Andy Jamieson

Sometime Geek Overlord, bi-monthly Dungeon Master, part-time care worker, reigning Husband of the Year, & full-time daddy. Also, proficient proverbial juggler.

Feb 142018
 

Owen Williams is an author and a journalist for the Empire movie magazine. His latest book is the ALIEN Survival Manual, published by Carlton Books and is out now. We featured it in the second part of our Geekzine Review of 2017 as one of the best books of last year. It truly is a tome of nerdy detail for fans of the Alien saga films. I was keen to get an insight from Owen into the creation of the book, and duly peppered him with questions. I’m delighted to present his excellent answers.

Andrew Jamieson, Geekzine editor-in-chief 

ps – just a wee disclaimer: this interview was conducted in Winter last year so there is the occasional reference to ‘next year’ etc.

 

Andrew Jamieson: The ALIEN Survival Manual is quite a weighty dive into the iconic film series. How did the project come about, and how much freedom did you have in shaping the structure and content of the book?

Owen Williams: It was something I was asked to do, which is always very gratifying. Roland Hall, the editor, was looking for someone to do the words for it, and apparently he turned my name up. In 2009 Empire had done a special set of features for the twentieth anniversary of the original Alien, and I’d done the one interviewing all the surviving Colonial Marines from Aliens – which at the time was everyone except Tip Tipping. So that was my qualification for the gig. Plus I was available at short notice and not very expensive. Possibly.

The structure and content was pretty much dictated by the app. The idea that the app would be “classified” information videos and training mission simulations was already in place by the time I came on board, and that obviously dictated that the book would have the “Survival Manual” angle. And the images and “assets” Fox were providing also played a part in shaping what the book could be. The edict was that we could only cover stuff from the six canonical Alien movies: so the original four, plus Prometheus and Covenant, which was just out before the deadline, so we were able to sneak it in. The Alien Vs Predator movies and the Dark Horse comics and other peripheral media were all off limits.

 

The ALIEN Survival Manual
by Owen Williams

AJ: Was the app developed in conjunction with the book, and did you have any input into the app’s design?

OW: It was, but I was nothing to do with it and I only had a sketchy idea of what the app would be. All I knew about Augmented Reality was that it was like that Pokemon Go game, which I had never played. I was in Tokyo for a job at the end of 2016, and a friend I was with was collecting Pokemon in Tokyo Airport, and that was the first time I’d seen the tech in action. So I got that it was somehow going to let you hatch Alien eggs in your living room (or Tokyo Airport), but other than that I wasn’t that clued in to the app aspect.

The app was designed by a company called Scary Beasties, who contrary to their name do loads of kids’ stuff for shows like Charlie & Lola and Sarah & Duck. I love the idea that they were like, “Right, enough of this happy shit, let’s spend a few weeks developing the tech to rip people open with chestbursters on their phones!”

(I’ve never spoken to them, so I don’t know that’s how the conversation went, but I like to think it is.)

 

AJ: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

OW: It wasn’t that hard a job, if I’m honest. As a fan of the Alien movies it was pretty enjoyable. There was a certain amount of hanging around waiting for Fox to provide the assets, so for a while I was trying to write a visual guide to the Alien universe without knowing what the actual visuals were going to be. That was a bit tricky.

 

AJ: Which part of the book was most fun to write?

OW: Something that hadn’t really occurred to me when I took the job on was that I’d have to essentially write it in character. The idea is that it’s a handbook for marines in the field, so I had to write it as if I was some sort of corporate suit at Weyland-Yutani. That ended up being quite fun, because it’s this weird line between writing a companion to the films and actually writing in-universe fiction.

And I tried to sneak a lot of jokes in, which might not be immediately apparent. I was afraid that the “voice”, by its nature, would be boring, so I tried to play around with some references and in-jokes that fans would enjoy if they got them. There’s a crack about “inexplicable lapses in safety protocols” in Prometheus that I know people have picked up on. And as I said, we weren’t allowed to use the AvP movies or the comics or novels, so I had some fun making veiled references to those here and there; or references to discrepancies between different cuts of the different films, or between the films and the novelisations. Any time I mention something like “uncorroborated evidence” or dodgy intelligence, or stories that are probably apocryphal, I’m basically talking about something outside what’s officially canonical. I even slipped a reference to Death Race in (Paul WS Anderson used Weyland as his evil company in that as well as in his Alien Vs Predator).

The logo for the sinister corporation Weyland-Yutani,
a shadowy presence throughout the Alien films.

AJ: Which of the Alien films are you the most fond of, and why?

OW: I like all of them, to a greater or lesser extent. I even think AvP: Requiem has a few things going for it (although more from the Predator than the Alien angle). My favourite, of course, is the original from 1979, for the way it takes a very basic pulp sci-fi/horror plot and elevates it to something extraordinary through its production design and direction. Of the sequels, my favourite is actually Alien 3, again pretty much for its atmosphere: it’s so sort of haunted and bleak. I get why fans resisted it at the time – and they still do – but I think it’s hugely underrated, and the assembly cut massively improved it from the theatrical version. It’s just a completely different film. All the British actors with shaved heads that you couldn’t tell apart before suddenly have actual characters. And I love the sub-plot about Paul McGann’s Golic worshipping the “dragon” as some sort of deity. Everyone bangs on about the production problems and how Vincent Ward and his wooden planet would have been so much better. If anyone can explain to me how the wooden planet thing makes any fucking sense… leave me alone.

