Sunday, October 23, 2016

Legend (1985) #movie

A young man must stop the Lord of Darkness from both destroying daylight and marrying the woman he loves.

Every once in a while I have that one film or book or something or other that I've been meaning to read or watch for simply ages that I've just never gotten round to. Legend, the 1985 film directed by Ridley Scott, was one of them.

I've watched pretty much all the important 1980s fantasy films – Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, Willow, Highlander, Ladyhawke... Just not Legend. And always, my husband said to me, "No, really, it's crap. Don't."

I never listen to him.

I eventually got my way to see the film on Netflix. I regret that I will not be able to get the 125 minutes of my life back. As much as I do attempt to give films the benefit of the doubt, I couldn't help but wonder, the entire time that I was watching, whether Scott and his crew had been taking some really mean hallucinogenics while in production.

Yes, this is a quest – young dude Jack (Tom Cruise in a really, really risqué golden tunic that leaves very little to the imagination) goes to rescue the princess Lily. There are unicorns. Tim Curry, of course, steals the show as what appears to be Hellboy's grandpappy. There are dwarves too. And Tinkerbell. Oh, did I mention unicorns?

In fact, everything hinges on the unicorns that will act as a sacrifice to ring in Eternal Darkness. Muhahahahahahaha.

Nothing makes sense while our intrepid, nattily garbed young hero prances about in his gilded togs waving a sword he clearly has no idea how to use. There was one, weird scene where a dark Lily dances with the Evil Overlord, which I thought was quite pretty and surreal, but as for the rest – I suspect it will make more sense to three-year-olds who've grown up on a fare of The Magic Roundabout and Teletubbies.

And seriously? What the ever-living fuck was with all the glitter? Glitter EVERYWHERE? The cast and production crew must've found glitter in their pubes for weeks after. Glitter is insidious that way. I suspect this film must've resulted global '85-'86 Glitter Shortage.

The blurb sums up this hot mess of a fantasy cinema entirely. I'd rather watch YouTube clips spliced together from the Tim Curry scenes again than ever endure this disjointed, cobbled-together "let's attempt epic fantasy though we don't have the first clue how the hell to make it work".

I guess if you're tripping off your tits, this film will be amazeballs, but alas I'll not be tripping off my tits again anytime soon and life's too short to endure something that left me feeling a whole lot of what the fuck.

Last Wish & The Gulf by Poppy Z Brite

Title: Last Wish & The Gulf
Author: Poppy Z Brite

There are very few authors in the world who'll immediately make me drop everything I'm doing to go and purchase and read their work immediately, and Poppy Z Brite is one of them. Brite's writing was HUGELY influential on me when I was younger. He's not so much heavy on plot but more on atmosphere and description, with settings that are so tangible, you can smell the miasma of the river water and feel the stickiness of the grains of sand while you walk along the banks.

These two sort stories represent and ending and a beginning (I hope) as Brite hasn't released new fiction for a decade. "The Gulf" was the last piece he worked on before he went on a hiatus, and examines the sense of place that creeps into a person. Mired in nostalgia, it evokes environment and personal nostalgia in the aftermath of Katrina.

"Last Wish" is a deceptively simple flash piece with a wicked little hook at the end that made me gasp in delighted horror. It's short, it's nasty and it's *tight* and I truly hope that this marks the author's return to writing because this piece is *good*. The writing is tighter, has more punch than older works but features all the characteristic mood.

Brite remains my go-to for descriptive writing that paints a vivid, visceral environment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In Conversation with Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso

An anthology that's worth looking out for when it comes for available, Lights Out: Resurrection features a crop of African authors of horror and dark speculative fiction, edited by Wole Tabali. Today I welcome Ezeiyoke Chukwunoso for a little Q&A.

I realise we know very little about each other. Tell me more about you and what you love writing.

I am Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso, a charter member of African Speculative Society. My collection of short stories, Haunted Grave and Other Stories was published by Parallel Universe Publications during August this year. Prior to that, I have published stories in anthologies such as Emanation: 2+2=5, Emanation: Foray into Forever, Future Lovecraft, Lost Tales from the Mountain: Halloween Anthology Vol. II., African Roar and in so many other places. I was shortlisted in IdeasTap Inspires: Writers' Centre Norwich Writing competition, Ghana Poetry Prize, and Quickfox Poetry Competition. 

I love to write horror, fantasy and science fiction stories although not hard sci-fi. I write literary fiction too but tend to love genre fiction more.

