack Snyder and Co have treated the source material with great respect and humility, while still creating something new. The film looks truly unique, its characters a perfect representation of their comic book counterparts, and audiences are gearing up for what has long been dubbed the Citizen Kane of comics and comic movies. Who watches the WATCHMEN? Once the film hits, we all will.

Andrew is an expert on comic books, graphic novels, film, TV movie memorabilia and more. He writes for the famous movie merchandise and graphic novels site http://www.starstore.com and their blogs. He is also a renowned music journalist and Science Fiction author. For the latest updates check out====> starstoreblog.com

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Friday, 31 October 2008

NANOWRIMO!

Yes, this year I am finally going to participate in the NaNoWriMo event, that time of year when hacks like me atempt to bash out 50,000 words in 30 days. That works out at 1,300 words a day on top of everything else I do. It is going to be a challenge, but it is something I really want to do in order to get some new material out there for you. Two projects are vying for my attention, and one of them will commence tomorrow morning. One is a brand new SF novel idea, and the other is nothing less than Stolen Fate, a dark fantasy story I have long been trying to find the right outlet for. Whichever gets underway tomorrow, it will be fun and a great thing to be a part of. Here goes.

Good luck to everyone else having a go at it too!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

HALLOWEEN at Halloween - Reliving the Michael Myers Legacy



A great way to spend a budget-friendly Halloween this year would be to have a marathon of those perennial horror favourites, the Halloween series. What could be better for Halloween than watching Michael Myers hunt down victim after victim? Well, actually, this could be pretty damn rotten if you try to sit through all of the terrible sequels. Including the remake there are now nine films that carry the Halloween title, but just picking any of them would be a bad idea. You need to pick the best ones in order to have a decent movie experience and Halloween fun, but which to choose?

First up, DO NOT WATCH HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. This was a sidestep from the Michael Myers chronicles and doesn't feature the infamous masked killer at all, or indeed have any links to the first two films aside from the title itself. Plus, it is generally a terrible film with little in the way of redeeming qualities. So, whichever you pick, make sure that turkey isn't among them. Actually, avoid Halloween: Resurrection too. Gah. That was awful.

The Halloween movies got off to a fantastic start with two films that are rightfully honoured as true classics of the horror genre. Naturally, the iconic first film introduced the world to Michael Myers, Dr Loomis and Laurie Strode, and brought the genre a new antihero, Myers, who was also nicknamed 'The Shape' due to his chilling masked visage. Utilizing sterling camera work, excellent direction and ingenious use oif lighting and music, the initial Halloween movie became the benchmark of horror for a generation, and spawned many lesser imitators.

That film has certainly stood the test of time and still works to this day. Its first sequel, cunningly entitled Halloween II, was superb in that it carried on exactly where the first film left off, and plays as an extension of that landmark production instead of just a sequel. The original cast returned and continued with the carnage. While the first film was directed by horror legend John Carpenter, Halloween II was directed by Rick Rosenthal, a relative unknown, who did a great job capturing the atmosphere and tension that Carpenter had achieved.

These two would be wholeheartedly recommended, but there needs to be a third to round off your evening. I'd say Halloween H20, the seventh in the series, which saw Jamie Lee Curtis return to the role of Laurie Strode after 20 years away from the franchise. This entry, directed by Steve Miner, is actually a very good, very strong piece of horror cinema. It is taut and constructed very well, and alongside the first two films it creates an excellent trilogy. It even has a satisfying end, which provides some closure to the series. Sadly this was destroyed with the terrible eighth film, but if you try to ignore that and put these three films together, you're in for a great Halloween night that won't break the bank. The Halloween movie franchise has spawned comic books, merchandise, Michael Myers action figures, statues and of course, a whole genre in itself. With these three fine examples of the series, you will be up all night. Not just watching movies, but checking that all your doors are locked. Was that a man in a mask outside your window?

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Andrew Hawnt is an expert on popular culture, movies, TV, comics, horror movie collectibles and more. He writes for the famous Starstore blogs and the popular movie collectibles site starstore.com as well as being a renowned music journalist and science fiction author. With boundless enthusiasm for pop culture, movie memorabilia, geek culture and the comic book industry, he is always ready to bring the latest news and views on the entertainment industry to you. For the latest news, free newsletters, podcasts and more, check out ===> http://www.starstoreblog.com



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Monday, 20 October 2008

DARIO ARGENTO’S MOTHER OF TEARS- Movie review

Dario Argento has long since been seen as a master of the horror genre, but a great deal of his work is dismissed as being of lesser quality by people who are constantly comparing more recent works to earlier films such as Suspiria, Tenebrae and the like. Much is made of the fact that later films don’t look like the earlier ones. This isn’t just down to changes in his methods and artistic approach- remember, technology and film production has moved on a hell of a lot since the heady days of the Italian maestro’s trademark projects.

Mother of Tears is the long awaited final chapter in the ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy, the first two parts being horror buff staples Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). This final film eventually arrived in 2007 (and only recently got a UK DVD release), and fans have been divided in opinion, which is easy to understand when watching the film.

I enjoyed it, but the film is at times very confusing. Not in regards to the plot, which is pretty straightforward, but the fact that there are times when you feel as though you are watching two films cut together. On one hand there is a rather enjoyable supernatural thriller with Dario’s famous daughter, Asia, in the lead, and on the other hand there is a poorly made gorefest with ‘spooky’ women being all ‘spooky’ at people. There are scenes in which the acting, direction, cinematography and the whole shebang work perfectly, and then you get scenes that are horrendously captured, dubbed and composed. This mainly refers to the group of cackling harpies that fill Rome once the demonic artefacts have been uncovered and the third Mother is unleashed.

Argento’s visual flair is still very much in evidence, and the film does play well alongside the earlier entries, but ultimately it buckles a little under the weight of expectation that fans have lavished on the project over the years. There is much in the way of fan pleasing going on here. As a whole though, the film is a fun watch if you try to not take it too seriously. Aside from some rather suspect CG, the production is slick, the cinematography is mostly beautiful and Asia adds some much needed star power to a film that is, aside from Asia herself and Udo Kier, lacking in familiar faces. There are some awkward moments where the dub is very noticeable, but for the most part it is presented with on-set or location sound, which helps.

There is gore, sadism, nudity, violence, blood, mad angles, the supernatural, lots of action and lots of atmosphere. This is very much an Argento film, and as the final part of the Three Mothers trilogy, it does actually deliver.