I think what’s wonderful and almost unique about the series is that they’re all so tonally different. You have this gothic horror thing; followed by an action war movie; followed by The Name of the Rose; followed by a Jean-Pierre Jeunet black comedy. I love Aliens. I still remember the shock, watching it for the first time on TV with my dad, of that scene in the egg chamber when the camera pans up to reveal the Queen. That’s an absolutely formative moment in my film-watching life. But in a lot of ways I do think Aliens is the least interesting of the four. It’s the most machine-tooled, efficient thriller of the original four, but it isn’t weird. I like the oddness of the others. Although Resurrection does go to shit at the end. Up until the moment Clone Ripley falls through the floor into the nest, that film’s totally fine. After that… not so much. There’s no defending the Newborn.

 

AJ: During the writing of the book, did you learn anything new about the films that you didn’t know beforehand?

OW: I learned some stuff about the fan theories as to why the Aliens look different in the different films. That’s all quite fun. And I realised that using the word “Xenomorph” for the Alien species is actually totally erroneous. That’s something that fandom picked up on and ran with, but if you pay attention to what Gorman actually says in that scene in Aliens – which is the only time the word gets used on screen – he’s actually using “xenomorph” to generally describe the type of creatures the Aliens are. He isn’t saying that’s the officially designated name of the species. So that’s a mistake in fandom that I’ve compounded by continuing. You sort of can’t not use it now.

Oh, and I also learned about “eggmorphing”. It had absolutely never occurred to me before, but the originally deleted scene in Alien, when Ripley finds Dallas and Brett cocooned by the Alien, fundamentally changes our understanding of what the Alien in that film is doing. It seems like it’s somehow turning Brett and Dallas into eggs, so that it can reproduce. Which contradicts what we learn later in Aliens, that there’s a Queen that lays the eggs. It’s right there on the screen, and it’s in the novelisation too, but somehow I’d never twigged to it at all. I guess I never paid it much attention because it was a deleted scene. And by the time I saw it, I’d already seen Aliens, where the colonists are cocooned for a different reason. So I must have seen the cocoon and not thought anything of it, and missed the fine detail.

Sir Ridley Scott directing Katherine Waterston, as Daniels,
on the set of Alien Covenant.

AJ: What is your opinion of Sir Ridley Scott’s new Alien films? What are your predictions for Alien: Awakening?

OW: I’m enjoying them, for all their flaws. I know that’s a controversial stance. I like the sheer perversity and bloody-mindedness behind them, that Ridley Scott is absolutely not going to take any notice of what the fans think they want. He’s going to do what he wants. And I think he’s right in that. Because the internet essentially just wants Aliens again. I would rather see any number of wonky Ridley Scott films than see Neill Blomkamp just make Aliens again based on some fucking drawing he did that the internet went nuts for.

Scott said a while ago that he thought the Alien – the creature itself – was played out. He reneged on that a bit with Covenant, but I get where he was coming from. There’s actually not all that much you can do with the Alien itself plot-wise. The best of the Dark Horse comics, like the Mark Verheiden ones from the ’90s, are barely about the Alien at all. The Alien is just going to kill people, either in stalk-and-slash mode or full-on-onslaught mode, both of which we’ve seen before. You need to populate those stories with other stuff to avoid them just being repetitive, which I guess is what David’s about. So I predict Awakening will be a lot more Fassbender and not much Alien again. And I predict that it will make extremely odd creative choices and have some very dodgy science in it and some of its characters will behave inexplicably. But I’ll take a strange, interesting failure over a mediocre success every time.

 

AJ: Do you have any more projects lined up?

OW: Yes, a couple of potentially exciting things, although neither of them are definite yet so I can’t talk about them. Hopefully they’ll come together at the start of next year. And if they come together simultaneously then I’ll actually be a bit a bit busier than I’d like! But mustn’t grumble. This is the curse of freelance life. I’ve either got a bit too much work on, or I’ve got nothing on at all and I’m convinced that I’ll never work again.

I should mention Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror On Film, which isn’t my book, but I’m in it.

It’s a collection of essays on festive horror films and TV shows, edited by the estimable Kier-La Janisse. My chapter is on The League Of Gentlemen’s Christmas Special from 2000. It’s just been published in the last week or so and you can buy it here (http://www.spectacularoptical.ca/store/product/yuletide-terror-christmas-horror-on-film-and-television-2/).

 

AJ: And what are you reading at the moment (for leisure or work)?

OW: I had a freezing cold, snowy, Christmassy weekend in Whitby at the start of this month, and I took The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by HP Lovecraft, and The Hundred-and-Ninety-Nine Steps by Michel Faber. The Faber one is set in Whitby, and I found, totally by accident, that I was staying in the exact same hotel and room as the protagonist. So that was pleasingly spooky. And since then I’ve fallen down a Christmas murder mystery rabbit hole. I’ve read The Mistletoe Murder collection by PD James, and A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon, and I’ve just started Murder For Christmas by Francis Duncan.

