Saturday, August 30, 2014


There's a meme doing the rounds of Facebook that requires the recipient to name 10 books that have had an impact upon them, then pass the disease on to ten innocent schmucks. Rather than waste all that typing on just one form of social media, I thought I'd list them here, too.

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Read it for the first time when I was ten and it blew the breath out of my mind. I'd never experienced such scope, depth and majesty in a story before, and have pretty much never experienced it since. Read it every year until my mid-twenties, and a few times again since then.

2. The Cats by Joan Phipson. The first book I ever bought with my own money. A kids book about psychic cats who kidnap a kid in the Australian bush.

3. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. An amazing dystopian near-future SF work that feels as relevant and likely now as it did when I first read it in my early 20s. Brunner is the author David Brin wishes he could be when he grows up.

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Everything I wanted to write when I grew up, in a single trilogy. It hasn't aged well, but its impact on the 16 year old me cannot be overstated.

5. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. Sparse, brutal and unforgiving. The perfect crime novel.

6. The Scar by China Meiville. My first Mieville novel, it kicked off an ongoing love affair that has never abated. Beautifully lyrical, ugly, despairing, and epic and everything in the weird that I want to achieve.

7. Science Fiction Stories for Boys, editor unknown. A cheap 'Octopus Books' collection of the type that used to proliferate in the wild 70s before copyright law reached Australia. My first real SF book, it contained the story that set me on the path to an SF future. My first taste of Asimov, Heinlein, Leiber and Harrison. I still have it, and it's still brilliant.

8. Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson. The first modern fantasy book I read that dared to break the Tolkein template. A deeply unlikeable protagonist, acres of grit and despair, a true sense of dirt under the fingernails of a real second world. The clear forerunner to the current 'Grimdark' generation of Joe Abercrombie and peers.

9. Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer. The book that helped me sit down and define my career goals at a time when I was floundering. More than one recent success is down to its lessons.

10. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre. Sparse, brutal and unforgiving. A perfect 'cold equations' novel, and still just about the best thriller ever written.

And because I'm me:

11. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. The best novel of the last 5 years, bar none. Brilliantly grim, realistic fantasy, filled with consequences and the kind of bleak beauty rarely seen outside of a John Huston film. A stunning novel

And just for yucks, my friend Stephen Dedman decided I should list 10 films in the same way. So I did:

1. Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Brilliant satirical dark comedy centred around stunning multiple performances from Peter Sellers, who is never better than here. Kubrick's best film by a country mile.

2. The Crow. Dark, dystopian revenge fantasy that distills everything that a 19 year old in the late 80s found too cool for words, backed by the single best soundtrack in movie history. Nominally a superhero film and on that basis still one of the best 3 or 4 superhero films ever made.

3. ET. First saw it on an excursion with my under 13 soccer team. We'll all deny it to our dying breaths, because we were Rockingham bogans trying to be tough, but we all bawled like we were sponsored by Kleenex. The special effects have dimmed over time, but the emotional impact never has.

4. The Italian Job. The film that inspired a life long love of heist movies. Good, clean, criminal fun from beginning to end.

5. Fight Club. Nihilistic, counter-culture view of a personal apocalypse. Brilliantly out of kilter, with a career-defining performance from Brad Pitt.

6. 12 Monkeys. The perfect combination of Terry Gilliam's visual and narrative brilliance, Brad Pitt's superb ability to create a beautiful freak, and a thoughtful and finely tuned SF plot. An utter classic.

7. Iron Man. I'm making no excuses here: this is the movie the 8 year old me waited 30 years to see, and it was everything I expected it to be. I loves it with loves that turns any form of criticism at all into "nahnahnahnahcan'thearyoucan'thearyounahnahnah..."

8. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott was never better. Another stunning, beautiful dystopia rendered in images so perfect they will live forever in my internal viewfinder. The flames along the edge of Sean Young's iris may be the most perfect filmic image ever committed.

9. The General. Film's greatest magician at his highest peak. Brilliant comedy, special effects, stunts and storytelling, still genuinely gripping after 90 years.

