Review of Edge of Tomorrow.

17 06 2014


 
Edge of Tomorrow is a gripping, fast-paced, action science-fiction movie. It has time-travel, aliens and Tom Cruise being killed over and over again. What more could you want? It’s not exactly original, with a premise very similar to Source Code, except aliens replace the terrorists. For those who missed Source Code, think Groundhog Day, only in Edge of Tomorrowthe conceited main character has to die to reset the day, and the stakes are slightly more than bedding Andie MacDowell. Cruise has to save the world, once more.

Cruise plays a different kind of hero here. He is not the Joe Everyman of War of the Worlds, or the inquisitive technician of Oblivion. In Edge of Tomorrow he is a media spin doctor for the army, Major Bill Cage. He is a man who knows how to spew out propaganda for the war effort, but has no intentions of going anywhere near the war front.  

The aliens are called Mimics. Their navigation system must have malfunctioned because they did invade Los Angeles, but Europe instead. Perhaps one of their many reptilian tentacles hit the wrong button on the navigation console while watching Independence Day. Most of Europe is occupied by the Mimics and if something isn’t done to stop their advance, they will soon threaten Los Angeles.    

The Americans, with the aid of one Aussie, plan to stop them. They decide to launch a massive D-day type invasion to re-take Europe. Cage is ordered to go in with the troops to report on the invasion. He refuses, so he is demoted and sent to the disembarking point for the invasion force, an airfield. There he is placed in a squad of other malcontents. The next morning he is quickly fitted out in a battle exoskeleton suit and marched onto a paratrooper plane. He is dropped into the front line and dies quickly.

Then the fun part of the story begins. When he dies he immediately travels back in time to the day before the invasion. He runs into a true war hero, Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt. For such a petite actress, she is surprisingly convincing as a battle hardened warrior (the exoskeleton suit helps).  Together she and Cage set about trying to win the invasion, resulting in Cage dying and resetting over and over.

Aussie Noah Taylor makes an appearance as scientist who is slumming as a battle suit mechanic. He helps provide some of the technical information needed to explain the time loops. He also has some ideas on how to defeat the aliens.

The movie has some very nice twists as the story moves along at a great pace. No time is wasted in this movie. And it concludes with a realistic, logical ending. Well at least if you pay attention it does. Oh, and the special effects are excellent, unlike Avatar, the aliens look real and different. And I watched the 2D version. 

Edge of Tomorrow is based on the Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The movie was written by a commitee of Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. It is directed by Doug Liman who, among other films, directed the okay science-fiction film Jumper.

If you enjoy Star Trek you will enjoy Edge of Tomorrow. Come to think of it, I am sure one of the Star Trek series had an episode with a time-travel looping story similar to Edge of Tomorrow. If you hate Tom Cruise, just get over it: you are missing some great science-fiction movies. So go and see Edge of Tomorrow and have a great science-fiction time.
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A Divine Problem

13 06 2014

DiVine - a community for and by people with a disability
 
I have had a busy couple of weeks thanks mainly to the Divine website that I write for. Two weeks ago we were told by Divine that the website was being moved onto a new server, and they were taking the opportunity to archive all pre-2013 stories. Twenty-four articles of my stories would no longer be viewable. And some of them were very good. I was not that impressed.
I had been under the impression that the articles I wrote would be on the web for at least as long as Divine existed (I hold my breath each time a state budget comes along and at the end of each financial year). If Divine stopped operating, I hoped that the Office for Disability, which owns the website, would keep my articles viewable.    
I contacted the editor by email and on the phone to express my disappointment. I was told that most online publications end up archiving much of their content. Just over 750 stories are on Divine at the moment, so to make the site more manageable pre-2013 stories need to be archived. But 24 of them are mine!
I made suggestions, like each writer nominating two of their own pre-2013 stories to stay on the site, but that went nowhere. Many of the other Divine writers expressed their unhappiness in an extended email exchange. I feel particularly for those writers who have not written for Divine since the beginning of 2013.
But rather than get angry or depressed or both, I have been working on a solution where readers and potential employers can still read my work. I have decided to put the articles up on my own website. I have 24 articles to play with so I could create a divine Divine section on my site.
I saved screen shots of all the affected articles, and tried to copy them onto my website using my website provider’s primitive website builder. I quickly found out it was not going to be that easy. After baulking at the $399 price of an up-to-date version of Dreamweaver (which I had used to create the original site), I reinstalled Dreamweaver 2004 on to my computer. Surprisingly it still seems to work.