I wish this answer was cooler.

When I’ve had enough of Christmas I want to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Then after that I don’t know. But reading is never work, even when it technically is.

 

Thank you to Owen for taking the time for a Geekzine Q&A. You can follow Owen on Twitter via @FlexibleHead

The ALIEN Survival manual is out now, in hardback at £25 – although Carlton Books have it for £20 from their website… 

Andrew is the award-nominated author of steampunk fantasy novels, The Vengeance Path, and its sequel, Children of War, both available from the Amazon Kindle Store.

Feb 132018
 

In this slightly belated second part to our Geekzine Review of 2017, Geekzine editor-in-chief Andrew Jamieson pours his frivolous attitude all over a selection of the books, boardgames, videogames and toys that kept our geek chops smiling during 2017.

Thanks to Will Millar, boardgame guru, and Alex Martin, videogame retail expert, for their valuable contributions.

 

Books…

The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049

A gorgeous deluxe hardback delve into the creation of 2017’s most ambitious movie. With its dedication to physical special effects bringing a powerful authenticity to the screen, this book charts the production from rights acquisition and script development, to the ‘world building’ design challenge and the myriad complex effects of the epic shoot, with input from the creative team throughout.

ALIEN Survival Manual by Owen Williams

Empire reviewer Owen Williams penned this very thorough and enjoyable exploration of the Alien films, including last year’s Alien: Covenant. Written from the perspective of a training manual, this is a very amusing and entertaining read for fans of the films. Full of great nerdy details and great photographs, this is so much more than a tie-in, and really sets the standard for how this type of book should be done. Links into a very cool app that allows you to have some fun with chestbursters…

The ALIEN Survival Manual
by Owen Williams

(we’ve got an interview with Owen lined up very soon, so keep your eyes peeled)

The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A gorgeous collection of the conceptual art involved in the making of latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. Lots of sweeping vistas and intriguing character design that, more often than not, didn’t make it into the film.

Carcharadons: Red Tithe by Robbie MacNiven

One of the best Space Marine novels ever written, about one of the most peculiar and fascinating Space Marine chapters, the Carcharadons, from Scottish author on the rise, Robbie MacNiven. He really gives the Carcharadons their own distinctive identity and goes to great lengths to depict their unique background in lots of geek-friendly detail. As for the antagonists of the story, the Chaos Space Marines of the Night Lords Legion, the author really captures their distinctive bloodthirsty style of stealth warfare. No character is given short shrift here, and this really is one of the most exceptional releases from the Black Library, to date.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

One of the most noteworthy debuts of 2017, this fantastical novel weaves the story of its young protagonist, gifted with portentous powers, into a plot of epic fantasy. The first in The Daevabad Trilogy.

Clade by James Bradley

This stark warning of a future Earth on the brink is another fine example of why Bradley is a writer worthy of your attention. The novel follows a line of descendants through the ages as they seek to survive the changing world around them. The Guardian‘s Jane Housham reviewed it here.

Horus Heresy book 42: GARRO by James Swallow

A triumphant, epic tome, and much more than a short story collection, GARRO is the reworked and updated chronological saga of Nathaniel Garro, a space marine without a legion. Following his daring escape from his traitorous comrades of the Death Guard Legion (as told in Swallow’s exceptional Flight of the Eisenstein, back in 2007), Garro is recruited by Malcador the Sigilite as his Knight Errant, and is duly sent on covert missions across the galaxy to recruit specialised individuals to aid in the conflict against Warmaster Horus. I reviewed it here.

 

Books for little geeks…

Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestley

A fun, spooky read for the 8+ crowd, yet well crafted enough to entertain readers much older. Like me. Read my glowing review here.

Jinks and O’Hare Funfair Repair by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

The latest collaboration from scribe Reeve and illustrator McIntyre, my little girl who is 8 had this to say: “I really liked the characters. The story was a bit complicated but lots of fun. I would read another book with these characters.” You can read over my interview with these two fine individuals here. You may be familiar with Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, the film adaptation of which is out this December.

Toru & Meep: Snapshot Safari by Matt Pattinson

A glorious second picture book from rogue illustrator at large, Matt Pattinson (aka Culprit Art), featuring Japanese boy Toru, and blue alien, Meep. In this second book to feature the pair, Meep takes Toru on an alien safari so he can complete a school project. Available from the blurb website, here, and worth every penny.

 

Board games…

The Blood Bowl Almanac

Collecting the two softback releases Deathzone: Season 1 and Deathzone: Season 2, the almanac adds a few sweet extras with all the special rules published over the course of the last year-and-a-bit in Games Workshop’s magazine, White Dwarf. A glorious release and crammed full of wonderful details. Keep your eyes peeled for the launch of the Inaugural Geekzine Blood Bowl League this spring…

Dungeons & Dragons: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

A Player’s handbook version 2.0, if you like, and a geek’s delight. Covering new character classes and monsters, amongst many other veritable treats, there is all sorts of glorious detail hidden in the glossy pages of this deluxe hardback tome. This is a golden time for D&D fans, with more exciting campaign & themed handbooks set for release this year.

2017 was a great year for D&D fans with numerous releases, including Xanathar’s Guide.

