“I’m thrilled to announce that Anarchy Books will be publishing novels by James Lovegrove, Eric Brown and Tony Ballantyne, along with high-calibre newcomers Vincent Holland-Keen and Alex Caine Duncan. It’s an absolute honour and a pleasure to work with such brilliant writers! more news to follow.” – www.anarchy-books.com
Hello there, whilst enjoying the party of the SFX Weekender I took part in a podcast interview alongside friends such as James Lovegrove and Joe Abercrombie. You can listen to it by clicking on the link below. Peace.
The SFX Weekender 2 Experience
by Andy Remic
(or) What I Did On My Holidays (excluding) Adventures With 8 Foot Tall Machine-Gun-Toting Bikini-Clad Sexy Über-Vixens!!
Let’s start with the bombshell – SFX Weekender 2 was the best convention I’ve ever attended, and that includes Worldcon Glasgow 2005, where I met Terry Pratchett and Iain Banks for the first time, and made a presentation of my SPIRAL books for Orbit to a crowded room who actually laughed at my jokes. Amazing!!
So, massive thanks must go to the SFX team who made it all happen, and David Bradley, Da Boss and fellow ZX Spectrum retro-geeky-freak, who kind of co-invited me, alongside Solaris Books, for the official launch of my upcoming SF Solaris novel, Cloneworld.
So then, I hear you yodel, why was it so good? Why? After all, one famous female editor told me she’d rather swim naked with piranhas than attend Camber Sands in February. Freezing wind? Check. Freezing beaches? Check. Pontins. Er. Yeah. Pontins. Double Cell Block H check. But you know what, you know what, it was actually pretty good. I mean, the chalets were similar to a Stalag, sure, as anybody who stayed there would attest (I was fortunate enough to take my wife, whose colourful language/attitude prohibited any possibility of actually staying at Pontins! The Horror!). Ignoring the exterior alarum, inside, it was the main staging area, dealer rooms and bar facilities that really set the venue alight. They were big. I mean, BIG. And it buzzed. The arena thrummed with electric excitement like no other convention I’ve ever attended. It oozed geek chic and fanboy fundom in buckets. Barrels. Starship shovels! I’ve never felt anything like it.
The actual structure of the place, of the convention, was also very, very well thought-out – the way the convention was designed, the layout, was conducive to slack-jawed browsing, wide-eyed gawping, to tongue-lolling enjoyment all underlined and accentuated by the fact that the SFX dudes had excelled themselves with filler. Filler. Stuff. You know? The gear that goes on all the time.
We had 8 foot tall machine-gun-toting bikini-clad sexy über-vixens, we had 8 foot tall blonde-bouffant quaffed super-über-sexy-super-vixens, we had 8 foot tall feather-poking underwear-flashing sexy-feather-poky über-valkyries… sorry. You get the picture. Even Craig Charles was impressed from his vantage point on the stage, and asked, with genuine angst, “Why don’t I get any of those?”. But then! Then! we had Darth Vader. And stormtroopers. Lots of stormtroopers! A whiskey-barrel of stormtroopers! Including stormtroopers from Clone Wars, and Scout Riders, and Gamorrean Guards, and lots of other armour-clad dudes who I didn’t recognise but it was sure fun to be prodded out of the way by their huge unwieldy axes.
We had a Tardis, replete with David Tenant unlookalike (go on then, I suppose he looked a bit like him, but not enough to excite my wife like the real article… but that’s another story). There were Jedi Knights, and The Emperor Himself made an appearance (boo! hiss!!) and most amusingly, my son refused to be photographed with him. There were dealer rooms and dealer stalls everywhere sporting books and mags and t-shirts and toys, which meant there was always something to look at, always something to prod. At one point, I was stood watching Craig Charles do his Q&A on stage, and my 8 year-old boy-cub tugged my sleeve and pointed out a Ghostbuster Dematerializer. Wow. Cool. Right next to Iron Man’s mask – complete with glowing eyes. Then Darth chased my 5 year-old boy-cub, attempting to turn him to the Dark Side. I kindly explained he was already there. And there was, or course, the delectable Keeley Hawes. I heard many fans gushing about how well she’d treated them; Keeley sent a lot of people away as Very Happy Shiny People. I know. I heard them masticating!
Which brings me on to…. kids. Now, I’ve been to conventions. I’ve been to lots of conventions, and many have distant dusty boring panel rooms and a bar full of old blokes getting drunk. I’ve not got a problem with this. Hell, I even enjoy this. It’s why I go. But the SFX Weekender 2 catered for kids, it catered brilliantly for kids, and my little boys had an absolutely dazzling and unique time. I admit, I wasn’t going to take them at first, but by not taking them I would have deprived them of something special. Why do they want to sit in a bar full of SF geeks drinking? I reasoned. Well. I was wrong! And you don’t get me to admit that very often!
