Monday 31 October 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

I've got a brilliant idea for a short story. And we could publish half a dozen ebooks this month with a little work! I'm dying to get stuck into my next batch of reviews. I'd just love to spend an entire day reading a single novel. Wouldn't it be nice to take the kids out for a walk in the park? Or take Mrs Theaker out to a fancy restaurant? Look at all those unread books on the shelf! All those unwatched DVDs! All those unplayed games! I must play Fallout 3 right now! RIGHT NOW!

And why are all these things barking at my attention? Because tomorrow is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and I'm going to have another go at it! Which of course makes everything else in my life seem twice as shiny as it did yesterday.

John and I used to be very involved with NaNoWriMo, organising local events here in Birmingham, and one thing we did was put together a Novel Writing Handout that we could give out to people attending them. (That link'll take you back to our old website. I loved that bright yellow, even if one correspondent complained that it made his eyes bleed...)

I eventually went off the event a bit over two things - the increasing demands on MLs to act as fundraisers, and the increasing acceptance of people on the forums who weren't actually taking part in the event. The brilliant thing about NaNoWriMo was that it helped loads of people to finish novels, but that got a bit lost as more and more people showed up who weren't even going to try. It started to feel like trying to run a race while other people were unicycling down the track in the wrong direction.

On the plus side, the NaNoWriMo forums were where I first heard of the Dvorak layout. Hard to believe there are any novelists out there still using Qwerty! And of the six and two bits novels I've written, all but two were written as part of the event, and it's been ten years now since I wrote a novel outside of NaNoWriMo.

Partly that's because I'm not really serious about novel-writing, and do it for a bit of a lark, but it's also because this event really does give you the excuse to clear all your other hobbies, interests, friends and family aside for a month while you get some serious writing done.

One thing that's often said about the event is that it's just an exercise in writing rubbish, but that's not entirely true. For one thing, a month is really quite a generous amount of time to write a 50,000 word novel. Last time I won, I think I only wrote on ten or twelve days in the month. If you write daily (and can touch type), it's just an hour and a half out of your day. A decent writer could write a more than decent short novel in a month.

The point isn't to write rubbish, it's to not worry about whether you're writing rubbish. Let's face it, for most us, worrying about whether we're writing a rubbish novel is a complete waste of time: our novels will be rubbish whether we worry about it or not!

I've sworn off forums, Facebook and Twitter until either the novel or the event is finished, and if you see me posting on any of them before then I'll pay you a fiver by PayPal. (Automatic cross-posting from the blog doesn't count, I'm afraid.) Participants can add me as a writing buddy here. Although, in my experience, writing enemies are much better: you're always happy when friends do well, but seeing enemies do well? That's a real spur!

So things might be a bit quieter here on the blog for the next month. Or it might be busier than ever as I look for ways to avoid the daily grind of the 1666! I have an idea for the novel I'm quite pleased with, but I'm not going to talk about it here or anywhere else, because it's a kind of crappy, crass, commercial idea and I don't really want my name connected to it if it gets published…

And no, it isn't anything saucy, if that's what you were thinking... Shame on you!

Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Originally released in 2009 to good but not stellar reviews, Borderlands has been the very definition of a slow-burning hit, going on to sell over three million copies. This two-disc edition, containing the original game plus four add-on packs, seems set to keep sales simmering. It opens with the player in a run-down bus, being dropped off on the East Coast of Pandora, a rusting, abandoned junkyard world of lunatics, treasure hunters and savage alien wildlife. In theory you’re there to find the Vault, a fabled source of treasure, power and sex appeal, but you quickly get sidelined, in true RPG style, into a series of smaller quests, such as retrieving T.K. Baha’s stolen food from the dog-like Skags, collecting incriminating recordings made by insane scientist Tannis and her unfaithful Echo device, and fighting your way through hordes of bandits to remove obscene graffiti about Mad Moxxi.

But though the structure of quest givers, waypoints, experience points and loot is that of an RPG, Borderlands plays as a first-person shooter. You don’t get to chat with NPCs, and if you see a human moving around it’s time to draw your guns. And what a lot of guns there are! Randomly generated in endless, fascinating variety, there’s always a new type to try: caustic weapons that melt your enemies, rocket launchers that bury them in fire, sniper rifles that can turn a distant bandit’s leg into Skag food. And each of the four playable characters has their own special, upgradable attacks – a vicious bird, pounding fists, a machine gun turret and phase walking – meaning that there’s always a novelty to the fighting, especially when teaming up with others in multiplayer, whether online or in the superbly fun split screen mode. A small selection of vehicles handles well but is sensibly excluded from many quest areas.

The main mission done – or even sooner for impatient players – the add-on packs call. Being returned to the start-point of each add-on when reloading is frustrating, and encourages longer – sometimes too long – play sessions. But Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot is the only disappointment, a horde mode in which players gain no experience for kills and enemies drop few weapons. Gaining the least of its achievements involves surviving 60 tedious waves of enemies (and an awful lot of hiding while health recharges). A good shotgun is recommended for The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned, in which a tannoy warns survivors not to engage in “oral contact” with the undead. After hearing his increasingly forlorn missives to high command one can’t help sympathising with the title character of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, despite his determination to kill you. And as well as your little robot friends, Claptrap’s Robot Revolution sets you against Brainiac versions of all enemies to date, who whimper sadly when shot.

Borderlands isn’t a game with a fantastic plot, and it can be a bit repetitive – enemies and environments are endlessly recycled – but it’s funny and well-balanced. Enemies level up and respawn, meaning there’s always a reason to have another go. This game of the year edition is a substantial package at an excellent price, and is highly recommended.

Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition, Gearbox Software, reviewed on Xbox 360 (also available in other formats). This review originally appeared in BFS Journal #4.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Quartet & Triptych on Kindle – for free!

Readers with Kindles (or Kindle apps) may be interested to know that Matthew Hughes' very fine novella Quartet & Triptych is in the current issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Take them up on a 14-day trial subscription and you can read one of my very favourite novellas of the last couple of years for free.

My review is here ("I loved every word of it, and if this is typical of Hughes' work I expect I'll read every novel he ever writes"), and you can get the trial subscription here.