High Frontier (3rd edition)

You’re going to need a bigger table. The definitive 3rd edition of the space exploration epic, High Frontier made a splash in 2017, combining the original base game and the Colonization expansion, plus a heap-ton of new and redesigned cards. A game that requires no small amount of dedication, to play it through to its finish could take you a whole day.

Necromunda: Underhive

A mid-nineties gang warfare classic reimagined, Necromunda: Underhive does away with the 3d element of the original in favour of the more straightforward board game approach. Twenty plastic multi-part models, plus scenery, and a lean rule set and campaign book allow for a quick entry into this snapshot of feuding gangs in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40k universe. The first supplement, campaign book Necromunda: Gang Warfare, is already out, with more gang sets and books to follow in 2018, starting this month with the Orlocks gang set and Gang War 2, plus a set of new floor tiles.

Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire

A slight departure for Games Workshop, Shadespire is a card-driven strategy skirmish game, as small warbands duke it out across the ruins of a mysterious city. The miniatures are great and the deck building aspect has potential for some fiendish strategic plays.

Warhammer 40K: Dark Imperium

The latest 40k box, released summer 2017 to coincide with the 8th edition of the rules, was a bargain box of delights, that includes two full armies (the shiny new Primaris Space Marines and those squelchy traitorous Space Marine rotters, the Death Guard) and the hardback rulebook. The slickest 40k experience yet.

 

Videogames…

Battle Chasers: Night War (PlayStation 4 / Xbox One & Nintendo Switch)

2017 saw the return of comicbook artist-slash-videogame entrepreneur Joe Madureira as he & three companions (all formerly of Vigil Games) launched their own company, Airship Syndicate. Night War is their first game, a visually gorgeous, traditional RPG set in the world of Madureira’s fantasy comicbook series, Battle Chasers, that ran for nine issues back in the late nineties until 2001. Night War is a pseudo-sequel to the comic, and Madureira has hinted that fans can expect the Battle Chasers story to continue in one form or another. The game is not going to win awards for its originality, as it is a fairly traditional explore n’ hack ‘JRPG’, but it is engrossing and the depth of world-building on display is sumptuous.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar saw creator Joe Madureira return to his heroic fantasy saga that was originally a comicbook series.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)

An original title for the PS4 from Guerrilla Games, known for their Killzone titles, Horizon Zero Dawn is a post apocalyptic action RPG. It garnered lots of critical praise and heaps of sales, as fans revelled in the adventures of Aloy, a young tribal hunter looking to uncover the mysteries of her past whilst surviving the perils of her deadly world. A beautifully rendered game that received its first DLC late last year in The Frozen Wilds.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)

One of the launch games for the Nintendo Switch was a truly wow moment for Zelda fans, offering not only a great, immersive gaming experience but a good indication of the power of Nintendo’s new console.

Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

Six months after Zelda, Nintendo Switch fans were rewarded with Super Mario’s debut on the new console. Once again, Princess Peach has found herself at the heart of dastardly Bowser’s plans and it is up to everyone’s favourite hirsute Italian plumber to put things right. Thankfully, Mario games are never judged on their plots but their fiendish game design, and Odyssey does not disappoint. Next time: Princess Peach saves Mario ?

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Playstation 4 / Xbox One)

A marked return to form for the original survival horror, making a bold stylistic move to harken back to the series’ minimalist roots. Exploration over splat-action is the main draw to this title, as lead character Ethan Winters finds himself drawn to a mysterious plantation, as he searches for his missing wife, whilst attempting to outwit the cannibal Baker family.

 

Toys…

Lego

The ubiquitous construction toy of choice for little kids and big kids alike, Lego had a good year, with two successful animated movies (neither as good as the original Lego Movie, in my opinion, but still lots of fun), and some strong new lines such as the new Ninjago Movie sets, and the new Star Wars sets. With the Channel 4 reality/competition show, Lego Masters, proving a hit, Lego continues to go from strength to strength. Rumours of a Lego Star Wars Cloud City have emerged recently…

Transformers

Takara Tomy’s excellent rendition of
Autobot Sunstreaker.

If, like me, Transformers formed a crucial part of your childhood (do you remember what you were doing the day Optimus Prime died??), then you may be familiar with the rise in collectable transformers, official and third party alike. Takara Tomy of Japan produce highly desirable Masterpiece editions of classic characters, and pleased many a fan, myself included, with their excellent release of Sunstreaker in late 2017. Open Play, a new production company on the third party scene, made a strong debut with ‘Big Spring’, their version of Springer. Their hook is that they provide no instructions, you simply Open and Play…

 

Andrew is the award-nominated author of steampunk fantasy novels, The Vengeance Path, and its sequel, Children of War, both available from the Amazon Kindle Store.

 

Jan 052018
 

The year that was 2017 delivered some cultural geekish delights. In the first of two linked features, Geekzine editor-in-chief Andrew Jamieson takes a roughshod look at some of the genre films and tv shows that kept us nerds smiling – and grimacing. It wasn’t all good, eh? 

FILM

Split (released in January) James McAvoy gives one of the performances of the year, and of his career, in this taught, twisting thriller from M. Night Shyamalan. A definite return to form for the writer-director, who has had more misses than hits in recent years.

