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The Top 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century So Far

Many have tried to compile a list of the best science fiction movies of the 21st century… all have failed. Until now… maybe.

In a brave attempt to distil from a ton of good movies the best 10 of the new millennium, here are my Top 10. Take it or leave it, but I’ve tried to avoid the more bogus entries. So you won’t find Oscar-bait here like District 9 (2009) – a movie that has virtually no sci-fi in it – or even the wonderful Korean hit movie The Host (2006) – as this is actually a horror movie. Nor will you find movies that are “technically” sci-fi in name only, such as the great Brit flic “28 Days Late” (2002) as this is actually a zombie movie.

Nor will you find much of the bloated, brainless CGI action-fests that fill so many of our multiplexes nowadays.  The movies below have earned the right to be here. So without further ado and in no particular order…

Battle Royale (2000)

This movie explodes onto your screen with such daring and style it’s impossible to resist. In a near future Japan the government has found a rather unique way of tackling juvenile delinquency. You and your classmates are chosen at random, stuck on an island with a variety of lethal weaponry, and must kill each other before your explosive neck collars take your head off. Kinji Fukasaku’s adaptation of the banned Japanese cult novel by Koshun Takami is a rollicking good roller coaster of a movie, as sweet schoolgirls and naïve schoolboys turn on another to escape their no-win situation. Filmed with sadistic glee, the movie has a serious message about individualism in a society that favours conformity.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

What’s that? Groans? But hear me out… when Keanu returned in triumph in The Matrix (1999) it heralded a new era of science fiction… one where everyone wore long overcoats and performed gravity-defying somersaults while shooting hand weapons (Equilibrium, anyone?) . But stylish as that was, The Matrix Reloaded did what all good sequels should do. It went one step further. Now the bad guys are even more stylish, the coats even longer, the gun battles go on for hours, and the superhuman avatars chase each other in one of the best freeway stunt sequences ever filmed. Does he CGI hold up today? Not as well as it should, but when this was shown in cinemas audiences were breathless with the possibility of what could be done with computers. Maybe we’re all still living in the Matrix now. Just don’t mention the third film…

Primer (2004)

Shot on a miniscule budget, this is THE head-scratching time travel movie you’ve been waiting for. With a plot so complicated it’s impossible to follow, this would set the blueprint for many of the “mind-bending” Hollywood movies in the years ahead. The concept is simple, some friends invent time travel. But the combination of mind-blurring science and labyrinthine plot twists make this one of the most interesting and original movies of the 21st century.

Timecrimes (2007)

This Spanish low budget sci-fi movie is one of those films that’s excruciating to watch, because you can kind of guess what’s coming next… only you can’t. It’s also been quite influential… and that’s putting it nicely. Check out Triangle (2009) if you don’t believe me. Timecrimes is a rarity nowadays… a sci-fi comedy thriller that shows what happens when time travel intrudes upon the life of an ordinary slob. Cue a hilarious and toe-curling mixture of coincidences, bad luck and stupid errors that put its unlikely hero in more and more peril. Can he make everything right again at the end? Where even is the end? An extremely entertaining and clever movie with a wicked streak of black comedy.

Tron Legacy (2010)

I honestly don’t know why there’s not more love for Joseph Kosinski’s sequel to the 1982 Disney movie Tron. With technology and VR having moved on, it seemed timely if somewhat bizarre to do a sequel 28 years later. But this time Disney got it right: a killer soundtrack, the most beautiful people imaginable, and an updated look that is not so much ’80s video games as a sleek iPhone, all make this a superslick movie that is beautifully shot and a wonder to behold. Unlike the original movie, there’s also an emotional subplot involving our hero, who finds himself zapped into a video game world, and his father, who created said video game world and got trapped in it 25 years earlier. Again, this is a sequel that extends the original universe. So where we had light cycles, we now have light planes. Add in a standout cameo by Michael Sheen as a David Bowie impersonating bartender, and you have a hit. What’s not to like?

