Internet, I write to you most laboriously from the lobby of a hotel in Greece. This is the first holiday time I have been abroad in a decade without bringing my laptop and a novel to be finished or a heap of manuscripts to critique. Of course, to celebrate this, I have come down with a cold. Neverthelss, the sea is blue and everything is very beautiful.
I was at SRFC last week to read from SPACE HOSTAGES. It was a lovely evening, and it was terrific to read alongside the splendid Emma Trevayne, Alex Lamb and Gareth L Powell. But if you missed it, my reading went a little something like this.
I shall be at Nine Worlds this coming Sunday and here are my events.
I Predict a Riot: YA perspectives of the future – 10.00am – 11.15am, Royal B
From near-future science fiction to harrowing dystopias, the YA vision of the future isn’t always a cheerful one. Are the stories we tell of a brave new world or a bleak new world? And what does that say for our main characters and our readers?
Kids in Space – 11.30am-12.30pm (Workshop and talk) Room 16
Explore alien worlds with Sophia McDougall, author of Mars Evacuees and Space Hostages, and create an alien or a planet of your own!
Come along — hope to see you there!
Space Hostages has been out for a fortnight!
I’ve been talking about it in various exciting places.
Jim over at Middle Grade Strikes Back asked me some great questions about worldbuilding, alien (and human) genders and languages here, and I told Tales of Yesterday about creating aliens (and drew them a picture of a certain amazing technicolour teenage Morror) here.
You can read the first snippet from Space Hostages back over there — and the next one is here and is a video snippet! I hope you enjoy
my hair. — I mean, my reading. Thisa conversation between Alice and probably my favourite new character in Space Hostages, who happens to be a spaceship: the Helen of Troy.
Helen came from a throwaway line — Mr Trommler, the CEO of Archangel Planetary, hits on Dr Muldoon and gets rebuffed. Unfazed, he says “At least my Helen loves me!” This was just supposed to be a characterisation note for him.
But then I thought, wait, what if that was literally true? So Helen is an intelligent, charming and friendly spaceship, who is also programmed to be in love with her captain — and she turned out to be so important in the plot I don’t know how I could ever have got by without her.
Don’t you think this is pretty? I am very proud of my aliens.
Alas, the trailer cannot show that the Krakkiluks are not merely ruthless and violent, they are also covered in jewels and fond of love poetry. Nor does it show you the Eemala, who are various shades of purple and red, six-limbed, and can fly. But if you would like to make their acquaintance, and you missed the giveaway over on The Book Smugglers — here’s another chance to win. For your best chance, link to the trailer on your social media of choice.
Here’s another snippet to celebrate. While the Goldfish and a certain alien from Mars Evacuees are back, an important new character is The Helen of Troy, a beautiful, interstellar spaceship with an advanced AI — who’s in love with her captain, Rasmus Trommler, the CEO of Archangel Planetary.
Space Hostages is coming soon! Really soon, in fact.
Space Hostages is the sequel to Mars Evacuees. Alice, Josephine, Carl and Noel are heading back to space — far beyond Mars, to encounter creatures no one’s ever heard of before. This time it’s supposed to be a nice, exciting holiday — a reward for their bravery in Mars Evacuees. But as you may guess from the title, things go very, wrong when they encounter the Krakkiluks, warriors of the Grand Expanse, who are very sparkly, very much in love with each other and very, very dangerous.
The lovely Book Smugglers will be revealing the beautiful cover very soon. Here’s a little glimpse of the title and tagline in the meantime — and a snippet from Chapter 1.
(Be aware — you can read Space Hostages without having read Mars Evacuees but obviously implicit spoilers for the first book lie ahead. There’s )
So, since a shocked world celebrated World Book Night with the discovery the Green Party wished to create an artistic utopia by stripping creators of copyright after 14 years, we have heard various defences.
1) that just because the Green Party puts a document called “policies” on their website, on purpose, we shouldn’t assume that things in that document are “policies” and really, we just shouldn’t look at that document.
2) That they update this document constantly, even though it means NOTHING, but because they’ve been updating it constantly (and thereby constantly approving what’s in it) anything in it we don’t like is probably really old – from the infancy of the party! and totally not something they would do and we should just close our eyes and think about ice cream or something.
And 3) they meant “14 years from the death of the author”, not just 14 years full stop, anyway.
There, it was all a silly misunderstanding!
Except the Green Party spokesman told the Telegraph: “It would be 14 years after publishing…”
…oh, but maybe he didn’t really mean…
“…as recommended by the Cambridge researcher Rufus Pollock.”
Rufus Pollock very much does mean 14 years only, because fuck writers in old age, that’s why, and he meant it as of 2007 at the earliest.
This is a policy, it is recent, and it DOES mean 14 years in your lifetime. Think that is a gift to corporations? Congratulations, you’ve already thought about it harder than they did.
Confused, or liars? You decide!