Apart from fiction writing, I am a literary critic and I investigate literature with the lens of a philosopher. I developed a penchant for this during my BA where I majored in philosophy. I discovered that most of contemporary African Literature is useful, functionalist. It is an art that has a socio-political or anthropological relevance. If it did not tend to fight colonialism, it was post-colonialism or it was written with a moral education in view. Practically, art for art's sake, aestheticism was an endangered species. Critics like Achebe, Senghor, Ngugi wa Thiong’o favoured this. Achebe said ‘I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them. Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure. But who cares?’ And I discovered that that sort of metaphysical assumption made literature predictable and more so hindered aestheticism and the development of genre fiction in Africa for a long time. My writing and research were to propose a better metaphysical assumption that will foster the growth of literature in which art for art sake is prior to functionalism. I have published essays about this in Episteme Journal, and Savvy Journal of Contemporary African Arts.

How does living in Africa inform your writing? Tell me more about your environment, and a day in your life. 

Most of my stories are based in Enugu State in Nigeria where I grew up. In as much as fiction relies on the imagination, I often like to write about setting I am familiar with, a place I can manipulate. I like to have a strong sense of a place in my writing. Apart from the setting, my writing is often influenced by the oral and mythical thoughts of the Igbo people in Nigeria, mainly with regard to religion. I have been fascinated with religion since I was a child, once I was in the seminary hoping to become a Catholic priest. *Laughing* Religion in Nigeria and its superstition still hooks me more than ever although now intellectually. And it is this superstition and the fear inherent in it that I explore often in my horror or fantasy writing.

I currently live in Manchester. My house is near a park. I love the park. I often sit there watching people playing with their dogs. I am still wondering why I haven’t owned a dog yet.
What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading Making Wolf by Tade Thompson. I recently reviewed his Rosewater and I fall in love with his writing especially the pacing, quick page turning. Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood is what I am currently reading whenever I am commuting on the bus. I like reading on the bus, makes the journey quicker. I will be reviewing it soon. I just finished reading Dark Lullaby by Jessica Palmer, I am writing the review currently. Horrorology edited by Stephen Jones is on my bedside. I read bits of it to sleep.

Tell us more about your story as it appears in Lights Out: Resurrection.

"Eaters of Flesh" was inspired by a real event. A relative was undergoing a depression that came with some mental issue. There was this allusion among her family members that what was wrong with her was a demonic attack. Seeking for a scientific medical aid was taken out of the option. Anyway, she later met a psychologist, had a professional help and recovered. The incident, however, stayed with me and formed the basis for the story, "Eaters of Flesh".  The story appeared first in my short story collection, Haunted Grave and Other Stories

What are you writing at the moment?

I am working on my debut novel. The first chapter of the novel actually is the story that appeared in the Lights Out: Resurrection. In between the novel, I research on my philosophical essays on literature. I am writing a couple of short stories too. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Conversation with Raymond Elenwoke

I've recently had the pleasure of being included in a horror anthology of fabulous African authors, Lights Out: Resurrection that was edited by Wole Talabi, so I thought I'd take a little time to get to know my fellow authors. Today it's Raymond Elenwoke who's over for a little Q&A...

I realise we know very little about each other. Tell me more about you and what you love writing.

My name is Raymond Elenwoke, and I am a Nigerian writer. I am also an auditor and financial consultant, currently residing in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. I love writing stories that explore a variety of genres, mainly horror, thriller, speculative fiction and sci-fi.

How does living in Africa inform your writing? Tell me more about your environment, and a day in your life.

For me, the phrase “living in Africa” feels very vague, because Africa is too big and diverse to be classified as a single place. I live in Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Nigeria, and even then, living there is very different from living in, say, Elele, in the same Rivers State, because these towns/cities have very distinct personalities.

Having said that, living in Port Harcourt is an exercise in patience, both with yourself and your environment. This has affected my writing in more ways than one. In the sense that I am (still) learning to infuse the identity of the town I set my stories into the story, no matter the genre. My environment helps inform my thinking, both in terms of character development and in terms of setting. Being someone who learned his trade from consuming books and writing advice from foreign (Western) authors/movies, living in Port Harcourt helps me realise that the police procedures in Phoenix, Arizona or Luton, United Kingdom are very different from the police procedures in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. This helps me also realise that my characters will have certain challenges unique to not just the environment in which I set them, but also unique to the culture of the place AND time the story is set in.