Under the Skin (2013)

Do you like watching Scarlet Johansen seduce Scottish men and eat them? Then you’ll love this arthouse sci-fi horror movie. Apparently the film’s ultra-realistic pickup scenes were shot by having Johansen go undercover in Glasgow in a bad wig chatting to various random strangers. What puzzles me is how anyone could not recognize Scarlet Johansen. But the result is a movie that resembles that great 70s cult film The Man Who Fell To Earth, depicting a grounded take on what fist contact between humans and a stranded alien might look like. There are some bold visual set pieces here also as Johansen lures the men… well, inside her. A very dark and unusual film.

Passengers (2016)

Well, here it is. The dumb Hollywood blockbuster. It ticks all the boxes. Hot female star? Check. Hot male star? Check. Big space explosions? Check. Ludicrously expensive production budget? Check. A black comedy about uncaring corporations and the essential hopelessness of the human situation? Check… wait, what? This apparently boring tail of a person named Jim stranded alone on an interstellar cruise ship after being woken up too early from hypersleep is enlivened by terrific performances from Chris Pratt (fresh from his success in Guardians of the Galaxy ) and Jennifer Lawrence. Once again, Michael Sheen pops up as an AI bartender (is he making a career of this?) dispensing wonderful platitudes that fail to help the hero out of his situation. Jim decides he’s had enough of being alone and decides to wake up a fellow passenger, doming them both to total isolation for the rest of their life as the ship takes 90 years to reach its destination. There are the usual space shenanigans, explosions, and some  wonderful gravity-defying SFX, but the movie has an emotional core and humanity that makes it a cut above most blockbusters. In short, it’s what a Hollywood movie should be.

 

Ex Machina (2014)

Alex Garland is responsible for such genre greats as 28 Days Later and the less spectacular Sunshine. But here he steps firmly into sci-fi territory with a movie that pretends to be a lot cleverer than it is. Oscar Isaacs is terrific as the unpredictable and slightly bullying head of a large IT corporation who invites a random employee to test out whether his latest invention, a fembot, is truly sentient. The results, predictably, do not end well. Superb acting and a lot of head-scratching enliven a film that perhaps contains too many shots of hills covered in clouds. And it features one particularly memorable dance sequence.

Inception (2010)

Ah, Inception. There are so many things wrong with this film, but then again, there are so many things right with it. On the one hand, Christopher Nolan’s cgi-fest looks so great. Its visuals have been highly influential – sumptuous Marvel snorefest Doctor Strange (2016) seems to have borrowed heavily from it.  But when corporate saboteur Leonardo Di Caprio invades his target’s dreams he finds… nothing out of the ordinary really. Can it be that top-level businesspeople only dream about board meetings and big houses? Anyhoo… a clever twist involves the resurgence of DiCaprios dead, mad wife into his dreams, essentially putting a spanner in the works whenever he tries to go on a mission. Is it a manifestation of his subconsciousness? But the bravura sequence is the finale, in which there is a dream within a dream within a dream, until by the end of the movie we haven’t a clue whether we are awake or still dreaming. You have to admire a Hollywood movie that doesn’t tell you what’s going on. And so do audiences, apparently, as this was a monster hit as well as being critically acclaimed.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

This will be known as “The movie that bucked the trend”.  In a time when superhero movies were getting increasingly “dark” (read dour and pompous) James Gunn’s rollicking ride back to the ’70s tells you it is going to do something rather different in the opening scene, where Starlord (Chris Pratt in a career-defining role), an intergalactic freebooter and modern-day Han Solo, picks up an alien lizard and uses it as a microphone to sing a few bars of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” while dancing to his Sony Walkman. A joyous film that puts the fun back into superhero movies, Guardians is the Star Wars of its generation. It’s shouty, loud, colourful and warm. With awesome visual effects and a lot of fun references to the early marvel universe and Jack Kirby’s myriad creations, by the end of it we are truly immersed in this brilliantly realized comic book sci-fi universe. Dance-off, anyone?

