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It’s the End of the World As We Know It (The best post-apocalyptic literature)

Posted September 14, 2015 by Emily Stamm

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There’s something undeniably fascinating about a good end of the world, post-apocalyptic story. It’s a great lens to view humanity through, and it often shows us the good and bad of our own society. The only problem with this kind of dystopian fiction is that there is currently so much of it! Everywhere you turn someone is trying to get you to read or watch the latest version of The Hunger Games. Here are seven great examples of post-apocalyptic stories. They might not be the best, and they certainly aren’t the only ones, but they’re all entertaining, beautiful, and engrossing stories about what happens after the world ends.


Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie surprised a lot of people this summer with its amazing characters, stunts, and storytelling. Much of this post-apocalyptic world is shown–but not explained– to great effect. If you want a gorgeous movie set after a mysterious disaster has changed the face of society, this is the one for you.


Station Eleven,204,203,200_.jpg

Station Eleven recently won the Arthur C. Clarke award, and I’m not sure I’ve ever agreed with an award quite so much. This was the most exciting, moving, thought-provoking book I read last year. The story-line jumps back and forth between the beginning of the plague and the present day, 14 years after illness killed most of the world’s population. Of special interest to fans of audio is the audio-book version read by Kirsten Potter.


Parasitology Trilogy Everything by Mira Grant

EVERYONE SHOULD READ THESE BOOKS! I’ve been tearing through Mira Grant’s back catalogue as I eagerly await the November 24 release of the last book in the Parasitology trilogy. In all of her books, Grant does a superb job of combining the hustle of blogging, politics, and mad science with the fear and intensity of a zombie (or zombie like) apocalypse. Start with the Newsflesh trilogy (since it is complete) and then read the Parasitology Trilogy. Trust me dear reader, I wouldn’t steer you wrong!  


East of West

East of West is a science fiction/western comic set in a future dystopian United States where the Civil War never ended, it only got more complicated. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse show up, and you can imagine the extra chaos that brings to everything. There’s a lot going on in this comic that I don’t want to spoil, but if you’re into alternate history, Firefly, or anything else on this list, you’re probably going to love East of West.


Good Omens

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Writing together. I shouldn’t have to say any more to sell you on this book. Two of the greatest writers of the last few decades came together in 1990 to bring us a hilarious look at the end of the world, and all the people (including angels and demons) involved.


Maddaddam trilogy

Margaret Atwood is undeniably one of the best writers of the last few decades. She’s brought us so many great stories, but the Maddaddam Trilogy might be her best work yet. The books take us through the turmoil of civilization after a mad scientist plays god and creates a designer disease. Fascinating, horrifying, moving, and at times funny, this is a must read for anyone interested in post-apocalyptic stories.


Adventure Time

You’re seeing this on the list, and maybe you’re a little confused. Why am I including a children’s cartoon in a list of great stories about the end of the world? On the surface Adventure Time is a weird show for kids about a boy and his magical dog going on adventures together. If you look a little deeper, however, Adventure Time is clearly set on a half ruined Earth after a disastrous “Mushroom War” wrecked havoc on the world and mutated life forms into all kinds of strange creatures. Check out the Adventure Time wiki for a full list of references to the mysterious events that ended the world and created Ooo. 


What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic story and why? Tell us in the comments below!



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5 Pitches for the Next Gritty Hollywood Remake

Posted August 7, 2015 by Emily Stamm

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These days, Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of rebooting our favorite books into gritty dystopian movies and television shows. The latest beloved classic to suffer this fate is Little Women. The loving sisters are going to be uncovering conspiracies and trying not to kill each other in Philadelphia, while we watch and wonder how on Earth someone thought this was a good idea.

Let’s take a look at how we could remake five other childhood favorites into ridiculous television drama or made for t.v. movies.


The Secret Garden
Is it so hard to imagine this + opium smuggling?


After her parents are murdered, sixteen-year old Mary Lennox is sent to live with her reclusive uncle. She’s miserable until she discovers a mysterious locked garden…with an attractive boy inside! Mary breaks into the garden and is shocked to discover that eighteen year old Dickon is running her uncle’s opium smuggling operation out of…The Secret Garden. We’ll kill cousin Colin off early, throw in a dash of star-crossed lovers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and BAM! You’ve got a hit.


Charlotte’s Web

A pig, a spider, a revolution.


Wilbur the pig is shunned by the other barnyard animals, until Charlotte the spider takes an interest in him. She is the leader behind a group of animals who want to revolt against humans and take their lives into their own hands. Charlotte comes with with a scheme to spell words in her webs, manipulating the humans to think that Wilbur is chosen by God and should not be slaughtered after the fair. She begins convincing them that he should be set free, along with all the other farm animals, but is tragically killed in childbirth before her plan can come to fruition. Almost all of her children flee as soon as they hatch, but three remain behind to carry on her fight to free the animals.


Anne of Green Gables

That smile has never been innocent…


Anne’s parents are killed by rival wizards when she is a baby, leaving her to float from foster home to orphanage and back again. When she is in her early teens, she is accidentally sent to the Cuthberts on Prince Edward Island. Furious that she isn’t a boy, they threaten to send her back. Anne casts a spell that makes them, and the entire town, adore her. The wizards who killed her parents find Anne, and she must battle them while maintaining her spell on the town. Scenes of note include the wizards changing the raspberry cordial into currant wine in order to discredit Anne; Wizards trying to kill Anne, but instead killing Matthew; and Anne becoming a powerful enough witch to teach at the Prince Edward Island equivalent to Hogwarts.


A Little Princess

Wouldn’t this just be 100x better if it was in space?


Young Sara Crewe is taken by her father to one of the best boarding schools on the moon in 2075. Knowing her father is a rich explorer who has been doubling his fortune every five years on Mars, they treat her like a little princess. A few years later, the school receives word that Captain Crewe’s whole team was lost on Mars during a dust storm, and he was most certainly dead. The school, especially the headmistress, begin treating Sara like a servant. She regularly has to go outside in a spacesuit to collect rocks and clean dust off the solar panels (because space). Meanwhile, a mysterious man moves in next door to the school. He slowly recovers his memory, and realizes that he was the lead scientist on Captain Crewe’s mission, and that’s why he has a research monkey living with him. The monkey escapes (in a tiny monkey spacesuit) and Sara finds him while cleaning solar panels. When returning the monkey to the mysterious stranger, they learn of their connection.

Bonus sequel: The mysterious stranger and Sara go back to Mars to try and recover Captain Crewe’s body. Once there, they find that the whole crew has become zombies. Space zombies.


Little House on the Prairie

If there’s one thing the Little House books need, it’s more grit!


A few decades after most of the world was wiped out by nuclear bombs, the Ingalls family struggles to survive in the desolate wasteland that was once America. If we change the tone of the narrator from unending optimism to resignation, we can even keep most of the major plot points the same! Everyone gets malaria, sister Mary goes blind, locusts eat all the crops, nuclear winter strands the family in their log cabin, and there are so many chores to be done. Think of the possibilities for costumes! Special effects! Dramatic acting! There is no way this wouldn’t be a hit.


Whether you love them or hate them, we want to hear your thoughts on the gritty reboot trend. Do you have any hope at all for the new Little Women series?

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Six Lovecraft tales to drive sleep from your door

Posted December 22, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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We’re joined on the blog today by Daniel East, writer and Lovecraft enthusiast.

Like that dead rat in the wall, Lovecraft’s legacy is something you know of long before you discover the body of his work. At his best, his stories haunt the reader with an unearthly pall of doom. At his worst, they just stink. Here are six of his best, though be warned – these are works that have not just changed the way we write horror, but have altered our very definition of what that word means.

6. The Shadow over Innsmouth

Two words: fish people. This one’s also great because many of Lovecraft’s other stories exist within the same universe, and it’s nice to know when someone drops a line about, ‘Them thar peeple from Innsmouth,’ you can be all like, ‘oh yeah, that’s on account of all the fish people.’


Mike Bukowski has a project going in which he is illustrating each and every creature found in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

Also one of my favourites because it is essentially three long, expositionary monologues followed by a parade.

5. The Rats in the Walls

I prefer Lovecraft’s longer stories to his short, but this one takes a lovely turn and is a good example of how quickly the universe of a Lovecraft story can go from ‘slightly peculiar’ to ‘HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT IS THAT?’