Movie Monster Legends: Ten of the greatest ever onscreen beasts

Some monsters never die. Some of them keep on burrowing ever deeper into the collective unconscious until they are rooted there for all time. Here we'll take a look at ten of the film industry's most unforgettable creatures. There is no real order to this list, as they are all fine examples of celluloid terror (and opinion, after all, is subjective. Nowhere moreso than with film fans), but the big names speak for themselves. We'll also take a look at some of the licensed merchandise that these creatures inspired, which has thrilled fans for decades.

Chucky:
The possessed doll first hit the screens in the 1988 horror classic 'Child's Play'. Following that came four sequels, and with each one his appeal was diminished as each film became more and more of a spoof of what came before. Chucky is also to be getting the remake treatment, but in the new version he will still be played by veteran movie villain Brad Dourif.

Pinhead:
Famously portrayed by Doug Bradley in eight feature films, Pinhead is one of the most striking images to have come to cinema. With his fetishistic outfit and hideous mutilated visage, he leads his Cenobite minions across realities to ensnare twisted individuals who crave the next big fix. The character is to come to the big screen again with the forthcoming remake of the first Hellraiser.

Jason Voorhees:
The mutated hick from Crystal Lake has terrorized audiences for decades, and to date has appeared in eleven feature films including the 9 Friday the 13th movies, Jason X and Freddy Vs Jason. A remake of Friday the 13th is soon to be released and kick off the series all over again. With his distinctive Hockey mask and bloodied machete, Jason is an unforgettable movie monster.

Predator:
First shredding flesh in the 1987 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Predator quickly became an iconic movie monster despite only starring in two films until the AVP franchise came along. With its distinctive features and abilities, the Predator grabbed ever more fans due to it being such a relentless adversary for the films' heroes. The Predator has gone on to become one of the most sought-after collectable items in history.

Ghostface
Surprisingly, the masked killers from the SCREAM trilogy always rank very highly with horror movie buffs. While not strictly monsters, the image of the masked, robed murderers is one that permeated all of the horror industry for a time in the lkate 90s, spawning a whole generation of lesser imitators who wanted to get in on the teen slasher reinvention bandwagon.

Freddy Krueger:
The legendary dream demon, Freddy Krueger, brought terror to our screens in seven movies of his own, as well as a short-lived TV series, countless books and comics, and the lacklustre Freddy Vs Jason feature film. Played by Robert Englund in all of the above, Freddy was (and is) an intense and memorable character. He worked best in the first and third films of his own franchise, when he was at his darkest. The first of his films, A Nightmare on Elm Street, is currently being remade, with Krueger now played by Billy Bob Thornton.

Alien:
Originally designed by legendary artist HR Giger, the eponymous creature in the ALIEN films (and indeed AVP and AVP: Requiem) is an instantly recognizable movie monster. Its very form thrills and terrifies in equal measure, proven by its longevity as a driving force in the film industry. To this day the first two Alien films stand up as masterpieces of the genre and cinema as a whole, and while later films and the Alien Vs Predator spinoffs may have been lesser products, they did nothing to diminish the power of the creature's presence when glimpsed onscreen.

STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN
Mr Stay Puft only appeared in one film, namely the all-time classic first Ghostbusters movie from 1984, but that brief appearence was enough to cement the character in film fans' hearts and minds forever more thanks to his frankly insane visage. Who could forget the sight of a giant man made of sweets, standing 112.5 feet tall (according to Harold Ramis), attacking New York before being destroyed by four eccentric men in overalls and proton packs? He went on to become an icon in comics, cartoons and toys

King Kong:
Back in 1933, the world gasped in awe at the sight of the original King Kong movie and all of its legendary stop-motion animation. The ingenious technique brought to life one of the most incredible beasts ever known, and a genre was born. Spawning various spinoffs, sequels and remakes, including Peter Jackson's impressive 2005 effort, there are few other onscreen beasts that can lay claim to the crown of most influential movie monster of all time. Incredibly influential in every sense, the original film, and indeed the titular giant ape, have become synonymous with the creation of the monster movie genre. Nobody will ever forget that climactic and iconic battle atop the Empire State building.

Godzilla:
The 1998 American remake may well have been a critical and commercial failure but it couldn't change the fact that the famous Japanese monster, Godzilla, is the most recognizable and revered of all monsters that have appeared on film. Notching up over 50 film appearances, he has fought off all manner of weird attackers, spawned cartoon shows, spin-off franchises and a massive merchandising industry. The image and idea of Godzilla has proven to be remarkably enduring, and even though the character was supposed to be laid to rest with the incredible Godzilla: Final Wars a few years ago, the legend continues with yet more giant monster projects. I swear, Tokyo must have been rebuilt more times than I've seen Star Wars. No, really. The giant monster action may well have been a bunch of guys in big rubber suits, but it has nevertheless thrilled audiences ever since the 1950s. Long may Godzilla reign as the king of all beasts.

So there you have ten of the greatest movie monsters of all time. But what of the merchandising industry they spawned?

There has long since been an insatiable appetite for licensed movie monster memorabilia from fans the world over. Thankfully, there are some fantastic companies out there who are creating some truly incredible work in this area, and fans are eager to get their hands on the latest items. Let's take a look at some of the big names currently proving the world with high quality licensed merchandise.

In the past decade, the licensed collectibles market has been dominated by a select few companies, who have earned their status as the best in the world through years of dedication and the quality of their work. The leaders in the field of official movie merchandise are companies such as Mcfarlane, NECA, Sideshow Collectibles and Gentle Giant. Mcfarlane cornered the market in action figure versions of the most famous movie monsters at the end of the 90s with their legendary Movie maniacs range, bringing quality articulated figures of such characters as Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees and suchlike into the realms of affordable merchandise. Their box sets, such as the much missed Alien Queen set or their equally popular Jaws set, were of such a high standard that they remained hot sellers for half a decade. Mcfarlane's attention to detail and giving the fans what they wanted was noticed by several other companies who tried to get in on the bandwagon, but Mcfarlane are yet to be bettered.

Other collectibles companies looked to different avenues of licensed items to make their mark. NECA were hot on the heels of Mcfarlane and brought fans some of the best large scale figures and music based action figures the world market had ever seen, whereas creators such as Sideshow and Gentle Giant directed their energies towards making extremely high quality items. In the case of the amazing Sideshow Collectibles, many of these items are deemed to be of museum quality, such is the craftsmanship that goes into each of their stunning pieces. Where some would be content to create simple articulated figures, Sideshow go for the grand, the huge, the massive pieces, and employ the finest artists and sculptors in order to bring legendary creatures and characters to life as collectible statues, dioramas, replicas and figures. The appetite for movie monster merchandise has seen the growth of an international industry. As long as monsters tear up cities and terrorise whole worlds, there will be fans who want one of their own.

