Review: Warbirds-The Art of Adam Tooby

One of my favourite movies this year was Hayo Miayazaki’s The Wind Rises. It’s one of those simple stories that’s actually made of dozens of complex moving parts and that structure itself is also complex. It’s the story of one young man’s drive to make a creative mark on the world, his evolving view on how important that is, the Japanese mindset entering World War 2, a love story and a playful, melancholy exploration of the pioneer spirit. Oh and it’s also a warm, funny curtain call for one of the greatest modern film makers to have ever lived.

I read Warbirds several months ago and I’ve been trying to process how I feel about it. The Wind Rises is the closest thing I have to an answer.

 

Warbirds collects the aviation art of Adam Tooby. Tooby has an extraordinary style, combining huge detail and precision with a tremendous eye for natural composition. Tooby’s style is particularly interesting as his career incorporates the rise of digital art as a form. He’s embraced it too, and the book’s most interesting sections deal with the painstaking levels of work Tooby puts into each piece. There’s an element of architecture to this as much as art, with each plane carefully assembled digitally, the components checked for scale and fit and then the levels of detailing, colour and shade being laid in over the top. It’s a weird, fascinating combination of art, draftsmanship and Computer Assisted Design and Tooby speaks about his process with tremendous eloquence and enthusiasm. He’s an artist who loves his work and has wholeheartedly embraced the new tools provided and the ways they enhance his work.

It’s a surprisingly effective history book too. Tooby uses actual engagements as the basis for a lot of the work here and provides historical context for each image. What’s communicated most clearly by this is the remarkable hit and miss nature of aircraft design. Numerous planes depicted in the book were horrifically unfit for their designated mission and rotated out to another or proved so terrifyingly effective that they were used as a yardstick to measure other craft by for decades. Like The Wind Rises, there’s something equal parts awful and charming about the stop start nature of aeorspace engineering and Tooby, clearly passionate about aerospace history, speaks about engineers and pilots alike with wit and eloquence.


The other similarity it shares with The Wind Rises is a fruitful unease at its subject matter. Tooby’s work is amazing; vast, expansive, highly detailed art that captures the planes and the graceful savagery of air combat perfectly. But just as Miyazaki’s movie never lets us forget that the beautiful planes at its heart are weapons, Tooby never lets us lose sight of the fact human lives were lost in and because of these planes. His artwork is intense and unrelenting, each of the planes working for a living instead of simply making beauty passes across his ‘camera’. They’re beautiful, certainly, but they’re beautiful the same way a well maintained sword is; elegant worksmanship, contained energy and the constant threat of violence. Tooby communicates them all with the same enthusiastic, precision-tooled eye and the result is a book of extraordinary detail, honoring the grace of its subjects but never looking away from what they’re used for. Like The Wind Rises, Tooby acknowledges both the beauty and brutality in his subject and creates something that acknowledges both. A remarkable collection of work from a remarkable artist.

Review: Beside The Seaside Anthology

The Yorkshire seaside is deceptive. Whitby and Scarborough especially both trade on a combination of old world jollity and modern junk food, promising you a little history, a little sea spray, some chips and maybe the odd vampire. But there’s rich, deep veins of horror beneath the hilly coastal towns. The future washes ashore there just as the past is washed away and that constant ebb and flow, and what it gives and takes away, is at the core of this new anthology from editor Scott Harrison.

Punch and Judy shows are always a bright, cheery nightmare and they’re at the heart of ‘That’s The Way To Do It’ by Alison Littlewood. This is the sort of story you expect Mark Gatiss to be introducing as part of ‘The Man in Black’, a brilliantly executed look at the absurdist horrors of seaside entertainment. Littlewood’s got a keen eye for the ridiculous, and yet somehow enthralling, entertainments offered on the Yorkshire coast and the story is beautifully executed throughout, especially the nightmarish final moments.

What really works here though is the awareness of character and human nature. Littlewood has a sharp eye for how intelligence is no certainty of safety and how alone someone who doesn’t get the joke can be. That’s the cruellest cut here and the most interesting dash of horror; seeing it approach doesn’t matter. But you have to watch anyway.