Also there’s plenty of cats in it. Lovecraft was definitely a cat person (by which I mean he preferred cats to dogs, not that he was a star-born feline abomination.)

4. The Call of Cthulu


Probably considered by many to be the best introduction to Lovecraft, this story doesn’t top the list due to Lovecraft’s hackneyed detective technique. It’s a good thing people wrote letters and took death-bed dictation classes back in the 1920s instead of Instagramming everything, otherwise this story would be three tweets and a photo of the eponymous sunken god with the hashtag #FML.

Also: Lovecraft is really, really racist. It becomes pretty clear in this story but it’s the kind of overt, damaged grandpa kind of racism. Just fyi.

3. The Colour out of Space

Recently, my wife went to New Zealand. ‘Read a Lovecraft story,’ I suggested, ‘they’re excellent!’ She was pretty steamed when she couldn’t sleep at 4am, stranded in a strange, sodden country where the locals were like us but strangely affected somehow.

I really like the monsters in this one because they’re right on the edge of comprehension. It’s one of the best examples of Lovecraftian horror where the creature really isn’t describable.

Also also: gotta love his titles. Always do what they say on the tin.

2. The Dunwich Horror


My definition of a great short story is one where comprehension dawns on the very last sentence. (See: Salinger’s Nine Stories) Unlike the compactness of Salinger, this 40-page tale has enough going on to fill a very excellent movie. In each of the sections the dread just keeps ramping up until you have one of the most memorable monsters in all of fiction just melting small-town folks from New England.

One downside is that there are long tracts of exposition in really bad New England accent.

 1. The Whisperer in the Darkness


It’s Lovecraft’s cosmological horrors that compel me the most. A lone wizard or a cult of inbred cannibals is interesting, but Lovecraft really shines when he starts to outline the terrible surgery of a race of winged insects from Pluto. This story does it all: turns on the last sentence, has great monsters, a palpable ramping of dread and also one of the best ‘bad idea’ moments of all Lovecraft’s prose.

Hint: if your pen-pal claims he fears for his life, then suddenly sends you a letter saying everything is totally cool and you should come hang out and oh, also, bring all those photos and documented evidence I sent you – DON’T DO IT’S A TRAP.


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The greatest villains in cinema

Posted May 30, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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A while back I did a post on villains, the different types they can be, and their function in a story. So, in the spirit of villainy, I’ve compiled a list of the greatest villains to appear in film. By no means conclusive, there’s an aim for diversity though, with a few caveats.

First, monsters are out. The nature of a monster in a story is not to be the villain, rather they are an aspect of the plot. So, no Alien. No Predator. No T-1000.  And sadly for me, no Frank Booth from Blue Velvet.

Secondly, the villain must be the villain. Which leaves out Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (though not in Hannibal, but let’s face it, that film isn’t going on any lists). No Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. No Gmork from The Neverending Story.

Lastly, the villain needs to not just be bad for the sake of it. They can’t just be an aimless foil for the hero. They need to have a reason, a drive, beyond just endless destruction and chaos. The villain needs to think they’re doing good. So, no Joker. No Stansfield from The Professional. No Voldemort.

Why the caveats? Well, why not? The list would be enormous otherwise, it was hard enough just settling on the following dirty dozen, presented here chronologically.

Hans Beckert in M

The film and the role that pushed both director Fritz Lang and actor Peter Lorre into international recognition, after both had emerged from the silent era of film in Germany. Lorre’s Beckert is the height of creepiness, whistling In The Hall of the Mountain King as he preys on small children. His final plea to the citizens is utterly awful and yet highly applicable eighty years after it was made.


HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey

There have been many imitators and debtors to the legacy of HAL, but nothing surpasses the demonstrably evil computer that wishes to be a real boy, and is prepared to kill everyone by lipreading just to prove its point. The monotone and the silence encapsulates HAL’s villainy perfectly, and is one of Kubrick’s greatest cinematic achievements.


Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Just pure evil. And evil that comes cloaked in the pretense of goodwill and therapeutic aid. Nurse Ratched is so successful as a villain, she’s practically become an archetype that extends beyond fiction and into real-life.


Noah Cross in Chinatown

Oh god, it’s just impossible to watch John Huston and not be terrified of him in this. Without revealing anything of a plot that benefits from not being revealed, Huston’s Cross is a hideous portrayal of a villain who’s not just bad, they’re bad in all the ways a person can be bad.


Antonio Salieri in Amadeus

An odd villain in that he narrates his villainy to us wholesale, acknowledging how he is the one doing all the bad things to his rival Mozart, but F.Murray Abraham plays Salieri with such conflict glee, destroying that which he loves because he hates himself. It’s a masterclass of characterisation, showing how we can all be the bad guy, when faced with our own insecurities.


Michael Corleone in The Godfather Parts 1 & 2

Similar to Salieri, in that we’re with Michael all the way – from his innocent soldier boy to his isolated and lonely conclusion – but his story is one that documents the steps a character takes into becoming the villain of the piece. One could look at any number of the scenes where Michael navigates his way through the the criminal underworld, but really it’s in his scenes with Kay and how he treats his family that the character is most horrific.


Annie Wilkes in Misery

Mark and I went on about how great Kathy Bates was as Annie Wilkes the other day, and she’s probably my favourite villain in this list. Other than the imprisonment and psychological torture, and despite the hobbling scene, the thing that makes her quite possibly the scariest one of the lot is that she’s a villain who just loves books. That’s all. She just wants more books. Give her books, or else.


The Grand High Witch in The Witches

It’s a hard balance to get a villain terrifying in a story made for children, and not have it tip over into cartoonish and camp. This particular character gets bonus points from a lot of places. First, she comes with the source material, which is one of the more terrifying childhood reads going around. Secondly, she is terrifying both in disguise and out of it. Thirdly, Angelica Huston portrays the witch, which means the character is literally the daughter of the villain from Chinatown. Jesus.


Keyer Soze in The Usual Suspects

The bad guy that all the other bad guys are afraid of. A bad guy we barely even know, and can only glimpse at how far his evilness reaches, but you have to credit the villain who is able to sacrifice everything for his mission. Too many antagonists are brought down by their pride, or their sentimental weakness, but not Soze.

Also, how long is the statute of limitations on The Usual Suspects? Can we talk about it yet?


Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven

This is how villains should be written. Absolutely committed to his self-belief that he is the hero, he is the good guy in this story, Little Bill is completely staggered at the final realisation that the laws of narrative don’t work the way he thoughts they did. And what did he want? A house. He wanted to build a house. Such a good bad guy.


Max Cady in Cape Fear

A strangely forgotten Scorcese film, despite the fact that it launched an entire sequence of Simpsons episodes. De Niro’s Cady is the supreme villain, god-like in his ability to turn up at the right places, escape every possible block Nick Nolte attempts, and in the end becomes the absolute manifestation of repressed guilt and fear. And he speaks in tongues, too.


Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men

A story that is essentially reflecting on the moral culpability of society that has too many villains, the Coen brothers really only needed to adapt Cormac McCarthy’s novel faithfully and they’d have a really good bad guy. Casting Javier Bardem however gave them one of the most iconic representations of evil that we’ve ever had on screen, from the haircut to the speech pattern, to the belligerent questioning way he has with every single character in the story.



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Ten reasons to be excited for the new Godzilla movie

Posted May 8, 2014 by Mark

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There’s a new Godzilla movie on the way, and I think everyone should be excited. It looks good, there are some very talented people involved, and we got so excited about Pacific Rim last year that we just have to talk about this movie.


1. It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, whose giant monster game is strong. He directed the excellent independent sci-fi film Monsters in 2o10.


2. Bryan Cranston is in it and he looks mad. Hoping he goes the full Heisenberg at some point.


3. Godzilla looks like Godzilla and not some random lizard (I’m looking at you, 1997 Godzilla).


4. There is at least one giant monster fight. Well, in the trailer there’s a moment where Ken Watanabe says, ‘Let them fight’. I assume he’s talking about giant monsters and not Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche.


5. This shot of Godzilla roaring in the rain.


6. The trailer uses the choral theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey so it gets automatic nerd bonus points.


7. There hasn’t been any silly effort to keep the look of the monster secret, so we can all focus more on the epic level of destruction.


8. It looks more like a disaster movie than an action movie with giants.


9. The biggest Godzilla ever. Literally.

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10. Godzilla’s roar. Just listen to it!