The original hardback from PS Publishing (pictured) has sold out, but a signed edition is still available.

I was also really pleased to see that his Henghis Hapthorn novels have just been published to Kindle too, because I've been looking forward to reading them: The Spiral Labyrinth, Hespira and Majestrum. At eight quid they're a little pricey for ebooks, but the previews are extensive, so you can have a good read of them before deciding whether to buy.

Saturday 29 October 2011

The British Fantasy Awards kerfuffle: a view from a former awards admin

My post from September 2010 on Withdrawing TQF from the British Fantasy Awards now seems unfortunately prophetic, given the doorway the BFS and its awards walked into at FantasyCon a year later. Among other things I said (emphasis added in bold):

"The BFS is now taking recommendations for next year's awards, and I've decided to withdraw Theaker's Quarterly Fiction from the Best Magazine/Periodical award for as long as I'm the awards administrator, or as long as I'm the editor of the magazine – whichever tenure comes to an end first. …

That's partly because I'd have been profoundly embarrassed to win the award over a shortlist that included for example Black Static and Interzone, magazines to whom, for all our good qualities, we can't hold a candle. But also because a win for us in that category would have cast not just my integrity into doubt, but the integrity of the entire awards."

Hard to believe now that some people thought I was over-cautious. (In the event I had resigned from the post of British Fantasy Awards admin by the time this year's awards got seriously underway. I did offer to stay on until the AGM, but luckily (for me, at least) I was given permission to leave straight away.)

Of course it wasn't just the results of this year's awards that caused all the fuss. It was also the people chosen to present the awards (the chair's partner, her close friend, and other friends and colleagues of theirs), the toe-curling scripting of the entire ceremony, the scolding of the MC when she went off-script, etc. The lack of any accounts at the AGM caused a lot of concern. There had also been rumblings before the event: there seems to have been some ongoing quarrelling between the BFS chair and the FantasyCon organisers, and about a week before the event the BFS cancelled all its rolling PayPal memberships, because they wanted to be able to increase fees each year more easily. Not the best PR move in the world.

But the results played a pretty big part. I've said before that I think this year's results would have been the same had I still been running them, which in a way is more depressing than the idea that they were down to one dodgy geezer. It's hard to find anyone who has actually said they believe the results were falsified – although since that suggestion was made in the newspapers, the BFS should have done a full audit, as allowed for by the awards constitution, before declaring that they absolutely, definitely hadn't been in a statement that seems unreliable, to put it kindly, in other respects.

BFS committee members have said that the results were counted electronically, as if that automatically removes any opportunity for wrongdoing (or error). It doesn't, of course. For example, in 2010 TQF got onto the shortlist as a result of a non-member vote being disqualified by the secretary at the last minute (I don't think the other magazine lost its place on the shortlist – the lost vote created a tie which took us both on). It's not hard to imagine a situation where the disqualified vote would have knocked my magazine out of the nominees. Who would have known if I decided to leave that vote in?

The "electronic counting" in question is just using Gdocs or Excel to count up the results, or at least it was in previous years: that most definitely does not exclude the possibility of wrongdoing, even if we don't think it happened. The awards admin could get up to any old nonsense if they were so inclined - excluding valid nominees, creating fake voters, excluding valid voters, etc.

And there's always room for error. Last year a couple of items were initially left off the longlist after I lost them in a mail merge. The previous year there was a novella on the shortlist for best short story. This year, we know that there was at least one very significant mistake at the shortlisting stage: the awards admin forgot to count up the write-in votes.

In the end, though, we don't need to look for wrongdoing or error to explain the results. After all, if you look at the 2010 nominees, when I was running the awards, a lot of the same people show up in similar categories.

What happened this year, I would imagine, is simply that a smallish group of BFS members and FantasyCon attendees wanted to see particular people win, for reasons of business, friendship or their own contributions to the nominated works. There's nothing unusual or evil about voting for someone because they are your chum - but it becomes a problem for the organisation when that has the appearance of having been the deciding factor in many of the awards given out. That's why there has been such a demand for reform this year.

As I said on the BFS forums, I hope that the reaction to this year's results will have a positive effect even if the rules don't change a great deal, because it will encourage people to think twice before helping to push someone they are friendly with into a potentially awkward and embarrassing position. The results of these awards come under intense scrutiny every year, and if the winning material struggles to stand up to that scrutiny, questions are always going to be asked about how it came to win.

Anyway, the BFS is now consulting BFS members and attendees of FantasyCon 2010 and 2011 on the direction the awards should take. The tricky thing, I think, is that there are competing urges, both coming out of the negative reaction to the results of this year's awards.

On one hand, there's a desire to see the best nominee win. I hadn't read all of the items in every category this year, but as far as the short story category goes, it's practically impossible to believe that anyone who had read all five of the short stories could have voted for the eventual winner in good conscience (four of them were available for members to read online). If a panel read the shortlisted works, that wouldn't necessarily lead to the best in the category winning (remember M People winning the Mercury Music Prize?), but we would at least know that the decision was an informed one. If the result was odd, we would know exactly who to blame for it! However, the idea that one item out of a bunch of usually very good nominees can be categorically described as the best has its own problems. During the couple of years I ran the BFS short story competition, it wasn't at all unusual to see stories given 5/5 and 1/5 by different readers. One would praise the elegant style, the other decry the purple prose.

On the other hand, and perhaps more significantly in the context of the BFS, is the desire to see winners of whom BFS members and FantasyCon attendees approve. Part of that, unfortunately, is that a lot of BFS people like to see awards go to people who attend FantasyCon, something you can see in the ridiculous decision this year to abolish the film and television awards (consistently among the most popular with voters since their introduction). It's clear, watching the YouTube videos of this year's awards, that there was a great deal of unhappiness at the event about the results, in particular best novel, which was greeted very quietly indeed, rather than the rapturous applause of the last couple of years. A preferential voting system, or a 3/2/1 points system (as used at the longlist stage), would at least ensure that each winner had the backing of many members. Even if those members hadn't actually read any of the nominees, they'd be happier with the result. But is that something we should settle for?

The BFS's survey can be found here. Tough choices to make!

Perhaps it would help a little if we stopped being quite so polite about the nominees - if we did actually make the effort to discuss their relative merits. It's just a little awkward when so many of the writers, publishers and editors are on the BFS forums too.

