Robot Overlords – The Book of the Film!

Hurrah and huzzah, now that the PR gods have finally announced it from on high – for we must all wait upon such things in these times of heightened, super-whizzy media – I can now talk about the film tie-in novel of ROBOT OVERLORDS wot I wrote.

First of all, let us gaze upon the awesomeness of the cover art…

It's a robot... a big one!
It’s a robot… a big one!

The Sentry robot was kindly donated and posed by the good folk at Nvizible (laser weapon, model’s own), and the rest was co-ordinated and designed by Nick May of the Orion art department and the wizards at Blacksheep Design, who’ve won awards for all sorts of cool covers, not least Adam Roberts’ JACK GLASS, one of my favourites of last year.

The book has been huge fun to write and, in the tradition of my favourite tie-in novels, will expand on scenes and characters from the film, as well having plenty of new material completely original to the book. My hope is that the book and film will complement one another, so if there’s a moment in the film that leaves you wanting to know more, you’ll find it in the book.

Tie-in novels are usually a late addition to a publishers’ schedule, often written in a rush by an outside writer. So I am very grateful that Gollancz took a punt early on in the process, and gave the go-ahead to this while we were still shooting the film. It’s given me the time to write the book I wanted to and, thanks to the brilliant editing of Gillian Redfearn and the copy-editing skills of Lisa Rogers, it’s become a much better book than I could have hoped for.

It’ll be available in paperback and eBook, and there might even be an audio edition. The publication date will be as per the release of the film. We’re saying February 2015 at the moment, but that will almost certainly change. There might even be a special edition with some top secret added extras. I’ll be sure to update here with any news as soon as I get it, and be sure to follow @Robot_Overlords on Twitter for news about the film.

 

Elite is back! A guide for the uninitiated…

A version of this first appeared over at the Gollancz Blog.

I was delighted to hear that classic game ELITE was making a comeback this year, and even more delighted when I learned that Gollancz would be publishing a trio of tie-in novels. But what is thing you call ELITE, you cry? You mean you don’t know?!

Well, I had a similar reaction from some of m’learned (or not) sales colleagues at Orion Publishing, so I put together the following to help them sell it in…

 

Morning all,

It has come to my attention that some of you are struggling to get your heads around the Elite books, so here’s a quick guide for you norms…

Elite was a space trading game launched in 1984. The player could pootle around the universe, going from space station to space station, buying and selling goods. Of course, after a while this got boring and the player would be tempted to sell weapons and narcotics to make more money to buy cool stuff like docking computers (docking was really bloody hard), but this would usually get you blown up by the space fuzz.

It was massively addictive, and I, like many others my age, spent hours hunched over my BBC B computer staring at simple graphics like this…

 

That triangle thing is a spaceship, the dodecahedron thingy with the letterbox is a space station.
That triangle thing is a spaceship, the dodecahedron thingy with the letterbox is a space station.

 

It was a huge influence on gaming, and for years afterwards men (mostly) of a certain age would talk whimsically of Elite and the hours of pleasure it gave them (this was years before internet porn).

Well, of course, nothing stays dead forever these days and now Elite is coming back. Only now it looks like this (click to enlarge for the full cor blimey experience)…

Holy crap! Explosions!
Holy crap! Explosions!
Big space stations! Space ships!
Big space stations! Space ships!
More explosions! More spaceships! Where do I sign??
More explosions! More spaceships! Where do I sign??

The new game has been brought to life via Kickstarter – that is, paid for by fans who will get first dibs at the game.Gollancz saw this and, as part of the Kickstarter, bought the rights to the books. The books are all set in the Elite universe and are quite different:

Elite: Wanted by Gavin Smith and Stephen Deas (writing together as Gavin Deas) is the action-packed one:

9781473201293
Action. Packed in like a contortionist in a steamer trunk.

Elite: Nemorensis by Simon Spurrier is the sexy, violent one:

9781473201279
I don’t know what word means, but it sounds cool!

Elite: Docking is difficult by Gideon Defoe is the funny one:

He wrote the brilliant Pirates in an adventure with... books. And he's not wrong about docking.
Gideon wrote the brilliant Pirates in an adventure with… books. And he’s not wrong about docking.

The current plan is to release the eBooks on 15th May and the three HBs on October 16th.

I hope this all helps and let me know if you need any further info.

All the best,

Mark

 

 

My Robot Occupation Movies #5 – Star Wars Trilogy

Fifth in a series – Imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

Is there really any more you can say about Star Wars? Type those two words into Google and you get “About” 1,110,000,000 results. That’s roughly a third of the number of stars in our galaxy. And I’ve already written about how it changed me when I first saw it, so what’s new?