Looking back on this list it’s apparent that most of my reasons for seeing this film are variations on ‘Godzilla roars’ but you must admit that it’s a compelling roar. In fact, this film could just be 90 minutes of Godzilla roaring in different environments and I’d probably still be satisfied.


If you’re in the mood for an awesome monster story, you should preorder Gorgon by Greig Beck. Available June 10 where all good ebooks are sold. An ancient evil has awoken….


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Should I keep reading?

Posted May 5, 2014 by Mark

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As avid readers, we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do when life attempts to crash our reading time. Sometimes there are practical reasons to stop reading. Sometimes there are ethical reasons. And sometimes you should just keep reading.

1. Someone asks, “What are you reading?”

KEEP READING My significant other asked me this the other night. I tilted my book slightly so she could see the title on the cover but didn’t engage in conversation.

2. Someone sustains an injury

DEPENDS Look up, see if they’re ok. If they are, keep reading. If not, gauge the level of injury before putting your book down. Bruises = keep reading. Any blood = sigh and make a show of putting your book down, so they are aware of what an idiot they are. Broken bones = ok, stop.

3. Your phone rings

KEEP READING The sooner the caller learns to send a text like a normal person, the better. You’re giving them a valuable life lesson.

4. Someone offers you food

PUT THE BOOK DOWN Always go with the food. Bonus points if it’s free food.

5. You approach your destination

PUT THE BOOK DOWN I cannot tell you how many times I’ve missed my stop when I’ve been reading on public transport.

6. Someone invites you out to do something ‘fun’

KEEP READING Ok first of all, I’m reading and reading is delightful. And second, all the fun stuff happens indoors, everyone knows that.

7. Someone offers you a drink

DEPENDS Assess the caffeine/alcohol content first. If someone is interrupting your reading time to offer you water or juice or some other lame drink, don’t even look up.

8. There is something good on TV

KEEP READING That’s not a good reason to put your book down. Unless it’s Star Trek, then it depends. Keep reading if it’s the original series, Voyager or Enterprise. Put the book down for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.

9. Your significant other/parent/roommate will get angry if you don’t put your book down

KEEP READING Everyone knows the secret to successfully living with another person is to find something you do that annoys them and do it as often as you can.

10.  You’re about to be arrested

KEEP READING A dose of escapism is probably what you need right now.



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Five tips for aspiring science fiction writers

Posted April 28, 2014 by Charlotte McConaghy

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1. World Building: What if this continues?

Whether you do this as your first job or your last, building your world carefully and meticulously is one of the most important aspects of all spec-fiction. This doesn’t just apply to fantasy writers who can literally make up new worlds and therefore have both more freedoms and more difficulties in the task, but to science-fiction writers, horror writers—all spec-fic writers. Making changes to our existing world can feel a bit like a trap, but as long as you think as honestly and as logically as possible, you shouldn’t have too many people yelling ‘that doesn’t make sense!’ (Who are we kidding—there will always be some.)

Science-fiction exists to teach, engage, inspire, warn, excite and frighten. If something frightens you about the world, then chances are it will frighten others. Ask yourself What if this continues? What if these actions, or this train of thought, or this behavior continues? What will it mean for the world? (For example what if we really do become capable of singularity—that one really freaks me out.) And then let your imagination run wild. And you aren’t only tapping into fear, but wonder, awe, beauty. Take us up and forward and give us new realities that are based on what we know, what we desire, what we fear. Peel back the layers of comfort and show us what hides in the shadows of the world—and in the dark interiors of ourselves.

Human hubris is an important theme in science-fiction, for what frightens and excites us most as humans is our obsession with progress—an aspect of humanity that will never fade or die. We didn’t learn from Icaris who flew too high and died for it. We know this. We fear this. And that’s why we write about it: to teach, engage, inspire, warn, excite and frighten.

So use yourself as the test—whatever it is that engages you as a person will be what you use to shape your world. Really challenge yourself to think deeply, allow yourself to be confronted and inspired, because there’s no use in building a world that won’t provoke your readers.


2. Multiple POV and Time Periods

I personally love multiple points of view—I would never be able to write an entire novel from the one perspective, but that’s just a personal preference. If you’re trying to work out whether or not to use multiple POV, perhaps understanding the benefits will help you decide.

The main one, for me, is being able to see a character—particularly a protagonist inside whose head we’ve just inhabited—from another character’s perspective. Give the reader an intimate insight into what a character is thinking, and then let us see how another perceives them. There’s a great gap inherent in that—how are they really coming across? How do their actions make other people feel? It paints a more thorough picture, one with more complexity—because we are never quite what we seem to others. You also learn an awful lot about the second character, their perceptions and what they are managing to interpret in the protagonist.

It all boils down to the fact that as readers, we want to know the characters of the world, without having them all blurt out every little thing they’re thinking—there’s nothing worse than too much expositional dialogue. Having multiple POV allows for more subtext between characters and conflicting perspectives, which will help you to argue your premise.

Multiple time periods is another interesting tool that can be put to use. It sounds like it’s going to be confusing and it is, but there’s a simple trick to it. There are two rules to using multiple time periods: first, only use two different periods and work out the chronological events of both timelines separately. Second, move between the two time periods by only cutting away from one at a cliffhanger or twist. That way no matter how great one time period is, readers will be itching to know what’s going on in the other—and that’s the main point of having two running simultaneously: you get to create more tension, more intrigue. Which brings us to the number one reason people keep reading: to know what’s going to happen next.


3. Research

Science-fiction tends to fit within a scale of soft to hard science. Hard meaning real science that exists in the world today; soft meaning made up science that can often lean more towards fantasy. There is no right or wrong—both are just as valid as the other. But regardless of whether or not you’re writing hard or soft fantasy, I can’t stress the importance of researching enough. You don’t have to lay it on too thick in the book—we’re not reading a research paper—but it’s really great for you as the author to know what’s going on behind the scenes in the engine of the book. This will come through in drips and drabs and make the world feel more authentic.


4. Character

Character is key. It is everything. The most imaginative and clever worlds will fail to engage readers if you don’t also have fantastic characters to live within these worlds. When I wrote Fury, my protagonist Josephine existed long before I had the idea of a society with negative emotions being erased. She existed outside this world, helped to shape her surrounds, and gave birth to every tiny aspect of the science-fiction within the book.

Your character must be flawed. They must have desires and fears and contradictions, but you also have to think about how these elements of the character reflect and counterpoint the flaws of the world. The struggle your protagonist goes through on their journey should hold within it the premise of the world, the argument you are posing. If you can embody the theme of your story within your character, you have done the hardest and most important job of all.

Don’t forget, also, little things like having romantic characters who challenge the character to live in their essence—who they really are—instead of in the false identity they create and must eventually shed. The romantic character, as well as the antagonist, will force your protagonist to learn something, and you want readers to learn with them.

Take as much care with your side characters as you do with your main characters. Make them distinct and complex. Allow their qualities to be varying. Give them opinions and beliefs and fears that flesh them out as characters and they will in turn flesh out your world.

And lastly, make sure your protagonist is active. Give them something to do, a goal or desire that is properly motivated and compelling, and then make it really, really difficult for the character to achieve that end. It’s only by throwing problems at them that we can learn who they really are—the choices a character makes are the embodiments of their personality. The harder you make these choices, the more pressure you put on them, the more interesting things get.


5. Be Bold: Premise

What are you really trying to say? What do you want readers to think about? What do you want them to feel? What concerns you, conflicts you, makes your heart swell?

You don’t have to have all the answers—you just have to ask the questions.

And do this by being bold. Don’t concern yourself with offending anyone. Just ask the big, hard questions and demand a lot from your readers. Write ambitiously, write with passion and write with courage. Who cares what other people think? Follow your heart; it beats with as much validity as anyone else’s.




Charlotte McConaghy is the author of Fury: Book One of The Cure, available now where all good ebooks are sold

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The most epic ways to die in space

Posted March 20, 2014 by Mark

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Ok, spoilers for several major films and TV series ahead. Space is dangerous, space is cold, space is cruel. So you have the opportunity to go out in a pretty spectacular blaze of glory if you’re a character in a science fiction story. Here are a few epic ways to kick the bucket in space.