Get Out (released in March) The debut feature film from Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), this is ostensibly a horror, wrapped in biting satirical comedy. Approached with tongue firmly in cheek, its more ridiculous moments are outweighed by the sheer onslaught of thrills and shocks.

Ghost In The Shell, adapted from the anime and manga

Ghost In The Shell (released in March) The live action adaptation of the Japanese manga series is better than many give it credit, delivering some cyberpunk visual splendour. I reviewed it for reviewsphere.org earlier this year, and (mostly) liked it.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (released in April) Not quite the lean machine that the first movie was, this second outing for the galactic misfits is overlong and dogged by pacing issues. However, there is lots of enjoyment to be had from the onscreen chemistry between the Guardians and Kurt Russell’s scenery chomping turn as Ego the living planet.

The Red Turtle (released in May) Academy Award winner Michael Dudok de Wit is the first Westerner to direct for the acclaimed Japanese animation studio, and in his first feature film he delivers a philosophical fable of man’s struggle with nature. Engrossing and rewarding, and an interesting, less child-focused production for Studio Ghibli. I reviewed it for reviewsphere.org, and was very impressed.

Studio Ghibli’s The Red Turtle was nominated for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature

Wonder Woman (released in June) Gal Gadot, as Wonder Woman herself, makes an impact in the biggest hit of DC’s superhero series in this origin tale, proving that her scene-stealing cameo in Batman v Superman was no fluke. Mixing Greek mythology with World War One espionage is not the most obvious of plot-blends, but in the talented hands of director Patty Jenkins, assisted by a stellar supporting turn from Chris Pine, this is a very charming, watchable jape.

Spider-Man Homecoming (released in July) Tom Holland’s Spidey was one of the highlights of Captain America: Civil War, and he carries that bravura into the first official MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) outing for Spider-Man, with Robert Downey Jnr and Michael Keaton also on fine form in support. Some great character moments outshine a somewhat overly familiar plot.

Dunkirk (released in July) Brit director Christopher Nolan returned with this World War Two epic about the evacuation of British troops from the port of Dunkirk. With an inventive use of timeframe and narrative, this was easily the year’s most intense, full-on cinema experience, particularly the teeth-rattling imax showing.  

Blade Runner 2049 (released in October) As unnecessary sequels go, this had no right to be any good. However, with director Denis Villeneuve on board, and fresh off The Arrival, we were never going to be served a lukewarm dish. Whilst this was never going to better the original Villeneuve did at least match (if not supersede) the visual and sonic spectacle of Sir Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece. The script fluctuated between moments of invention and engrossing science-fiction, but also fell prey to third act wobbles and a too-neat finish. Look for a feature article on this film early 2018.

The Limehouse Golem (released in September) A gothic murder-mystery adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s novel by the screenwriter, Jane Goldman, who has form when it comes to adaptations in particular. Bill Nighy is on excellent form as Inspector Kildare, and it was reviewed (here) very favourably by the Geekzine’s Genevieve Taylor.

Marvel’s Thor Ragnarok

Thor Ragnarok (released in October) Easily the year’s most enjoyable movie – and better than any third film in a series deserves to be – that combined an intoxicating mix of drama, action, spectacle and humour. A great adventure movie that gave audiences lots of happy moments, particularly when Thor and Hulk team up. Director Taika Waititi matched the quality of his 2016 critical hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, proving that he is an auteur on the rise.

Paddington 2 (released in November) Hugh Grant delivers probably the performance of his career in this madcap sequel to 2014’s very charming original. Lots of fun for all the family.

Blade of the Immortal (released in December) Veteran director Takashi Miike’s adaptation of the long-running manga series came and went in the blink of an eye, lacking the distribution and marketing to make any impact at UK cinemas, but proved that Miike is still going strong over a hundred films later.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (released in December) A film that has proven to be very divisive amongst audiences and critics, this just about delivers on expectations but is still not the Star Wars film many of us hope for. Less homage heavy than The Force Awakens and more intent on moving the new story arc along, the most satisfying plotline of the film sees Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Daisy Ridley’s Rey shine as master and pupil, as Jedi mythology and legacy is explored. We’ll be looking more closely at Episode 8 in an upcoming article this month.

and the stinkers…

Sir Ridley Scott’s third Alien film, Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant (released in April) 2012’s Prometheus had ambition to spare but was let down by a scrappy, poorly scripted second half. Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant saw Sir Ridley Scott essentially recycle his own Alien but without any of that film’s quality. Alien: Covenant was bereft of ambition and scuppered itself with a clunking script and a clumsy plot, that favoured gruesome spectacle and mad robot hijinks over xenomorph-fuelled space terror – that fans of the series are crying out for. Hopefully with Disney buying out Fox, we’ll see some sensible decisions made over the direction of this series, and Sir Ridley Scott is by no means the authority on the Alien films. Whilst Elysium director Neill Blomkamp’s proposed ‘Aliens 2.5’ is perhaps not the answer, some fresh vision is required for the series to survive and thrive. I reviewed Alien: Covenant for reviewsphere.org, and we’ll be looking at the future of the series in an upcoming article.

