Tag Archive: fantasy


For a little while I’ve been able to hint about a slow-burning piece of good news that, with the start of the new fiscal year, I can confirm has been approved and the deal now done: my novel ‘Half Discovered Wings’ has been optioned by Lionsgate Entertainment to be made into a feature film!

(novel link: http://www.spinninglizard.co.uk/novHDW.html)

Of course, these things do start off small – a single British pound, to be exact.  Optioning novels for films is fairly standard fare, an option being ‘dibs’ on a book that at any time can end up being nothing, or turn into a bidding war between studios.  The likes of Dan Brown no doubt have every novel optioned immediately upon publication, probably for vary large sums.  If the publishing house agrees, another film studio can put down a bigger bid, which can later be countered by the first.  Often thousands of pounds (or dollars) are put down just to ‘reserve’ the story of the novel on the off-chance that the studio will later decide to make that film.  The potential rewards are often much bigger than the small price to pay for ‘dibs’.

Often though, an option is a statutory basic amount meant to be a holding figure to register the studio’s interest.  It can be exciting for an author to know that somebody has taken an interest, but this rarely amounts to anything.  This is why, in February 2010, I chose not to tell many people about the £1 option that had been placed by Lionsgate for ‘Half Discovered Wings’.  Even worse was keeping schtum when that option was increased to £1,000 earlier this year, with a view to begin pre-production for a mid-2012 release.  Pending approval after budget time, ‘HDW’ would be a live action film.  And now the go-ahead has been issued.

Little-league writers dream about the chance to make a fantastic big-budget adaptation of their books.  Equally as powerful is the fear that your idea will be meddled with, your vision corrupted, or simply such a poor job will be made that it all hardly seems worth the risk.  Some are happy just to get the media attention (“any exposure is good exposure” say idiots) others, like Stephen King, either shy away before signing anything or ask to have their names removed from the final product, as with the awful/awesome ‘Running Man’.

Expect, we’re told, to travel along those ‘ideal cast’ tangents, where everyone argues who best would play the roles of the characters from the book.  Sometimes there isn’t a perfect match – I would be most pleased, in fact, if all the cast are unknown actors.  Certainly casting Hugh Jackman or another flavour of the month would detract from the message and themes of the story – not that that is talk for any time soon.  First there comes first drafts of the script, for which I’ve been asked to contribute; concept art; assignation of Director and Producer, amongst other things. 

Don’t I know that my story is in good hands with Lionsgate, perfect for quirky, genre-bending ideas like ‘Half Discovered Wings’!  Recent hits include ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ and franchises like ‘Saw’ and ‘Transporter’, along with numerous comic book adaptations a closer in spirit to the modestly unconventional ‘HDW’.  I can provide further developments as they happen: now that the project has been green-lit, I’ll be able to reveal more as it happens at a new blog attached to the main film site, soon to be set up.  Watch this space.

–db

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People who play video games love Yahtzee Croshaw, the sardonic bringer of wit and shit of ‘Zero Punctuation’ fame.  If you don’t know his style, you can visit him here:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation

And the Facebook group with to-the-minute updates here:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Zero-Punctuation/7546255825?ref=ts

Yahtzee released a novel this month, “Mogworld”.  I was all prepared to do an amusing Flash video review utterly slagging it off, but as it happens I wasn’t up to the challenge (or rather, my mic turned out to be rubbish), and so I’ve given up and posted the script as a review on Amazon instead.  It’s here in all its not-very-funny glory–

— It’s in the delivery, mostly.

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Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw is best known for his scathing Zero Punctuation video reviews of computer games, routinely ripping out their innards and squeezing little poo-nuggets of ironic humour all over them, although apparently he’s done other things including actually writing for games, so he’s at least partly vindicated for slagging them off so thoroughly and then moving onto writing his first novel.

“Mogworld” is an easy slice of light fantasy, although it crosses genres regularly like a tram-hopping college-droppout.  You’d have to be a bit of an idiot not to realise that the GAME-REVIEWING Yahtzee writes a book about MAGES and NECROMANCERS and LEVEL 60 SPELLS and NOT realise that this is set inside a VIDEO GAME, so I shouldn’t be spoiling anything for you here.