 

 

 

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Nightscape reviews & Fantasycon 2017!

Well, here is a nice surprise. A review of my horror short story collection NIGHTSCAPE, no less!

The reader calls several of the stories “gems” and “fabulously suspenseful”!

You can check out the reviews along with synopses of the stories here:

Or you can just go ahead and find the entire book here:

There will be more news coming soon. Not to mention a special post on Fantasycon 2017.

Fantasycon is the annual convention run by the British Fantasy Society. This year it’s in Peterborough, near Cambridge, England. It takes place from September 29th – 1st October. I’ll be speaking on panels and giving an author reading along with some uber-talented individuals, many of whom are very well known in the fields of horror and fantasy writing. Come along and join the fun!

More news about NIGHTSCAPE!

My new short story collection, NIGHTSCAPE is now available in Paperback!

You can get a teaser of what’s in the book here

If you’re a fan of the Twilight Zone, or if you like a dash of Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury or Stephen King in your dark fiction. check out the short stories below. You can also buy the gorgeous hardback edition from Parallel Universe Press!

 

NIGHTSCAPE is available from the following retailers by clicking on the links below:

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2u5RRNz

Amazon UK http://amzn.to/2tQEKo9

Barnes & Noble http://bit.ly/2hhnBhu

Parallel Universe Publications  http://bit.ly/2uR0pdf

 

NIGHTSCAPE!

Today I’m very proud to announce that my latest collection of horror short stories, NIGHTSCAPE, has been released by Parallel Universe Press in this glorious hardback edition!

In this collection of nine unsettling stories you will read about…

A  man who returns to his childhood home to find that there’s something very wrong with the family pet…

A woman with schizophrenia who becomes enamoured with an abandoned children’s toy…

A Roman legion which marches into first century Scotland only to come face to face with terrifying creatures from ancient myth…

Three outcasts who are waiting to be sacrificed to a monstrous creature after a nuclear war has wiped out civilization…

A widower who turns to black magic to bring back the lover he lost in a horrific car crash…

A troubled married couple who inherit a cottage once owned by a legendary Leicestershire witch…

And more!

So if you love horror short stories in the vein of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Clive Barker, you’ll enjoy NIGHTSCAPE. And who knows, maybe it will enjoy you!

Currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and direct from Parallel Universe Publications.

10 MARVEL SUPER-HEROES WHO DESERVE THEIR OWN MOVIES!

We’ve seen the X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, The FF, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Ant Man. On TV we have Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. But there are plenty of less well-known Marvel Super-Heroes who possibly deserve their own movies. Here’s a selection of some of the best candidates:

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Nova

Teenager Richard Ryder (because every superhero needs an alliterated name) gets blasted with a space ray and turned into a human rocket! Nova was never much more than a Spider-man clone. In the Psychedelic Seventies he fought such far-out cats as The Sphinx, Megaman (whose key attribute was having no face), and The Condor (a guy with wings) amongst others before becoming a member of the less-than-super New Warriors. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to the Nova Core of Xanthar, the alien race that gave Nova his powers. But surely anyone with a costume this cool deserves his own movie?

 

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Dazzler

Interesting fact: Dazzler was supposed to be a movie right from the start. The character was ushered into the pages of X-Men purely to plug an onscreen character who was to both sing and act! The movie and the songstress never materialized, but Alison Blaire, a disco queen who can shoot light out of her body, became a regular member of the X-Men. With the rocking ’70s soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy, and her discotastic costume, has the time finally come for the Dazzler to shine?

 

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Moon Knight

Of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, few have undergone so many changes as Moon Knight. Appearing in Werewolf by Night #32 as a mercenary who was given a silver costume to hunt down the titular werewolf, Marc Spector morphed into a caped crusader to rival even Batman, before becoming endowed with supernatural powers courtesy of Egyptian god Konshu, dying, being resurrected, being briefly possessed by a demon, infected with lycanthropy, and even suffering multi-personality disorder from the pressure of adopting too many disguises a-la Mission Impossible!