Ok, and once more just in case….SPOILER WARNING



Heroic spacewalk sacrifice

The above clip is from the French dub of the terrible film Mission to Mars, but it’s the best scene in the entire movie. You’ve become detached from your fellow astronauts and your ship, you’re floating away and the only thing you can do is stop your friends from trying to come after you. Tim Robbins has a sure fire way to make sure that doesn’t happen.


Blasted out an airlock


Poor Cally from Battlestar Galactica. She’d just uncovered the truth about the cylons hidden on the ship, but got blasted out into space before she could tell anyone. Once that airlock opens, there’s no way you can survive unless your name is Sigourney.


Vaporised by the Sun

This is what happens when you don’t put on the correct sunblock.


Give birth to an alien

John Hurt, it looks like that HURTS. See what I did there?


Evil computer takes you out

There were some things HAL 9000 famously couldn’t do. Opening pod bay doors for example. But there were many things he could do. Pilot a ship to Jupiter. Sing ‘Daisy’. And, of course, KILL.


Spaceship explosion!






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The best fictional diseases. Wait, worst. The worst fictional diseases.

Posted March 19, 2014 by Mark

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Flu season is almost here so I thought it would be a good time to look at some horrible diseases from fiction. Most of these will get you a lot more than three days off work…



Captain Trips (The Stand by Stephen King)

A highly contagious, constantly mutating flu-like virus that is fatal in 99.4% of cases. Starts as a cough and ends in brutal death. Originally developed as a weapon.



The Phage (Star Trek: Voyager)

A disease that kills off organs and other body parts, the only effective treatment is replacement of the infected organs.



Greyscale (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)

A flesh-based disease that leaves its victims disfigured but can lead to madness and/or death.



Bone-itis (Futurama)

“My only regret…is that I have…bone-itis!” It’s a horrific disease that, if left untreated, kills you by snapping every bone in your body.



Solanum Virus (World War Z by Max Brooks)

A virus that attacks the human brain, killing the host and then reanimating them as a flesh-eating zombie.



The Pulse (Cell by Stephen King)

Another brain-attacking virus, this one also turns the host into a flesh-eating zombie. But this one is spread by a mobile phone signal. Most phone companies would charge extra for that.



Rage (28 Days Later)

The rage virus is highly contagious and develops in seconds, turning the victim into a mindless rage machine, driven to violence and nothing more.


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Vampirus (I Am Legend by Richard Matheson)

This diseases causes light-sensitivity, tooth growth, and compels its victims to drink blood and appear in bad Will Smith movies.



Meningoencephalitis Virus One (Contagion)

A flu-like virus that starts as a severe cough and ends with brain haemorrhage. This movie’s tag line should have been, ‘Nothing spreads like fear. Except meningoencephalitis virus one.’




Dave’s Syndrome (Black Books)

If a sufferer of Dave’s Syndrome is exposed to a temperature over 88°F, they’ll go on a Hulk-like rampage, usually involving a loincloth of some sort. Heat-be-gone-booties are not good at preventing an episode.



Irumodic Syndrome (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

A neurological condition that degrades the synaptic pathways leading to memory loss and confusion.



Uromysitisis Poisoning (Seinfeld)

A potentially fatal illness that’s caused when the victim fails to relieve themselves.

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These upcoming book-to-film adaptations should be TV series

Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark

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The Forever War

Optioned many years ago by Ridley Scott, this is one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Humans and aliens engage in a war that, due to the time dilation that occurs when travelling close to the speed of light, takes centuries to fight. The soldiers are increasingly removed from the society they’re fighting for as massive technological and social changes sweep away everything they know.

Why should it be a TV series? The story literally takes centuries to tell. It would be like a more realistic version of Battlestar Galactica or a better version of Space: Above and Beyond. There’s room to explore the complex relationships that develop between the soldiers and the pain of those bonds breaking when re-assignment means your friends will be centuries away.


The Passage

Optioned by, of course, Ridley Scott, The Passage is a post-apocalyptic quest novel set in a world where a plague has turned most of the population of the United States into vampiric zombies. The original twelve infected patients hold a psychic influence over those who were infected via their actions, and a group of survivors decides to seek them out with the help of a seemingly immortal child.

Why should it be a TV series? It’s a massive novel that is just the first part of a trilogy that’s due to be completed at the end of this year, The Passage is a huge work, with many characters, sub-plots and backstory, with multiple narrative arcs that take place in different locations and different periods of time.



Ridley Scott *also* bought the rights to Wool, another post-apocalyptic epic from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey. After an environmental catastrophe, a handful of survivors live in underground silos, awaiting the day when the surface is safe once again. Wool takes place several generations after the catastrophe, where the inhabitants of the silo aren’t exactly sure what happened or what they’re waiting for, and are struggling against an oppressive regime that operates out of the silo’s IT department.

Why should it be a TV series? Wool is actually the middle story in a trilogy, with a prequel, Shift, and a sequel, Dust. There’s a lot of world-building that goes into making the silo societies seem believable and there are many supporting characters and groups that could stand to be explored in more depth in a series.



The Girl Who Played With Fire/The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

After the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo underperformed at the box office, the two sequels were put in limbo. The first one made enough that these films are still in development, but not enough to fast track them. The shame is that while the successful Swedish adaptations did a great job with the first film, the sequels left a lot to be desired.

Why should they be a TV series? The original Swedish films were intended for release as TV seasons, and after seeing True Detective, it’s clear that a 6-8 episode run for each of these stories could yield some spectacular results. With more and more film actors turning to TV, it’s not even that unrealistic to imagine Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig reprising their roles from the film.


Ready Player One 

This is a brilliant novel that takes 80s nostalgia and creates a thrilling and riveting narrative. In the not-too distant future, most people spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality system developed by an enigmatic billionaire. When the billionaire dies, a contest begins. Whoever can decipher the clues and defeat the challenges hidden in the OASIS will win control of it. It’s a race against the clock for a loose fellowship of individual players to defeat a highly organised and ruthless corporation that wants to win control and remake the OASIS as they see fit.

Why should it be a TV series? Again, there’s a lot of world building that needs to be done, and the references to 1980s popular culture are so dense that they’d probably need a little more room to breathe in a filmed adaptation. The episodic nature of the events as they unfold would also lend it towards a longer adaptation.



This novel about the survivors of a robot uprising is currently on Steven Spielberg’s to-do list. Robopocalypse is the World War Z of robot novels, a history of the individuals who made it, many of them from different parts of the world, facing very different threats. There are some spectacular set pieces, and some very cool stories.

Why should it be a TV series? The fact that the narrative is episodic, with each part about different characters in different locations, means that it would hang together better. And there’s room for even more stories to be told in this world,  as all the varieties of robot could be explored in-depth.


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How Not To Write A Novel

Posted March 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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After looking back last week at the tools and teaching on writing that I received at university, I was struck at how much of the following years has been a process of undoing. Having to spend the good part of a decade taking an autodidactic approach to writing is not necessarily unusual, but an approach that in hindsight would have been better served by better education.

Too much time was spent ignoring or resisting natural inclinations because they had been ingrained in to me that there was a particular way to write, a particular voice and quality to the words and the story, and that every effort I made was measured against this standard. So, in the spirit of offering hope and guidance, here’s the way I don’t approach writing anymore.

Disclaimer: I am guilty of all of these.

1. Pretend to be a different writer

This is crucial. As mentioned, we often spend too long trying to write ‘good’ writing. And we measure that against notions of what is ‘good’, as promoted by critical acclaim, reviews, sales and – of course – by those we learn from.

By trying to be what somebody else thinks is good is case of putting the cart before the horse. We end up trying to emulate a particular style or story that has already worked, and ignore impulses to deviate. What we’re doing is ignoring ourselves.

Read a lot, and write a lot. If you find out what you like to read, chances are they’re the type of stories you like. Chances are, they’re the kind of stories you might like to tell. Follow your impulses.

2. Finish before starting

This can manifest itself in two ways. Firstly, by excessively planning. Planning and planning and planning. It’s the ultimate procrastination, because it feels like work, and it feels like writing. But at some point it becomes overblown, and overdone, and there’s nothing left to write anymore. There are ten thousand ways to write a story, and over-planning can leave you trying all of them before actually making a start.

Secondly, explaining everything about your story to everyone else. This happens when the enthusiasm for the planned story is so great that we just have to tell someone. Everyone. And then we lose it, because all the energy and excitement goes into the telling, and it never seems as great when we start to put it on the page.