10. A Night at the Opera. My first Marx Brothers movie, it still has the power to crease me over with helpless laughter and yet, as I grow older, it's the quiet moment of Harpo and Chico playing together on the ship that fill me with wonder. The archetypal something-for-everyone comedy, it should make talentless hacks like Adam Sandler hang his soulless head in shame. A wonder.

So there we go. Now tell me, what's your list? What books and films have had a lasting impact upon your poor, tortured psyche?

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Ahhhhh, the entropic nature of time. When I scribbled this one down, Anne McCaffrey seemed the perfect comic fit. Feel free to insert "Smaug" or "Christopher Paolini" or "that chick from Game of Thrones" or whatever you need to bring this gag up to speed.....

"I'm sorry, Nigel, but being Anne McCaffrey's biggest fan does not
qualify you to be head keeper at the komodo dragon enclosure"

Monday, August 25, 2014


One of the loveliest side-effects of reaching a certain credibility as an author (and clearly, as I seem to have reached it, the level ain't that high) is the occasional opportunity to be sally forth and speak to groups of people without requiring your beloved partner-for-life having to follow along two steps behind you apologising to everyone.

Luscious, for those who have not met her, occasionally introduces us at social gathering with the phrase "This is my husband, Lee, and I'm the person who apologises for him". She also occasionally waits until we're in a shopping centre aisle full of old women before shouting "What do you mean I'm fat?" with no fucking provocation whatsoever.

Luscious is occasionally a sick sod :)

For the last 4 years I've been drawn back to my old stomping grounds at Curtin University to give a guest lecture on social media at the School of Internet Studies, an exercise designed to make me feel old, as not only was there no School of Internet Studies when I studied at Curtin there was no actual sodding internet. I made my annual pilgrimage there again this past week, and as always, absolutely loved it: it's a chance to combine day job and writing career expertise as well as expose students to a free form way of thinking they may not get from a structured curriculum-- I can't imagine many courses compare social media to Russian tampon adverts, for a start-- and you know you're doing well when you receive Facebook friends requests halfway through the lecture from people in the room.

I'm also off to Churchlands Senior High School next week to talk about writing competitions and ideas generation. I've done a couple of school gigs in recent years, and they're generally a lot of fun. It's incredibly easy to see which students are there by choice and which are there because they have no other choice, and once you call them out on it you can function in a room full of good will and laughter. Teenagers may be moody buggers but those moods swing both ways: get them laughing and they'll be your friend for life, at least as long as the workshop lasts, and story generation is genuinely the most enjoyable part of the process for me, so we get a lot of writing done, look at a lot of funny photographs, and generally have a fab and groovy time.

And, lastly, I'll be heading along to Write Along the Highway twice in November as part of this year's Nanowrimo: I'll be the subject of an author talk and workshop at Mundijong Library on the 18th and a panellist at the big Write Night! event at the South Perth Community Hall on the evening of the 26th. Details are being finalised, and I'll remind you as they're released to the general public, but spaces for these types of events are limited, so if they sound like your thing, it might be worth contacting the organisation soon.


Ah, well. It was worth a try.

Running order, day one.

After scant few months of a return to the school system, we've pulled Master 9 out and have re-commenced home-schooling. While he is currently not vomiting as often as he has in the past, it is still an issue, and his need to leave the classroom several times a day has become a real social issue-- while it's possible to ask 9 year old children to understand a peer's health issues, it's not possible to stop them staring every time he goes in and out, and a teacher can't be asked to stop and wait for him to return before continuing with the lesson.

The overwhelming feeling that he has become the class weirdo, coupled with stress over the feeling that he's falling behind simply because he has to try to catch up with what's been said in his absence several times a day, has taken its toll. The number of sick days was starting to rise, the number of tearful mornings had just about become 1:1, the teacher conferences were happening weekly. With all the good will in the world-- and his school had the very best of good will towards his situation-- it just wasn't working. No 9 year old should suffer stress and depression. Master 9 clearly was.