‘Landlady interface’ by Lee Harris sees a welcome lightning of tone and may also be the first piece of Beachpunk SF. Or perhaps BandBPunk. It’s a smartly handled piece that takes a definite stylistic left turn at the top of the first page and rides it all the way to the end of the story. It’s crammed full of SF terms and phrases and, in the hands of a lesser writer, they’d feel archaic and out of place. But just like Littlewood uses human nature to enhance the horror of her piece, Harris uses language as a secondary character note in his. We don’t see the ending coming, neither does the lead but by the time we get there we can certainly appreciate the artistry and grace in the hustle. An elegant pseudo-crime story executed with wit, it’s also a world I could stand to see returned to. Here’s hoping Harris’ lead has another holiday planned soon.

‘Scarborough in July’ by Sadie Miller is beautiful. If the other stories here use the seaside of Yorkshire as a lens to tell stories through, Miller reverse the process. Here the story is a camera obscura following a group of characters through their lives on one day in Scarborough. It’s an elegant, Victorian shambles of a town and Miller’s love for it shines through as we follow a woman working in a chip shop, a young man working at a hotel, an actress and others through the endlessly important, endlessly small mountains and valleys of daily life. Miller has tremendous love not just for her characters but the shapes they make as they carve their way through the world and that’s what this story ultimately is; a time lapse photograph of lives, some human, some not quite, in a busy seaside town. Poetic, Joyceian in parts and beautiful.

Harrison’s own story ‘The Last Train to Whitby’ is the other piece that could definitely stand revisiting. The ghost of Graham Greene, on holiday and unsure how he feels about it, stalks Harrison’s story as it follows a damaged secret agent back to the last place he ever wanted to return. If Harris’ piece is B&BPunk then this is Seaside noir, as the lead struggles to stay ahead of his boss’ hitman, those he damaged the last time he was here and his own increasingly violent tendencies. Bloody. damaged and gripping, this is a story that eats its ice cream with one hand on the gun in its pocket. Here’s hoping that either this agent, or the others hinted at in the piece, will return.

‘The Woman in the Sand’ by Trevor Baxendale treads similar ground to Littlewood’s piece but chooses a more impressionistic route. The story of Kate, a young woman taking her son Tom to the beach on holiday, it shares Littlewood’s keen awareness of both the passage of time and the fragility of childhood innocence. Overlaid on this is an elegantly cranked sense of unease as Kate and Tom befriend a sand sculptor whose work begins to look more and more familiar as the days go by. There’s a very brave choice made here regarding resolution that will frustrate some readers but paid off extremely well for me. Baxendale excels at the sense of something otherworldly brushing past you in the waves and that’s exactly what you get here. The whisper of something perhaps not awful, but certainly alien, written in the sand.

Gary McMahon is one of the finest horror authors of his generation and his work here proves that. ‘She Who Waits’, like the best stories in this anthology, bases its horror on real, human loss. Ash, grieving for the death of his wife, is drawn back to the places they went during a holiday in Scarborough. He’s a ghost seeking a ghost, haunting his past as it haunts him. Ash is the classic horror victim in many ways, a damaged character who has wandered into the deep woods, but McMahon never denies him agency. He’s a smart, compassionate man whose mind is continually dragged to one thought. He’s not stupid, he’s not one dimensional, he’s just hurt. The predator that zeroes in on him is chillingly rendered but what will stay with you is the ending. Like the best ones here it’s complex, shot through with happiness and release even as the horror builds.

‘The Girl on the Suicide Bridge’ by JA Mains is dead tied with ‘Scarborough in July’ as my favourite story here. Mains’ story, like many here, deals with grief but turns it a very different way. Here grief isn’t a destination so much as the first stop on a map, as Elsie, his lead, sets off to try and understand both why her brother killed himself and why so many people chose the Valley Bridge to end their lives. This mirrors real life, where the bridge was a notorious suicide hotspot. Elsie’s response is grounded, believable and completely honest. She wants to know, she finds out and in doing so carries out an act of heroism that will stay with you long after the book’s done. As lyrical as Miller’s piece and as subtly otherworldly as Baxendale’s it’s a haunting story about love and death and how they connect. It’s also one of the absolute highlights of a staggeringly well put together anthology.

Sue Wilsea’s ‘Scarborough Warning’ rounds the anthology out with a definite step change in both tone and subject matter. It’s a really dangerous game to play, somewhere between close up magic and a street con artist but Wilsea writes with such confidence that every single things she shoots for she hits. A romance, a tragedy and a very particular kind of horror story combine in a piece filled with painfully acute, devastating observations of human nature. The smallest scale story in the anthology, it punches far above its weight and closes the book out on a real high note.