Really though, the appetite for monsters, creatures, demons, beasts, aliensa dn all those other fantastic creations shows no signs of fading away. While the popularity of the films may have waned a little, and the genre begins to be reinvented (Cloverfield, for example), we stand on the brink of a whole new breed of terrors ready to smash and destroy in the name of cinematic chaos. Long may they reign.


Andrew writes for the memorabilia and collectibles site Starstore and their many famous entertainment and collectibles blogs. He is also a renowned rock and metal journalist and science fiction author.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: UBERBYTE- [SIC]

UBERBYTE
[SIC]

Crunch Pod Records


South Yorkshire’s Uberbyte have made a name for themselves on the UK scene by relentless gigging and basic hard work, and after a string of riotous shows comes this, the debut full length effort. Things get off to a very bouncy start with ‘Stand up for Uberbyte’, which has all the hallmarks of a stomping show opener. From the off it is rather clear that the music of Uberbyte is designed for the stage and the dancefloor, as it does make you want to stomp.

While the stage incarnation of Uberbyte features about a million people, the album is created by the band’s leader, Uberman (aka Rikky, one time Killing Miranda frontman). This gives the piece a string sense of direction. Before long the infamous ‘Total War’ comes along and lays waste to your subwoofer with a structure and beat that Grendel and Combichrist would kill for (The opening sample does sound like it namechecks neckless Doctor Who oddballs the Sontarans though). On CD the song has lost none of the power that makes it such a cool dancefloor/live number.

[SIC] is not a subtle album, and that is kind of the point. This is music to dance to, and dance HARD. It offers up a selection of hard EBM, industrial and harsh dancefloor electronics very much I keeping with these post-EBM times. Hocico with more bounce. The synth lines are memorable and punchy in an almost singalong fashion, adding some much needed melody to the crunch of the songs.

This is a great debut from a British act who are really making waves on the rejuvenated UK industrial underground, and on the strength of this offering and their notorious live shows, the future looks very [SIC] indeed.

Order from Crunchpod

ALBUM REVIEW: AUTOCLAV1.1- Love No Longer Lives Here

AUTOCLAV1.1
Love No Longer Lives Here

Tympanik Audio

The third full length album from Autoclav1.1 maestro Tony Young (not counting the exemplary remix album ‘Broken Beats For Broken Hearts), ‘Love No Longer Lives Here’ is an even more cinematic musical journey than his previous works. There are less jagged beats this time out, and more attention paid to the layers of melody that build and build on one another to create a dense and moving soundscape.

Beats are still very much in evidence on this album, but they seem a little less fractured and more straightforward while retaining some of the glitchy rhythms of the previous albums. In fact, a couple of the tracks on offer (‘All Long Black Spirals’ for example) are harder and more driving. This is a record that has definitely been composed instead of assembled. The album works extremely well as a whole entity; a soundtrack to loss and emotional evolution.

‘Tiny Matters’ is a gorgeous piece in the middle of the album, reflective and solemn, followed by the more recognizably Autoclav1.1 ‘Its Indifference’ that sees the return of some of the rougher rhythms of the first two albums mixed with the newfound subtlety.

It is as the album goes on that the pieces start to really fall together, culminating in the heartbreaking and equally uplifting ‘Six Minutes to Live’, which is an extremely good note to end the album on, leaving you with the feeling you have experienced something special. Like Howard Shore and Robert Miles crossed with Vangelis, flavoured with the crisp rhythms of the Industrial movement. Something special indeed.

Order from Tympanik Audio

ALBUM REVIEW: SONIC SYNDICATE- LOVE AND OTHER DISASTERS

SONIC SYNDICATE
Love and other Disasters

Nuclear Blast Records

Album number two from Swedish six-piece Sonic Syndicate sees the band shed some of the pop hooks of their debut and go straight for the jugular with a set of adrenaline-fuelled metalcore anthems. Their melodic side is still very much in evidence, but the huge layered choruses are now mixed in with an even more furious thrash metal approach that on the whole works very well.

‘Encaged’ and ‘Hellgate: Worcester’ show off their harder approach to blistering effect, while third track (and first video track) ‘Jack of Diamonds’ comes across as a new version of ‘Denied’ from the debut album, albeit much heavier. The use of two vocalists, while not something I’m particularly fond of in metal, works perfectly here, with Roland and Richard working off each other perfectly, alternating harsh and melodic vocals adding another layer that many current metal acts are lacking.

The music is harder than before, but there does seem to be a little too much borrowed from Soilwork on several songs, especially in some of the synth washes the band use. ‘Love and Other Disasters’ is a great album that will hopefully help the band shed a little of the ‘Thrash Linkin Park’ tag they earned from just having two vocalists.

With shades of balladry later in the album and some solid songwriting on show, this is more than just another flavour-of-the-week band. Granted, they got their deal following a competition, but they are not just a gimmick. This is the sound of a band coming into their own, and while not as immediate as the debut, it is an extremely good modern metal album.

www.nuclearblast.de

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

'THE LAST MAGE' IN ETHEREAL TALES MAGAZINE (AND MORE COMING ATTRACTIONS)

Hey all! Sorry it has been a while since my last update- I've been working on all manner of cool stuff for you to check out. I'm back in the saddle and will be bringing you some great regular updates now.

Some great news- my new story, 'The Last Mage' will be published in the first issue of the new gothic/fantasy/alternative fiction zine ETHEREAL TALES. I'm very pleased the story was picked up by the zine's editor, Raven, and I hope you all enjoy it once the first issue is out. You can find out more about Ethereal Tales at the zine's website. I had a great time writing the story, for which I have had the idea for a while, but never had the right opportunity to do it justice. Inspiration struck at the perfect moment and the whole thing was written in one sitting and delivered to Ethereal Tales, who were kind enough to take it. Look out for the first isue soon!

There's more to come though...