I was going to review Avengers: Age of Ultron for Front Row tonight. At the cinema, I was asked to sign an agreement to an embargo on reviews until 10pm tonight. This was the first anyone at the BBC had been told about such a thing, and it seems awfully silly to me, especially as tweeting was allowed, but there it is – my appearance, which would have been at 7pm had to be cancelled. But now it’s past 10 pm, here’s my review.
Mild-to-moderate “spoilers” follow. (Scare quotes because I don’t think your experience would be spoiled.) No character’s final fate is revealed, but some mid-point reveals are.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Like Tony Stark, Joss Whedon has an eye on his legacy, the scale of the odds he is facing and how very much he has to get right. This, his last Avengers screenplay must juggle not six but nine superheroes; must remain at least mostly-compatible with their solo franchises and the various TV tie-ins; must be sufficiently different from and yet sufficiently similar to the first movie; must go a bit more serious, and yet not dark; must provide the villain with a spectacular world-ending final plan unlike any any world-ending final plan we’ve ever seen before, and somehow, with all of this going on, must lose neither the humour nor the heart.
That this works more than it doesn’t is probably all you can ask. Age of Ultron is a long film, (don’t drink anything before going in, you won’t make it) but it doesn’t lag; despite numerous sub-quests the characters’ goals remain clear, without getting bogged down in incoherent McGuffin-hunting. No, it hasn’t gone “grimdark.” The quips feel a little more subdued but are still there, and it’s honestly a bit of a relief that the Whedonese is a shade less relentless. The CGI-enhanced battle scenes don’t descend into “screensavers crashing into each other.” The set piece action scenes are genuinely spectacular. The scene (which perhaps unfortunately, we’d already seen) of the heroes relaxing together after a party will remind fans of why we root for these characters in the first place.
Yet there are places where the strain shows, and it is the character moments that tend to fumble. It’s not that they’re forgotten, nor even that there’s an absence of pathos. It’s just that the glimpses of the heroes’ emotional lives feel static, rather than impelling them forward. Tony Stark is haunted by a terrifying vision of his friends’ deaths. This leads to the disastrous creation of Ultron –but to little beyond that – there’s no time to weave his fear and guilt toward a satisfying resolution, as there was in Iron Man 3. Some interesting insights into Black Widow’s past are revealed – enough to provide a little depth, but not enough to fuel a real character arc. Her left-field romance with Bruce Banner lurches between genuinely touching and awkwardly unconvincing. It’s sweet that she can soothe him out of his Hulk state and ride pig-a-back on his shoulder into battle, guns blazing. But the scenes where this intensely guarded character attempts to seduce an ludicrously oblivious Bruce by all but throwing her knickers at his head border on cringeably out-of-character, and his angst-ridden refusal of her overtures – “I can’t give you babies!” is more silly than heart-rending. Uh, maybe discuss the merits of dinner and a movie first, guys?
The character who perhaps receives the most fleshing out sadly rewards it the least. To make up for how little he had to do in the first movie, Clint Barton is given a farm, a pregnant wife, and two kids. (Yes, he and Natasha really are just good friends). This does produce a funny line – “You know I support your Avenging,” says the loyal Mrs Hawkeye – but it renders the character more more baffling than compelling. While it’s rather noble to attempt to break the mould of the privately angst-ridden superhero, this feels like a swing too far in the oppsite direction– especially when the character in the comics is the epitome of the screw-up managing to build heroism out of his own dysfunction. What would drive this perfectly contented Clint Barton to something as heroically ridiculous as taking on monsters with a bow and arrow? We have no idea. Mostly the domestic idyll serves as a clumsy and belaboured attempt to make the audience worry that Clint will die – not by placing him under any specific threat, but by evoking the audience’s knowledge of how genre tropes. Gosh, do you remember his wife is pregnant??? the script nudges us as he heads into battle. He has so many plans for when the battle is over and the baby’s born. He all but sighs that he’s just one day from retirement.
The time could have been better spent developing the newcomers Wanda and Pietro Maximoff – never, alas, referred to as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and still less as mutants – they’re “Enhanced” now. The basics are there – orphaned by a Stark Industries bomb in a fictional Eastern European war, they’re out for revenge on Stark and by extension, the Avengers. But somehow the one line that can bring a character to life even in a crowded script (“There’s only one god, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,”) isn’t there for them, and despite Elizabeth Olsen’s proven talents, we don’t really share their either their pain or the exhilaration of their abilities.
Nevertheless Paul Bettany, finally getting onto our screens after eight years’ faithful service as the voice of Jarvis, is quietly delightful as The Vision. Even from behind layers of CGI and red makeup, he manages to convey a sense of post-human curiosity and nobility in very little screentime.
The Avengers end with a new – and pleasingly more diverse – roster. One can only hope the new blood will bring renewed energy, and the faint weariness of their forebears won’t overshadow their future. If I’ve spent a lot of time on flaws of this perfectly respectable blockbuster, it’s to explain that I left feeling relieved that it hadn’t failed, rather than overjoyed it had succeeded. I still support the Avengers in their Avenging. It’s just that they’re no longer making it look effortless.