Mr Johnny Mains got quite a bit of criticism a couple of years ago for saying exactly what he thought of one winner, but as I said back then: we've all moaned when a film we think is rubbish wins the Oscars. That's an essential part of the fun of awards! Does it make a difference when we know the people involved? Should it? There is a definite double standard, where people are happy to slag off the work of Stephen King on the BFS forums, assuming he won't read any of it, barely even acknowledging that he's a human being, but call it bullying if anything at all critical is said about the work of people they know. If more people had been a bit less polite about the nominees this year, the principals involved might have had their feelings hurt a bit, but they would have been better prepared for the reaction to the wins, and better prepared to manage the situation.

Certainly, although I loved running the British Fantasy Awards, and it broke my heart to see what happened to them this year, I'm very glad to be free of the need to appear neutral, and glad to have the freedom to say what I actually think of the nominees I've read. If anything, I wish I'd been a bit less subtle, and come out and said outright how crap I thought some of them were. Next year, when the shortlist is announced, let's have a thread on the BFS forums, saying "What do we think of the nominees?" It will be easy for the nominees to stay out of it if they want to protect their feelings.

Friday 28 October 2011

The Sixth Gun, Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Collecting the first six issues of an ongoing series, this book takes us to the wild west, a generation or so after the American Civil War, during which vicious Confederate warlord General Oliander Bedford Hume acquired six unholy weapons. He kept one for himself, gave four to his best/worst men and one to his wife. Defeated, killed, chained and buried in a monastery, he didn't give up for all that, and all that can stop him from re-unleashing hell is a girl who only picked up her stepfather's gun to fight the men who shot him. It's the Sixth Gun, the one that gives its owner a glimpse of the future, and the general needs it back.

I've never read a book from Oni Press that wasn't well put together - they've been responsible for well-drawn, well-written titles like Whiteout, Queen & Country, Soulwind and Geisha - and this doesn't spoil the run. The wild west isn't my favourite setting for stories, but there are enough nifty ideas here, like a gun that can summon the souls of those it kills to fight as sandpeople, to keep it interesting. General Hume and his widow are as nasty as villains should be, while Becky is a brave and sensible heroine who would be doing the right thing even if she had a choice. Drake Sinclair, her guide through all the death, has the looks of Clark Gable and the ethics of Han Solo. They make a good pair, and it'll be interesting to see where they go next.

The Sixth Gun, Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. Oni Press, tpb, 176pp.

Thursday 27 October 2011

The Black Abyss is sealed…

Colin Leslie, who reviews books over at The Black Abyss, has announced he’s calling it a day, at least for now. He’s got through a heck of lot of books in the last three years, but he’s basically just got sick of reading books for the purpose of writing reviews. He writes:

“I want to be able to choose what I read and when. I don’t want the pressure of having to read in a certain sequence to ensure reviews are posted in anything like the timescale publishers might want. I don’t want to persist with an average book in order to review it when a thousand great books lie in wait. In short I want to go back to reading for pleasure.”

I enjoyed his blog, so I wish he felt differently. But I know that feeling! And as with Terry Martin and Murky Depths yesterday, when someone doing something quite similar to what you do decides to pack it in, you can't help having a think about why you're still doing it.

When I first started to get the occasional print copy from the bigger publishers, I made a big effort to have reviews ready for more or less the on-sale date, and for a while that was kind of fun. The problem with that approach was that I always had one or more deadlines hanging over me, and that’s kind of a grim way to spend your leisure time.

One thing that's made it easier for me to move away from that focus on deadlines is the increasing number of eARCs that are becoming available to reviewers, and the emergence of as a source of reviewing material. When you can pick out the stuff to review that you're actually enthusiastic about, and leave the rest without any guilt, the whole process becomes much more enjoyable.

As I commented on Colin’s blog, I’ve just taken a break from reviewing for the BFS – their reviews are going online-only, and while that’s a valid life choice type of thing, if I'm going to write anything for them, it might as well be the kind of thing they think is worth sending out to members. This week I've had the almost forgotten experience of watching stuff like Fringe without making notes on the laptop, and it's been very nice. It also means I just have one hobby-time deadline to think about: December 25, when the next issue of TQF is due out.

So I understand where Colin’s coming from. But would I make the same decision? I dunno! Part of his original purpose was “to show people that the horror books [he] read were among the best writing anywhere regardless of genre”, which got me thinking about my own.

My purpose, I guess, is firstly to write enough reviews to create a review section for the magazine; my goal, as ever, is to keep the magazine going!

Secondly, to encourage publishers to keep supplying me with free stuff; I read a lot and, to be frank, it saves me a lot of money!

Thirdly, and I think crucially, it’s to tell people what I think about stuff. If I read a book, I want to develop a theory and share my opinion with someone, and Mrs Theaker has heard enough of my opinions to last her a lifetime. Writing reviews lets me get that out of my system!

If those things change, I suppose I might well stop writing reviews. I can see myself writing fewer reviews in certain areas; I find films quite hard to write about, for some reason; and reviewing small press books feels sometimes like walking through a minefield – you never know which one is going to go off. But that desire to pontificate is a powerful one. It's a key, if often unfortunate part of my personality, and writing reviews provides a reasonably healthy outlet for it. I imagine that’ll keep me writing reviews of some kind even when the other reasons have gone…

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Murky Depths sinks beneath the waves…

Sad to read that the last issue of Murky Depths has been published, as announced here by the editor, Terry Martin. Previous entries on the blog had tended to paint a pretty bleak and sometimes angry picture, so it doesn’t come as much of a shock, but it’s still a shame.

It was an interesting attempt to merge comics and fiction, one of its most attractive features being double page art spreads to introduce stories. We had quite a few contributors in common with them, including David Tallerman, Alison Littlewood, Zachary Jernigan and Jeff Crook.

I get asked sometimes whether we might try to turn TQF into a semi-pro market at some point, but the reason we probably won't is fairly well summed up by Terry Martin's reason for closing down:

"Optimism has, eventually, to be checked by common sense and a business model that, at the very least, gives a return that covers the full costs of production and distribution."