Work continues on CITIZEN, THE FOREVER GUARDIAN, TO BANISH THE DARK and more, as well as my continued work for the acclaimed POWERPLAY ROCK AND METAL MAGAZINE, for whom I just interviewed guitar legend AXEL RUDI PELL. That interview will be published in the next issue, available in newsagents all over the country (and indeed the world) around the end of the month. You can also keep up to date with my geek culture writing every day at the famous Starstore Blog.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

PLAYING FOR KEEPS: Podcaster's superhero hit

Nobody was as surprised as Mur Lafferty herself when the print version of her podcast novel 'Playing For Keeps' flew up the Amazon charts on its official release day. Not only did it hit number 16 in the overall books chart, but it took the number 1 spot in SF, action/adventure and hot releases. Not bad at all, considering the book had long been available as a podcast series, a free PDF and a print-on-demand edition. Where many writers would want to leave all the hard work of marketing their work to their publishers, renowned podcaster Mur (I Should Be Writing, Geek Fu Action Grip, and at one point Pseudopod as well as her podcasted fiction) followed in the footsteps of people such as Matthew Wayne Selznick and did the lion's share of the marketing chores herself. It certainly paid off, with the book garnering rave reviews on it's Amazon page and across the internet. Publishers Swarm Press have found themselves with a cult hit on their hands, and after all the hard work that went into it, quite rightly so.

Reading the book itself, it is quite easy to see why it wasn't picked up by a major publisher and instead finally went to the smaller (and rather interesting) Swarm Press. Quite simply, its premise isn't one that the mass market would really get. Sadly many readers would be turned off by the superhero aspect and the use of powers throughout the story, and miss out on something really quite enjoyable. The fact that the main characters, the Third Wavers, have seemingly useless abilities when faced with the iconic Heroes and Villains, is a great strength. The characters must learn to use their limited powers to greater effect in order to stay alive, and in the case of lead character Keepsie, find out just what her power is capable of.

The prose is sprightly, and though the format of the book is rather unwieldy (I'm not a fan of these oversized trade paperbacks), it does work as a book as well as a podcast series. Thankfully, the episodic nature of the podcast version hasn't left the story feeling like an anthology. While the action scenes are great fun, it is in the character interaction that the book really shines. The bunch of misfits that fill Keepsie's life are written well, with definite personalities and struggles of their own to deal with as well as the main action.

The success of this paperback edition of Playing For Keeps is another example of the world at large starting to take notice of what fans are creating themselves. The entertainment and publishing industry, slowly but surely, is catching up with the audience. With writers such as Lafferty, Sigler, Hutchins, Selznick and their ilk, it really does seem to me that we are witnessing the birth of a new set of stars in the realms of genre fiction, and with their continued efforts (that stretch far beyond just writing the books), they are earning every sale. That is to be admired, and should set a good example to the rest of us: If you're not willing to make the effort to get people interested in your material, why should anybody else?

You can find Playing For Keeps on Amazon here, and visit Mur online here.

Friday, 5 September 2008

EXTRACT FROM MY NEXT PROJECT

Presented here is the opening to my next project, CITIZEN: THE FINAL DAYS OF HUMANKIND. This is a book that takes the story of an album I did with my old band RED20, namely the concept album CITIZEN STAIN, and tells the whole story of mankind's downfall at the hands of a godlike pseudo-technological entity. The album was released as a digital package in 2006 after 15 months of work on it. The story was enormous, and alongside the music a selection of scenes were recorded as dramatized audio. Snippets of those scenes found their way onto the album, creating an apocalyptic mix of rock, industrial, metal, electronica and storytelling that was too violent to contain in just a CD. After talking to my former bandmate, Alastair Turl (who is currently completing his new album), I am proud to be able to bring you the full story of your final days. The book, containing a chapter for each of the individual tracks as well as a section on the album and its creation, will be made available online. If you would like any further information on the project, please do get in touch by email- hexinfinity at yahoo dot com. Now, the extract...

SPECIMEN RED20
From the forthcoming book 'CITIZEN: THE FINAL DAYS OF HUMANKIND' by Andrew Hawnt

What is your name?


They kept asking and asking, but they never got through. They’d never get ot out of him. This was down to him not being in any mood to cooperate and also because at that moment in time he didn’t have the faintest idea who he was. He laughed and laughed, and flung himself against the mirrored glass again. It still didn’t crack, but it had buckled. It wouldn’t be long before it gave way altogether and the specimen’s wiry form would crash through into the observation lounge.

Your name. Tell us your name.


He shouted at them through the glass, his eyes reddened and wide, spittle cascading against the huge stretch of mirror. Numbers. Streams of data. Code interspersed with gibberish, random syllables cried out in anger and frustration. He spat phlegm at them in their safe little room, and they shifted uneasily in their chairs as he seemed to look straight at each of them in turn, despite the fact that all he could see in the chamber was his own demented reflection. Powerful men and women sat in plush chairs, watching the man writhe and gibber and scream incoherently as if they were slipping notes to a rough looking stripper behind a sheet of Perspex.

This wasn’t Perspex though. This was state of the art material. The whole place was state of the art, although beneath the facility lay things that wouldn’t even be known to be state of the art for a good decade yet.

I don’t have a name. I’ve never had a name. Have I? 001010101011100010101 help. Hegfwefwwerrfyyiyfifi34iuyfy7 no no no. This can’t be right. It’s all in the wrong order. Sort the lines and move onto the next. I see them. I see you. You’re watching me and I don’t like it, but you think I can’t see you and that makes me laugh. Can you hear me through that glass? Can you?

“Can you hear me?” he screamed, suddenly coherent. He stood motionless, listening for a response. He took in his own reflection. His scraggy blonde hair was a mess of sweat and dried blood and filth. Spindly limbs were hidden by a heavily stained grey jumpsuit, that would have hung from his frame like empty skin if the straps hadn’t been holding it in place. His feet were stuffed into dull boots, a strap linking them together. The straps linking his hands together were loose enough to rock his arms back and forth oin front of himself, which he did now as he stared at himself and those watching beyond the glass.

Tell us your name.

“You answer me first!” he screamed at himself in the glass. The room was sparsely furnished. Aside from the chairs and the people there was one small terminal feeding the audio loop behind them at the far side of the room, by a door that had a level sixteen encryption in its lock.

How he knew all that escaped him. All he knew was that these were the facts. The data was clear and correct. Much clearer than the sight of his dishevelled self in the mirrored surface. The data. 01010101011000100010101010iuhweirhfryf346yqy6 secondary protocol active obey reroute obey.

Two of the men in the room beyond his reflection were armed. There was metal and plastic and machinery, but no data in their weapons. Clever. Very clever. He couldn’t tell how the guns were made or what made what work in them. Clever.

The terminal was a different story.

Again came the request for his name, which was met with a new outburst from him, screaming and kicking and flinging himself at the glass. Just a name. They just wanted a name. A name he didn’t have. They wanted him to obey and to yield and follow and agree. They wanted too much.
Something had been entered into the terminal, and the man inclined his head to one side, his eyes suddenly blank. The mediocre lighting of his holding cell flickered.