Brimstone (released in September) Dutch director Martin Koolhoven delivers a relentless and utterly bleak western, divided into four segments all titled with references to the Old Testament. Packed with excellent performances from the likes of Guy Pearce and Dakota Fanning, Brimstone is beautifully shot, and starts promisingly – however, it suffers from its own relentlessly bleak plot, ultimately becoming an elongated exercise in predictable, grinding cliche. Michael Winterbottom’s The Claim covered similar ground but with better results.

Mother! (released in September) Good grief. Darren Aronofsky has never been a cautious director but he always had a keen eye for balancing story and character. Mother! is a film of two halves and for all the excellent tension building of the first half, the film then unravels into a spectacular mess. Excellent performances do not save the film in any way. A pretentious experiment gone wrong.

 

TV

BBC’s Taboo, produced by and starring Tom Hardy

Taboo (on BBC One from January to February) This Tom Hardy produced and acted mini-series channelled the darker elements of the works of Joseph Conrad and Jack London with beguiling results. Hardy turns in one of his best performances, obtuse and enigmatic all at once, and he is ably served by a twisting gothic mystery of a script co-written by Steven Knight, performed by a fantastic cast (including Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Graham, Oona Chaplin and Franka Potente), and shot through with atmosphere and portentous foreboding.

Twin Peaks: The Return (on Sky Atlantic from May to September) This year saw the return of David Lynch’s seminal tv series, Twin Peaks, and it delivered its peculiar charms over the course of 18 deranged episodes, giving fans some kind of closure for cherished characters but delivering sucker punches at regular intervals. Predictable it wasn’t, and eye-catching and mind-boggling it often was.

The Handmaid’s Tale (on Channel 4 from May to September) This Hulu produced adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s harrowing vision of a fascist future America was riveting viewing across its ten episodes, with very distinctive visual style and a gripping central performance from Elizabeth Moss as Offred, which saw her bag an Emmy last year. Quite possibly the favourite to bag the Best Actress award for a television drama series at this year’s Golden Globes…

Ronja the Robber’s Daughter (available to stream from Amazon Prime Video) This debuted on Amazon Prime at the tail end of 2016 and was recently released on dvd and blu-ray. Directed by Goro Miyazaki (Hayao’s son), it is a beautifully conceived fantasy series that delivers a compelling, soul-nourishing tale of the friendship between a boy and girl, from rival robber gangs. Adapted from the book by Astrid Lindgren, it’s a long haul at 24 episodes but is worth every minute of your time.

Stranger Things Season 2 poster CR: Netflix

Game of Thrones season 7 (on Sky Atlantic from July to August) The shortest season so far delivered the most action, spectacle and plot progression of the series. Some satisfying character arcs came to fruition and the end is now in sight. The last episode served up some plot developments that don’t bode well for a pair of well loved characters…

Stranger Things 2 (on Netflix from October) An impressive sequel to last year’s surprise Netflix hit, this season did not disappoint and crammed in more spectacle and bright character moments along with plenty of retro thrills and scares.
Nov 302017
 

Geekzine editor Andy Jamieson, and Edinburgh-based steampunk impresario Atticus Oldman, give an account of their favourite horror yarns, inspired by Halloween and the dark nights of the winter months….

“I never used to like horror movies and I still find some types of horror difficult to watch. Ghost stories and silly slashers I enjoy but tales that feature possession or anything remotely demonic I generally avoid. There are some truly great examples where horror books or films can work on a number of levels, beyond their scares and shocks. Take Guillermo del Toro’s superlative film, Crimson Peak, from 2015, for example. I consider it a horror film, but all the conflict in the film is driven by the monstrous human characters and not the ghosts, a theme he first explored in his third film, The Devil’s Backbone (2001). In Crimson Peak the very house that dominates the film is decaying, as if consumed by the sickness of the family that inhabits its domain. (I’ll be waxing lyrical about this fantastic film in a separate feature, coming soon). The same can  be said about del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), arguably his most accomplished film, weaving the fantastical trials of heroine Ofelia and the horrifying monsters she confronts, with the all too real horrors of the Spanish Civil War.

When discussing horror films, I am always drawn back to the work of the great John Carpenter, whose original Halloween (1978) still casts a long shadow that very few horror films have come close to. Carpenter’s work has always had that veneer of classy pulp, a stylistic vein that reached its crescendo in his three seminal mid-eighties films, Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987) and They Live! (1988), the first and last films containing horror elements, whilst the middle is a full-on unsettling fright fest. Aside from In The Mouth of Madness (1994), Carpenter would never reach these cinematic creative heights again.

Another horror favourite of mine is Candyman (1992), directed by Bernard Rose, and adapted from the Clive Barker short story, The Forbidden. I really liked Barker’s early directorial efforts, Hellraiser (1987) and Nightbreed (1990). The latter has seen some resurrection in recent years due to the fan-powered Cabal Cut, which ultimately led to an official Director’s Cut.

I don’t read much horror, being more into fantasy and science-fiction, but Clive Barker’s work appeals to me very much, as his strain of horror fiction charts the fantastical in truly imaginative ways. Cabal (1988) – the source material for the aforementioned Nightbreed – is a lean thriller about a hidden society of monsters, who are more ‘human’ than those that hunt them down. Weaveworld (1987), meanwhile, is Barker’s masterpiece, a flawless behemoth that mostly takes place within another world, trapped betwixt the confines of a rug, but when the plot does break free of its weaved environs, it spins an engrossing tale of the hunted and their prey.