My environment is quite dynamic. I may start the day at my desk and end it in a client’s office halfway across town, or in class, studying for my professional exams. My day usually starts at about 4.30 am, and after my morning devotion, I have to study for a bit before training/exercising for a few minutes, and then leaving the house for work. If I get to work early enough, I can write a bit, if not I have to wait until the close of work to be able to let my imagination run wild. In between this, when I am on break I could read a story or two, or watch a show to relax.

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment, I am studying for the final round of my professional exams, so this has limited my literature reading time. However, one I am reading now is Breakers by Edward W Robertson, which is a surprisingly good book about the end of the world. Before this I read the amazing Doctor Sleep by the effervescent Stephen King, and I also reviewed the excellent Rosewater by Tade Thompson, published by Apex Publications, the smartest story about an alien invasion I have ever come across. Pre-order it as it comes out in November 15, 2016. You can read my review of it here.

So is it courage or strength, And is that what I’m waiting for… I once said Rosewater would make me wax lyrica...

In addition to my professional reading, I am reading, you guessed it, Lights Out: Resurrection. Amazing collection. Seriously.

Tell us more about your story as it appears in Lights Out: Resurrection.

My story is titled "Koi-Koi". The title is derived from the sound any person who attended Boarding School in Nigeria will most likely recognise. The story revolves around Lady Koi Koi, the Secondary School Legend.

When I was approached to write a story for the collection, I had no idea what I was going to write, to be honest. I saw the email on Monday morning at the office, and realised that I had until Friday to write and submit a story. Even though I had nothing, I joyfully accepted the story, because I had been waiting for the literary event. I had a story that had been swimming beneath the surface,so I started writing. 80% into the story and about two to the deadline, I realised this was not the story for the collection, so I left it unfinished, and spent most of the day letting the story tell itself to me. When it was ready, I set about discovering it.

Koi-Koi is an imagining of origin of the Lady Koi Koi mythos, because why not? When I first heard the tale, all I could picture were legs in a pair of black heels. No body. Just from the knees down. There were more ghostly/supernatural tales from my time to choose from, but this one…this one had a silent menace about it. You always seemed to hear it, only in the dark, only at night, but you never saw it. Those who did…well, I would imagine they were either dead or too far gone t really tell us about their experience….

*sinister laugh*

What are you writing at the moment?

At the moment, I am working on a number of projects.

First off I am working on a serial story I started writing when I was studying in London a few years back. It is time for the story to come home.

I am also working jointly on a project with another amazing writer friend of mine, Seun Odukoya. The project involves Sango and Amadioha, the Yoruba and Igbo gods of thunder.

I am also finishing my novel, Rising Night, a story that has detectives, angels, demons and yes, ninjas.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Rise of African Speculative Fiction – in conversation with Geoff Ryman and Tade Thompson

A while back I let on that I'm one of the South African spokespeeps for the newly unveiled African Speculative Fiction Society. I'm going to kick off here and say that it's about high time that we got the ball rolling here in Africa. We have a vast oral tradition, not to mention a melting pot of cultures that are all uniquely African, and for too long we've been languishing under the misconception that African SFF fiction is somehow subpar. Point is it's not. When I edited Short Story Day Africa's Terra Incognita anthology, I was blown away by the beautiful wordsmiths and their stories I encountered.

Those of you who've been following my doings over the past few years will see how I've been fighting for the recognition of African SFF fiction here in my corner for what feels like forever. And let me tell you it's absolutely awesome to have others with whom I can now connect.

So, when Geoff Ryman roped me into the ASFS to help with the establishment of Africa's own speculative fiction awards, the Nommos, I jumped at the opportunity. Here's something I'm really passionate about, and I'm really happy to have my fellow ASFS folks over today (Geoff Ryman and Tade Thompson) to chat about this endeavour.

Nerine Dorman: I was a bit taken aback to be asked to get involved with the ASFS, mainly because I feel I've been fighting in the trenches here in my particular corner of Africa to try promote speculative fiction. What was the final tipping point for you to decide to get involved to help set up the Nommos?