The data made more sense. The name request had been a trick question. He didn’t have a name- how could he? He was a thing, a unit, a device, and these were the masters that had created him. The upgrade that had just been installed felt incredible, his brain firing with all manner of notions and equations and orders and beautiful, exquisite data. Information filled his veins, and the screaming calmed.

Another upgrade was installed. From the vibrations picked up by the terminal’s signal emitters, he could tell that guns had been drawn and the formation of the people in the room had changed. The two armed men had moved to the front of the room and were little more than a metre away from him now. The new upgrade fed him and he slumped against the glass like a junkie letting his latest hit run its course. Ecstasy. Perfection.

Oh. Oh, hello, he said internally.

Another order. Another upgrade fed through the system and into his pulsating, strained brain. This one didn’t slip in so easy, and the watchers recoiled in horror as their subject reared up from the glass, screaming, foam erupting from his mouth as he spat equations into the air. Blood cast a grim rainbow across the back wall as he screeched and ground his face against the back wall. He laughed again.

Tell us your name.

“I understand now,” the man said as he sat in a heap, trembling and bloody as his outburst passed. “It isn’t the name you’re after. I could have said my name was Bastard McLovely and you would have been happy.”

He dragged his skinny form upright and lurched over to the glass again.

“It was the manner in which I was to answer your request that you were interested in. Your little terminal was to receive my answer, not your ears and eyes. You wanted me to bypass these petty methods of communication and go for the direct route. Okay, here you go.”

Data reversed. Stream magnified.

Chaos in the room beyond the glass. The hidden people were screaming now, not him. They were scrambling for the door, but the door was ruined. They were scrambling for the terminal, but it was emitting such a powerful noise that they couldn’t think straight. Feedback. Sonic torture. A shot was fired. The mechanical scream intensified. Screams, pain and sudden darkness as they all fell, their heads swollen, inner ears ruptured. He smiled at the thought of their suffering. They had earned it. More data sent back to the terminal. He could feel his body acting as a transmitter.
“You gave me a number. A designation as one of your favourite pets. My designation is Specimen Red Twenty. Do I win a prize?”

He laughed again as the sound beyond the glass intensified still further, and the people on the floor cried out in confusion and agony. The glass split across the diagonal, and the lower half shifted in its moorings. With a flurry of data sent across to the terminal, he silenced the noise and looked at his distorted reflection. After the torture of awakening with no name, no identity and a mind afire with chaotic data, he stood defiant. He could see the entire facility by just willing to do so. He could see it from space, from underground, and from the inside down to the last shred of matter. He could see everything, everyone. Despite the pain, the blood and the chaos in his seething brain, he laughed and threw himself at the glass, which gave way at last, a huge shard ripping one of his shackles loose and his arm fell free as he landed in an awkward crouch.

People were suffering all around him. Their toy had been broken, their bodies swollen and twitching as they still struggled for the door. Specimen Red Twenty openly laughed at them, distorted little meatbags, scared of the product of their own work.

With his laughter becoming an incoherent scream, he pulled the terminal from the wall with chilling strength and proceeded to beat his victims to death with its twisted form.

He didn’t stop laughing until the last of them stopped breathing.

(c) Andrew Hawnt 2008

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Whatever happened to cinematic Space Opera?

Taking in the usual rash of summer blockbusters, there is a distinct lack of spaceships. Granted, this is the era of the superhero movie, which I’m most definitely in favour of, but there isn’t really anything around right now to satiate the hunger for great big spaceships. Nothing original anyway. On TV there’s Battlestar Galactica. A remake. In the cinemas we have The Clone Wars. A spin-off. Now, between the million remakes and sequels, there really should be a new Space Opera to tantalise us with tales of galaxies far far away that never had the merest whiff of a Gungan about them.

It has been over thirty years since Star Wars destroyed everything in its path, and thus isn’t it time we had something new to be in awe of? There is more than enough source material out there for the lazy exec who doesn’t want to risk having something original written and made. There are literally thousand of books and series of books that would make incredible film franchises. With the shrinking cost of Cg effects and their rise in quality over the past few years, it is more feasible than ever to make something on a grand scale.  You can have digital sets and digital extras. Hell, film the whole thing in front of a green screen and give the cast toy guns. It is now possible to create the most magical worlds that the imagination can dream up, so why aren’t more Space Operas being made? The audience is certainly out there.

Execs: Think of the lucrative merchandising rights involved, if you’re not sold on the idea of a rollicking adventure with a great script. Filmmakers: Think of the adoration and appreciation you would garner by creating the next Star Wars. Think of the generations you could inspire to do the same, and to do better. Believability be damned- give us something that kids will be playing in the streets for years to come. Give us heroes and villains, dastardly plots and immeasurable odds. Give us royalty and hotshots and dreamers and rogues, and give them the universe as their playground. Give us energy weapons and lightspeed drives and political intrigue in the corridors of galactic power. Give us new dreams to dream, and we will lap them up.

Turn to your slush piles. Turn to the submissions of excited creators’ CG examples and scripts and designs. Turn to the new generation to help provide the next one with a new legend to enjoy. Just please, give us some great big spaceships to dive into and take us away from the unholy mess the world is in right now. Escapism please. We know what life is like down here. How about giving us a taste of what it is like across the stars?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

FREE SCIENCE FICTION STORY- 'ECHO'

Offered here free of charge is a story from my anthology ACROSS THE SEAS OF MIND, which is available to order in print and download here! I hope you enjoy the story and will check out the book. A rather sombre piece of science fiction, Echo was fun to write and carries many ingredients that fascinate me and permeate much of my work- themes of destruction and learning, time travel and technology. I hope it is to your liking.

ECHO
By Andrew Hawnt
From the collection 'Across The Seas of Mind'

They fell silent for a moment, listening for the first hiss of static to surge through the library’s ancient systems. The books were already laid out in rows, open, ready to be filled with memories. The gathered had prepared the sanctuary with haste, as this wave of knowledge had been unexpected. The Librarians waited now, robed and hooded and solemn, as the planet’s gargantuan receptors opened up to their full scope, and the temporal and spatial distortion that had been hurtling towards them began to fill their halls with information.

The receptors crackled and rumbled beyond vast city walls, refining the distortion into actual images, words, thoughts, memories. Whatever this mass of chaos was, wherever it had originated, it contained an incredible amount of history, and the librarians were adamant that they would gather it all for the education of all and the cataloguing of every instance in history. This wave was a special find indeed.