The author Chris Priestley has written some superb horror books, ostensibly for the older children’s market, but you should check them out regardless of your age. His latest, Curse of the Werewolf Boy, is aimed at younger kids but is full of charm, wit and some mild scares. However, I would direct you with all haste to four of his books in particular; the excellent Tales of Terror trilogy – Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror (2007), Tales of Terror from the Black Ship (2008), and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth (2009) – and his wintry masterpiece, The Dead of Winter (2010). The latter is one of my favourite books of all time, and I make a point of reading it every winter.”

 

Offering up his select choices is Atticus Oldman, a purveyor of steampunk, based here in Edinburgh, and the architect of that online haven of all things steampunk in Edinburgh and beyond, the Steampunk Almanac.

Quartermass and the Pit (1967): I first saw this action adventure concerning a Martian invasion of London late one new year’s eve in the early seventies, when I had been allowed to stay up late in bed watching tv while there was a party in full swing downstairs. I must have only been 8 or 9 at the time, and this film sacred the devil out of me. Still gives me chills to this day!

John Carpenter’s The Thing has just been re-released on blu-ray

The Thing (1982): While most horror films of the early eighties seem hacked apart by the censor, The Thing made it through intact, or near enough, and what we have is a cracking science-fiction-horror that pretty much set the standard for special effects for years to follow. This was the first adult-rated film I snuck into the cinema to see, so it will always have a wee place in my heart.

The Limehouse Golem (2017): A gory and gruesome romp through Victorian London in search of a serial killer is the basis for this excellent story, that has fantastic scenes, settings and acting throughout which makes this relatively new horror release a real modern classic. I thoroughly enjoyed this great movie and hope it will inspire similar productions in the future.

As for my favourite horror read, it has to be Bram Stoker’s seminal Dracula, first published in May 1897. Despite the rather dry travelogue that opens this fantastic masterpiece of horror, Dracula is still an essential read which I return to at least once every couple of years. Best served up on a dark and stormy winter night with a side-order of candlelight and a hot toddy!

 

Atticus Oldman is one of the leading lights of the British Steampunk scene, and is the founder of the Steampunk Almanac, check it out at www.steampunkalmanac.co.uk

Andrew Jamieson is the award-nominated author of steampunk fantasy novels, The Vengeance Path, and its sequel, Children of War, both available from the Amazon Kindle Store.

Nov 082017
 

Self-portrait of the author/artist

Author Chris Priestley’s latest book, Curse of the Werewolf Boy, is out now, published by Bloomsbury for £6.99. I’ve been reading his books for over ten years, and he is surely one of the finest craftsmen I’ve come across, combining the rare talents of storytelling and writing to produce one memorable read after another. His Tales of Terror trilogy, also published by Bloomsbury, are a sequence of incredible books, portmanteau horror tales weaved together with admirable skill and flair. Every Christmas I read Dead of Winter, which is personally my favourite of his books.

Curse of the Werwolf Boy is aimed at slighter younger readers than his usual fare, and again is a wonderfully engrossing book. Blending gentle comedy and horror in tasteful measures is no easy thing to do, but Priestley has written a page-turning spooky read, which is also the first book in the Maudlin Towers series. Chris took time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions. Enjoy.

Andrew Jamieson, Geekzine editor

 

Andrew Jamieson: Your new book, Curse of the Werewolf Boy, is the first in a new series, Maudlin Towers. What were the challenges involved in firstly, coming up with the idea for a new series, and secondly, planning the first book?

Chris Priestley: It’s been a while since I’ve done a series – a proper series with repeating characters. I think the goal is to give yourself enough options with the initial set-up. To make sure your main characters are engaging enough and then make sure they have an environment that will throw up lots of interesting adventures for them. I actually found the process pretty stressful. Not the writing of the book – but the designing of the world and how I would present it. I really wanted to do it justice. Book 2 will be so much easier, now that the template is in place.

 

AJ: Do you have plans already in place for future books in the Maudlin Towers series, and can you reveal any details of what you have in store for your characters?

CP: I’m editing the 2nd draft of Maudlin Towers 2 at the moment and already thinking of illustrations. Book 2 is called The Treasure of the Golden Skull (or it is at the moment anyway). I don’t want to give too much away obviously, but pirates are most definitely involved. Arrr.

 

AJ: As well as being a prolific writer, you are also a very active artist. How much does one creative process infuse the other, and does this influence the creation and planning of future projects?

CP: Well, I was trained as an illustrator and the two things have always gone together in my mind – I just have not always been successful at making that a thing in my career. I’m hoping to address that. I have illustrated all of my recent books and I see that continuing now that illustration has made a comeback across all age groups (except adult – but give it time). My plan in the next few years is to do more work where my writing and my illustration work are given equal billing. I’ve yet to do a picture book for instance. Or a graphic novel. I’m excited about the possibilities.

 

AJ: Will you return to the Tales of Terror series at some point, or do you see that sequence of books as being complete?