3. The art of reorganising a desk

In other words, deprioritising the writing. Everything else is irrelevant, unless we’re writing. But somehow we find a way to make up every available excuse to prevent us actually starting, because that it the most terrifying thing in this whole process.

We become irresponsible school kids, explaining that the reason why we haven’t started the novel yet is because the dog ate the desk, and now you need a new one from Ikea, but that’ll take a while to put together because Allen keys are frustrating things, and there was a piece missing, and now you’re not sure if that’s the room you want the desk in anyway, perhaps a minimalist aesthetic would increase the clarity of your writing, and guess what? Not a word was written. Not one.

4. Edit first, write later

What we do when we finally start the damn novel, is write a great first chapter, but then start to edit it. Because it could be better. It can always be better.

And guess what? We end up rewriting that forever, for all eternity, because in editing it we’re not just calling into question our writing choices in that chapter, but all the choices we were going to make about the entire novel. We’re chopping trees down when they’re still saplings.

6. Frontloading

But say we start to write, and we write that first chapter and we resist editing because we’re good writers. Easy, right?

Nope. What we’ve ended up doing is putting every great idea we ever had into the first chapter, as if we’re trying to write The Bible, Das Kapital, Ulysses and A Brief History of Time all at once. But I get why we do this. We’re so enthralled at our ability to finally put words down on a page, we become worried we won’t get to do this again. So we put everything in.

The solution is: write more. This one thing that we’re writing is not the only thing we write, so long as we keep writing. There’ll be more time later to explain the universe.

7. Lie

By this I mean: we lie about the word count, about our progress to our friends/spouses/waiters/strange men at the train station. We lie about how great it is, how bad it is, how we’re nearly finished, we’re just tinkering, about what kind of story it is, what kind of story it isn’t, and when it’s going to be done.

This isn’t complex psychology. We’re lying to ourselves. And we need to stop it. Because it means we’re lying on the page, and we need to write truthfully.

8. Do anything but write the damn novel

So we stop pretending, we stop with the distractions and the procrastinating, we stop questioning ourselves as we go, and we start actually writing the book. Because that’s the only thing that will work.

There are a million ways to not write a novel, there’s only one way to write it.



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Nine reasons to be excited about Jurassic World

Posted February 27, 2014 by Mark

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The long-awaited fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise is about to start filming. If you’re anything like me, this fills you with a joy so profound you can’t really describe it. Here are a few reasons you should be getting excited.

1. It’s been a really long time since there was a good dinosaur movie


21 years to be exact…


2. Chris Pratt is the lead actor


I’d love to see him do the role as Andy from Parks and Recreation.


3. It will form part of the 2015 orgy of nostalgia


Between this and Star Wars Episode 7, we’re all going to feel like 12 year olds with no friends again!


4. The director is Colin Trevorrow


Who made the charming time travel film Safety Not Guaranteed, with another Parks & Rec star, Aubrey Plaza.


5. It’s not the ‘mutated dinosaurs being trained for the military’ storyline that was talked about a few years back


While the exact details of the story aren’t known, it’s definitely not that.


6. It promises to show the park as a successful, functioning theme park


You were always curious as to what the park could have been had it succeeded and now you’ll know!


7. It’s a sequel, not a reboot


Although the suits at Universal would have been tempted to go for a complete do-over, this way there’s still a chance that Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill could turn up.


8. The screenplay is based on a script by the writing duo behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes


Now there was a reboot that offered a fresh, inventive take on an established franchise.


9. Velociraptors 


Clever girl.



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In the mood for more dinosaurs? Greig Beck’s The First Bird is  Jurassic Park meets The Walking Dead and has just been nominated for an Aurealis Award for best horror novel! 



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Great opening lines from thrillers

Posted February 10, 2014 by Mark

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We’ve done science fiction, fantasy and horror novels. Now, we turn our attention to some great opening lines from thrillers. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!


“I was arrested at Eno’s diner.”Killing Floor by Lee Child


“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim never would have come to Thursgood’s at all.”Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John LeCarre


“Her stomach clutched at the sight of the water tower hovering above the still, bare trees, a spaceship come to earth.”What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman


“Behavioural science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth.”The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris


“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I ever saw her, it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel, or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.”Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

High-rise buildings in Chicago

“Johnny Merton was playing with me, and we both knew it. It was a fun game for him. He was doing endless years for crimes ranging from murder and extortion to excessive litigation. He had a lot of time on his hands.”Hardball by Sara Paretsky


“She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a bed with a steel frame.”The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

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“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier


“Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.”Child 44 Tom Rob Smith



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Some awesome space moments from cinema

Posted by Mark

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It’s Monday morning and I’m nerding out. Here are some brilliant space moments from cinema. Let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments!

2001: A Space Odyssey

This sequence, ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite’, really delves into the awe and mystery of space in a way no other film ever has. Breathtaking visuals represent a true journey into the unknown.


The opening sequence is best watched in 3D at Imax and is pretty much guaranteed to leave your jaw on the floor. From the beautiful shot of the shuttle from a distance, to the terror of the first encounter with the debris cloud, this is space cinema at its best.



In this scene from Danny Boyle’s underrated sci-fi movie, the crew gather to watch as Mercury crosses the sun. A nice moment out of the action to remind viewers about the natural wonder of the universe we live in.

Star Trek: First Contact

Ok, can I have this? Let me have this. This is just a beautifully composed shot of the Enterprise E emerging from a nebula. Doesn’t it just send chills down your spine? It doesn’t? Oh.

 Apollo 13


There’s a lot to choose from in this film, but I’d suggest the dark side of the moon sequence as the best.



The Nostromo is a massive, slow ship, that is absolutely dwarfed by the space it’s presented in. The opening titles sequence, which is just a very slow pan across the planet, conveys majesty and mystery.


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The most threatening vehicles in fiction

Posted February 6, 2014 by Mark

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Vehicles have proven fertile ground for several writers of horror and speculative fiction. Here are a few of the creepiest and most threatening vehicles from books and films. Add your suggestions in the comments!



The worst novel Stephen King wrote in the 80s is about a possessed car that will totally run you over if you piss it off. Christine doesn’t talk, just kills.

The Event Horizon


A haunted spaceship that is full of nasty things that can kill you, and is also the best mode of transportation to the hell dimension.

The truck from Duel


Like Christine, except it’s driven by a madman. Or possible the devil.

Blaine the Mono


Another from Stephen King, Blaine features in his Dark Tower series. Blaine is a malevolent monorail train that likes to play riddles, and is completely insane.

Martian Tripods


These creepy vehicles contain terrifying, blood-drinking martians, and roll all over the landscape, hooting and laying waste to everything before them.





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The 12 greatest Lost episodes

Posted January 28, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It’s ten years this year since Lost first aired on NBC, crashing millions of viewers onto an island for six seasons of mysteries, smoke monsters, Others, hatches, flashbacks, flash forwards and flash sideways, numbers, time travel, Jack’s tattoos, polar bears, Dharma beer, Frogurt, and frozen donkey wheels. It’s fair to say that it was a unique show that defied categorising, and it’s unlikely we’ll see anything quite like this again.

Regardless of how you may feel about the show – particularly how it finished – there were episodes within the 121 that aired which were simply great television. At its heart, Lost was a character show, using the mystery of the island as a mechanism to explore the conscious and unconscious lives of the characters who ended up there.

Lost took a scattering of individuals and allowed them to explore their own lives. Some successfully, others not so. Some changed and grew, others regressed. But in the end it was a show that infuriated and frustrated some of the characters because it refused to explain itself fully, constantly denied them answers to their questions. And yet it was a show that also captivated other characters, compelled them forwards in their stories and their destinies, based on nothing but their preparedness to find meaning in their own lives.

So, to commemorate the ten years while also preparing myself for whatever may come in the comments, here are the best episodes in Lost, in order of airing.


1. Pilot – season 1

Fairly difficult to not include this, as a hugely explosive, highly inventive opening to a TV series. In what has now become the norm with many pilots, Lost set the bar in establishing strong characters who had room to grow, in an environment ripe for exploration.

Rewatching the pilot now, it’s fascinating to see just how much of the finale season’s dynamic was established – from the surviving characters, to the Locke-Jack conflict, and that eternal question posed by Charlie in the final seconds of the episode: ‘Where are we?’