 

Scott Harrison is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best editors in the business. His anthologies are always varied, always intelligent and most importantly always crammed with invention, enthusiasm and talent. This one is the best so far of an extremely impressive run. The line for the next anthology starts here. I might write a postcard or two whilst I wait…

The Books What I Write: The 6th Doctor Sourcebook for the Doctor Who RPG

See that?

 

That’s a book.

 

About Doctor Who.

 

That I WROTE.

 

Have you ever been fistbumped by your inner 12 year old? Because if not you should it feels GREAT.

 

I keep looking at the thing and touching it, and opening its pages and reading the words I put there. It’s…lovely. Gareth Hanrahan and Andrew Kenrick, the line editors, did a great job and the thing looks and feels like…a thing. A real actual book that I could, and have, used to help write other books in the series.


It was huge fun to write too, and taught me a hell of a lot. How to strip an episode of something for useful material, how to lay things out, how to continue plot threads. RPG writing is a deeply weird profession and this was my biggest project to date but it’s like working in a machine shop for fiction. You get very good at popping the hood, checking the oil pressure and working out what works and what doesn’t. That certainly helped with the 10th Doctor sourcebook, that was more than twice the length, tried quite hard to kill me a couple of times of this year and was handed in a little while back.

Once that’s out, there’ll be another one of these posts. But, for now, it’s all about this ridiculous, beautiful little thing that fell out of my head.

Good job, book. Welcome to the world.

Now, off to write about evil nanotech facepaint.

There are days when I love my job:)

Review: Interstellar Adaptation

Written by Greg Keyes

Published by Titan

£7.99

 

There are few jobs more thankless than writing a movie novelisation. For a start there’s a good chance that the movie you’re adapting may not be the one people see as they’re often put together long before the final cut is. Then there’s the constant struggle to stick to the path laid out for you while simultaneously trying to put your own mark on the material. When you succeed you get work like Christa Faust’s Snakes on a Plane adaptation that builds on the film and improves on it. Most of the time you get a Clif Notes version of the script, a book that’s usually competent but rarely more than that.

 

Greg Keyes has managed a good bit more than that with his adaptation of Interstellar. He’s done it in a very logical way too; by focusing on the emotional workings of the leads and a surprising amount of the secondary characters. The exact structure you saw on screen is on the page but Keyes gives welcome depth to some characters and also ensures that a few of the better lines aren’t buried beneath Hans Zimmer’s admittedly excellent but Wall of Sound-esque soundtrack.

The three characters that really shine here are Donald, Murph and Getty. Who’s Getty? Good question, that’s the character Topher Grace plays in the final sequence. On screen he’s never really given much to do besides not quite get into a fight with Casey Affleck. On the page he’s much more fun and is actually a neat example of time passing on Earth. He’s the child of a couple of project scientists, someone Amelia babysat for before heading off on the mission.

Donald also gets a lot of very welcome context. On screen John Lithgow had a decent amount to do and knocked it out of the park but on the page the relationship between Donald and Coop has a slightly darker tone. Donald has the pragmatism of a survivor and is under no illusions about what Coop really wants or whether he’ll ever come back. There’s a little more snap and snarl to their interactions which doesn’t quite sit right with the well-rounded familial affection we saw on screen. Donald’s thought processes are spot on though and Keyes finds a quieter, more grounded kind of heroism in the old man than in Coop and his children.

But it’s Murph where the book really shines. Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn were highlights of the movie and Keyes builds on what we saw to get a much closer look at the mind of the youngest Cooper. Her rage at her father abandoning her is cut with frustration at the Gravity problem not being done yet. Murph is brilliant, the mind of her age, but she’s a cog spinning free, not quite connected to the rest of the world. That final scene in her room, on screen, is more about Coop than her. On the page it’s all Murph and Keyes shows us each stage of her thought processes as she finally realizes who the ghost was. It’s smartly done and while it lacks the emotional gut punch of the movie it makes up for it with clarity of communication.

Interstellar isn’t a complex, lyrical SF novel but it’s also not a paint by numbers checklist of the movie’s plot points. Keyes has focused on the areas the movie couldn’t and created a complementary version of the same narrative. If you liked the film, and I did, then this isn’t just a good read, it’s a useful one. Give it a try.