And it wasn’t just the photo opportunities, although there were many of those (for Mum and Dad, as well as Little Boys With Toys), it wasn’t just meeting famous people like Craig Charles and (ahem!) James Lovegrove (that’s another bottle of whiskey you owe me, dude). No. It was the constant movement. Like the whole place was alive, a barrel of eels on PCP, the perennial flow from one interesting area to the next amongst the bustle of excited and like-minded people. There were the XBOX game rooms with pre-release shooters. There were Q&As on the main stage, book launches and author Q&As in the bar(s), there were areas for stars to sign and be photographed with fans… even the entrance area/reception was kitted out like a toxic wastezone, some leftover set from The Book of Eli or The Road… and most of it within eyeshot of the rest, so the whole thing was a constant assault on the senses, a chaos spinning the imagination, a spaghetti-mess of internalised cerebral euphoria. Organised chaos. With love and chocolates.
So… what made it special for me – on a personal level? Why am I ranting? Please. Allow me to explain.
I arrived on Friday to do a book launch in the Queen Victoria Bar. Due to the children in the audience, I “self-censored” the extract from my new novel, Cloneworld (published by Solaris Books, March 2011) using words such as “flipping heck” and “cheeky monkeys”. The whole thing was shakily filmed by my PA and will be posted shortly. Then, there was a signing session, and I got to meet lots of fans and people who’d enjoyed the reading and, gee, I had a really big queue.
That was pretty special. David Thomas-Moore, my editor on Cloneworld and handy über-fixer, sorted out the TV and we had a second launch – that of the video promo for Cloneworld (made professionally, I must admit, and on a very large budget, I assure you, and with music by th3 m1ss1ng), which you can now see here:
At least it got a few laughs. And explained why I was wearing a pink cowboy hat previously stolen from Ronan Keating (again, another long story).
I spent some time hanging out at the Solaris stand, signing books and chatting, and then lo! I did spy on the horizon one Robert of Rankin. He had a nice hat, but not as nice as mine, so with Pink Cowboy Wonder on noggin I headed for his table, and beseated myself beside the Noble Lord and had a very pleasant chat with the Great Man Himself. I explained that some of the deviant humour in my novels was all his fault. I don’t think he understood. But he will, one day, oh yes!
I hung out on the Angry Robot stand, again signing stock (some copies of Soul Stealers had found their way there and were being obsequious, the cheeky vampire monkeys) and thus checked out Lee Harris’s photos. Whenever you drop by Angry Robot, always check out Lee Harris’s photos. They are… amazing. And no. I refuse to comment on his PVC. Or rubber. Stop it.
I hung out with Gary Main, RAF dude and fiction fanboy, who along with his mate Rob, were very pleasant company. Gary couldn’t keep up with me on the pints, but then you’d expect this when drinking with a kickass hardened writer like myself, Hemingway or Kerouac. Heh. It was also a pleasure to heckle James Lovegrove during his Q&A session, and again credit must go to David Thomas-Moore who ran around like a man possessed, making sure us spoilt little authors had everything we needed to facilitate interaction with our fans. Around this point (events are hazy and merged) I also had a chat with the thoroughly nice Jared Shurin, he of Pornokitsch fame, and his lovely wife Anne. Yeah yeah, he wrote a bad review of Kell’s Legend at one point, but he writes so well, and so funny, that I had to forgive him. Anyway, he was a gent and Pornokitsch is a great read. Another great read is Geek Syndicate (there’s a photo here somewhere) and I did some soundbite podcasting thing for them, and an interview is imminent.
What/who else? Ahh, had a chat with the wonderful Joe Abercrombie, of whom I’m a Very Big Fan, and also Mark Charan Newton and Adrian Tchaikovsky, who I’m doing a joint signing event alongside in Leeds during March. And believe it or not, my shirt was better than Mark’s. Shh. He doesn’t like it. And I heard very bad things about his dancing. Quick words followed with a panicked and quickly exiting Mr Ian Whates, and then… yes. AWESOMENESS happened!
I met Craig Charles in the bar.
