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Wednesday 9 February 2011


On her Twitter account, independent script editor and Script Angel blogger Hayley McKenzie wrote, "When I think 'sci-fi' I think action-adventure, but the trailers for Outcasts made it look earnest and ponderous." I hadn't seen Outcasts or even the trailer at that point, so I couldn't comment on her impression (here's Good Dog's take on the show, and Den of Geek's more sanguine view).

But with the undoubtedly spurious feeling that I somehow had a stake in the territory, I was moved to point out that early TVSF was suspenseful/cerebral and always built around the core of a surprising idea pushed to its logical conclusion. Out Of The Unknown, Quatermass, Triffids, Chocky...

With a bit more thought and more than 140 characters I might have brought the list more up to date with Sci-Fi Channel's The Lost Room or mentioned Life on Mars. Life on Mars is as solid an inner-space SF concept as you'd find in the pages of New Worlds or anywhere in the New Wave - though to this day the BBC seem convinced that what they had there was just a 70s nostalgia show.

Developing a startling idea with ruthless what-if logic sets science fiction apart as a form, and characterises its unique thrill. But the notion that SF automatically means action-adventure seems to have taken over, much like Sunny D pushing orange juice off the shelves. SyFy, as the Sci-Fi Channel now calls itself, isn't commissioning any more Lost Rooms. I'm not going to blame Star Wars for the crimes of its imitators, but there's a whole raft of crap to be found on SyFy and Movies4Men where clones and cyborgs run around Mad Max landscapes in fibreglass armour, zapping each other. With no central driving idea worth the name, these schedule-fillers recycle the tropes of science fiction in standard adventure plots.

Even at the high end, TVSF has come to mean an ordinary drama in an extraordinary setting. The BBC/ABC co-production Defying Gravity was pitched as 'Grey's Anatomy in space' and then-controller Jane Tranter wrote in the press release, "Although primarily a human drama, the landscape and context and genre of Defying Gravity give it a very different flavour from other dramas on the BBC." Which frankly is completely arse about face - SF isn't a flavour, it's a form.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The Box

New to the Kindle and priced as low as they'll let me, an e-book containing two pieces of my short fiction that appear in neither of my collections.

The Box is the story of a haunted aircrash simulator and of war heroes in peacetime retraining. Eels is... well, the title alone should give you some kind of idea.

The Box was written for a loosely-themed hardcover anthology titled Retro Pulp Tales, edited by Joe R Lansdale. In the year of its publication it won me an award, my second ever. It was for Outstanding Achievement in Horror and Dark Fantasy: Short Fiction and it was presented by the International Horror Guild at the World Fantasy Convention at Saratoga Springs.

Eels was written on request for a special edition of PS Publishing's Postscripts magazine. Most of my short stories were written between bigger projects, as a way to decompress. It took me a while to raise the nerve to tackle the short form; it's hard. It calls for steady-handed precision work, with no room for indulgence or error. A short story works, or it doesn't. There's no covering up with jokes, action, or atmosphere.

Out of his Mind, my first short fiction collection, is now available in a Kindle edition, along with some of my early backlist titles – Chimera, on which was based the ITV miniseries with John Lynch, Scandinavian supernatural suspenser Follower, nightmare chase thriller Oktober, and police revenge drama Down River. The Painted Bride is the story of Molly Gideon, ex-junkie, unlikely Guardian Angel to her dead sister's children.