After a bit of fiddling in Dreamweaver, I was able to copy the saved source code from one of my Divine articles into my website provider’s website builder. After more fiddling, this is the result:
http://grahamclements.com/freelance%20writing/a%20novel%20approach%20to%20writing.html
What do you think?
So far my attempts to get the text to wrap around the picture have failed. I can wrap the text using Dreamweaver, but the formatting does not stick when I transfer the source code to my website.





Goodbye Doc.

4 06 2014


It’s a very sad day today for me.  Doc Neeson, the lead singer of The Angels, has died. He was 67 and died of a brain tumour. The Angels were, and still are, my all-time favourite band.  I first went and saw them at Latrobe University in 1979 (see video above, I was there). I was in the first year of university at the time, staying at Menzies College. The Colleges at Latrobe are located on campus and are only a few hundred metres from Union Hall, which became a big live music venue while I was at uni.

A few months into my first year at uni, a concert was put on, featuring The Sports and a band I had never heard of, The Angels. I didn’t plan on going, but me and a mate scored pass outs from a couple who were more interested in each other than live music. I can’t remember much about The Sports set, but then The Angels came on. They were loud and aggressive, with an amazingly energetic front man, Doc Neeson. By the end of the night I was in a state of euphoria from jumping around to them. 
I rushed out and bought their second album, Face To Face. It contains some of their classic songs  like Take A Long Line, I Aint the One and After the Rain. I then bought their third album No Exit which contained further classics like Shadow Boxer,  Can’t Shake it, and my all-time favourite song of theirs: Ivory Stairs.

Lyrics of Ivory Stairs:

Rumour has it that you got a well laid plan
To make yourself a singularly self-made man
Imported shirts from Yves St. Laurent
You got everything that you want
Catch you running to your candy colored Chevrolet
Consumer consumed, the loser has to pay
The higher you climb, the deeper you go
Talking about a change, nothing changed so slow

Climbing up the ivory stairs
Never gonna get anywhere
Slipping on the first step, can’t get a good grip
Climbing up the ivory stairs

Any kid on the street with his ear to the ground
Knows credit card conspiracy and flesh by the pound
Harlequin dancin’ ‘tween the sun and the moon
They got you dancing to a gallows tune

Climbing up the ivory stairs
Never gonna get anywhere
Slipping on the first step, can’t get a good grip
Climbing up the ivory stairs

Climbing up the ivory stairs
Never gonna get anywhere
Slipping on the first step, can’t get a good grip
Climbing up the ivory stairs

(Solo)

Oh no, you found the door
Too late you found that you never got the key
Oh no, in the confusion
Don’t turn your weary eyes on me

Harlequin dancin’ ‘tween the sun and the moon
Got you dancing to a gallows tune
Tell me what happened to your well laid plan
To make yourself a singularly self-made man
Catch you running to your candy colored Chevrolet
Consumer consumed, the loser has to pay
The higher you climb, the deeper you go
Talking about a change, nothing changed so slow

Climbing up the ivory stairs
Never gonna get anywhere
Slipping on the first step, can’t get a good grip
Climbing up the ivory stairs

Climbing up the ivory stairs
Never gonna get anywhere
Slipping on the first step, can’t get a good grip
Climbing up the ivory stairs
Ivory Stairs

(Watch your step)
(Watch your step)
(Watch your step)
Climbing up the ivory stairs

(Watch your step)
(Watch your step)
(Watch your step)
Climbing up the ivory stairs

It’s a song that contains my all-time favourite lyric: consumer consumed, the loser has to pay.  I loved the Angel’s introspective lyrics. They were singing about me and the world I lived in. 