That's the tricky bit – the more you spend, the bigger the hill you have to climb to get it back. We use POD for our print issues, which keeps our costs very low, but limits our sales. A middle ground is hard to find. I think the route to growth for us is likely to be in our line of ebooks rather than the magazine.

The final issue of Murky Depths is on sale here, and back issues are still available.

Monday 24 October 2011

Major Bummer Super Slacktacular! by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Lou Martin (he doesn’t actually call himself Major Bummer, sadly) got his super-strength, invulnerability and super-smarts thanks to a mailing mix-up, and he doesn’t really appreciate the effect they’re having on his life, especially since they came bundled with a magnetic attraction for similarly blessed/cursed individuals. That brings him friends he doesn’t want, like a time-travelling pensioner, the wall-climbing Gecko, a theatrical sonic screamer and a flying girl with a crush on him and a handy viewing panel in her costume’s midriff. Worse, it brings him enemies like an English guy with an inflated skull and an intelligent [spoiler!], Nazi dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Reich, and a bunch of gang-members too dumb to do anything interesting with their powers. The aliens who handed out the powers have parked their invisible spaceship in a nearby junkyard, and provide a plot prod every issue or two.

This book collects all fifteen issues of the original DC series. In tone it resembles contemporary Hitman’s wackier episodes; these guys would get on well with Section 8. Unlike Hitman it doesn’t take place in the DC universe, which can’t have helped sales, but it does give the book a self-sufficiency unusual in DC’s main line. There are light soap opera elements, and the characters trot from one story to the next without any of it seeming all that important. It’s all very amiable, but when a series is this short-lived, it’s difficult to read it (or watch it, with TV programmes) without that niggle at the back of your mind: what was the problem with this? Sometimes it’s easy to figure out: Extreme Justice! Sometimes it’s utterly baffling: Firefly! Major Bummer is amusing, rather than laugh-out loud funny, but its bigger problem was perhaps that its least interesting character was its protagonist. That’s kind of the idea of the book - a slacker superhero - but it leaves a gap at its centre where the person you want to read about should be.

Still, I had a lot of fun reading it. Admittedly, put a fifteen-issue run of almost any comic in a book and I’ll enjoy it, but this one had some funny ideas (the size-changing, expressionless cat was always good value) and it explores them well, particularly towards the end as Lou starts to time travel and dimension hop. The artwork is much easier on the eye than the slightly cluttered cover to issue one made me expect, back when it was first published. By the end of the book, I kind of wish I’d collected it back then, because with time this could have developed into something special, and maybe an extra reader or two would have given it that time.

Major Bummer Super Slacktacular! John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke. Dark Horse, tpb, 384pp.

Friday 21 October 2011

Reality 36, by Guy Haley - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

In 2067 the Greenlandic ice sheet tipped, leading to calamitous environmental and social change; 2104 saw the creation of class five artificial intelligences, most of whom promptly went insane; by 2129, the year of this novel’s events, the population of Earth has fallen to five billion. In this novel Otto Klein, a retired cyborg soldier with a dodgy shoulder, and Richards, his friend and colleague, a class five AI with an odd sense of humour, investigate the many deaths of Zhang Qifang, a leading sentient rights campaigner. The investigation leads to Reality 36, one of a series of virtual worlds from which humans were expelled back in 2114, when their AI inhabitants were granted full rights. Harvesting orcs for XP is a lot less fun when it sees you tried in The Hague for genocide! A parallel thread sees Qifang’s assistant Veronique Valdaire following her own leads on Qifang’s deaths, illegally entering Reality 36 while plugged into an amateur life-support system. There she meets its defenders, Sir Jagadith Veyadeep and his talking steed Tarquinius. Someone is using Reality 36 to set themselves up as a god, and the knight is on a quest to bring them down.

The future of this novel feels a bit old-fashioned in some ways (especially when Richards is swimming around in cyberspace), but it's not as if ecological disaster and artificial intelligence seem less likely to affect our world than they did at the height of cyberpunk. Why not exploit that setting when, as this book shows, there are still good stories to be told in it? Guy Haley - for whom I must admit a certain affection, having subscribed to SFX for many years after it began - has created a world rich with potential stories, and characters with powerful reasons to get involved in anything that’s happening, and enough skills to survive, just about, the worst the world can throw at them. The action sequences are exciting, the mysteries intriguing, the characters people whose conversations I enjoy, people I’d like to read more about. Which is fortunate, since I won’t know how the story ends unless I do. Approaching the last 10% of the book, one realises with a sinking feeling (as with The Damned Busters, from the same publisher) that quite a bit of the plot is unlikely to be resolved by the end, and so it proves. Would Star Wars have been a better film had it finished halfway through the assault on the Death Star? Probably not, but it would have been pretty good wherever it ended, and I’d say the same about Reality 36.

Reality 36, by Guy Haley. Angry Robot, ebook, 5127ll.

Monday 17 October 2011

Girl Genius, Omnibus Edition, Vol. 1, by Phil and Kaja Foglio - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Fun bit of Final Fantasy-esque steampunk about Agatha Clay, who has been wearing a brooch that inhibited her natural spark - a kind of magic science-sense. When Moloch von Zinzer and his brother steal the brooch her powers begin to surface, at first by way of all-night engineering sessions in her long underwear, of which she wakes with no memory. After the robotic product of one such night causes havoc searching the town for her parents she attracts the attention of Baron Wulfenbach, autocratic ruler of the land, who whisks her off to his flying airship fortress. There she becomes assistant to the Baron's son Gilgamesh - or is it vice versa? - and meets other people with powers like hers, collected from all over the world to keep their families in check.

For a three-time Hugo-winner (albeit for later volumes), Girl Genius is a bit fluffy and derivative, but it’s carefully planned, well-paced and charming: I read it in a single day. There are many hints about the past, a steady drip-feed of revelations, and a promise of lots more to come. The Baron in particular proves to be a character with a fascinating history, a man both better and worse than expected, and I became quite fond of murderous pirate queen Bangladesh Dupree. The art is unusual but expressive - the female characters have gigantic thighs and tiny heads! - and the steam-driven machinery is detailed and nicely designed. Presenting the colour pages in murky greyscale means it's a book best read in a well-lit room, and I’d be inclined to get future volumes in colour. Not Hugo-worthy, perhaps, but rewarding nevertheless.