This Robot Occupation Movies thread is, let’s be honest, a thinly-veiled rip-off of Desert Island Discs. A radio show where you tell your life story through 8 pieces of music. And I couldn’t tell my life story without referring to Star Wars. Slice me in two and you’ll see this logo running through me like a stick of rock:

Daaaaa! Dun-dun...
Daaaaa! Dun-dun… dun-dun-dah-dah-dah-d-d-dun-dah-dah-dah-d-d-dun-dah-dah-dah-bu-bu-bum-ta-da-da-bum-bum…

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI, which made me think back to when I first saw it at the Odeon in Hastings. I was on holiday, it was quite late in the summer, I still hadn’t seen it, and was panicking that I might never. My mum was more of a Coronation Street fan and didn’t want to watch it, so, after checking with the lady at the box office that someone could keep an eye on me (oh, mum!), she paid for my ticket and I went in alone. The cinema was far from full; just a handful of people scattered around the auditorium, and so I found a quiet row and settled in. The sense memory from that first screening is still with me now, the thrills I got from watching Luke and Vader duke it out still resonate, and I have to confess that there were a few tears. It was over. Oh, there were rumours of more films to come, but I somehow knew that this would be it.

Of course, now we know that it wasn’t the end. But here’s a quick timeline of my Star Wars experience. Starting before the dark times… before the Jar-Jar…

A long time ago...

My fifth birthday. Dad taking me to see it for the first time. I’m pretty sure it was at the Odeon in Woolwich.

Now a church... pfft...
Now a church… pfft…

The next film I went to see was a re-release of Disney’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. As queued to get in, we stood by lobby cards showing scenes from Star Wars. It was still showing! I remember being annoyed that we couldn’t go and see it again.

So, I begged and begged until mum took me to see it again. I remember boasting to a lady on the bus that I was going to see it for the second time.

For my next birthday I got the film score: Star Wars highlights on one side, and Holst’s Planets suite on the other.

Collecting the trading cards, playing flicksies and winning more, chewing on the rock-hard pink, powder-dusted gum.

Bad guys! Boooo!
Bad guys! Boooo!

Being friends with Gregory, the kid next door, because he had a cool Stormtrooper gun.

Going to the Brent Cross shopping centre to blow my birthday money on figures and an X-Wing. Reading the Marvel comics every week and loving that Han was fighting alongside a giant green rabbit called Jaxxon…

Only 10p!
Only 10p!

Feeling betrayed and disappointed that suddenly everyone in my class was now into this Superman film! I thought we all loved Star Wars!

Buying a second-hand hardback copy of the Star Wars novel at the school jumble sale (which I still have!) and reading it again and again and wondering why it wasn’t exactly the same as the film – Luke is Blue Five?!

Being told by my uncle that a friend of his played a Stormtrooper! (I never verified this, but he did know a stuntman called Nosher Powell who is credited on IMDb).

Watching the Star Wars Holiday Special at Christmas in Ireland and getting cross with my granddad who kept switching over to the horse racing (of course, I now realise he was doing me a huge favour).

Mum and dad calling me downstairs to see a clip from the new film THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on TV – it was the “I love you… I know” bit, and I recall welling-up and being terrified that Han was going to die.

Dad taking me to see TESB at the Odeon Leicester Square. We were in the front row of the balcony, and he ripped my bag of popcorn open, spilling it on the poor people below. Sorry if you were one of them.

Being in a daze afterwards, wondering if Darth Vader was lying out of his arse, or if Ben was the fibber.

More comics, though of course, they didn’t have Han in them any more. People moan about Ewoks, but we had Hoojibs…

hoojib

The longest wait between films ever.

Trying to use the Force one day. Didn’t work. The day I discovered disillusionment.

Watching a trailer for Return of the Jedi on the Jonathan King‘s show Entertainment USA and nearly exploding with excitement.

That screening of Jedi in Hastings and thinking it was over forever.

Years of keeping the faith, reading and re-reading the comics and the books. Watching the movies on VHS again and again and again.

Reading the Timothy Zahn novels and liking that the franchise had grown-up a bit. The characters still felt alive.

Thinking about having the Throne Room and Finale cue for our wedding march music, deciding against it and later regretting it.

Working at Unity Theatre with the wonderful Declan Mulholland – the original Jabba the Hutt! – and learning that Harrison Ford loved a pint with the cast and crew.

Hearing rumours of a new movie. Maybe episodes 7-9!

A prequel, you say? Hmm… interesting…

Hearing the title THE PHANTOM MENACE for the first time, and not being too worried that it was silly. All the titles are a bit silly if you think about it, aren’t they (the years of denial began here).

Seeing the trailer on The Big Breakfast and sharing everyone’s excitement.

Listening to the soundtrack in the car with friends and liking Duel of the fates.

Watching the Phantom Menace and, honestly, being okay with it. The anger came much later.