2. Deus Ex Machina – season 1

Many cite Locke’s first flashback episode as his best (Walkabout), due to the reveal that Locke was in a wheelchair prior to landing on the island. And while that’s great shock TV, we don’t get much more than that – and much of what made Season 1 instantly compelling yet not so rewarding on repeat viewings, is that it relied on shock twists.

The reason why this episode is so good is it does have the twists on top, but at its core is a highly emotional exploration of Locke’s past betrayal by his father, contrasted with his manic reliance on the island to deliver him from misery. Just watch the sequence that cuts from Locke’s confrontation with his kidney-stealing father to him beating down the still-shut hatch door. Great TV.

It’s also the beginning of Locke’s turn toward self-reliance rather than living together with the other survivors, as he sacrifices Boone for his desire to open the hatch. And then the light from the hatch comes on…


3. Exodus – season 1

In what set a trend for the series in having cracking season finales, Exodus set up so much of the direction Lost was to head for the duration of its run. Multi-character flashbacks, multiple on-island plots, all misdirecting the audience to thinking Claire’s baby was still in danger. And when Michael, Walt, Jin and Sawyer do the logical thing and build a raft to sail away from the island, nobody thought it was them the Others would come after. But it was, and they took the boy.

The reason why the Season 2 opening had record-viewers had a lot to do with how this finale concluded.


4. Man of Science, Man of Faith – season 2

And then we came to the first episode of Season 2, and we finally got to see what was in the hatch, and Lost continued to defy expectations and change the texture and tapestry of the show once again. Having spent the good part of Season 1 wanting to get in the hatch, Season 2 opened with a whole sequence devoted to the inside of the hatch without anyone realising.

And to cap it all off there’s Jack’s flashback, where he battles his science and his faith, and meets Desmond, who just happens to be the person in the hatch. And Desmond’s line ‘See you in another life’ suddenly opens up a whole new level of interpretation for the show, and where they were going to take it.


5. Two for the Road – season 2

Season 2 brought us a little bit closer to The Others, who had remained in the dark and behind fake bears and wigs until then, only emerging to steal a few children here and there. But we met Benjamin Linus, initially masquerading as a lost parachutist, until he graduated into one of the most manipulative, conflicted and compromising antagonists in TV.

Phenomenal performance by Michael Emerson, his scheming Linus gets himself out of imprisonment, ruins Michael entirely when he leverages returning Walt for his freedom, and Michael subsequently kills off Ana Lucia and Libby. Brutal, and shocking, and audiences never trusted Linus again.

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6. The Man from Tallahassee – season 3

Another Locke episode, and one where we find out why he was in a wheelchair. That in itself is horrible to witness, further entrenching Locke as a man abandoned by good fortune, but it’s his road to recovery that renders the episode its emotional pull.

This is contrasted with his continual ‘communion’ with the island, as he sabotages yet another plan to escape to freedom by blowing the submarine up (hello foreshadowing). The episode also introduces Richard Alpert, jettisons Locke further from the other survivors, and in full pay-off ends with Locke facing his father on the island – his conscious and his unconscious coming together in one moment.


7. Through the Looking Glass – season 3

Season 3 was the worst in the series, due to ongoing negotiations with the network as to how long they would spin the narrative out. Once it was resolved, Lost hurtled towards its conclusion with frightening rapidity, none more so than in the finale, continually rated in the top episodes for the series’ run.

Epic, action-packed, as the survivors push for yet another opportunity to get off the island and find rescue, it all came to a crashing halt with Charlie’s exiting swan dive into an underwater station to stop a signal jam to the island, only to realise that the boat coming to save them is not friendly, in a parting message to Desmond before Charlie drowns.

And in the biggest change-up, Jack’s flashback was revealed to be a flashforward, and audiences suddenly readjusted their sets, knowing that at some point Jack gets off the island but now wants to go back.


8. The Constant – season 4

A shortened season due to the writer’s strike led to some awfully face-paced storytelling. But they still had time for this episode, arguably the best of the series.

Latecomer Desmond quickly became an audience favourite, and this journey through time to connect with his one true love, Penny, is a masterpiece in time-bending story. In theory, Desmond’s mind is literally flashing back and forward through time, and he needs to find one thing in the present to connect to the past – his constant – in order to maintain sanity. And that comes in the form of a phone call to Penny to let her know he’s still alive and that she’s still looking for him. If you watch Lost for one episode, make it this one.


9. The Shape of Things To Come – season 4

A Benjamin Linus episode, one that reveals to us that he leaves the island as well, and is hell-bent on a course-correcting plan to destroy Charles Widmore – who covered up the survivors’ disappearance, banished Desmond to the island and happens to also be Penny’s father, and a former leader of The Others.

On island, Widmore’s mercenaries attack the survivors, and all of a sudden our sympathies are challenged as we see the devotion Linus has not just to the island, but to his daughter as well.


10. The Incident – season 5

We had been hearing about the ‘incident’ since Season 2, and had speculated what on earth had happened on the island to wipe out the Dharma Initiative, and confine any survivors to hazmat suits underground.

Now, we found out. After a complex season of time travel, where we discovered who made it off the island and who stayed, and who was transported back to 1977, the Lost universe expanded once again to cover and even larger timeframe than it had before. The journey of the survivors to reunite once again was enormous, culminating in the decision to detonate a nuclear warhead in order to reset the times and put everything back together again.

Oh, and we got to meet Jacob. And the smoke monster guy.

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11. Ab Aeterno – season 6

Ranks alongside The Constant for genre-defying TV, this is essentially an origin story for Richard Alpert – the ageless consiglieri to Benjamin Linus and to Jacob.

Told mostly in Spanish, and building to a moment where Alpert is finally able to reunite with his wife, whom he left over a hundred years before. It’s wonderful, deft storytelling, and a late entry in a series that had really made its name telling perfectly realised character stories.

The episode also ends with possibly the closest thing you’ll get to an explanation about the whole series. Just so you know.


12. What They Died For – season 6

I could put The End on this list, just to annoy some people, but I won’t. Instead, this episode really says a lot about what made the series great when it was great.

While we do get further developments in what became known as the flash-sideways story lines, with Desmond on his mission to reunite the survivors, the episode is better for the on-island plot, where the final few survivors get to spend time with Jacob. Coming shortly after the death of Sayid, Jin and Sun, in the brutal The Candidate, we finally get to hear Jacob explain why they’re all there, and why he wanted them all there. And in a moment that shows how much the series was about finding meaning in everyday life, Jacob makes Jack drink from a cup of water and announces that Jack is now like him, a protector of the island. Simple as that.

Almost. Until The End.

Honourable mentions and ones I dearly wanted to include are: White Rabbit, House of the Rising Sun, 23rd Psalm, Live Together Die Alone, He’s Our You, Jughead, LaFleur, The Substitute, The Candidate, The End.



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Posts with Momentum

Posted January 24, 2014 by Mark

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Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:


5. Box office nerdery: billion dollar movies in 2014


4. Should the Thrawn trilogy remain in the Star Wars canon?


3. Objectifying books


2. The world according to Marvel


1. Everyday rejection letters

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Posts with Momentum

Posted January 17, 2014 by Mark

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Here are the five most-viewed posts from the blog this week:

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5. Game of Thrones season 4 trailer



4. What this scene from Harry Potter can teach us about adapting popular fiction



3. Don’t worry about the upcoming Star Wars trilogy


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2. It’s time to start worrying about the new Star Wars trilogy



1. Nine reasons that being a book loving shut-in is better than being a social butterfly


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Nine reasons that being a book loving shut-in is better than being a social butterfly

Posted January 10, 2014 by Mark

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Don’t go out, stay in! You’ll save effort, money, the planet, and have a MUCH better time. 


1. There’s more wine and cheese in your mouth, less beer spilled down your shirt by a random stranger in some awful bar you only went to because your friends made you.


2. Books have riveting dialogue, real life just has awkward conversations.

Book person: “What are you reading at the moment?”

Regular person: “I LIKE SPORTS”


3. Your home has a comfy chair. You don’t want to gamble with the comfort of your buttocks. Social butterflies are referred to as ‘butterflies’ because their sore butts prevent them for sitting for long periods, giving the illusion of flight. #fact


4. Books can provide you a night of riveting entertainment and enjoyment for not much money. The price of one drink in the city on a Friday night is $37.50. #fact


5. You can wear whatever you want. WHATEVER YOU WANT. Try getting into a bar wearing underpants, an old shirt and ugg boots. Wait, scratch that because I just described modern fashion.