I am an unashamed Red Dwarf fanboy. Watched it since 1987 when I was doing my A levels. Spent more time watching Red Dwarf than actually doing my A levels, in fact. Even though he was incognito in the bar wearing a Big Hat, I sidled over and ordered a beer, then waited for my wife to arrive. Like a True Coward, I sent her over with the kids to get photographs (who could resist, right?), and then sidled alongside for my own cheeky photo and had a chat with The Great Dave Lister himself. Photo enclosed. I apologise for Mr Charles being unshaven, seeing as I grabbed him straight after a six and a half hour journey down from Manchester… but hey, he was so gracious and friendly, and, dammit, I was being photographed and drinking beer in the very presence of David Lister Himself. It doesn’t get Cooler than that, Cool Kat.
Finally, the SFX Awards. I probably enjoyed this more than most due to my AAA (Access All Areas) passes which meant me and my clan could bypass queues, go backstage, and watch Robert Rankin doing his sound check. Great fun. The Awards themselves kicked off with all manner of giant robots and dancers to which my kids’ jaws actually hit the floor. I ain’t kidding. Robert Rankin was a superb host for the awards, funny, charming, but still not wearing a hat anywhere near as cool as my pink cowboy number. Still, with Ronan Keating on hand to lend me fashion tips, even the mightily dressed Mark Charan Newton could never compete.
Overall, then. To conclude. The best convention I’ve been to, and sure, some of it was for personal fanboy reasons and the (wicked) AAA passes, but genuinely – this was a great event for geeks, fanboys, SFF addicts and kids. Yes. Kids. Next year, the SFX Weekender 3 is at Pontins in North Wales. Give your kids and your drooling boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives a treat and get over there. The bar will be stocked. There’ll be somebody cool on the decks. And did I mention there were 8 foot tall machine-gun-toting bikini-clad sexy über-vixens?
Thanks to Dave Bradley and the SFX Crew. Brilliant, guys, just brilliant.
and of course……… without whom……
This is intended to be neither a rant nor a whinge, and mine host Andy, in the guise of his anagrammatic ninja alter ego Mr Cyanide, has strict instructions to kung fu me in the head of it looks in danger of turning into one or the other.
[Mr Cyanide: starts limbering up in the corner, running through his kata exercises.]
My topic today is one-star reviews on Amazon – the giving and getting of them and the appropriate response to them.
Because, folks, sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – these reviews are considered, thoughtful, well written and cogently argued, and for that reason they sting but not as badly as they otherwise might. As an author you find yourself thinking, “Well, that person didn’t much like my book but at least they understood why they didn’t and they were able to take the view that, while the book didn’t appeal to them, it still might to someone else.”
In other words, they appreciate that authors are human beings, people with feelings.
Then there are the other kind of one-star reviews, less rare. You know the ones. Where someone sets out to destroy utterly the book they’ve just read. Where it isn’t enough to say they felt it was poor – they have to trash the author him/herself and heap abuse on the wretched tome in the snidiest, sneeringest manner possible until it shrivels into a weeping little ball.
Let’s get one thing straight. Those aren’t reviews. They’re character assassinations.
[Mr Cyanide: “Steady.” Robes himself in black combat gi.]
It’s true. They are. Many a time they impute dubious motives to the author, hinting that he or she may be deviant in some way. They make the schoolboy error of associating the author directly with things his/her characters do or say (“There’s a rape scene so, hmmm, the guy must be a rapist”). They express how personally offended their writer was by the perceived badness of the book.
This kind of review has no intrinsic value, other than the venting of spleen. Yet it potentially has a harmful effect on the book’s sales. It lowers the over-all star rating and thus makes the book seem less worthy of the attention of someone casually browsing the site.
It’s that old internet conundrum about power and no responsibility. Anonymous or semi-anonymous, these reviewers can say what they like without fear of being called to account for their actions. They can post remarks which they wouldn’t dare put directly to an author’s face.
[Mr Cyanide: “Certainly not mine.” Cracks knuckles menacingly.]
I speak as one who has for many years earned part of his living as a professional, paid reviewer, with a proper byline and that. I admit I may have dissed books in the past, but hopefully in as constructive a fashion as possible. These days, however, I’m altogether a mellower, more middle-aged sort, and when I come across a book I don’t like, I adopt one of two tactics. I either state as clearly as I can why the book doesn’t work and praise any good points it has, or, more usually, I ignore it altogether, damning it by exclusion.
I’m prepared to face the music if, somehow, I offend an author. They know where to find me (online).
The same can’t be said for the Amazon-haunting nitwits who freely and heatedly fling their poo around.
One should rise above their prattling, of course. One should remain loftily immune. After all, many people continue to buy and enjoy one’s books. That’s why one still has a career. What does the inane gibbering of a handful of pigshit-thick ignoramuses matter?
[Mr Cyanide: “Almost a rant and a whinge. Keep it reined in, Lovegrove.”]