Girl Genius, Omnibus Edition, Vol. 1, by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Airship Entertainment, pb, 320pp.

Friday 14 October 2011

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

The long awaited sequel to one of my favourite games, Earth Defence Force 2017. Once again aliens are attacking Earth with augmented insects and giant robots. Graphics are slightly improved, and there isn't quite as much slowdown, perhaps because the number of attacking insects has been reduced. A wide selection of novel weapons is once again available, while four character types allow for slightly more variety in play. Jet armour can scoot up and around the play area, while tactical armour has a handy turret; previously turrets took up one of your two weapon slots. Voice work and dialogue is again very funny: an intelligence officer asked for help on dealing with a new type of cybernetic ant suggests you shoot them with your guns, while avoiding their attacks - good advice! It's a little easier than the previous game in that allies are able to revive you; only when all three of you are dead is it game over. One gameplay flaw is that the active reload, borrowed from Gears of War, is far too finicky; too much early play is spent running in circles while botched reloads complete.

As a full-price, big-budget game you'd be disappointed with the limited gameplay, but for a budget title it’s fun. There’s one big problem: this game is ridiculously short in comparison to the previous one. Fifteen levels compared to fifty-three, and all the levels are in a single environment, the city, whereas the previous game took you to the beach, the countryside and even underground in the enemy hives. This game feels like little more than a shell for downloadable content, i.e. all the levels that presumably weren't finished in time for the game's release. That came as a huge disappointment to me, and it’s one deliberately engendered by the publishers, who have promoted it as having three campaigns. This isn't a game of three campaigns - it's a game of one short campaign divided into three chapters. When you finish the fifteenth level you are astonished to earn the achievement for beating the game, and, as if to rub your nose in how short the game has been, that achievement is called Lemon Squeezy!

It’s a good game to play online, one that’s easy to dip into, and in a game with so many weapons it’s interesting to see what combinations other players are using. But that can’t make up for the lack of a decent single player game. I played the previous game for months, this one for barely more than a week. Rent, don't buy, unless it’s going very, very cheap.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, Vicious Cycle Software (devs.), Xbox 360.

Monday 10 October 2011

The British Fantasy Society

The British Fantasy Society is going through a rough patch at the moment, which has prompted me to get out this piece I wrote for the FantasyCon 2010 souvenir booklet; perhaps it might encourage people to get involved with the society. The publications and people have changed, as has my own level of involvement, but my feelings about the society haven't. 

Thanks for coming to FantasyCon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Society. If you’re not a member of the Society, no worries, you’re more than welcome – like Radio 4, we judge ourselves by our reach as much as our ratings! But if this weekend you enjoy the camaraderie of FantasyCon, note that being a member of the Society means you get that happy feeling all year round – or at least in four quarterly mailings.

We’re a really ambitious little society. For our size we really try to do a little too much at times: ten or so publications a year, fourteen awards, a three-day annual conference, a short story competition that’s doubled in size two years running, and other events through the year and around the country, not to mention a website and forum. This past year we’ve been stretched quite thin, but I hope you’ll agree that this convention was worth a few hiccups in other areas.

For our promotional postcard for the World Horror Convention this year I picked out a quote from Stephen Jones, from our anniversary book, The British Fantasy Society: a Celebration. “Whenever a fledgling horror or fantasy writer comes up to me, at a convention or somewhere else,” he wrote, “and asks me how they can get their work published, I invariably advise them that their first step should be to join the British Fantasy Society.”

Joining the BFS isn’t enough on its own to make you a great writer, of course (at least it hasn’t worked for me!), or to get you published, but that isn’t what he means. What it will do is give you the opportunity to talk (or at least listen, which is perhaps the better option at first) to experienced writers, editors, publishers and artists, and learn from them. People like Jo Fletcher, Peter Crowther, Les Edwards, and our glorious President-for-Life Ramsey Campbell.

And those are the professionals: the BFS is also rich with people doing all the same things for fun in their spare time. You couldn’t spill a pint of beer at FantasyCon or a BFS Open Night without drenching someone who’s up to something creative! Writers, actors, jewellers, sculptors: the BFS is a social network – a creative network – that began to bring interesting people together thirty years before Facebook opened for business.

One other great thing about the BFS: it’s a really easy society to get involved with. I’d been a member for just a year before being offered the editorship of Dark Horizons in March 2008, and a member less than three years when I became chair (albeit temporarily), after Guy Adams stepped down to concentrate on this year’s convention. It’s a cliché that working on a committee like this is thankless, but that’s not been my experience at all: there’s the odd complaint here and there, many of them perfectly justified, but I’ve had bucketfuls of gratitude as well.

(And when the complaints you get are from people like Robert Silverberg (he was chasing up a book), bring them on! Though perhaps that’s a bad example: he could have been emailing to insult my children and I’d still have been delighted.)

And if all of that sounds far too much like hard work, just sit back and appreciate the results of our hard work: we’ll send you a bundle of varied reading materials every three months. Prism contains dozens of reviews every issue, often of unusual books and films that don’t attract the attention of other magazines. Dark Horizons and New Horizons leapfrog through the year, the former bringing poetry, fiction, articles and art across all the fantastic genres, the latter focusing on slipstream, new writers and new approaches. And once or twice a year we produce special publications to stop things getting too routine. Recent years have brought chapbooks, calendars, literary criticism, original fiction, and all sorts of unusual, collectable items.

But that’s what we do, rather than what we’re about. Ours is a society built very much on love. Stop laughing. It is. It may seem like we argue quite a lot for people in love (though as Brian Keene recently observed, we argue very politely!) but that’s because we’re all in love with slightly different things, and have very strong ideas about them. Science fantasy like Moorcock and Vance, weird fantasy like Machen or Lovecraft, heroic or high fantasy like Howard or Tolkien: this is a society that was founded to celebrate all of them. Even more, it’s here to help people discover new books and new writers in a similar vein.

In the age of the internet, is there a need for a fantasy society – can we not just congregate on websites? Well, we can, and we do, but a society feels so much grander! Once upon a time, Conan and Cthulhu appeared in the same magazine, Weird Tales. As bookshops and publishers push us apart, slotting authors and books into ever-narrower, more easily marketable categories, the BFS is needed more than ever, to bring us back together again, to celebrate the fantastic genres as a whole, and, sometimes, to celebrate those writers who don’t fit neatly into boxes.