As it grew in the massive engines beneath the city, purified by the oval-shaped receptors that soared kilometers into the sky beyond the Librarians’ citadel, turbines masked by crystal began to whir over the sanctuary, and the books began to be etched with symbols, words, stories and undulating pictures. The crystal screens over the turbines hummed, and the Librarians watched in awe as images of the past sprang to life over them in a massive scale, echoes of a distant world’s past recounted for all to see, all to know.

Pages flipped, chapters were filled and the story played out all around them in
Shimmering, ghostly apparitions. Those ethereal murals relinquished the secrets of the powerful wave that had delivered these memories, and told a story that none of the Librarians could have expected.

The wave was an echo of home.

Three centuries had passed since they had colonized this barren world and transformed it into the quadrant’s most prosperous and respected Library planet, and the barbarity of home had long since faded, replaced by discussion, debate, deliberation, and learning of a high order. The days of brother and sister against brother and sister were things of the past, things only spoken of in the countless tomes that filled every structure on the face of the planet.

Yet here they were, playing out all around the thirty-five most senior Librarians, stood watching wide-eyed as war ravaged their ancestral home. Weapons so terrible that they made the Librarians physically want to run from their ghosts as they rampaged across a landscape that had once been beautiful. Cities lay in ruins as millions of soldiers faced off against one another with all manner of guns, knifes, disruptors, grenades and more.

One of the LibTechs scrolled through the control sphere linked to this manifestation, and the image shifted to a terrifying structure which had been the focal point of the event that had created the echo wave. A glowing sphere held in place by vast pylons that stretched into the sky. Generators the size of cities powering the machine, which warped reality around itself. A temporal bomb.

What could have possibly happened to humanity that would be so bad as to inspire the use of a time weapon? The Librarians went over the rapidly filling books, hungrily lapping up the words, but nothing was there other than a record of this final day. Nothing was left other than this shockwave that had escaped for the stars. The history of their world was gone, but here, in this remote outpost of learning and records, the history of their world was well documented in many cities-full of books and data systems.

The archives were checked. The history texts remained intact. The Library had escaped any temporal destruction caused by Earth’s own paradox, which was comforting but humbling. They now possessed the only records of humanity in existence, not to mention its last vestiges of civilization.

They watched in horror as the echo of the final moment passed before them. The temporal weapon opened up, revealing a blossom of pure magenta, which unfurled and grew and licked at the ground with tendrils of light. The soldiers, so many thousands of them below the machine, screamed in a vile chorus as their bodies were taken apart molecule by molecule. The shockwave came, and the land was decimated. The cities vanished, the people disintegrated, and space folded upon itself around the dying world as the very planet crumbled. The anomaly caused by the weapon ripped humanity apart. Men. Women. Children. Civilization. Religion. Love. Hate. Belief. Hope. All gone.

A halo of screaming time hurtled out in all directions and the image went blank, the Librarians having witnessed the birth of the echo wave. The crystal screens fell dormant, generators powering down as the wave passed into nothingness.

All around them, the books closed, filled with the final chapter of their own people, their home, their history. They had missed three hundred years, had lived peacefully in deep space as generation after generation had faced off against one another in endless wars, and now, here in this resting place of knowledge and truth, they would at last find the peace that humanity had always longed for but never found.

One by one, the books were filed away, and the Librarians thought of home.

(C) Andrew Hawnt 2008

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

THE FOREVER GUARDIAN- EPISODE THREE IS HERE

Hey folks, sorry for the delay in getting the third part out. It has been completed for a couple of weeks but some personal matters needed to be attended to in the meantime which couldn't really be avoided. This third episode is where the mystery deepens and all manner of things are revealed to Alison, including what lies ahead for the world and the strange underworld that exists beyond human eyes. This 35 page third episode is only available as an eBook at the moment, and is a mere 99p to purchase. Work is well underway on part four.

Check out The Forever Guardian- Episode Three!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

PAPRIKA - DVD review

A good friend brought this delirious anime to my attention, and from the psychedelic cover art I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, which is a feeling that lasted for the whole film until its mind bending climax. Made in 2006 and helmed by renowned anime director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers), Paprika is a hallucinogenic, surreal work of genius that needs repeated viewings to truly get your head around it. Based on a 1993 story by Yasutaka Tsutsui, it takes place in the near future and follows a detective and a ‘dream therapist’ as they try to recover a stolen device that allows entry into peoples’ dreams. By literally the second minute, you have no idea what is real and what is a dream, as the story takes delirious turn after delirious turn.

That’s not to say the film is a mess- it really isn’t. It is just that it flies so much in the face of conventional, linear storytelling that you really have to pay attention to stay on top of everything that is going on. The sequences in which the dreams of various people march and march and march in a disturbing and rather macabre procession of ingenious creatures and creations are unforgettable. Those with a fear of dolls will have something to scream about with this film as several of these dream sequences involve masses of talking dolls with terrifying faces.

The character of Paprika herself is a wonderful creation, life affirming and ethereal yet childlike. The use of CG mixed in with the traditional cel shaded animation adds a powerful extra dimension to proceedings, which tend to fly off at mad tangents whenever the fancy takes them. Such is the nature of dreams- unpredictable, unusual and utterly surreal. The art direction in this film is really quite astounding, and the soundtrack and voice actors perfectly suit the visuals, which is where some anime movies fall down dead. This one excels in pretty much every area, but as mentioned before, the story can sometimes be a tad difficult to follow. Stick with it though, and you re in for an anime experience you won’t forget. This is another important feather in Kon’s cap, and needs to be seen to be believed.

As the detective and therapist become ever more involved in the mysterious occurrences in the dreamscape, the real world starts to unravel around them, and the truth of the whole thing is delivered with a satisfying twist both in terms of plot and visual impact. The DVD is presented in lush 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with gorgeous colours and a perfect sound mix. On the extras front it is limited to a Filmmaker commentary, but I can let that slide as quite simply the film is incredible to watch and savour.

I give it 8/10

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE review

This straight to DVD sequel to the 1987 teen horror classic had a rough ride from the start. Many fans were concerned that it would tarnish the reputation of the original, and was a last stab at cashing in on the name before it faded too far into obscurity. It is easy to cast a nostalgic glow over the first film and the cult following it garnered. The Lost Boys is one of those films where the diehard fanbase are going to be very hard to please, let alone impress, with a DVD follow up twenty years after the fact. It wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking, but the original movie had a strong cast and a nice twist on the tired old vampire yarn. The idea of staying young and partying forever is something that captured many people’s imaginations, and thus from the onset this film was going to get it in the neck (ouch) if it wasn’t up to scratch.