Watching ATTACK OF THE CLONES when holidaying in Spain so I could see the Obi Wan headbutt that was removed in the UK to get a 12a certificate (it lasted little more than a second). And Yoda in Spanish is always fun…

Being late for a screening of REVENGE OF THE SITH and not really minding.

Giving my nephew my old Star Wars figures, which he then eventually gave to his younger brother, who then handed them back down to my kids.

Watching the movies with my kids, and making it clear that any preference for the prequels over the originals will result in immediate ejection from the home.

Writing a movie with so much Star Wars in its DNA that… well, we’re back to the rock analogy again.

And now we have the new movies on the horizon, with that guy from the Big Bang Theory directing them…

Well, I've never seen them in the same room together, have you?
Well, I’ve never seen them in the same room together, have you?

So it looks like Star Wars will always be with me. It’s affected some people so much that they dress up as characters (cool)…

Hey, we were in a rush, okay?!
Hey, we were in a rush, okay?!

…or even declare it as their religion (crazy).

I wouldn’t go that far, but for a movie about knights, scoundrels, droids, princesses and dark lords, it’s had a pretty profound affect on my life. I didn’t name my kids Luke, or Leia, but I did become obsessed with its making, and through it discovered how movies were created. I started reading Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, I fell in love with film scores and classical music. Through its contemporaries I found Coppola, Spielberg, Hammer Horror, David Lean, Ridley Scott, Peter Weir, Kurosawa and so many other artistic avenues that I might never have found without it nudging me in their direction.

So, thank you Star Wars. It’s been and up and down relationship, but I wouldn’t be the same without you.

And may the force be with you… always.

My Robot Occupation Movies #1 – Blade Runner

My son is at an age where rating things is all-important. The most common question I get from him after we watch a movie is, ‘How many stars would you give that?’ This in turn has led to an extended ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ conversation.

Well, he’s got me thinking. Just what are my favourite movies? And why? So, over the next few blog posts I’ll be putting these thoughts into some kind of order. So, imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

These have to be the movies you simply couldn’t live without. They don’t have to be the best films ever, just the ones that mean the most to you. The ones that tell your own story.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to start, as all good stories should, in the middle somewhere…

I first saw Blade Runner at my friend Kristian’s place. It was his birthday, and I’m guessing we were 11/12 years old. The room was full of boys expecting a kind-of Indiana Jones in the future. That’s what the VHS cover art promised, and that never lies, right?

In stereo!
In stereo!

What we got was something that split the room. Most of the group found it boring. Just me, Kris, and another kid called David Snell thought it was cool, though if you asked any of us to explain it, I doubt we could have managed anything more articulate than “There’s this bloke who has to hunt these robots – no, replicants! – and there’s a cool bit where this guy gets his eyes gouged out, and it was all very dark…”

But then the Marvel comic adaptation started appearing in the back of my weekly Return of the Jedi comic, and the story started making more sense. I read this again and again, then rented the movie, and there was definitely more than first met the eye with this film.

Too late for my GCSE English (and probably just as well) I found a film tie-in copy of Blade Runner in my local second hand bookshop. Only it wasn’t a mere tie-in, this was an original book by some guy called Philip K Dick (snigger). This would surely answer all my outstanding questions! Oh boy, was I wrong. Dick’s incredible book, with its meditation on identity and reality, just brought a million more questions flooding to my brain.

Then, on my 18th birthday, I went alone to the Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue to see the legendary director’s cut (yeah, I know how to party!). To see that grand opening on the big screen with Vangelis’s score turned up to 11 was just amazing, though – to be honest – I missed the much-maligned voice-over. And to fully understand the whole meaning of the unicorn footage, I had to read Paul M Sammon’s excellent book FUTURE NOIR.

Since then, I’ve bought various VHS and DVD special editions and box sets. It’s bloody exhausting trying to make sense of this film. I’m now not convinced that Deckard is a replicant. That whole backstory now feels like Ridley retconning, and I still miss that voiceover.

My wife has yet to see the film all the way through without falling asleep. I have younger colleagues who can admire the film, but wouldn’t rate it as a classic, and I firmly believe that this is because you had to make the journey with this film for it to have its full impact. From first viewing, to comic, to book, to more books, director’s cuts and final cuts, to box sets with little dinky toy Spinners in them.

It is imperfect, but its riddles will never fully be resolved, and that’s one reason why I love it.

Here’s the orignal trailer. In keeping with the film’s history, it’s terrible:

PS. My friend Kristian also introduced me to Mad Max 1 & 2, various horror movies, and Firefox, and for that I shall always be grateful.

Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country is bloody… (spoiler free review)

I remember getting an email from my colleague Simon Spanton some years ago. It was a simple message, ‘You’ll like this.’ Attached to the email was a file with the first few chapters of a book he wanted to buy for Gollancz called The Blade Itself. I opened the attachment and started to read.