I saw Neeson launch himself from the speaker stacks many times.  One of their most memorable performances was with Midnight Oilat the Melbourne Showgrounds. I even paid to see AC/DC at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, because the Angels were their support act. The crowd was so ecstatic after The Angels set that AC/DC waited 45 minutes for us to calm down before they started ringing their bell.

The Angels huge amount of live performances lead to them making the greatest live album ever, Live Line.

So it is a sad day for me and all the fans of Australia’s greatest ever rock band. I feel like the rain has started to fall. 

Somebody save me, the water’s rising
sweet Jesus take the blame
who knows whose star is falling
after the rain, after the rain.
 

You will be missed Doc.  






A review of Max Barry’s Lexicon

28 05 2014


 Max Barry’s Lexicon became a must buy after I heard the author read part of its frenetic and humorous opening at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.
The novel has a wonderful premise. It is set in a world where poets and the words they use can be deadly weapons. Poets use their words to compromise people and force them do their bidding. But it is not as easy as just saying a few words, a poet first has to establish the personality traits of their victim to know which words will control them.
The story begins with Wil Parke having a needle shoved in his eye by two thugs who have dragged him into an airport toilet. He has no idea what they want from him, but decides he better keep still. Meanwhile, Emily Ruff , a young hustler, is accosted by one of her potential marks. He compromises her and she winds up in the poet’s training academy.
Their stories unfold in alternating chapters, as the stakes increase. It is clear that at some point their stories will have to connect, but that connection does not come as a revelation, it is more of a slow reveal that occurs as the novel charges from one tension filled page to the next. It’s a page turner, with two engaging central characters whose plight embraces a reader’s empathy.
Lexicon was voted the fourth favourite science-fiction/fantasy book on Goodreads last year. It was also included in a list of the best books of 2013 that you have never heard of in, an article in the Melbourne Age. It recently won the Aurealis award for best Australian science-fiction novel.
Lexicon is a great science-fiction/fantasy novel. One of the best written by an Australian. Its original premise takes readers on one fantastic road trip to a totally satisfying conclusion. The novel had me wanting to visit Broken Hill before the poets arrive.




The Best Science Fiction Novel of 2013 is…

22 05 2014


 
I came across a post about the recently awarded Nebula awards the other day. I was curious how close its short-list of nominees for the best science-fiction/fantasy novel of 2013 matched those of other awards, so I had a look.

Nebula Awards

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)

Hugo Awards

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia (Baen Books)
The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK)

Arthur C. Clarke Award

God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey)
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
The Disestablishment Of Paradise by Phillip Mann (Gollancz)
Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door)
They didn’t match at all. Only one novel made it onto more than one list: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which made it on to all three of the award short-lists.
So why didn’t any other novel make more than one short-list? Probably because of the way they are nominated. 

How are the Novels Nominated?

The Nebulas are nominated and voted on by members the Science Fiction Writers of America. Membership of the SFWA is restricted to published authors, including people who have sold at least three short stories to professional markets. Reviewers and scriptwriters can also become members. The nominated books must have been first published in America in the nomination year.
Anyone who buys a membership to World Con can nominate novels and vote for the Hugos. This year’s World Con is in London. Anyone going to Loncon3 could nominate novels that were published anywhere in the world in 2013.
Novels are submitted by their publishing company for the Arthur C. Clark award. Members of its judging panel and organisation committee can also nominate novels. This year’s award was judged by Ian Whates and Duncan Lawie from the British Science Fiction Association, Sarah Brown and Lesley Hall from the Science Fiction Foundation and Georgie Knight from the Sci-Fi-London film festival. The nominated books must have been published in the UK in the nomination year.
Depending on the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke award, it or the Nebula award would have better qualified judges than the Hugo award. But the Hugo is open to nominations of books from all around the world, including non-English written books.