So how does this film fare? Fans and critics alike feared the worst, but have been curious nonetheless. The most powerful image from the first film, and indeed the most memorable character, was played by Kiefer Sutherland, and now the main vampire character, Shane, is played by Kiefer’s younger half-brother, Angus. This is a logical bit of casting, which helps keep this film in the same universe as the first. His portrayal of an undead party animal, and undoubtedly leader of the tribe, is the standout of the film by far.

The film itself is an entertaining piece of fluff that doesn’t try to be something it isn’t, and offers an updated take on the story of the original movie without being a complete rehash. There’s more gore, more sex and more violence than the original, which helps hold the attention. The running time is kept lean and thus the story doesn’t hang around long enough to annoy you. While the cinematography isn't anywhere near as inventive as the original, it suffices.

The inclusion of Corey Feldman, reprising his role from the 1987 film, is highly amusing, and he gets a bunch of incredibly cheesy lines that are delivered with tongue planted firmly in cheek. This is a film about vampires partying and people hunting them down, and vice versa. It doesn’t try to be high art, and hits all the right beats to keep the audience watching until the grisly climax. It is the anarchic streak in the vampires that keeps this grounded as a ‘Lost Boys’ film, a good example of which is the house party scene in which one of them guts another vampire for kicks, then shoving him over into a bush as he tries frantically to pick his own innards up from the patio, while drunken partygoers look on in horror. It is this sense of adolescent shenanigans that also adds some power to Shane’s malevolent presence- he's sinister where the other vamps are just snotty kids. The cast are uniformly okay- serviceable for a DTV sequel.

This is not a perfect film, but as entertainment, it serves its purpose. It is cheap, but doesn’t really look it that often. While not the grand return of the franchise fans were hoping for, it could have been much, much worse.

I give it a 6/10

Monday, 21 July 2008

KEEPING IT COMING

A new release will be available from me soon, featuring a character from a novel I am working on the first draft of alongside my other projects. A dark supernatural fantasy, MERCY is a short story which tells the tale of a woman’s journey from death as a victim and back to life as something else altogether more vengeful. The story will be released as an Ebook which will also contain a selection of original illustrations to add a new dimension to the tale. Why am I doing this one? Because there is much that I can’t release myself. There are stories and ideas I am pitching to the mainstream, and while I do so I want to still be able to offer something new for readers to check out.

I am a strong believer in the New Media approach to publishing, and want to make my voice heard in order to carve myself a niche in this burgeoning industry. Thus, as long as I am submitting things and writing material for use elsewhere, I am going to keep on releasing stories and other material online myself, directly to my audience. After being a fan of SF and fantasy for so long, I want to be able to offer something cool to my fellow fans. I’m very much a part of my target audience, and as a fan, I know I’d want to be able to get hold of new material on a regular basis while waiting for the next book or whatever. This here I am, doing exactly that.

I have now recorded the first episode of the FOREVER GUARDIAN podcast series and will be submitting that shortly. There’s a ton of other stuff coming from me soon, and I really am having the time of my life getting these things out to you. As long as I have access to the internet and readers, I will be offering you new adventures. After being online for many years, it is a very empowering thing to know that creators are now able to use the net as such a powerful tool.

Friday, 11 July 2008

A moment of realization

I had an odd moment today. After coming out of my comic-shop day job this afternoon I stopped off at WH Smiths and picked up the current issue of Writer’s Forum. Upon passing it over the counter, the friendly gent at the till nodded to the magazine and said “You never know, we might be selling something of yours in here one day.” My automatic (and sadly pretentious) reaction was “You already do mate, I write for one of the magazines you sell.” He said he was impressed. I took my change and went for my bus home. It led to an odd train of thought pulling away from the station of Tired Metaphors- somehow, I’ve become a writer. This thing I did as a hobby for so long has become part of my daily life and is eclipsing my other creative endeavours completely. It brought to mind a comment on my Livejournal, where a friend I’d found on a writing community had said they enjoyed my posts and were ‘pleased with my success’.

This took me by surprise, not just because it was such a nice comment, but it made me look again at the things I was doing. I wanted to write fiction, I always had, but I had also always wanted to work in music journalism. My girlfriend, a notably more successful writer than myself (Whenever you’re in a large supermarket or newsagent, you’ll see something she’s written for), pointed out that I am indeed successful, at least in many people’s eyes. I write for a national (now international) music magazine, I write as part of my day-job, I wrote for a huge music site, have an anthology out, a serialized novel underway and more. I had to stop and take stock. You see, I’d spent so long trying to focus on my goal, that I’d managed not to notice what was going on around me.

It happened again last month, when myself and my long-term musical cohort Dave O’Kelly went to see Whitesnake and Def Leppard (incidentally, my review of that night will surface in the forthcoming issue). While waiting in line, it occurred to me that potentially several thousand of those people, all rock fans who bought magazines and visited websites, had read things I’d written. I felt odd. Good, but odd. Many years ago, I idolized people like Dave Reynolds and Morat and Jason Arnopp and suchlike; the people who filled the magazines I bought with opinions on the music I loved. Now here I am, doing that same thing. I’ve become one of those names at the foot of a review, and I am immensely proud of that. I’m very proud of everything I have been given the chance to take part in, and am loving doing so.

What have I learned? Appreciate your achievements, and don’t just see them as steps towards something greater. Each step is important, but it is also to be savoured. I would love it if one day someone read something I had written and thought ‘I want to do that’. That would be wonderful.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

POWERPLAY HITS ISSUE 100


Powerplay has hit a real landmark this month. The 100th issue has hit the shelves, and there's a great deal of special material in there to enjoy. I have now been writing for he magazine for six months, and am thrilled to be a part of this issue. On the personal side it contains my recent interview with Timo Tolkki (ex Stratovarius/now Revolution Renaissance), a profile of me amongst the writers (I'm in some fantastic company) and a load of reviews of mine. It is easy to get complacent about these things. I mean, I've had endless album reviews published online and now in print, but the fact that I get to write for Powerplay means lots to me. The story of the magazine's humble beginnings is told in this issue by editor Mark Hoaksey, which goes right back to the days of it being a photocopied fanzine, but my own introduction to it came back in 1998, discovering it in Noise Annoys, the now sadly defunct rock and metal CD store here in Sheffield. Finding a magazine with Rhapsody on the front cover was a revelation. People still loved the music I was into. I wasn't alone after all. Sure there were magazines that had gone before, such as Hard Roxx and The Rock, but neither of them matched the enthusiasm of Powerplay.