Yes, sorry. As I was saying, what do a few barbed, dismissive comments matter? Precious little, in the grand scheme of things. And in the event that the content of an Amazon review is libellous, defamatory or otherwise actionable, my understanding is that you can ask to have it taken down and Amazon will almost always oblige.
However, it’s better by and large to leave the one-star reviews in place, however hurtful they are. For one thing, if you’ve annoyed someone that much, maybe you’re actually doing something right. Art isn’t about pleasing everybody. Some would aver that it’s about the opposite. Provocation is as worthwhile as, if not more so than, mere entertainment.
Also, if you can demonstrate that you’re unaffected by the invective, then that negates it, doesn’t it? If you don’t rise to the taunts, the bullies don’t and can’t win.
In closing, I offer this (courtesy of Mark Chadbourn, though other similar sites are available). It shows that even literature’s great and mighty aren’t safe from the haters.
Mind you, it’s all right for those authors. They’re dead.
[Mr Cyanide: “Right. That’s it. Hai-yahhh!”]
– James Lovegrove
Can I just add, I came across an Amazon 1 star review of the wonderful Mr Iain Banks’ Transition, a vehement attack written by a lady who’d “flicked through it in a book shop”. What?? Crazeeee?? — Thankfully, said offending article has since been removed (hopefully, followed by said offending ladeee).
- Andy Remic
Guns? Check. Tanks? Check. Mad explosions? Check. Insane missions? Check. Ba lance battles powered by energy from divine pantheons? Er, check. Rampant horny squabbling gods? Check. Gods running rampant over a futuristic Egyptianesque earth? Check. British soldiers in love with hot fiery women? Check, check and triple check, sah!
This is like no book I’ve ever read. And I mean that in a good way. It’s a kind of weird cross between Pratchett’s Pyramids, Remic’s War Machine (haha!), Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers and that happy frisky comedy, The Mummy. It’s an original, high-octane and more importantly, entertaining take on the premise of Egyptian Gods coming to life, or at least making their divine presence felt, and claiming dominion over a futuristic earth. Lovegrove drops into the mix a triumvirate of well crafted, interesting and fun characters, and you have the recipe for a rollicking adventure through various countries which reminded me a lot of Indiana Jones and James Bond, mixed up with a deviated version of Stargate.
Lt. David Westwynter is a man’s man, a good bloke with a good strong head on his shoulders. He’s a rough-and-tumble, likeable hero, stumbling through Freegypt after losing most of his unit. Until he meets the fiery Zafira (yes yes, I’ve heard all the Vauxhall jokes, and they’re very funny) and we thence become voyeurs on this gradually building, fiery relationship. Lovegrove writes with skill, humanity, and with some superb comedic touches:
At dawn, as much through luck as skill, David managed to catch and kill a lizard. He chiselled off its head with a sharp stone and they took turns to drink drips of its blood. Then they took turns to vomit.
I found myself tuned in (and turned on) to Lovegrove’s writing, his action, his characters and his humour. Lovegrove’s prose is as slick as his author photograph, and this man should have been picked as James Bond. If I wasn’t married, I’d woo him with chocolates, if only so I could get my hands on an early copy of the next book (The Age of Zeus, published 2010 by Solaris Books)!! Also, being a bit of an old Goth (and I mean the old old Goths, who liked The Sisters of Mercy and Bau Haus, etc), I found myself disturbingly attracted to the Nephs – the bad guys. Ace! Lovegrove has found a platform to ridicule the Fields of the Nephilim under guise of a fast-paced semi-military adventure. We have fights with monks, Scarab tanks, religious fervour and crocodiles. And mummies, baby, mummies! Dead troops fed through a Reanimation Facility (in a pyramid, where else?) to create mummy troops (with their brains in Canopic jars). Genius. As troops they’re dumb, yes, and I would have preferred a bit more zest to my undead battles, but Lovegrove does a great job of integrating these shambling rogues into the novel as a whole– and anyway, they make great cannon fodder for the Lightbringer and his guns ‘n bombs posse.
Overall then, The Age of Ra is a very good book indeed. I enjoyed it thoroughly, from the extremely professional slick writing, the interesting characterisation, tight plotting and a brilliantly realised and original setting. We have epic battles, tension and pathos. And I loved Zafira. Loved her to bits. Girl power, and all that. Zigga zig ah. For anybody who enjoys a mix of Egyptology and Action, I thoroughly recommend this book. Indeed, for anybody who doesn’t like Egyptology and Action, still check it out. In this day and age, huge dollops of originality are hard to come by, but Lovegrove has managed a feat of stunning creativity that will leave you hungering for more. Read The Age of Ra. It’s an experience you won’t regret!!
And cool artwork, by the way