The twist is that not all the character necessarily realise this.  It’s a sort of ‘edge of the world’ scenario without the benefit of the readers undergoing this revelation WITH the characters, leaving you disappointed that they were too stupid to figure it out sooner.  In fact it couldn’t have been more obvious if he’d stapled it to the side of a stegosaurus and paraded it through Hull on a market day.
The inclusion of pirates into this gameworld early on in the book seemed a bit strange, until they all started talking about becoming undead pirates and then it begins to come together.  It’s like Yahtzee is DELIBERATELY prancing along the fence of cliché, with the unoriginality goblin beckoning him in  and his proper writer/critic self occasionally shouting NO YOU IDIOT and hurling his mighty boot of common sense.

The characters might be flatter than Paper Mario’s credit card, but at least they’re proper characters with individual personalities instead of blandly merging into one another.  This would be great, but one major problem is that they’re all so ANNOYING, and the fact that the protagonist acknowledges they’re ANNOYING doesn’t make them any less ANNOYING.  The first half of the book is like sitting on a bus surrounded by  half a dozen people all with their iPods on too loud listening to boybands, Slipknot and ASWAD.  There’s the jaded main character who, like the best and worst of web-comics, is the only one who acknowledges how strange everything is while everyone else blithely slither through the linear plot; there’s the chirpy one who comes down to reality at the end; a fire-and-brimstone religious nut who never shuts up; a sneak-thief who constantly talks in the third person; a villain with his own silly dialogue-related idiosyncrasies; and a smack-talking wise-cracking mutated otter-weasel sidekick … Okay I made the last one up, no-one would create a character is THAT annoying.

In the interest of fairness they DO develop some depth as the story progresses and as a direct result of the events of the story, not just something insipid like ‘falling in love’ or just through a sequence of trials like the laziest storytelling.  The best characters come with the best gags about a third of the way in, being closer to real-life people than the zombie/mage/blah-de-blah hacks, but sadly only get a few lines here and there in amusing e-mail or instant messaging format which made me SAD because they were actually very GOOD.

The writing is hardly spectacular, but this isn’t a literary venture so it can be forgiven, and apart from the odd atrocious lines like ‘We descended into a sort of disused basement-sewer type chamber’ he manages to not to COMPLETELY mangle the almighty English language.  In fact there are a number of cracking sentences worthy of Douglas Adams (or at least an unworthy rip-off sequel), and it definitely has a more Hitchhiker’s feel going for it than a Terry Pratchett one, which is a good thing in this case because I prefer my humorous fiction WITHOUT the bland caricatures, but this brings us back to cliché and it’s a sticking point with me that with this kind of semi-parody is the laughs derive from the archetypes – Doctor Evil’s cat wouldn’t be nearly as funny if you hadn’t expected it to be fluffier than a fledgling barn owl.  But unoriginal is still unoriginal, even if it IS trying to be funny.

Maybe it’s out of his system now and he’ll go back to doing what he does best; you always know you’re in the wrong part of town when the bus shelter’s been kicked in and you’re standing in someone else’s orange vomit.

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If anyone shows any interest I’ll update with some screenshots of the nearly-finished video review, in the Zero Punctuation style.

Incidentally, the book is alright really – about 6.5/10 if you’re into his humour … and shit fiction about video games.

– db

Help the old farts understand what video games are really about

In 1986 science-fiction author Frank Herbert wrote the sixth and last novel in his award-winning “Dune” series before his untimely death.  I read “Dune” probably fifteen years ago in France, and soon finished its remarkable sequels.  The sixth, “Dune: Chapterhouse”, ends on a cliff-hanger of sorts.

For twenty years fans have wondered whether Herbert’s son, Brian, would continue the saga.  A few years ago, he did.

It is with this seventh book, “Hunters of Dune” that I sit in the kitchen where I work.  I’m on my lunch break, I have a whole hour to read, and I’ve just started it.  Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson wrote some pretty average prequels to the original series, which was full of adventure and politics, but this it the first true sequel.  It continues the story I’ve been reading about for over a decade, and admittedly it’s not bad.

Frank Herbert's "Dune"

The office gossip wanders into the kitchen.  She’s harmless but pretty nosy.  Straight away, she’s up to my book where I’ve left it on the table while I get a(nother) cup of tea.

‘What are you reading now, then?’

‘Science fiction’, I say, because it’s the easiest way to end the kind of conversation that the other person isn’t really interested in.

‘Oh,’ she says.  She has already turned away. ‘Oh, I see.’

And I want to scream.

‘”Dune” is the best sci-fi book ever written!’ I want to yell. ‘The writer was a genius!  There are writers out there who aren’t fit to check his ‘scripts for typos, let alone have their books on the same shelf as his!’