Geoff Ryman: You know, I have no memory what kicked it off. I was was reading stuff on the African Fantasy Reading Group and just thought 'sod it, we need an award and it will have to be entirely in Africa. Just keep everybody else out, me included. I had just come back from Nairobi and had loved the writers there, their mood of owing so little to everybody else, just growing their own wild sort of beatnik scene. And I was very impressed talking to Moses Kilolo and Richard Oduor Oduku, how they had got Jalada together by talking through all the issues first. So I just starting chatting online with the group, and all those good people who formed the Awards Discussion Group came on board. At first its was difficult. We all came with assumptions about how it would work and insecurities. Sometimes it seemed like we had all agreed only to have that agreement unravel. We took the discussion out of the open reading group and made it a private message group but it never got too heated... the odd hot moment. But we came up with some lovely stuff. The definitions of different kinds of Africans. The realisation we didn't want a panel of experts choosing for us, nor did we want a fan voting award like the Hugos, which had been in trouble. 

I really really wanted it to be in the gift of the African Fantasy Reading Group – but I had to admit that even in my view the Nebula Awards which allow the writers to nominate and then to vote the winners seems a really good model. At that point we all got excited about the possibilities of a pro and semi-pro African SF body in terms of other things that are needed. Like. A really good critical review of Arican SFF. Like, an outreach to French, Portuguese, Arabic SFF and most especially to local language SFF. The conversations were thrilling because you could really feel the whole thing come together. Yes! This is going to WORK! The other thing was sending out the invitations to get a solid core of invited members to make sure that there really WAS an society... though it was the needs of the URL that finally settled the name. The other great moment was when we saw Stephen Embleton's designs for the leaflet and website and thought YEAH. And the the thrill when Ivor Hartmann told us Tom Ilube had promised four years of prize money. So many exciting, fun, moments. I'm an old guy and I'm really lucky to be part of something this enrolling at this stage of my life.

Tade Thompson: I just took a look at the original Nommo Awards discussion and there are over 3500 messages. A lot of people contributed including Wole Talabi, Masimba Musodza, Shadrek Chikoti, Ayodele Arigbabu, Mame Diene and more. Sometimes individuals had to take a time out from the discussions (I know I did), and others did not return. It's not an easy thing to come to a compromise. I don't see the heated nature of the discussions as a negative thing. To me it meant everybody was thinking and voices were not being silenced. One of my concerns was for the prize to avoid funding from the West, for example. Piper, tune, you know what I mean. The definition of what was an African we found particularly problematic. Hopefully, we've come up with a working definition.

ND: What makes African speculative fiction unique, in your opinion? I've found through my editing that Africa's rich oral tradition of telling folk stories has a habit of creeping in and flavouring rather beautifully. This was particularly apparent when I was working on SSDA's Terra Incognita anthology.

GR: God, so many things make it unique... its relationship to the West, its relationship to the traditional cultures, the fantastic cultural diversity. The power that comes from being where the action is... that's where the novel goes always, and Africa is where the action is right now. In the West people explore tensions between conflicting ways of being like religion VERSUS science. In Africa monotheism, trad beliefs, science all share the same space like butterflies on a bougainvillea. It's about overlap and co-existence, not stress. Also Africans in our out of diaspora just do not do genre. 

They write crime and fantasy, paint, make films, graphic design, are in a band and they do it all well.

The great untapped source of voice, difference, interest is language. Africans have just his second stopped looking to the West for validation, writing in a style that the West can understand. Stay tuned for flavourful prose more related to Sheng, Pidgin, Kiswahili or translations into English form material imagined in the language of the people who live it. So, language, which in the end equals diversity. 

TT: From my perspective, developing African SFF needs at least three elements: Respectable awards, a tradition of magazines to serve as venues for emerging talent, and a healthy publishing industry. Omenana (to me) opens the magazine tradition up. The Nommos should help give people something to aspire to. 

The ASFS helps to unite people like you, Nerine, and Chinelo for example, who have been fighting individually to raise the SFF profile on the continent. I think together we can get more done.

To me there should not be "African" sci-fi/fantasy any more than there should be an "African" writer. None of those qualifications should be necessary. We are just writers of SFF who have a relationship with the continent. Individually, we often have relationships with other places as well (for example, I have equal roots in South London). There is also a conflation of African SFF with Afrofuturism that I see sometimes in articles, blog posts etc.   They are not the same thing, although there are areas of intersection. 

ND: What are some of the long-term goals you foresee for the ASFS and speculative fiction on the continent in general?

GR: An anthology of nominated works. A programme with the French, Arabic, Portuguese and local language worlds. Publications in Luo on one page facing the page of English translation so that local languages can be sold bound in with the English. An expanding awards programme to recognise the outstanding auteur cinema springing up outside and maybe inside Nollywood. A searchable database of published novels, stories, graphic novels. A programme of Wikipedia maintenance to keep everybody's bios and bibliographies available and accurate. Programmes to encourage developing writer. BUT ABOVE ALL ELSE. Developing the audience in terms of both numbers and its expectations. Giving African writers Africans to write for, in genres that are controlled by African readers. So I hope the pros don't leave behind the 1000+ African Readers on Facebook. I hope both groups grow together, readers and writers. They are on the same side. 

