TEN OF THE BEST…. AND THE OTHER BEST

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?

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY MUCKS OUT SMAUG’S ENCLOSURE

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”

OOT AND ABOOT

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.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, 9-YEAR OLD EDITION

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.

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY LEARNS THE MAZE

“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.

2014 SNAPSHOT

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.