Stephen Theaker
September 2010

Booster Gold, Vol. 2: Blue and Gold, by Geoff Johns and friends – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

I'm very fond of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. I think the first time I heard of them was when they got beaten up in The Death of Superman trade paperback, but it wasn't long after that I read their adventures in Justice League (International). Later I read Ted Kord's original series, and more recently Booster's too, collected in Showcase Presents Booster Gold, both of which were solid but not spectacular. It was brilliant to see them teamed up again in Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League, but immensely disappointing to see what happened to Blue Beetle during one of the innumerable crises to beset the DC universe.

Booster Gold, now a defender of the time stream - the poacher turned gamekeeper - working for Rip Hunter was even more unhappy about it, and rescued Ted from the fatal moment. He returns to the present. The ramifications? Wonder Woman didn't get angry enough to snap Maxwell Lord's neck, the OMAC project was a success, and most superheroes are now dead. Even set against Booster and Gold's past screw-ups, that qualifies as a bad day.

It's wonderful to see Booster and the Beetle together again, even if we know it can't last. Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz write them as more or less capable heroes who use humour to cope with their dangerous lives, rather than complete jokes. I've always enjoyed the unfussiness and clarity of Dan Jurgens' art, and under modern colouring and printing it looks very fine indeed - although one wonders, given that Jurgens created Booster Gold, whether it was a little odd for him to cede the writing duties to other people. It's odd in general to think of people losing all control over their own creations, but I guess that's how it goes at the big two: it's easy to see why Erik Larsen didn't hand the Savage Dragon over to Marvel.

Returning to the story, it's not stunning, basically a What If?/Days of Future Past type thing, but I enjoyed it. Affection and nostalgia count for an awful lot in comics.

Booster Gold, Vol. 2: Blue and Gold, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund. DC Comics, tpb, 160pp.

Friday 7 October 2011

Angel Omnibus, by Christopher Golden, Christian Zanier and friends – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Having recently left Buffy, Sunnydale and the Hellmouth to star in his own TV series – and comic, of which all but two issues are here collected – Angel now lives in Los Angeles. Interesting characters like (dark) Wesley, Fred and the Host are far off in his future; most of these stories are set in the period before they showed up. Cordelia was working at Angel Investigations from the beginning, but Irish half-demon Doyle is the one with the visions – for a while, at least – and hard-knock detective Kate Lockley turns up more often than anyone would have hoped.

There's a certain pleasure to be had from revisiting a brief period of a favourite programme, and for comics based on a show that had still to find its feet, these are okay: pedestrian, but readable. The Christian Zanier art featured in most issues was not really to my taste, but didn't get in the way of telling the story. The stories – mostly by or co-written by Christopher Golden – feature the usual round of demons and monsters, and don't add up to much, but I was more than happy to spend a few nights reading them. Not classic comics, nor classic Angel, but not too bad.

Angel Omnibus, by Christopher Golden, Christian Zanier and friends. Dark Horse, tpb, 478pp.

Monday 3 October 2011

Memories of the Future, Vol. 1, by Wil Wheaton - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

When Star Trek: the Next Generation began, I was a schoolboy watching it at home; by the time it finished (on UK television, at least) I had been to university, met my future wife and spent a year living in France. And yet that was nothing compared to the changes in Wil Wheaton's life during that period. In this book he discusses the first half of the first season of TNG, both as a viewer, watching the episodes for the first time in a decade, and as a cast member, revealing the behind-the-scenes difficulties of the production as a whole and of him in particular.

Wil's character Wesley Crusher was notoriously unpopular - a teenager with a snotty attitude and a penchant for showing up the rest of the crew - and here we see the actor putting a bit of clear blue space between himself and the American Adric. But he's not as if he's siding with the bullies against Wesley and his younger self; he's just really disappointed that Wesley was handled so badly in the early episodes.

The irony, of course, is that Wil Wheaton is now firmly established as a geek god, thanks to his blog and appearances in The Big Bang Theory, The Guild and Eureka; his brief appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis was pretty much the only thing anyone liked about that film. An announcement that Captain Wesley Crusher was about to star in Star Trek: the Third Generation would be immensely popular, something that would have been utterly unthinkable at the time these episodes were broadcast.

The book is always enjoyable, and often very funny, even if it sometimes feels like Wheaton is trying to cram in as many references to other people's jokes as he can. If Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese is the Enterprise, this is the shuttlecraft. But I read it all within a day or two of buying it, and I was disappointed the book ended on "Datalore" with so much of the first season still to go; if volume 2 had been available on Kindle when I finished this one I'd have bought it right away.

Memories of the Future, Vol. 1, by Wil Wheaton. Monolith Press, ebook, 1999ll.

Sunday 2 October 2011

British Fantasy Awards 2011: Winners

The winners of the British Fantasy Awards 2011 have just been announced. (Thanks to Maura McHugh for live tweeting them.)

BEST ANTHOLOGY: Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories, Johnny Mains (ed.) (Noose & Gibbet)

BEST COLLECTION: Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)

BEST ARTIST: Vincent Chong

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL: At the Mountains of Madness: a Graphic Novel, Ian Culbard (Selfmadehero)

BEST MAGAZINE/PERIODICAL: Black Static, Andy Cox (ed.) (TTA Press)

BEST NON-FICTION: Altered Visions: The Art of Vincent Chong (Telos)

BEST SMALL PRESS: Telos Publishing

BEST SHORT STORY: "Fool’s Gold", Sam Stone, from The Bitten Word, ed. Ian Whates (NewCon Press)

BEST NOVELLA: Humpty’s Bones, Simon Clark (Telos)

BEST NOVEL (THE AUGUST DERLETH AWARD): Demon Dance, Sam Stone (House of Murky Depths)

BEST FILM: Inception



SYDNEY J. BOUNDS AWARD FOR BEST NEWCOMER: Robert Jackson Bennet, for Mr Shivers (Orbit)

Wowser. Five awards for stuff published by the BFS chair and his partner… You can read the very best fantasy short story of 2010 here. And which dummies voted for Sherlock..?