6. When you’ve finished reading your book, home is all around you. When you finish at the bar, you still have a journey home to worry about. And what happens if you fall asleep on the train? WHAT HAPPENS?


7. Speaking of finishing, you can stop reading whenever you want, whereas people will force you to stay out longer than you planned for “one more drink”.


8. You spend your entire time doing the thing you love, instead of 75% of your time trying to get the attention of bartenders and waiters.


9. Social butterflies create a lot of pollution with all the transport and power they use. So book loving shut-ins are essentially saving the world.


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What we can learn from the films of 2013

Posted January 9, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Initially this was going to be a look back at the best films of 2013. But to be honest, last year was a rather middling one for the big releases. So, for something different, I thought I’d look back at some of the big films that came out in the last twelve months and see what went wrong with them, and what we can learn for the future.


Evil Dead

It did okay, received decent enough reviews and made enough money to warrant its production. But if we have to endure another year of horror film remakes that are merely amplified, exaggerated versions of what we’ve already seen, then I might just give up on them all together. The horror films of old had their own conventions and tropes, and if directors and studios keep flogging ancient dead horses the whole genre is running the risk of becoming obsolete.

It’s fascinating that in the last decade of remakes, reimaginings and reboots, two of the more interesting and original horror films (The Mist and Bug) have come from two veterans of cinema and horror – William Friedkin and Frank Darabont.



Again, didn’t fare too badly critically and financially, but it’s an unfortunate formula when we’re left with the feeling that it’s another year, and another time Tom Cruise saves the world. Looking back over his career, it’s dotted with endless Jacks, Bills, and Davids; Cruise is intent of being the everyman who saves us all. The problem is, he is too unrelatable a persona for audiences to invest in anymore. On the occasion where he’s reinvented himself – Vincent in Collateral, and Lestat in Interview with the Vampire – he’s shown us how good an actor he can be.

Let’s just hope that The Edge of Tomorrow – ignoring its nonsensical title – is as good as the preview suggests, and not another so-so attempt from Cruise to ingratiate himself with audiences.


Iron Man 3 & Thor: The Dark World

Okay, Marvel wants to take over the world (if it hasn’t already). But come on. At some point this needs to just stop. Iron Man 3 felt like an ego trip born out of the fact that they could let Iron Man 2 be the lasting impression of the character. Ludicrous, pompous, replete with token child in need of saving – let’s all applaud Downey Jr. for getting his life back on track, but surely he’s just treading water with the glib motor-mouth Tony Stark?

And Thor, well. Second film. Has the word ‘dark’ in the title. Marvel are starting to feel like the annoying kid who just wants everyone to talk about them constantly, no matter what crap they’re doing.


Star Trek Into Darkness

Second film, ‘dark’ in the title. Fun on first looks, but five minutes after walking out of this we’re starting to feel hollow. Lens flare obsessions aside, if this is a reimagined Star Trek, then why bother with the homages to old stories? If the earlier Star Trek went to crazy lengths to establish that all previous incarnations of the franchise still happened, and the new one was happening on a different but parallel timeline, then why bother remaking and rebooting old plots and characters?

And come on. Enough with the dark stuff for the middle chapter. We get it. The Empire Strikes Back happened. Get over it.

See also Man of Steel for needless po-faced ‘darkening’ of a franchise.


The Great Gatsby

Big lesson to be learned from this: don’t let Baz Luhrmann make films anymore. Please. For all that is good and decent in the world. Stop this madness. Stop this man.

Never before has 140 pages of profound depth and imagery in a novel be turned into 140 minutes of the most vapid, shallow, cartoonish, glitter-stained vomit ever put on a screen. Ugh.

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The Heat

The lesson to be learned here is: this film was great and deserved watching. And a sequel.

Another lesson to be learned here is: studios need to learn how to advertise far better when their film doesn’t contain male leads or females under the age of 30. The worst evidence of this was in the photoshopping disaster that occurred in the UK to make lead Melissa McCarthy more ‘appealing’ to viewers. Jesus.

Making films with female leads who are aged over forty isn’t going to bring about the apocalypse.


The Wolverine

This was a surprisingly decent film. After the mess of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, audience were actually treated to a decent portrayal of a comic book character that didn’t try to outdo everything that has come before. Also eschewing the trend of blockbuster films that globe-trot to the point of turning into an ad for TripAdvisor, Wolverine pared it right back to basically one major setting, with one set of characters to interact with.

Additionally, it abandoned the highly insecure trend of tagging all franchised films with superfluous umbrella titles and punctuation. Simplicity is good, people. It works.

More of this, please.



This should have been released for Halloween, but instead was held back two weeks into November. Effectively a small, independent horror film that was catering to old fans and unaware teenagers, it needed to maximise its 90-minute runtime beyond the actual screening with the right mix of advertising. Instead it went for elaborate stunts and trailers that told the whole story, alienating all and missing out on actually getting better recognition.

Not a success, but a horror film that also works as a superhero origin story, with multiple female leads. Surely this is a good thing, and worth investing in?


The Apocalypse

Enough. If our only vision for the apocalypse in 2013 was half a dozen guys either improvising toilet humour (This is the End) or running from pub to pub (The World’s End), and where apparently there’s room for only one token female in either apocalypse (Emma Watson and Rosamund Pike, respectively), then the male gaze has won and we should shut it all down.


Endless cash-grab book adaptations

Finally, the last thing to be learned is this: just because a book is well-loved, just because it has an established readership, just because it has sequels and prequels and gazequals doesn’t mean it will make a good film.

Additionally, throwing a bunch of known actors at it and a director who is happy with the epithet ‘good with SFX’ doesn’t mean this adaptation is going to hold water.

Questions studios should ask themselves: does this story need adapting to another medium? Does this story actually work in a visual medium? Are we actually damaging the impression of the original book by adapting this in a half-arsed fashion? Do we have enough money to swim in already?

This is why Catching Fire worked. The story translates well to screen. And it was cast well. And directed well. Learn, guys.



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How to read more books without sacrificing TV

Posted January 8, 2014 by Mark

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Did you make any new year’s resolutions related to reading? I always plan to read twice as many books as I did the previous year (not that I’m an obsessive weirdo who keeps count of how many books he reads). I know lots of people who make this, or similar resolutions and it’s always a set-up for failure. Between the explosion of good television and addictive social media, reading time is becoming more and more squeezed. Oh, and I guess if you have friends and do stuff like going out then that uses up time, too.


Here is my guide to how to read more books this year, without giving up TV. The following are tips you can use to supplement your normal reading habits.

1. Graphic Novels

Fast reads that you can fit around the novels you’re reading. And they count, they totally count. They cost as much as a novel, just as much work went into their construction, the stories and characters can be just as compelling, and they can make you think and feel in just the same way a novel can.

2. Toilet reads

We all use the toilet (some more than others), and you’d be surprised at how much reading you can get through if you keep something to read in the bathroom.

3. Find your brand of pure, unadulterated trash

Everyone needs to relax, and sometimes there’s nothing better than reading some comforting trash. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that ‘trash’ is bad, I mean to imply that it’s easy. It’s something you can read quickly without having to think about it too much. For some people it will be spin-off novels from existing media, for others a particular sub-genre. But we all have something we like to turn to when we need to switch off.

4. Listen to a book

Get an audiobook into your ears, yo. You can listen to it on the bus, train, in the car, while you’re doing household chores, basically in any situation where it would be unacceptable to have the physical object in front of your eyes.

5. Follow up a long book with much shorter books

Sometimes it takes a few weeks to get through a book, and that’s ok. But chase those longer reads with a few shorter ones. It’s a great way to re-energise your reading juices.

6. Re-read

Don’t think about re-reading that book you love, actually do it. It’s always faster the second time, and you can focus your re-reading on shorter works.

7. Dip in and out of longer works or collections

That 1,500 page biography you’ve been putting off? You don’t have to do it all in one go. Read a little bit here, a few chapters there. Short story collections are also good for this.

8. Don’t set a specific goal

“I’m going to read 120 books this year” means that at the end of December you’ll be a failing failure about to fail. “I want to read  a lot of books this year, more than I read last year” is a recipe for success.

9. Don’t be afraid to fail

You have a limited amount of books you’ll get to read in your lifetime. It’s only ever going to be a tiny slice of the many published works that are available to you. But it should be a pleasure trying to get through as many as you can. So have fun, read what you can, and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get through everything on your wish list.