I feel this way about only very few writers.  Probably Isaac Asimov, if we’re going to stick with sci-fi for a moment.  Other names that come to mind are Clive Barker, China Mieville, Steph Swainston, Stanislaw Lem.  People whose level of talent you aspire towards, as a writer yourself, but never expect to achieve.

And it galls me when people dismiss a novel – or film, or television – because it is science-fiction.
People who “don’t like sci-fi or fantasy” are, you’ll find on most occasions, people who never read it.  They don’t really know what it is.

They might have dipped into it once – probably the popular Rowling/Meyer trash – and assumed it was indicative of the entire genre.  i.e., unchallenging, insipid, uninvolving.

They have never heard of cyberpunk, or Victoriana, or slipstream, or speculative fiction.  To them, all sci-fi is Star Trek and all fantasy is The Lord of the Rings.

I asked my mother once why she never read fantasy, back when she was a reader.

She said, “I couldn’t pronounce any of the names”.

Way to jump in at the deep end, Mum – Tolkien.  My mischievous big brother probably leant her ‘The Silmarillion’ as a joke.

And Tolkien was a great writer, but is probably the reason why my mother will never ‘get round’ to reading my own novel.

There is a stigma fixed to genre fiction and there doesn’t seem to be any way around it.  People don’t like to try genre fiction because of the notion they have of what it contains: dragons and goblins or, in the case of sci-fi, stiff-backed men in uniform discussing interplanetary politics on a ship’s bridge.

Star Trek has a lot to answer for.

In fact, it has probably damaged science-fiction irreparably.

Sing the song again.  You know you want to.  "Theeeeeere's Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow ..."

The 2009 film, which gave the franchise a much-needed reboot, went some way to convincing people that sci-fi isn’t all boring and preachy.  It can be just as exciting and guiltily-satisfying as any action film.  TV’s Futurama brought sci-fi to the living room again, but people don’t think this is ‘real’ sci-fi.  It’s something pretending to be sci-fi.

Sci-fi can’t be funny, like Red Dwarf.  It can’t be an adventure, like Star Wars.  It can’t be beautiful, like Solaris.  These aren’t ‘proper’ sci-fi at all.

But people don’t buy it.  They think these are exceptions to the rule.

The rule is that science-fiction must be rigid and preachy.  It must have, in some form, a federation of military types.  There must be spaceships and, ideally, robots.  One of the most irritating defining characteristics I hear of sci-fi is that it has aliens in it.  As though, without the greys, it’s not sci-fi at all, or else, not ‘proper’ sci-fi.

The same goes for literature.  People hear you’re a writer, it’s the most interesting thing they’ve ever heard.  They’re hear you’re a genre writer, they switch off.

That or it’s, ‘Oh, you’re going to write the next Harry Potter, then?’

Yes.  I’m going to write the next Harry Potter.

In fact, I’m writing it now.

“Harry Potter and the Death of Integrity”.

Yes, I read the books.  I have a right to slag them with my burning contempt.  I deeply, truly regret wasting all those hours, which is why I consider myself free to despise “Twilight” despite the fact that I couldn’t even choke down the whole of the first novel.

‘Never again,’ I promised myself.

Remember Harry Potter.

Re-read Michael Crichton instead.  Re-read “Hitchhikers”.  See if the Foundation books are as good as you remember.

I suppose it’s up to us to repair the reputation of these tarnished genres.  We should try to get some intelligent, spectacular and above all original genre fiction out there.  More steampunk fiction.  More new weird fiction.  Enticing, entrancing, entertaining.

But it’s already out there.  A lot of us know it.  Films are more likely to wake people up than literature.  After all, a film takes up a lot less of your time than a 500-page novel.  It requires less brain-power, even if it has subtitles in places.  But the most original ideas, the ones that aren’t tried and tested, don’t get the budget.  They don’t get the stars.  And they therefore don’t get the marketing or the national releases or the audiences.  A film without an audience might as well not exist.

Some decent stuff gets through.  The Donnie Darkos and the Eden Logs and the Sky Blues.  A few people, outside of their main target audience, gets to see them.  And the love them.  They realise that there’s another side to fantasy and horror and science-fiction.

A new breed.

There might be hope.  Although the paper fiction industry has taken its knock these last two or three years, genre fiction in particular is suffering no worse than the ever-popular mainstream titles.  Granted, it’s supported by the franchise bilge like Dr Who and endless hack’n’slash fantasy.

But the new stuff is there.  Even if it’s Neal Asher or Charlaine Harris.

Just try it.

You might even like it.

— db