Can't help thinking this may lead to renewed calls for the awards system to be revamped, although I don't know what system would be better. Perhaps a panel to read the shortlisted works?

Glad to see Black Static winning. Well deserved! But bear in mind that TQF is eligible again for 2012, so its reign may be short-lived!

Videos of the awards are now available on YouTube. Thanks to Vincent Holland-Keen for letting those of us who didn't make it to the event share the embarrassment…

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #38 – now available for free download!

Wow! I love the artwork for this issue of TQF! Once again it's by Howard Watts, although fans of Rhys Hughes won't be surprised to learn that it doesn't actually reflect the contents of “The Lives and Spacetimes of Thornton Excelsior”! That's because I decided on the artwork before I had the story!

The issue features four other magnificent stories. “The Daylight Witch” is by Jim Steel, one of my very favourite contributors to Dark Horizons, each of his stories being completely unique.

Alison Littlewood, another Dark Horizons regular, is off to the major leagues now, having sold a novel to Jo Fletcher Books! “Off and On Again” is an odd one, in that it was previously used by dodgy geezer David Boyer without her permission, so she was keen to see it published somewhere respectable. She settled for us!

“Better than Llandudno, eh?” is an extract from Michael W. Thomas's forthcoming novel, Pilgrims of the White Horizon, a sequel to The Mercury Annual. We'll be publishing it!

“Old Preach’s Gods” is by Z.J. Woods, the one writer in this issue who is new to me, but I hope this won't be the last time his work appears in our pages.

On the editorial front, after the controversy of last issue we're back on frothy territory with “Taking a Break with TQF!”, where I discuss the profound effect that taking a break from posting on Facebook has had on my life. (I've read a lot more comics, basically.)

There are reviews of books from Paul Magrs, Reggie Oliver, Anne and Todd McCaffrey, Nathalie Henneberg, Glen Duncan, Vendela Vida, Wil Wheaton, Johnny Mains, Guy Haley, Ian Cameron Esslemont, and Catherynne M. Valente, plus seven comics, six audio adventures, five films and one game. Contributing reviewers this time include Jacob Edwards, Regina Edwards, Michael W. Thomas and Douglas J. Ogurek.

This 108pp issue is available in all the usual formats, all free except the print edition, which we’ve priced as cheaply as possible:

Paperback from Lulu
PDF of the paperback version (ideal for iPad – click on File and then Download Original)
Kindle (free)
Epub (ideal for Sony Reader)
TQF38 on Feedbooks

More about the merry folk who have let us sow the teeth of their literary dragons…

Alison Littlewood lives in West Yorkshire, England, where she hoards books, dreams dreams and writes fiction – mainly in the dark fantasy and horror genres. Alison has contributed to Black Static, Dark Horizons, Not One Of Us and the charity anthology Never Again. Her debut novel, A Cold Season, will be out early in 2012 from Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus. Visit her at

Douglas J. Ogurek’s work appears in or is forthcoming in the BFS Journal, The Literary Review, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and Dark Things V (Pill Hill Press). Ogurek has also written over 50 articles about architectural planning and design. To this issue he contributes reviews of Cowboys & Aliens and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. He contributed “NON” to TQF33. He lives in Gurnee, Illinois with his wife and their six pets.

Howard Watts is an artist from Brighton who provides the marvellous cover to this issue. He has previously provided covers for Pantechnicon, Dark Horizons and TQF. His story “Totem” appeared in TQF36.

Jacob Edwards is currently indentured to Australia’s speculative fiction flagship Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, as Jack of all Necessities (Deckchairs and Bendy Straws). To this issue he contributes a review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Jim Steel grew up in the countryside where, apparently, a witch had lived at one of the neighbouring farms in the sixteenth century. To get to her house you had to cross the railway where a previous occupant had committed suicide, go past the ruined church with its crypt and gravestones, skirt around the pool where yet another occupant had drowned himself, and then go through the woods where a madman had murdered a small child. So he wasn’t really worried about the witch when he was a young boy. No; Jim was much more worried about her lover who had lived in the ruined castle next to his own house. He had been a warlock.

Michael Wyndham Thomas’s work is regularly published in the UK, the US and Europe. His latest poetry collection, Port Winston Mulberry, is published by Littlejohn and Bray; a new collection is forthcoming in 2012. His most recent novel is The Mercury Annual, published in Theaker’s Paperback Library (2009). The sequel, Pilgrims at the White Horizon, is also forthcoming. Michael also reviews for TQF, The American Journal of Haiku, Other Poetry and Under the Radar. He is poet-in-residence at the annual Robert Frost Festival in Key West, Florida. His website can be found at:

Regina Edwards wandered into a bookstore, during a brief stint in London, thinking idly how serendipitous it would be if she were to run into Glen Duncan signing his latest book, I Lucifer. As it happened, he was there… up until five minutes before she arrived. When not lamenting fate’s bungled intervention, Regina writes short stories and teaches maths and physics. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and son.

Rhys Hughes has been a published writer for almost twenty years and in that time he has written six hundred stories, published twenty books and been translated into ten different languages. “The Lives and Spacetimes of Thornton Excelsior” is exactly the sort of fiction he most enjoys writing; but the market for this kind of absurdist fantasy seems to be rather limited these days. If you enjoyed it, why not consider purchasing his latest ebook, a bumper collection of one hundred stories called The Tellmenow Isitsöornot, available from Smashwords here:

Stephen Theaker is the eponymous co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and writes many of its reviews. His reviews have also appeared in otherwise respectable publications such as Prism, Black Static and the BFS Journal. He has used the word “whom” twice in this issue but isn’t entirely confident that he used it correctly.

Z.J. Woods writes and otherwise wastes time in Virginia. His strange little digressions can be found in several ezines and at his website,

All thirty-seven previous previous issues of our magazine are available for free download, and in print, from here.

And they were all wearing eyepatches!

What a fantastic episode of Doctor Who that was last night! And the question that mustn't be answered? Quite proud of myself for guessing it right ages ago (the evidence is on a Facebook comment thread somewhere!). My guesses are usually way off.