Fans of Fear and Wonder: How Geek Syndicate Saved The BBC From Itself

 

The BBC have a deservedly lousy reputation when it comes to engaging with the SF fan community. A good chunk of that is the PTSD the generation who saw the 7th Doctor and Ace walk off into the sunset still suffer from. The rest is the unlovable combination of misunderstanding and contempt that has defined a lot of the BBC’s attempts to engage with genre fiction. The responses are so predictable I’m sure there’s a bingo card for it somewhere. ‘Stock Doctor Who footage’, ‘Comedy music’, ‘Time lapse photography’ and, of course, ‘When in doubt, mash the Star Wars theme button until the casing breaks.’

As of last week, that bingo card is irrelevant. Because David Monteith and Barry Nugent have arrived and, in two shows, saved BBC fan coverage from itself.

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Sunday Moment of Zen: Orion

That’s a photo from Orion’s test flight earlier this week. NASA’s first manned spacecraft since the space shuttle, Orion is step one in a journey that we’ve wandered down no less than three times; putting humanity on Mars. I remember reading the issue of Spaceflight Magazine detailing Pathfinder, the President Bush-led initiative.

The first President Bush.

I remember his son rolling out what felt a lot like the exact same operation with the serial numbers filed off too.

But this time feels different. Orion is crewed, and the plan is it will be the workhorse to get us to orbit and out to Mars on a larger craft. Now I’ve been around long enough to know that probably means ‘get us to orbit and with a tremendous effort and almost impossibly good luck, the Moon’ but that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that it got off the pad, circled the Earth and came home.

What matters is that, after a year that saw the tragic death of a Spaceship Two crewmember and the loss of an Antares? This one made it off world and back again.

Orion’s cleared the tower. And so have we, again. Here’s the proof, and here’s your Sunday Moment of Zen.

Making Deadlines

 

Today is my friend Chris Brosnahan’s birthday. It’s also the day after the 8th stave of Deadlines, his new novel, was released. Chris is working with The Pigeonhole on this, a really cool group of people who are combining three of my favorite things; the ubiquity of the internet, serial fiction and bonus material. Each stave is essentially a chapter and each chapter is accompanied by a piece of bonus information. Sometimes it’s behind the scenes stuff, sometimes it’s talking about the inspiration for that part of the book and sometimes? Sometimes it’s in world. This is the sort of storytelling I tend to grab with both hands, structurally brilliant, intensely clever and colossally well designed. Oh and it’s stupidly cheap too which is always a bonus. There are 10 staves, each will cost you 50p and you can jump aboard right now

But jump aboard to what? Well, imaginary rhetorical questioner I am delighted you asked. Deadlines is a book about the one story no journalist ever wants to be handed; the death of one of their own. But when Gemma Masterton and David Levy start digging into the case they find out much more about their colleague, and their world, than they or anyone else wanted them to…

This is exactly the sort of story that makes me sit up and pay attention and Chris knocks it out of the park from page 1. If you loved State of Play or the final season of The Wire, if you’re a fan of crime fiction or if you own both a phone and a brain that likes reading this is an absolute steal. Plus when was the last time you got someone a decent birthday present for 50 to £5?

The link is here. Go sign up, I have and it’s GREAT.

 

Serial

 

Serial is the most listened to podcast in the world right now. A spin off of This American Life, it follows Sarah Koenig’s investigation into the murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in 1999. The case focused on Hae’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed who was ultimately convicted based on the testimony of his supposed best friend, Jay, who was also an accessory to the crime.

 

The show is a runaway hit.

It’s fascinating.

It’s horrifying.

Often not for the right reasons.

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Al Dente: Saffron Risotto, Hold The Risotto

Hi everyone and welcome to Risotto City! Population…US!

And Risotto. Obviously. Otherwise why would it be called Risotto City? And by extending that logic you’d have to conclude that not everyone in Giggleswick laughs all the time and Blubberhouses is not a time lost and landlocked 19th Century whaling village.

 

SHUT UP.

 

LET ME HAVE THIS.

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Criminal Thoughts: Season 10 Episode 4 ‘The Itch’

 

Welcome to this week’s Criminal Thoughts, with my learned colleague Vic Linde and myself. This week’s episode, ‘The Itch’, was written Breen Frazier and Larry Teng. Here are some thoughts about it.

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