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Captain Britain

The good captain was designed by Marvell UK in the 1970s to be Britain’s answer to Captain America. Unfortunately, he had a shaky start. Given a magic staff by Merlin (yes, the King Arthur one) Brian Braddock becomes a superhuman powerhouse who fought the Red Skull alongside Steve Rogers. The series hobbled along until scribe Alan Moore reinvented the character in the 1980’s as a strapping blonde mimbo who survived rather than won his battles against foes far cleverer than himself. Later stories had him joining comedy superhero team Excalibur alongside several former X-Men. But maybe it’s time Cap had his own movie. Heck, it worked for Ant-Man. Interesting factoid: his sister is Betsy Braddock, aka Psyclocke!

 

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The Son of Satan

Yes, you heard right. It’s fair to say that Marvel in the 1970s was… experimental. One of the better inventions of that time was Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan himself! Debuting in the pages of Ghost Rider #1 Hellstrom is constantly at war both with his own infernal nature and his demonic dad. He eventually got his own series before it was cancelled due to a panel that was considered too blasphemous ever to be reproduced! Surely a character this dark deserves his own TV show!

 

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Power Pack

Louise Simonson and June Brigman created this unique superhero team of children. The Power family find themselves in the middle of a secret war between the warlike alien Snarks (who look like walking crickets) and the peace-loving Kymellians (who look like sea-horses). When a Kymelian sacrifices himself to save the kids, they each gain one of his super-abilities. The series was ground-breaking for its realistic psychology, showing the kids scared, brave, petulant and spoiled, just like real kids. I have a soft spot for Power Pack. It’s my very favourite comic, and I’ll personally love to see it become a live action movie, if only as an antidote to all the dark and depressing fare that’s been served up recently.

 

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Machine Man

Here’s a character who’s better than he looks. Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, is an unusual comic book superhero, because he’s a robot! X-51 is a sentient and rather sensitive android. When his creator is killed, he decides to go off and tackle crime, along with his Go-Go-Gadget arms and legs. Created by comics legend Jack Kirby in the back pages of “2001: A Space Odyssey” , X-51 was also memorably drawn by Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. There’s something both moving and creepy about a character trying to pretend to be human, even down to wearing a latex face mask and dark glasses! One of Marvel’s more interesting characters.

 

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Howard the Duck

I know what you’re thinking. But try and forget the sickeningly-sweet George Lucas aberration and think more along the lines of a rather adult ALF. Now you’re closer to Steve Gerber’s bizarre vision of a duck trapped in a world not of his own making. Hailing from another dimension, cigar-smoking, wise-cracking Howard finds himself in Cleveland and up to his feathers in trouble. The comic was a satirical take on superheroes that sometimes had to be read to be believed. Vegetarian supervillain, anyone?

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Doctor Zero and Saint George

In the mid-1980s Marvel’s mature comics line, Epic, launched a series of titles outside the Marvel Universe. “The Shadowline Saga” involved a world where superheroes were non-existent, but where a second race lived alongside our own. Possessing awesome powers, some of these were sinister, others heroic, but none were what they seemed. Cue Doctor Zero, an immortal who pretends to be a superhero. Is he really a supervillain, or does he have a more Machiavellian scheme for the human race? Saint George, meanwhile, is a human priest who is given a suit of technologically advanced armour and sent on a crusade to rid the world of dangerous “shadows”. Each series, along with another about a super team called “Powerline” ran for a limited time before being wrapped up. But the series crated some memorable characters and had some interesting artwork by Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz (of TV’s “Legion” fame), and just might be something fresh and different compared to the existing Cinematic Universe. Time for a change, anyone?

 

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So there you have it. Plenty of weirder options for Marvel to explore. And I haven’t even mentioned Alpha Flight, Ka-Zar, The Human Fly, Killraven, The Living Mummy, Skull the Slayer, or Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner! Do you agree with my choices or have I left out anyone you’d like to see? Maybe you have a burning desire to see a West Coast Avengers movie or to witness the Avengers clash with the Squadron Supreme? Food for thought for the movie gods at Marvel Studios.