So we've withdrawn him, to give him a sense of power over his schooling, and a sense of equilibrium about himself and his social situation. It was a nice attempt, but ultimately, until he's well enough to last a full school day, every school day, without being sick, the school system can't make itself flexible enough to fit him and we can't risk his progress any more than it's already being compromised.

Back to work, at the dining room table alone.

I'm creased with fear for the little bugger: fear over his social progress; fear over his educational progress; fear over his mental and physical states; fear for his future. Hopefully, giving him the space and time to work at his own pace again, without the added stress of fitting into someone else's agenda and with some semblance of control over the social interactions he engages in will help him cope with the demands his Rumination Syndrome places on all aspects of his existence.

There is no 'simple' in his life anymore. All we can do is simplify.


Nicole Murphy is a truly excellent author of speculative fiction, romance and erotica, and over at her website she's running a series of interviews on the road to publication.

She's been kind enough to offer a platform for my unique brand of self-indulgent blether, and I have complied. You can read my interview with Nicole here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


"So, your plan is for one of us to learn to build nuclear bombs, be cut up and
fed to the rest of us?... Are you NUTS?"

Sometimes a little factoid lodges itself so far into your psyche that-- apocryphal or not, disproved or not-- it bounces around inside your head, sparking ideas and narratives long after other, potentially more worthy ideas have long since slipped away into the darkness.

Teach a planarian worm to run a maze, then grind it up and feed it to other planarian worms an they will instantly gain the knowledge of how to run that maze, even if they have never seen the maze before.

I can't remember where I read it, and I don't know whether it's actually true or not. More to the point, I haven't bothered to find out, because I've used that little nugget on at least five occasions, and one of the stories I used it in won a bunch of awards and ushered a few cheques into being along the way so I'm hardly going to quibble now, am I?

It also inspired this thumbnail, which has never been completed, won no awards, and hasn't earned me a single cent. Circle of life, my friends. Circle of life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


In happier news, the Australian SF Snapshot series of interviews is being conducted again, and once again I have been snapped and shotted in what's becoming increasingly like a 7-Up version of my again self.

This time, journalist Nick Evans has asked the questions, grilling me on the transition from adult novels to childrens works, my Australian TBR pile and just what the hell I think I'm doing with what's supposed to be my career.

 You can see my response here.


We lost another divine lunatic yesterday.

Robin Williams, who first helped melt my mind when I was a kid with his anarchic portrayal of Mork from Ork in Mork and Mindy, and who made regular incursions into my artistic consciousness through a series of brilliant live DVDs; early comedic movies like Moscow on the Hudson and Good Morning, Vietnam; mature middle-career performances in Jumanji, The Birdcage and others; and stunning dramatic tours-de-force in a range of intense dramatic roles such as Dead Poets Society; Good Will Hunting; One Hour Photo and Insomnia, killed himself.

For a man who had a profound impact upon my artistic, comedic and personal sensibilities, he was surprisingly young: he was only 63.

In many ways, Williams was an ever-present as I grew up. It's hard to explain the impact of Mork and Mindy on my sensibilities: with a grand total of 3 TV channels to choose from and a much higher quota of Australian programming (not to mention viewing choices controlled by conservative, British parents), there was, quite literally, nothing on television quite like it. Mork was a force of nature, a fox in a chicken coop of cookie-cutter sitcom writing, and at a time when I was already glutting my imagination on science fiction and the Goon Show, I was an instant convert, a mini-Exidor running off at the mouth and driving my parents insane.

And, then, somehow he was always just there. Within a year or two we had purchased our first VHS player--at roughly the same time he was making the transition into movies, and if there was a Williams movie on the shelf, I watched it: Popeye, The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Survivors, Club Paradise.... anyone who was surprised by his range and depth in later career movies should see these early films back to back. The depth was always there, the range always apparent. It was just the quality of production that altered, just the size of the marquee. Once I was old enough to travel the sixty kilometres to the nearest cinema by myself he became a staple of my cinema visits: Good Morning, Vietnam one of the first films I ever went to alone, without even the company of friends, the soundtrack to the movie a permanent fixture on my walkman (it still features on my iPod play list today).