It's taken a little while for it to sink in that we saw the Doctor get m*****d! Imagine if that had happened in the TV movie on Fox! The writers have inched us into a place where it was what we expected, and now there it is. It happened, and we didn't flinch. Wow.

And my four-year-old daughter pointed out this morning that a certain young lady now has a stepmum.

One of the many things that knocked me out about this brilliant episode was that it can be seen as the ultimate in-joke, a tribute to the Brigadier, whose quiet death we learned about through a phone call to a nursing home, just as the Doctor wanted him to saddle up for another adventure.

Because in this episode, as in Nicholas Courtney's famous anecdote about Inferno, they were all wearing eyepatches.

Genius! And very, very sweet.

I hope that by the end of the day Steven Moffat has won a British Fantasy Award. It would be well deserved.

Saturday 1 October 2011

A few thoughts on BFS Journal #4

The new issue of the BFS Journal arrived in the post this week, looking very handsome in its Clive Barker cover art. I haven’t read any of the fiction yet (it generally takes me ages to get around to reading it all), so I won't review it properly, but here are my thoughts so far...

I’ve enjoyed David Riley’s seven Prisms (although I’m very pleased that his replacement will be Lou Morgan). For one thing, he’s published an awful lot of my writing! This issue’s Prism section, his last, has a solid seven pages by me (pages 57 to 63), all written at speed over a weekend thanks to a last minute deadline change.

Reading them now, they didn’t turn out too badly, although in my Game of Thrones review a reference to “the elegant tedium of a Carnivale” has been changed to “the elegant tedium of Carnivale”. A tiny change, but one that affected the sense of what I was saying a little bit (i.e. that I find most HBO dramas elegant but dull, not just Carnivale).

As usual a handful of mistakes caught my eye in the Prism reviews - “lead” for “led”, “Tolkein”, stuff like that. One or two reviewers seem to be pulling their punches, and some reviews spend a bit too long summarising the plot, but I enjoyed reading them all.

The highlight of Prism for me was Mark Morris’s account of writing a professional novel NaNoWriMo-style - I'd love to see more of this kind of thing in Prism. The ironic thing about the article is that Mark's adaptation of the game Dead Island, though written in a month, is likely to be better than the game, which took six years or so. (From the 3/10 review in Edge it sounds like a complete duffer.) John Probert’s column on retitling of movies is also an interesting one.

There are quite a lot of reprints in the Dark Horizons section (34 pages out of 60, I think), but it’s all new to me. I enjoyed the comic by Jay Eales and mpMANN (originally from The Girly Comic), but haven’t read the rest yet. Peter Coleborn, editor of the Dark Horizons section, has also stepped down - the Christmas issue of the Journal will be his last.

New Horizons editor Andrew Hook is also leaving, and the section is being allowed to fade into history. The material spread across the four issues of the BFS Journal so far would have been #6 and #7 of the standalone magazine, I think, which Andrew had been planning as his last for some time. I’ll miss his work with the BFS; I liked the fiction he published; but I understand why he’d want to spend more time on his own writing.

It’s not hard to see why New Horizons has been discontinued in the context of the journal - it made little sense having two separate fiction sections in the same magazine. On the other hand, New Horizons was originally introduced to spread the workload, so that each journal editor had six months between issues. I suspect the BFS might find it difficult to find a reliable editor to produce a decent-sized journal every three months.

I couldn’t have done it, not without putting TQF on hold. Although I produce TQF every three months, that’s my main hobby. The thing with the BFS is that almost everyone who volunteers is already doing something creative with their hobby time (writing, a zine, a small press, a blog, making films, etc), and then they have to find time for their BFS duties on top of that.

The BFS has also sent out this week Full Fathom Forty, a 500pp collection of fiction from BFS members and friends. Like Dark Horizons, it’s mostly reprint (27 or so out of 40 stories) but all are new to me. There are some very good contributors - e.g. Conrad Williams, Nina Allan, Robert Shearman, Cate Gardner, Christopher Fowler and Alison Littlewood - so I bet the anthology as a whole will be excellent.

On missing FantasyCon 2011...

I'm trying to convince myself that missing FantasyCon - going on this weekend in Brighton - is a good thing. You know, even though pretty much everyone I know in the writing world will be there. Mrs Theaker didn't want to go this time, and didn't fancy me going away for up to four days, and in a moment of "niceness" earlier in the year I said I wouldn't go. I don't know what I was thinking! So here's what I'm telling myself:

  • By staying at home, there's no chance of me getting drunk and acting silly. I'm still cringing about asking horror impressario Johnny Mains to high five me last year! I don't even enjoy drinking; I only drink at FantasyCon to get over my nervousness. 
  • There's no chance of me going to the Annual General Meeting, at which there would be a danger of (a) getting into an argument (the BFS AGM can be very frisky) or (b) signing up for the time-consuming drudgery of a BFS committee post.
  • I can spend the weekend finishing off Theaker's 38. It's going to be a good one!
  • I won't catch any con crud. Or rather, since I'm already a bit poorly, I won't pass it on. 
  • There's no chance of me being caught on camera rolling my eyes if a British Fantasy Award goes to a less than deserving winner!
  • I would have felt a bit out of it this year; at last year's convention I was right at the centre of things, doing admin for the event and umpteen BFS committee jobs, including chair. Maybe having a year's break is good because I can go back as a fan.
  • Mrs Theaker really owes me one and has to be really nice to me all weekend. Unfortunately she has the same poorliness as me, only worse, so it's not as if she's going to be heading to the bakery for doughnuts or anything. I'll be lucky to get a cup of tea out of her...
  • If I had been going, I would probably have had to cancel anyway, because of Mrs Theaker's poorliness, so I guess this way I've kept my hotel deposit.
  • I get to watch the last episode of Doctor Who with an audience of appreciative fans (i.e. Mrs Theaker and the little Theakers) rather than those guys who spend every Sunday morning moaning about it on Facebook!

That last one is actually pretty convincing!

I hope everyone at the convention is having a super time. I'm watching enviously on Twitter. The line-up is brilliant - Brian Aldiss, for crying out loud! - and it all seems to be very well organised. Really wish I was going. Next year it's going to be much closer to home, so I'll be able to nip over on Saturday morning, come back on Sunday evening. Already looking forward to it - hope to see you there!