Eastercon 2017 Review!

For those who don’t know, Eastercon is the annual British National Science Fiction Convention. Now in it’s 68th year, it draws together an eclectic mix of sci-fi, fantasy, comic book and horror fans, creators, writers, illustrators, artists, cosplayers, and booksellers, as well as a whole host of other interesting people. This year it took place in Birmingham, England, under the moniker of Innominate. Its logo  was a ( presumably) green alien head. I went along and took part. He’s what happened…

 

 

I had two events planned for Innominate. The first was a panel on comic book legend Jack Kirby. Most people know Kirby from his days with Marvel  in the Sixties. In fact, Jack “King” Kirby, or Jolly Jack Kirby (whichever you prefer) was an influential comics creator who co-created Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman’s nemesis Darkseid and a whole host of other even wilder characters. This was a lot of fun, even though it took place less than an hour after I had arrived and before I’d even booked into my hotel.  But bringing my hastily-acquired knowledge of how Kirby actually invented modern superheroes was very enjoyable. My fellow panellists, Stephen Aryan, Ali Baker, Kin Ming-Looi and Adele Terrell all brought their considerable knowledge and talents to bear.

Panel over, it was time to get my bearings and have a breather from the 2 hour drive down a congested M6. There were almost a thousand people in attendance, with sci-fi legend Pat Cadigan, illustrator Judith Clute and art connoisseur Colin HArris all being the guests of honour.  I checked in with a few friends I hadn’t seen since… well, the last Eastercon, missed several interesting-looking panels. I then attended the “The Explosive Opening Ceremony”. Thanks to a scientists from the Royal Institute, it was indeed explosive, and I will never forget the impressive sight of a luminous courgette.

Missing panels is something of a hobby of mine at Eastercon. I missed a couple more that night, but managed to attend both the art show reception and a Gollancz launch party. Both were curiously low-key affairs, with guests simply milling about with little or no introduction. I got the impression these were for “people in the know” whoever they were, and felt a little excluded, but even so I managed to chat briefly to some intriguing folks.

I decided to skip the Regency ball (not being a fan of how people were actually treated in the Regency period) and the Blake’s 7 Wobblevision (which I’m sure was good fun) and tried to grab some actual sleep. Car parking was a bit steep in Birmingham. Fortunately, I left my car next to the A-Team’s van ( I never did find out who it belonged to) and saved some cash courtesy of a reduced parking ticket from the con hotel, which was great value for money!

 

Jack Kirby shows his trademark style!

 

Saturday was a busy day indeed. I lost some time trying to find my way around the NEC (not a good idea when there’s a 24-hour gaming convention on) and ended up driving to Coventry! Thankfully, and against all odds, I managed to arrive in time for my kaffeeklatsch. These were great ways to speak with several fascinating guests at the con, including author Adrian Tchaikovsky and lit agent John Jarrold. After that, I missed a few more panels chatting in the bar, before heading into the panel titled *punk. This was a very entertaining and informative talk on the various “punk” genres, including steampunk, cyberpunk, and even weirdpunk ( which I never knew was a thing) . The discussion was lively with issues of class inevitably being thrown up against steampunk. The panellists were all fantastic, and I left with the feeling that I knew more than when I entered. Which is always a good thing.

I am embarrassed to say that I attended very few other panels that day. Some of these were just fun (Towel-fu, Sofa Racing and Hungry Human Hippos) some were a bit too technical for me (Neurodiversity, 3D printing, and a workshop on a Dremel – something about which I am still unenlightened), and some of which conflicted with lunch. Although this last point sounds trite, when you’re on your feet for 18 hours a day, lunch becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, many of the panels conflicted with the street food that was on sale in the fan lounge, while the hotel food was exorbitantly priced. For someone with certain dietary needs, food became an increasing problem, resulting in nachos for breakfast. Suffice to say, I left the con never wanting to see another baked potato. May I suggest some salad, vegetables and pasta in the future?