I am heading to Fantasycon — sadly no longer as co-chair. The reader may recall that I was evicted from a flat I had already been forced to rename the Cave of Fail for pestering the landlords demanding fripperies like cooking facilities and hot water, and preferably for there not to be water pouring through the bathroom lights. On taking up many of my duties, Glen Mehn is now on crutches. The position is possibly cursed, is what I’m saying.
Anyhow many/mmost of the panels are of my making and I hope you like them! But I am attending as a simple panellist. Everything I’m doing appears to be on one Non-Stop Saturday of Madness.
12.00 Noon – Dead Parents, Burned Homesteads and Wicked Stepmothers
Is it essential to write out the parents before youthful characters can head out on adventures? Are adult figures always unhelpful or malign? Should writers search for ways to keep parents around — or do fantasies of a world without parents fulfil a real need?
Marc Gascoigne (m), Edward Cox, Emma Newman, Sophia McDougall, Glenda Larke, Laura Lam
2.20 — READING!! I will read some of SPACE HOSTAGES* the sequel to MARS EVACUEES. I have only JUST FINISHED this book (expect further details when I’m less exhausted) and no one will ever have heard any of it before.
4.00pm – FanFiction: The Fan, the Pro and the Publishing Industry Writers on both sides of the fan/pro divide and writers who straddle it discuss fanfiction. After the success of E.L James, should publishers be searching for more hit writers on AO3 and Fanfic.net? What keeps talented writers away from traditional publishing?
James Barclay (m), A J Dalton, Gillian Polack, Charlaine Harris, Sophia McDougall, Helen Kenwright
5.00pm – Who’s Missing?
A discussion about some authors you should be reading, but probably aren’t.
Glen Mehn (m), Tom Pollock, Gillian Redfearn, Sophia McDougall
I hope to see you there!
*title may change! But I don’t want it to!
I was not entirely pleased when Harper Collins let me know they were not going to be using Andy Potts’ cover for Mars Evacuees in the US. I am very, very loyal to that cover, and I could not imagine anything matching its shiny orange perfection. Not to use something so lovely which is sitting right there seemed just perverse … and it meant I had to go through the terrifying peer-through-your-fingers-what-if-it’s-h
I was a little relieved when I heard that the artist was going to be Goro Fujita, who’s both an illustrator and an animator — working for Dreamworks among others. His pictures of forlorn, retro-looking robots in oddly contemporary settings and ability to mingle funny and scary convinced me that maybe it was going to be okay.
It is better than okay. It’s really, really good.
It’s interesting comparing the covers — they reveal things in each other that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Against the US cover, I can see a kind of moody grunginess (which I now think might be a very British aesthetic) in the UK cover that wasn’t obvious to me before. It’s in bright, cheerful colours and the B-movie swoop of the title font indicate fun, but the kids are facing us with shoulders squared with an air of subtle challengemix of rough, distressed textures focus more on the battering the kids take in the course of their adventure than on the jokes.
By contrast, the US cover stresses action and comedy. It looks like a Dreamworks film – (INCIDENTALLY HI DREAMWORKS I THINK THIS WOULD WORK VERY NICELY, CALL ME. ALSO HI PIXAR, HI EVERYONE ELSE, LIVE ACTION IS FINE TOO, HI.) While the kids on the British cover are posed almost like a band — facing us, just a slight air of challenge in their postures — here they’re facing away, in a scene full of motion. Carl on the left and Josephine on the right are poised to react to the spaceships — we don’t know how, but they’re doing something. Alice, in the middle, seems almost hypnotised by the scale of the interplanetary incident unfolding before her. They’re stylised and cartoony enough to look fun, but the colours here are that much darker and the kids are framed on all sides by danger.
So enough chat: here is the cover, and amazingly, I love it as much as the British one — so I have two gorgeous covers for one book. Alyson told me she wanted Alice, Josephine and Carl, AND Earth AND Mars AND tentacles AND spaceships on the cover, and I told her I thought that sounded really busy and probably impossible, but hey, she was right and I was wrong.
Technically, of course, Morror ships are invisible, (and this is an inherent trait that cannot be switched off), so the scene depicted here could not take place. But it captures the atmosphere of the book beautifully.
Mars Evacueesis out in the US on the 28th of January 2015. It’s out in the UK and the Commonwealth now!
I’m quickly dashing this down before I go to the Starlight Stage to talk about Mars Evacuees at Hay-on-Wye.
If you’ d like to enter the story competiton, please send entries to Egmont at the following address by June 21st.
Sophia McDougall story competiton c/o Maggie Eckel
The Yellow Building
1 Nicholas Road
Stories should be 1200 words or less and entrants should be 14 or under.
I’ll add the story prompts when the talk is over!