TT: African speculative fiction or African Sci-Fi/Fantasy isn't unique. It is writers exploring the imagination and writing fantastical fiction either emanating from science or the mystical (or both), taking their environment and cultural reality into consideration. This is exactly what SFF writers do everywhere. In this regard, there is no difference between Nnedi Okorafor, Aliette de Bodard and Cordwainer Smith. That the cultures from which the writers emerge have differences does not matter.  Storytelling differences can reflect cultures, but that's to be expected. When I started reading Haruki Murakami my mind all but exploded. I never thought, though, that I'm reading "A Japanese Writer". To me part of the job of the ASFS is to demonstrate that we're here and we're like SFF writers everywhere, to bring fucking quality to the party, and mindpain to the haters!


GEOFF RYMAN is senior lecturer in School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester. He is the author of several works of science fiction and literary fiction as well as short stories author and an interactive web novel. His work has won numerous awards including the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award (twice), the James W. Tiptree Memorial Award, the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award (twice) and the Canadian Sunburst Award (twice). In 2012 he won a Nebula Award for his Nigeria-set novelette 'What We Found'.  His novel AIR was listed in THE GUARDIAN's 1000 Novels You Must Read. 253 is listed by Carmen Maria Machado on the GRANTA website as the best book of 1998.

He has a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship to research the rise of science fiction and fantasy in Africa.  He also organises two reading groups of mainstream African Fiction, both called ARG!  One meets in London the first Sunday of every month 4.30 pm at BOOK AND KITCHEN bookshop. The Manchester Group meets the third Tuesday 6.30 pm at HABESHA restaurant.

TADE THOMPSON lives and works in the south of England. His background is in medicine, psychiatry and anthropology. His first novel MAKING WOLF won the Golden Tentacle Award at The Kitshies. His most recent works are the short story THE APOLOGISTS in Interzone #266, DECOMMISSIONED in the NewCon Press anthology 'Crises and Conflicts', and the novel ROSEWATER from Apex Books.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy, #3) by Robin Hobb

Title: Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy, #3) 
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Harper Voyager, Kindle edition 2007

The thing with the Farseer books is that they go dark —far darker than I'd ever had fantasy go when I first seriously started reading the genre. We join Fitz at his lowest ebb. He's lost everything, the woman he loves, his position at court. He'd be a hunted criminal if it weren't for the fact that everyone believes that he's dead. As it is, he's known as the Witted Bastard, and has become something of a bogeyman used to frighten children. Yeah, so that totally sucks.

Free for the first time in his life to act with agency, Fitz chooses to avenge himself on the one who's responsible for creating the hell that has become his life – Regal, now king of the Six Duchies. And yet he's not free, for the duty laid upon him by his uncle Verity draws him to the Mountain Kingdom to aid the true heir in his mission to free the kingdom from the marauding Red Ship Raiders.

Hobb goes further to explore the relationship between Fitz and his wolf Nighteyes, in all its beautiful subtlety. Her deft strokes expand on the nature of the relationship with the enigmatic Fool, who will always be present, helping and, sometimes, hindering. Ketricken and Fitz also have a special relationship that is deep and abiding – and I dare say a true bond.

This is my second read through the book, and as expected, I missed a lot the first time and though I recalled the gist of what happens, there is so much layering to rediscover that it felt as if I were reading the story again for the first time. We are presented with the ancient mysteries of the Elderlings, the dragons, the lost magic of the stones. Our heroes sift through the ashes of a fallen civilisation, hardly understanding the artefacts that they uncover. 

As always, Fitz's self-talk is heavy; he is at the end of the day his own worst enemy and he remains perhaps one of the most enduring and endearing fantasy characters I've had the pleasure of getting to know.

The Farseer books reward patient readers. I've heard folks complain that things take a long time to unfold, but I will keep saying this: nothing Hobb puts in her story goes to waste. Pay attention to every detail because, no matter how inconsequential it seems, it will invariably play an important role later.

I cannot underscore enough what an important work this is in the collective oeuvre of modern fantasy. Hobb deserves all the honours she receives for her immense contribution to this genre, and I stand forever humbled in her shadow.