Month: March 2012

  • The Maiden Tower

    I’ve just spent a few days in Latvia at a UNESCO conference on education. The delegates were mainly from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, so I had the chance to talk to people from Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, as well as Lithuania and Hungary. One of the first things that a lot of countries emerging […]

  • Storytelling and the brain

    Right now I’m in the beautiful ski resort of Kransjka Gora in Slovenia. Out of my hotel window I can see the Julian Alps rising up into a clear blue sky. On a slightly worrying note, I was here last year and I could swear that something has knocked a hole right through one of […]

  • The Whisperer in Darkness

    The cinema industry has a poor track record when it comes to films of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Despite his often turgid prose, the piling of adjective upon adjective for effect and his ill-concealed snobbery, Lovecraft was a very atmospheric writer. His power comes from what he hints at, as well as from his over-blown […]

  • John Carter (of Mars)

    I admit that this review is going to be a bit biased. As I’ve said before, when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian series as a teenager it had a massive impact. My life-long love of SF and Fantasy can be traced back to that summer in 1974 when I first came across A Princess of […]

  • Peter Bradshaw – I spurn you as I would a Calot!

    Tars Tarkas riding a Thoat on Barsoom, yesterday. OK – ticket’s booked for tomorrow at the Odeon in 3D IMAX. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian gave it 1 out of 5 and called it a ‘giant, suffocating doughy feast of boredom’. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt even though it read like a […]

  • The New Mother

    One of the most disturbing children’s stories ever published is “The New Mother” by Lucy Clifford. It appeared in the anthology of tales Anyhow Stories, Moral and Otherwise, published in 1882. In the tale two children, Turkey and Blue Eyes, live with their mother and baby in a cottage. The children are tempted to be […]

  • Bruce Pennington

    In the 1970s two cover artists stood out among the piles of books in the little science fiction corner at W. H. Smiths Harrogate – Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington. While Chris Foss’s titanic ultra-realistic spaceships have had a massive influence on illustrators and film makers over the past 40 years, Bruce Pennington is less […]

  • The End

    Thumb is set at the very end of the Universe when all the stars have vanished and we have entered the phase called the heat death of the universe. Early twentieth century SF writers, overcome with fin-de-siecle angst, often tried out-do each other in constructing visions of the end of the time. H.G. Wells’ time […]

  • Silhouettes

    I’m a huge fan of 3d animation, though like many I think that the cool visual factor can get in the way of the story. The new Tintin film was a good example of clever visual effects and roller-coaster rides concealing weak treatment and a lack of engaging characterisation. In contrast some of the most interesting […]

  • A Princess of Mars

      When I was 12 my mother did something she would come to regret for the next 10 years. Her dad (my grandfather) was a huge Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, but not of Tarzan who everyone is familiar with. His favourites were the books in the Barsoom series that detailed the adventures of Captain John […]

  • Flatland

    I recently came across an animated version of Edwin Abbott’s eccentric classic Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. In the original story the narrator, and inhabitant of Flatland, spends much of the book describing the bizarre properties of his world. It’s as much a satire on Victorian snobbery as an interesting exercise in geometry. The size […]

  • Space Ritual

    In the mid 1970s New English Library published the magazine Science Fiction Monthly, a huge format magazine which reprinted book covers by the likes of Chris Foss and Bruce Pennington for teenage boys to stick on their bedroom walls. Interspersed with these were short stories and articles, including one about science fiction in music. This was just before […]

  • Dramatica Pro – software for writers

    Dramatica Pro – software for writers

    While we’re on the topic of software for writers I thought I’d have a look at Dramatica Pro (, $209 for the download version). Some programs for authors are designed to support the creative process by providing flexible tools that allow the writer to freely explore the depths of their imagination. Then there’s Dramatica Pro. […]

  • Scrivener – software for writers

    Scrivener is a fantastic piece of software for writers. The program was developed by a writer who was hunting for some software to help him put together a novel. None of the programs available fitted his needs and so he upped and built one himself. Having said that you can use Scrivener to write anything […]

  • How not to write a novel

    “The architect admired the way the way the building was crafted; it was all stone with curvy arches like an old church.” The shelves are full of books on how to write. As I hinted at in the last post, very few of these are written by people who’ve been wildly successful authors (a notable […]

  • The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook

    If there is one book that should be banned as dangerous and subversive it’s The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook by Chris Jones and Genevieve Joliffe. Read this and you will seriously consider leaving your job, re-mortgaging your house and borrowing from all and sundry to make a movie. Jones and Joliffe were two film students […]

  • Guardian Style: Third Edition

    It might seem a bit sad to rave about a book on style and grammar, but the third edition of Guardian Style is both hugely useful and entertaining. As the editors admit, The Guardian (or Grauniad as it used to be referred to by Private Eye) was once a by-word for appalling proof reading. They even quote a classic […]

  • Agora

    Agora (2009) tells the story of the brilliant philosopher and mathematician Hypatia, who lived in Alexandria at the beginning of the 5th century. Renowned for her learning, she taught astronomy and philosophy and became involved in the politics of the city at a time of emerging tensions between the Christian bishops and the civic government. […]

  • Titus Groan

    Not surprisingly over the past few years people’s ideas of British post-war fantasy have been been dominated by J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, but his nostalgic Pre-Raphaelite vision of an idealised medieval world is not the only non-realistic writing to come tumbling out of the horror of World War II. Alongside the […]

  • The Night Land

    The Night Land (1912) has to be one of the oddest books ever written. It was penned by William Hope Hodgson, an English author who produced a small collection of macabre stories just before World War One. He belongs to a group of Edwardian fantasists who, between them, created a number of strange, elegiac books at […]