It is a magazine that has stood the test of time and has ploughed on its own journey despite the passing trends that clog up the mainstream rock press and which have turned much of the contemporary scene into a parody of itself. It is a magazine that isn't afraid to cover bands and genres that aren't in vogue. Powerplay revels in that. It delights in covering music that fans love and want, instead of simply latching on to the new half-baked trend of the week.

It is that outlook and the dogged determination of Mr Hoaksey that has seen the magazine reach the grand number of 100 issues. It has gone from being a photocopied labour of love to a much bigger labour of love that, as of this issue, has US distribution and is stocked in newsagents all over the UK and further afield. Look at the covers- those are bands that music fans want to read about, and many are acts you would never see on the front of other magazines. In fact, take a look at the current crop of rock mags- other than Powerplay and the wonderful Terrorizer, all of them will have pretty much the same thing on the cover.

Powerplay is a great beacon for melodic rock and metal (and not so melodic music too), and its arrival at issue 100 is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all involved in its creation and continued success. Happy issue 100, and thanks for having me along for the ride. It is a great honour to be a part of the team, and enormously satisfying being able to help other people discover bands they may never otherwise have heard of. Here's to Powerplay, and long may it continue.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

THE FOREVER GUARDIAN CONTINUES

The second installment of my novel THE FOREVER GUARDIAN is now available in print and as a FREE DOWNLOAD!

The Forever Guardian - Episode 2

Work is already underway on part three, which will be available very soon!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

DOCTOR WHO NOVEL SYNOPSIS

In response to a challenge from Doctor Who novelist Lance Parkin, here is my synopsis for a proposed Doctor Who novel. This is a bit of fun, and a great bit of practice for writers. I’ve stuck to the guidelines, and I hope this sounds like a fun read…

DOCTOR WHO: THE FORTRESS CHILDREN

By Andrew Hawnt

A terrified young couple, Tabitha and Mark, are being held captive as specimens on an alien craft full of avid collectors of sentient beings, a group of rich aliens nicknamed the Completists. The Doctor and Donna have stowed away on the ship after the Doctor intercepted a mobile phone transmission from Tabitha, and rescue the pair from the greedy Completists. Tabitha and Mark have experienced an incredible adventure, and as the Doctor returns them home to their council estate, they ask Donna all about her time with the Doctor, and the group become friends.

Upon arrival on their estate, the group discover its residents being kidnapped and teleported by hooded, robed figures. The Doctor locks on to their destination and bundles Donna, Tabitha and Mark back into the TARDIS. They give chase through the vortex, and materialize on board a gargantuan fortress station, which is hiding just outside our solar system. The Doctor leads the way, and the group of the skulk through the shadowy structure in search of the missing people. They come face to face with a squad of the hooded figures, who imprison them in a shimmering cell called forth from the walls of the craft. Donna and the young couple are terrified and angry in equal measure, and the Doctor reveals who these creatures are.

They are the children of the ship; Clones of the original inhabitants who have been creating generation after generation of themselves in order to keep their race alive. The Doctor demands to know why they are taking people. Surprisingly, they are happy to answer, but not so keen on letting these stowaways loose. They are recruiting new members of their family, organic members with bodies that won’t degenerate so quickly. They are offering the people a choice- if they want to stay, they may be trained and taught the ways of the ship in order to protect the masses of knowledge they have gathered on their travels in space. If the candidates do not wish to stay, they are returned home via a teleportation mechanism.

The Doctor and his friends are imprisoned for the time being as they gatecrashed as opposed to being selected. The Doctor and Mark are separated from Donna and Tabitha. Donna and Tabitha agree they should try and be enlisted to find out what’s going on and see if they can free the Doctor and Mark so that everyone else may be rescued. They make it known they wish to be seen for consideration as new candidates, and are taken away.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mark have already escaped and are trying to get to the bottom of things. While examining the teleporter, the Doctor discovers it doesn’t send people home- it stores them elsewhere in the fortress. Pursued by the ship’s offspring and their robotic guards, the two of them find a massive repository of stored and frozen humanoids. Further investigation reveals these frozen people are being used as vessels to continue the lives of the ailing clones. Their minds are to be erased and their bodies used as vehicles for generations to come, in order for the ship and its children to wage war on the worlds that shunned them. The Doctor is furious. Just as he and Mark are trapped by the guards, he finds out that the willing disciples are not so willing. They are being brainwashed into joining. Either way, the kidnapped people never go home. The Doctor and Mark are taken away to be dealt with by the leaders of the ship, and their new recruits- the brainwashed Donna and Tabitha…

The Doctor and Mark are judged worthy of education, and thus entered into the program, and the brainwashing commences. As it gets underway, the Doctor manages to sabotage the machine and Mark escapes. The leaders discover the Doctor’s alien physiology and deem him essential to their continued survival- they will set about cloning him straight away. He is strapped into a sampling machine and his screams of agony ring out through the fortress as the process begins.

Mark finds Donna and Tabitha and confronts them. The guards grab him, and as they do, the girls wink at him. In the confusion they were able to distract the guards at the consoles and the process didn’t take. They’re okay…

As Mark is taken away and the Doctor is tortured, Donna and Tabitha manage to reverse the brainwashing on the council estate residents by following what the Doctor did to the machine. The people are freed, and an uprising begins, led by Mark, Donna and Tabitha after they rescue Mark from the guards. They arrive just in time to save the Doctor from any permanent damage, and free him from the machinery. Once he has come to his senses again he leads them to the cavernous storage chamber so he can get to work on the ship’s technology. As the guards battle with the makeshift human army, the ship awakens hundreds of its frozen prisoners as zombified soldiers against the Doctor and his friends. As all seems lost, the Doctor reverses the effects of the brainwashing and sets the teleporters to full strength, returning all of the prisoners to their respective homes all over the galaxy, and leaving the ailing clones powerless.

The Doctor rewires the ship’s technology, enabling the Clones to treat themselves for their weak bodies, meaning they can live real lives. Mark and Tabitha consider staying to help. After all they’ve seen, they want to see more. Donna reminds them how important home and family are, and they join her and the Doctor in the TARDIS. They return to their estate to discover a huge celebration underway. A street party for the rescued and the rescuers. As Tabitha and Mark are welcomed home as heroes, the Doctor and Donna leave quietly, off for the next adventure.