He wasn’t wrong; the combination of black humour, violence and dental torture appealed to me very much. I wanted to read more and I’m happy to say that when we published The Blade Itself it was something of a hit (that was a golden summer for Gollancz debuts, also published were The Lies of Locke Lamora and Stormcaller – all belters).

I’m also happy to say that I’ve got to know Joe Abercrombie a bit over the years and should declare that before ploughing into this review of this latest THE RED COUNTRY. I’ll also do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but if you’d rather go in cold, then come back when you’ve read the book.

When Joe announced that his next book would be a Western, but still set in the same world as his previous books, I was excited and slightly worried. The Western genre is incredibly tricky to pull off, especially in literature. Even in the movies, you could count the really good Westerns of the last 20 years on one hand (Unforgiven, Assassination of Jesse James… and… er… that might be it).

But what Joe understands is that Westerns aren’t about Sheriffs, or shootouts, or John bloody Wayne, they’re about the frontier. The farthest reaches of civilisation where lawlessness is the norm, where the regular rules don’t apply and death is ever-present. And what he’s done is take some of his most interesting and complex characters, drop them at the very edge of his world, and let the chaos unfold.

There are some new characters; Shy is a woman with an outlaw past trying to reform her life on a farm. She’s one part Calamity Jane (the Deadwood version) and one part Marion Ravenwood (the Raiders version).

Temple is a classic Abercrombie coward; he wants to be a good man, he promises that next time he’ll make a stand, but every time he caves in and takes the easy option.

Lamb is Shy’s stepfather – described as ‘some kind of coward’, he too steps away from any kind of confrontation, and would rather be alone working in the fields than raise his fists.

And there are some old favourites, not least Nicomo Cosca, here playing a combination of Richard Harris in Unforgiven and General Custer. He even has his own biographer, scribbling his every utterance for posterity.

Oh, and of you watch the book’s teaser trailer you might just see something significant…

Did you see it? The fingers? Count ’em… Nine!

Shy’s little brother and sister are stolen and she and Lamb follow their trail to get them back. And as they’re led further and further west, you realise that this will be no breakneck chase. This story unfolds like The Searchers and their quest will continue through blistering desert heat, driving rain and deep snow. They will encounter so much bloody violence that Joe gives Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian a run for its money for gallons of claret spilt. And, as always with Joe’s books, villains reveal themselves to complex individuals, the heroes of their own stories, and our heroes will make choices that are questionable at best.

Joe has clearly been watching a lot of Deadwood, a lot of classic Spaghetti Westerns, a lot of Eastwood, and he’s been reading a lot of Elmore Leonard’s Western stories. This could have been a mess and, if you read Joe’s blog, you’ll know that this has been hard work for him. But it’s a terrific read, a picaresque journey through a dying wasteland and a world about to change. The action is intense, but you never get lost in the mayhem, the story is complex, but it’s a joy to read, and the ending will leave you wanting more.

Saddle-up and enjoy the ride.

Mitch Benn’s Terra

It’s a perk, nay privilege, of working for a publisher that I often get to see manuscripts of books long before anyone else. So you may well see a few posts like this where I’ll start eulogising about a book that you won’t be able to read for months if not longer.

But I finished this one on the train home today and I’m still fizzing about it and I like to wax lyrical about stuff I like while it’s still fresh. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks a spoiler is hearing anything at all to do with the story (and there are people out there like that), then adios and I’ll see you next time, amigo.

There’s a great story behind how Simon Spanton at Gollancz acquired this book, and being a fan of Mitch Benn’s songs on the Now Show I was definitely intrigued if maybe a tad doubtful. ‘Celebrity’ authors’ books (though I doubt Mitch would cast himself as your typical sleb) are usually an exercise in stunt publishing and a quick buck for all concerned*, but by the end of the first page I was totally convinced that this was something special.

I won’t say too much other than TERRA begins with an alien from a distant planet abducting a human baby on Earth. The story starts like a Roald Dahl classic with the worst parents in the world, and then becomes a love letter to Douglas Adams, and then becomes its own thing entirely; truly wonderful, laugh out loud funny and genuinely moving, wearing its heart on its sleeve and daring you not to blub near the end. If there’s one criticism, it’s that it has that old SF trope ‘silly name syndrome’ – all consonants and no vowels – but even that seems to be a tip of the hat to Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and you soon get into the groove.

The only downside is that it’s not out till 2013, but it’s going to be a key book for Gollancz and I’m sure you won’t be able to miss it. In the meantime, here’s Mitch’s finest 5m 27s…

*Yes, I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think Katie Price writes every word of her bestselling novels. Anne Widdecombe does write all her own stuff however, so you takes your choice…