When I took up stand-up comedy in the early nineties a group of comedic friends and I would gather together regularly to watch live videos and dissect them: Andy Kaufman; Richard Jeni; Steve Martin (another ever-present: when he dies, I'll be just as distraught); Emo Philips, Richard Pryor, Billy Connolly.... the list was unending. Except Williams. Between us we had a mammoth collection, stretching right back to bootleg recordings of early Comedy Store appearances. Those, we just watched, and rolled around, in tears of laughter. Nobody wanted to dissect them. We knew we couldn't learn anything, couldn't replicate what he did in any way. We watched them because we wanted to see great art, and revel in genius.

And so I stopped thinking about him. He was furniture, as much as Billy Connolly and Steve Martin and the Goon Show and science fiction and Pink Floyd and my eyesight and hearing and all the things that are woven so deeply into my being that they are little more than autonomic processes. Always an awareness at the edge of my vision, occasionally popping into full view to stun me one more time-- holy shit, the man did One Hour Photo, Death to Smoochy and Insomina in a single year-- but more often than not just slightly in the background. Let's be honest, he hadn't starred in a decent movie since The Final Cut in 2004, and even that's a flawed work. Supporting roles in Night at the Museum movies aside, it had been fairly slim pickings for a while.

But he was still there, part of my general awareness, a tightly-woven emblem in the pattern of my karass. I'd introduced him to my kids, through Jumanji and the Night at the Museum movies. We'd have gotten to Bicentennial Man soon enough, and Dead Poets Society in its turn.

I hadn't really thought about his influence on my life, my ways of thinking, my approach to art, until I checked out my Facebook feed yesterday morning and was deluged by outpourings of shock and sorrow.

Now, I don't know what else to say.

There's a huge body of work, of various quality. There are artists who have been influenced, and will carry that influence into their own work. But Williams himself is gone, and my karass is wounded.

Mork has finally, irretrievably, signed off.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Review: Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil - Volume 3

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil - Volume 3
Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil - Volume 3 by Stan Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The very definition of a curate's egg. One of my favourite Marvel characters, who has developed unbelievable shades and intonations over the years, and the beginnings of his complexity are in evidence throughout this volume of early stories. The art by Gene Colan is superb: clear, active, with unexpected depth and elegance.

But, oh Gods, Stan Lee is an abysmal hack. The writing is embarrassing, and the z-grade line-up of villians-- including El Matador, whose powers involve being a matador and having a skeezy Spanish accent; the Masked Marauder, who, well, has a mask that's basically a welding helmet with a mauve hanky hanging off the bottom, and arguably the worst villain Marvel have ever devised (and we're talking the company who gave us Razorback and Rocket Racer...) Leapfrog, with springs on his scuba flippers and a frog costume, whose power involves being able to jump high on his springs (I shit thee not!)-- should have been enough to kill the book dead, dead, dead. The dialogue is leaden, the misogyny oozes from each page, the majority of characters are two-dimensional at best, and some of Lee's plot devices wouldn't pass grade in a Perils of Pauline script meeting. A supposed 'bonus' feature, wherein page are devoted to a supposed meeting between Lee and Colan to work on the scripts, showing what swell and quirky fellas they are, is just teeth-grindingly awful.

The Cult of Lee has been built, over the years, on his personality and bullet-proof self-belief and love for what he does. If it had anything to do with his writing skills, he'd be long-forgotten.

Three stars for Colan's artwork, which deserves-- and, thankfully, regularly received-- a better forum. Thank God Horn-head went on to better things than this tripe.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Review: Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants

Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants
Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants by Matthew Inman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hilarious collection of profane, insane and left-brain strips from one of the few online strips I follow. All the ranty, common-sense goodness that makes this strip so brilliantly funny, presented in large, glossy format. Love it.

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