Suggestions? Comments? Leave them below.




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Our Top Ten Posts of 2013

Posted December 20, 2013 by Mark

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Here are our most popular posts from this year:

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10: Boys Don’t Read

This post, one of the first delivered from our new blogger Craig Hildebrand-Burke, is about the assumption that boys don’t like to read, why that idea is wrong, and what we can do about it.

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9: Five Reasons You’ll Complain About Game of Thrones After Season Four

This was just me showing off that I finally finished reading the books.


8: Love and Fuck (Off) Poems

An unforgettable poem from Koraly Dimitriadis, author of Love and Fuck Poems.

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7: The Geek Grammar of Pacific Rim

Guest blogger Glen Fuller compiled a list of handy texts you should see before watching Pacific Rim.


6: The Ten Greatest X-Files Episodes

Craig celebrated 20 years since the airing of the first X-Files episode with this list.

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5: Ten Lessons Modern Science Fiction Films Can Learn From 2001: A Space Odyssey

Because 2001 is the best and my favourite movie of all time (in case you didn’t already know that).

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4: Which Starship Enterprise is the Best Starship Enterprise?

“Nobody will want to read that” – my boss, to me when I first told him I was putting this post together.

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3: Top 10 Thriller Writers of All Time

Chris Allen, author of Hunter and Defender, put together a list of the thriller writers he most admires.

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2: Great Opening Lines from Science Fiction Novels

The first in a series of posts we did about opening lines.

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1: Ten Better Crazy-Ass Facts About Space

This was our biggest post of the year by far. People love space.

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The art of sequels

Posted December 10, 2013 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Having discussed the merits of creating prequels the other day, it’s now time to look at sequels.

These days there’s barely enough room to swing a cat for all the sequels littered about the place. Effectively, we’ve reached a state where once a film reaches a particularly significant profit margin a sequel is put into production. Nothing to do with critical reception – or, in fact, whether the narrative actually merits or needs an extension – it is purely about the grosses.

On the odd occasion where a sequel is greenlit before the release of the original, there’s often the opportunity to craft a story that works not only from the first instalment, but also weaves the sequel into a larger, grander narrative that provides something more than the sum of its parts. But these are rare.

So, for me, there’s basically three types of sequels.

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1. The Repetitive Sequel

This is the most common. This is also the sequel that invariably is made to cash in on the merits of the first. More and more, these are occurring closer and closer to the release of the original, as executives assume our attention span is so short they hope we don’t realise the first film is over and just remain in situ until the second is released.

The biggest crime with the repetitive sequel is that they offer nothing more to the story. The worst example is where it’s merely a thinly-veiled copy of the first, but with different locations/props/hairstyles/minority support cast (Saw sequels, Hostel sequels, The Hangover sequels and pretty much see every B-grade horror film sequel.)

The variation of the repetitive sequel is when it’s combined with the amplification effect. Even though this does sometimes result in half-decent films, the sequel is essentially the same as the original, only more so (The Matrix Reloaded, 28 Weeks Later, Jurassic Park II, Hannibal). More people, more explosions, more dinosaurs – more whatever it was that made the first story interesting, until that’s all that remains in the sequel.

The problem here is the sequel is demonstrating the same issue that fails prequels: the refusal of the creator and audience to move on from the original.


2. The Improvement Sequel

This is much better. As a sequel, this is when the sequel actually improves on the original and offers a much more satisfying experience through the story and through the world of the characters inhabit.

This often arises in examples where the first story was imperfect, for any one of a number of reasons. It could be that the first was rushed to release, or didn’t have enough money or attention to detail and cut too many corners (Dawn of the Dead, The Bourne Supremacy). It could be that the first was an unknown quantity, and the creators were unsure how it would be received or too busy world-building, generating a more conservative approach to the story (X2, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban). Or it could be that the success of the original on a limited budget and with limited attention allowed the sequel the freedom of time and money to make a much better second story (Hellboy II: The Golden Army).

There is a drawback though, where the above scenario gives more freedom to the creators and they turn out something worse (the Wachowskis again, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Alien: Resurrection, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End).


3. The Redefining Sequel

This is the category of sequel where The Godfather Part II comes in. Essentially, it takes the original story and extends it, as a sequel does, but completely changes and challenges how the story’s told. It results in a redefining experience for the viewer, where their expectations and understanding of the original story is pushed into areas they didn’t anticipate, where the story suddenly seems much larger and more complex, and the narrative form itself adapts to create a wholly different experience.

Clearly, this isn’t easy to do, given the fact that The Godfather Part II dominates any discussion over worthy sequels. However, there are other examples, usually where the creator of the sequel acknowledges the excellence of the original story, and doesn’t bother to recreate it. Instead, they focus on offering something different, while still being related to the original film.

Strangely – given that he’s now busying himself with churning out repetitive sequels for Avatar – James Cameron has form in this category. With Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, he certainly showed how you can take a perfectly good – if not great – original and pair it with a sequel that carves out its own space and story in a way that never undermines the original and is able to work in its own way, according to its own rules.

See also The Dark Knight, The Two Towers, The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future Parts II & III, The Good The Bad & The Ugly.


So, a sequel needs to do something different. Needs to tell a different story, while enhancing the original. It can’t ignore it, but it can’t copy it. Like the prequel, there needs to be a reason why the audience is going to experience this story, beyond just the token exploration of more of the story.



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Movies we were obliged to see

Posted December 4, 2013 by Mark

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Craig’s recent post about The Hobbit got me thinking. It seems like everyone I’ve spoken to (apart from Craig, obviously) was disappointed or at least a little underwhelmed by the first Hobbit movie. Now I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (I have a statue of Gandalf on my bookshelf at home – don’t tell anyone), but The Hobbit was unnecessarily padded and overlong.

But anyway, this post isn’t about the things that were wrong with that film. Because despite the problems we all had with it, despite the fact that nobody really enjoyed it as much as any of the Lord of the Rings movies, we’re still all going to see the second instalment when it comes out in a few weeks.

With a lack of enthusiasm we’ll all wander over to the cinema, head down and shoulders hunched, preparing to fork out our hard-earned money for a film we feel obliged to see. And this experience will be familiar.

Movies we were obliged to see:


Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Ugh. Episode 1 disappointed but could have just been George Lucas being rusty as a filmmaker. We happily gave Episode 2 a chance, but it just confirmed that the magic was gone. But still, we dragged ourselves to the cinema to complete the journey, and finally see how Anakin became Darth Vader. And while it was an improvement over the first two episodes, it still didn’t deserve a worldwide box office haul of $850,000,000.



Hey, James Cameron is back after a huge hiatus. Hey, he’s making a visionary sci-fi film with realistic digital characters. Hey, here’s the trailer. Oh. It’s like Ferngully? Oh. But we went to see it because of all the hype about the visuals. And everyone else was doing it! But that $2.7 billion final total still seems like a clerical error to me.


The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix is a tight, fast-paced sci-fi thriller that is visually unique and stylish. The Matrix Reloaded is bloated, slow and looks like a lame knock-off of the original film. But maybe, as with The Phantom Menace, it was a stumble, and The Matrix Revolutions would bring it back. Still, it didn’t look promising. We reluctantly went, and it made $427,000,000 worldwide.


The Amazing Spider-Man

The first two Spider-Man movies are classics of the superhero genre, with part 2 being a strong contender for greatest superhero movie of all time. But then there was part 3, and then Sam Raimi walked away and then the studio pressed the reset button. Everyone wanted another Spider-Man. There was so much potential. But nobody wanted to see another take on the origin story a mere handful of years after the third instalment in what was a pretty decent take on the character. The desire to see Spider-Man continue won out, and we all went. A $752,000,000 global total has ensured that not one, not two, but three sequels are now in various stages of production.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The first film made a billion dollars but is easily the least liked of the middle-earth films. The 48fps presentation left audiences cold and the fact that it took over three hours to tell ninety pages of the source novel smacked of a studio and filmmaker stretching their story out just so they could make another trilogy. So here comes the sequel. And we will go see it, because we were entertained by the first one, and this one has a dragon. But we won’t be particularly enthusiastic about it. I would be surprised if this winds up earning anything near what the first one did but it’s guaranteed to be a sizeable hit.

Are there any films you felt obliged to see? Let me know in the comments.

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