But otherwise Saturday night was (as I remember) filled with good conversation around the bar, mainly involving 2000AD, and the world’s most insanely difficult sci-fi pub quiz. So afterwards I headed back to my hotel to get a well-earned 5 hours rest!

Sunday was another busy day. Beginning with a sci-fi criticism masterclass by Manchester University’s Geoff Ryman on Afrofuturism, it continued with a panel on writing scifi with and about disability. This was a terrific discussion which made me realise just how few positive portrayals of people with disability there are. Even heroic disabled characters have to either overcome their disability or are given some great super-power to compensate (I’m thinking of you, Georgie Laforge). A lively talk from Pat Cadigan topped the day off with a session entitled “Pat Cadigan Explains It All”. And she did, with a rather graphic demonstration that I feel I will never forget. The other panels were mostly sci-fi, and  I would have liked to see  a little more fantasy and horror in the programme. But I guess that’s why it’s called a Sci-Fi convention! Much of the rest of the evening was mainly preoccupied with dinner. Sadly, the Groan-Along showing of Ed Wood’s sci-fi fiasco”Plan 9 From Outer Space” was cancelled due to someone bringing the wrong DVD. The replacement, “Transformers” failed to find an audience. So instead I had a long and lively talk with many people who wandered in and out of the fan lounge until the wee hours, when I realised I still hadn’t decided (due to a variety of reasons) on what I was going to read for my author reading at 10am the following day!

Now, 2am is not a good time to decide what you are going to be reading in less than 8 hours. However, I think I pulled it off. Sadly, my reading conflicted with my friend Arthur Chapell’s fascinating talk on sci-fi pub signs, so I had to miss that, as I couldn’t very well be absent from my own reading! Myself and grimdark author Anna Smith-Spark expected a low-energy crowd, it being the fourth day of the convention at 10am! However, the opposite was true. Many faces that were far too fresh for my liking turned up (probably due to Ms Smith-Spark’s presence, I may add), and I realized I had better be on top of my game. Fortunately, my last-minute preparation prevailed, and the reading seemed to go very well, with a lively Q&A sessions afterwards that involved such diverse subjects such as Dungeons & Dragons and the poetry of William Blake.

The con ended on a high note with the closing ceremony, attended once against by the guests of honour, and the giving of the Doc Weir award. I spent the rest of the day catching up, saying goodbye and generally making a nuisance of myself before heading home up the M6 once more. Maybe it was just that the traffic was less congested, but I felt a new surge of energy and hopefulness. It seems to be a common thing at Eastercon. The experience of being around so many creative and passionate people renews you, and you go forth into the world once more, ready to apply pen to paper, confident that there are other people out there who feel just the same as you!

My thanks to the organisers for letting me participate, and my apologies to anyone I didn’t get to speak to. See you next year!

(P.S. Some of the above may be exaggerated… just a little).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The big reveal!

As promised, here is my big news for all of you who like horror and fantasy novels. If you’re looking for the latest horror, paranormal or dark fantasy fiction, you could do worse than choose to read THE AUTUMN MAN… by yours truly!

 

The plot is a carefully kept secret, but just between you and me I can tell you that this is a contemporary supernatural story with a twist. And what a twist! You’ll never see it coming…

I’m super proud of this book. It’s the product of a lot of sweat, blood, tears, and yet more blood. As you’ll find out for yourself when you read it! So if you like your Stephen King mixed with a little Clive Barker, a dash of Anne Rice, and a healthy dose of Guillermo del Toro, this is the book for you!

More details coming soon as to how you can get your hands on a copy of what I’m sure is going to be the hottest read of the summer, if I don’t say so myself! (Never let it be said that I hide my light under a bushel).

In the meantime thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to keep coming back for more news on this exciting new title and some exclusive freebies!

The Autumn Man. He’s coming… soon!