Whose Judgement to Trust?

I wonder how many of the short-listed novels are read by those who vote. I would expect the judges of the Arthur C. Clarke award to read all the short-listed novels. I would imagine that the authors of SFWA would try to read many of the nominated novels before they voted for the Nebula. But for the Hugos, I doubt whether many of the general public who travel to Loncon3 will read more than one or two of the novels, if any. When I went to Aussiecon I did not read any of the nominated novels, so I did not vote for that part of the Hugos.
Due to the different nomination and voting processes, Spock would give more credence to the Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards, until he found out no Vulcan literature would be accepted for them. 

Whose judgement do I trust?

I had a look at the past winners of the awards. I have not read many of the winners due to my concentrating on reading Australian authors. And only one of them, George Turner, has won any of the three awards. My favourite international authors do not seem to have won many awards either. 
I have read only three of the Arthur C Clarke Award winners from its 27-year history. I have read eight of the Nebula award winners from its 47-year history, and nine of the Hugo award winners from its longer 61-year history. With the slightly shorter history, it looks like I am more likely to have read a winner of the Nebula award. It must be noted that a few of the award winners that I read did not live up to their hype, but that seems to apply equally over the awards.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won the Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards. I must get a copy. Will it win the Hugo?




The Budget or Mad Max, Here We Come.

16 05 2014

 

I have been very distracted over the past couple of weeks by the Australian Government’s budget. I worried about what the Government might cut, and how it might affect the poor. My concerns were realised when the Government produced a horror budget that attacks Australia’s most vulnerable.

Hurting the Unemployed

The budget’s most appalling measure is that people aged 25 to 30 will have to wait six months to claim unemployment benefits, then be kicked off them after six months and have to wait another six months before they can get back onto them. Imagine the stress of having to live on nothing if you had no family to fall back on. A 25 to 30 year old who moved to the city to work and lost that job would probably have to move back home again.

Hurting the Sick

The government wants to introduce a seven dollar co-payment for doctor appointments. Seven dollars can be a lot of money to the poor. This appears to be an attempt to destroy the universality of the Medicare scheme. A scheme that was designed to provide quality free health care to all.  

Hurting People with Disabilities

People who were given a disability support pension after 2008 will be reassessed. Imagine the stress they are going through now. Will the so-called independent government appointed assessors get bonuses for the number of people with disabilities they remove from the disability support pension?

Hurting Education and Health

The government wants to cut university funding by 20% and then let the universities charge whatever fees they like. This will leave universities little choice but to put up fees, massively. It will make university less affordable and leave students with greater debts when they finish. Imagine if you started a course and then were incapable of finishing it. I predict the collapse of Victoria University due to a lack of students.
The government wants to cut $80 billion out of the health and education budgets of the states over the next decade. It appears to be an attempt to get the states to demand that the government increase the GST, which it would obviously be happy to do. The GST is a regressive tax that hits the poor harder than the better off.

Hurting Families 


The reduction of family tax benefits will massively hurt many.

Other Measures

I am not so fussed about the fuel excise increase, which will add only about one cent a litre per year to the price of petrol. And I really think anyone earning over $180,000 who can’t afford the debt levy needs to seriously look at their spending.  

Bloody Hypocrites

 

One strange thing about the budget is that the government has stopped funding the energy discounts for pensioners. This is after them repeatedly screaming before the last election that the carbon tax was hurting the ability of pensioners to pay their energy bills. The pensioners will be much more impacted by the end of the discount then they are by the carbon tax, which they received supplementary payments for.