CP: I must get asked this at least once every week. I would very happily have carried on with the Tales of Terror series but I am not self-published and so the decision is not mine alone. But regardless of whether I do books called ‘Tales of Terror’ again – I will definitely be doing more work in that vein if I have anything to do with it. I like writing short stories. They come very naturally to me. I still have a lot of strange tales in my head. It’s probably better for everyone if I get them out.

 

AJ: What other projects do you currently have in the works?

CP: Maudlin Towers has kind of taken over my life recently, but I want to do a picture book, that’s for sure. It’s just a question of coming up with a suitable idea. I would like to do something with the kind of fables I have Frank’s grandfather telling him in Anything That Isn’t This. That is another form that seems a very natural voice for me. I’d quite like to do more funny stuff as I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of writing Maudlin Towers. Oh – and something for adults. Short stories, maybe.

 

AJ: Are there any ambitions you still have as a writer and/or artist?

CP: I think my main ambition is to do good work and be properly rewarded for it. Like just about every other creative person out there.

 

AJ: What are you currently reading for pleasure and/or for research purposes?

CP: Chris Riddell sent me a copy of Travels with my Sketchbook and I’ve been boggling at the amount of work he managed to crank out in the two years he was Children’s Laureate. He makes me feel a bit lazy. I’m dipping in and out of Judith Flanders book The Victorian House, which I recommend to anyone who writes or reads things set in that period. I’m also reading The Mercurial Emperor by Peter Marshall – although very slowly – about magic in Renaissance Prague. My next fiction book will be another Richard Yates. I’m working my way through all of his books. He is absolutely brilliant.

 

Thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer the Geekzine’s questions. Curse of the Werewolf Boy is OUT NOW. Andrew reviewed it last week.

Andrew is the award-nominated author of steampunk fantasy novels, The Vengeance Path, and its sequel, Children of War, both available from the Amazon Kindle Store.

 

Oct 252017
 

Train to Busan / Seoul Station (15)

Both streamed via Amazon Prime Video

Train to Busan achieved some acclaim last summer with its largely positive reviews and decent box office (look out for the inevitable Hollywood remake…). It’s been on my radar for a while now and landed on Amazon Prime Video this summer. It does not disappoint. A Korean zombie thriller is not something you come across everyday, and Train to Busan, once seen is not forgotten. For a zombie film to stand out amongst the competitive and overcrowded genre market it has to have something extra special about it. The train setting, whilst not massively original, gives this film its narrative shape, and also adds that key ‘crucible effect’; ie contain your action to a limited space, introduce an incident to your characters, and watch the sparks fly. The film’s script is also laced with a sly social commentary, some of it specific to South Korea, but most of it a not-too-thinly-veiled stab at capitalism, linked to the film’s main character, businessman, Seok-woo. The zombie plague in Train to Busan takes hold of its victims in mere minutes (similar to Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, and 28 Days Later, amongst many others), and the infection, depicted with simple yet grotesque make-up effects, rips through the train’s passengers in minimal screen time. How the survivors initially halt the onrushing living dead is fiendishly simple; one of them figures out that the infected can’t figure out how to open the train’s sliding compartment doors, and this buys our band of panicking heroes valuable time. Director (and co-writer) Yeon Sang-Ho has created a film that relentlessly layers set-pieces of high stakes tension one after another, but never loses sight of his characters, or plot. After all, the train has to stop at some point. The emotional core of the film is the father-daughter pairing of, respectively, Seok-woo (played by Korean heart-throb, Gong Yoo) and Soo-ann (played with an endearing balance of cuteness and steely resilience by Kim Su-an). The last act is riveting.

Seoul Station is the animated prequel to Train to Busan, and is also again directed and co-written by Yeon Sang-Ho. Rather than the Japanese anime style I was expecting, Seoul Station is far more realistic in its visuals, with great attention paid to the intricacies of character detail. Depicting the break out of the plague in Seoul, the story follows put-upon and abused Hye-sun as she flees her pimp/boyfriend, only to get caught up in the epidemic. The animation is crisp and fluid, and the story has a different sense of urgency to Train to Busan, given its cityscape setting, that brings to mind the second Resident Evil film (Seoul Station is lots better, of course) or The Walking Dead’s urban scenes. Seoul Station doesn’t match Train to Busan in the tension-cranking stakes, but it does also provide more edged social commentary, with Hye-sun’s experience of being prostituted against her will, manipulated throughout by her boyfriend, all giving her character some very tangible depth and a suggestion that this fiction is merely a lid for a darker truth in society. The film-makers also give us a glimpse of Seoul’s homeless scene, and the poverty that they live in, all under the shadow of neon-lit skyscrapers. From these grim corners, Seoul Station produces some strong characters, particularly the exploited Hye-sun. However, collectively they lack something compared to the father-daughter dynamic in Train to Busan. I’m nitpicking, of course. The two films succeed in complimenting each other, and make for a satisfying, edge-of-your-seat double-bill.

Both Train to Busan and Seoul Station are also available to buy on dvd and blu-ray.

 

Reviewed by Andrew Jamieson, Geekzine editor.

Andrew is the award-nominated author of steampunk fantasy novels, The Vengeance Path, and its sequel, Children of War, both available from the Amazon Kindle Store.