No Budget Emergency

Why does the Federal Government want to do this? Evidently we have a budget emergency, even though our budget deficit as a percentage of GDP is just about the lowest in the western world.
If there was such a drastic need to cut spending in a hurry than why get rid of the half billion dollars or so the mining tax brings in? Or the $6.7 billion the carbon tax makes. Why use the $7 Medicare co-payments to create a research fund instead of using it to pay off debt? (Obviously to try and wedge the opposition by saying they don’t want to fund research.)  And why are does the government want to spend billions on a gold plated maternity leave scheme when there is already a pretty good Labour scheme?

An Ideological Budget

 

This is not a budget designed to fix the budget deficit, it is an ideological budget designed to hit those people and institutions like the CSIRO and the ABC whose views and lifestyles differ from the rich white men who are currently running the government.
It is a budget designed to please Rupert Murdoch who tweeted after the coalition won the last election that now it was time to cut all the welfare fraud.
It is a budget that will divide Australians into two classes, the very rich, and the rest of us. I hope many in the rest of us underclass wake up before they lose their lifestyles, and vote those rich white men who have no empathy for them out.  

If the measures in this budget go through, I predict a very different Australia in the future. A land of security guards protecting gated communities as crime rates sour. A land were illiteracy flourishes. A land where anyone born poor will stay poor.  A land where people die in the streets from lack of medical care.  A land of hatred and confrontation. Mad Max, here we come.
Next week I hope my mind will be back on to science fiction and writing.





Murdoch Versus the NDIS

5 05 2014

It has been an interesting time to be researching an article on the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia, with lots of discussion about it in the Australia media and on social media.
My aim is to write an article based on interviews with one or two of the participants in the scheme. So I joined a Facebook discussion group on the NDIS and hoped to find someone who was part of the Barwon regional trial in Victoria to interview. I decided to lurk for a while to see what they were talking about and hopefully identify a few people to approach who were part of the Barwon trial.

Beaten to the Request

Unfortunately, while still lurking, a journalist from The Australian posted an interview request. I worried what sort of interview he would conduct. For those who don’t know, on the night of the last federal election Rupert Murdoch, the owner of The Australian, tweeted something along the lines of “now we can get rid of all these welfare bludgers.” So I worried that his journalist might have an agenda to show the NDIS, which the ill-informed mistakenly think of as welfare scheme, in a bad light. I have had a look in The Australian and there articles seem to be overwhelmingly negative towards the NDIS.
Meanwhile, I decided to wait a day before posting my interview request on the discussion group.  The next day, I logged on to the discussion group and find that the administrator of the group has had a request from the ABC to interview NDIS participants about their fears of the upcoming budget. Bloody hell. I decided not to delay my request for interviewees any longer and posted a request to the group. I stressed in my post that I did not have an agenda, hoping they would take the hint about the journalist from The Australian.

Negative NDIS Article in The Australian

The following day I logged onto the Facebook and the NDIS discussion group is abuzz about an article that has appeared in The Australian: Mother sees merit in NDIS slower rollout. The article was written by a different journalist to the one who had contacted the discussion group.
In the article, a mother suggests that the NDIS be delayed because she had some difficulties with it. As pointed out in the discussion group, if she had had the years of frustration of trying to survive and cope with a fragmented and underfunded non-NDIS disability sector, her attitude to her NDIS hassles might have been very different. I am curious, if she had enthusiastically endorsed the NDIS and not said its rollout should be delayed, would the Australian have reported her comments?

Found an Interviewee

So far, no one has gotten back to my post. I am not surprised, as I have had limited success with similar requests I have made on social media. But while doing more research, I discovered the LEAD program in Geelong which has a number of participants in the NDIS who volunteer to tell people about it. And one of those participants is a fellow Divine writer. I sent him an email and he has agreed to an interview. Yay. I just sent him a number of questions.
But I would still like another point of view for the article, preferably from someone who is just an ordinary client of the NDIS. So I have just reposted my request to the discussion group, this time including my questions.