Brutal brilliant cynicsm – Killing Them Softly

A blackest of black comedies about the revenge organised crime exacts against some thieves who stole from them, set against the recent collapse of the global banking system.  In both cases, confidence in the system needs to be restored. In only one do those responsible pay the price. “It’s not what you do,” as one of the characters says, “It’s what other people think you’ve done.”

There is some superb acting from a fantastic cast. James Gandolfini’s portrayal of emotional disintegration as an unreliable hitman, Scoot McNairy’s frightened, weak, and human petty thief, and Ben Mendelsohn’s pathetically realistic drug addict who’s hopeless empty existence revolves around implausible schemes to make money, are all outstanding.  Among them, Brad Pitt’s coldy amused and business-like hitman comes across as less consistent and less well-rounded. However, he easily dominates the final scenes and his delivery of the final dialogue, the knockout punch of the whole film, is wonderful.

Among all this is the sheer banality of crime, the utter lack of imagination, the inability to conceive of consequences before actions that doom the them.  Some of these characters are so low they are standing under the barrel, looking up at the bottom and thinking it’s the sky.

In the scope that this film gives the actors room to act, Killing Them Softly  feels like an American “44-Inch Chest”, another gangster film I really like (though with a very different moral outcome). And, perhaps strangely, it also bears comparison to Ralph Feinnes “Coriolanus”, as well as the obvious influence of Tarantino’s bantering style from films like Pulp Fiction.

Killing Them Softly is theatrical in style, in that it is dialogue heavy, and it does also take a good few minutes to get up to speed with a prolonged opening explanation of the setup. Once past that the story, dialogue and acting are absorbing and tense.

A film as bleak and cynical as they come, and filled with good performances, I greatly enjoyed this.

Friday Flash – Twenty-Second Century Blues

Twenty-Second Century Blues

Chloe found Milo weeping by the ruins.

‘We’re so different from past civilisations,’ he said.

‘I feel sorry for them too.  Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, even the North American empires.  In the end their hopes and dreams were dashed because they consumed finite resources.  They were doomed by their own assumptions.’

‘No, I’m crying for us.  Everything we make is recycled.  When we’re gone, we’ll disappear without a trace.  Animals and plants can become fossils, we’re denied even that.  I want to leave a mark on eternity.’

I never realised archaeology could be so emotional, Chloe thought.

~

Friday Flash – Pretty Please

Pretty Please

Kaltenbruner checked Tiffany’s bonds. ‘Potassium metal placed on your scalp will burn as soon as it touches the moisture in your skin.  The reaction is highly exothermic.  Your skin will blister and break so bringing more water, in the form of blood, to sustain the reaction.’

Gripped by the tweezers, the potassium steamed in the air.

‘This  one centimeter cube will burn through your skull and drop into your brain, where combustion would continue.’

‘The flame has an attractive pale lilac colour.’ Kaltenbrunner licked his lips. ‘I’ve thought of everything, Ms Maddox.  You’ve got it, I want it.’

~

Friday Flash – Greyscale Ocean

Here’s the next of my 100 word stories in the Spiral Staircase sequence.

Greyscale Ocean

Grant’s blistered palms bled, the harness rubbed skin raw under his arms.  Still the great fish fought him, pitching its primeval strength against his skill and equipment.  It seemed a fair fight.

Finally it leapt, its huge dorsal fin glistening in the sun.  Seeing that desperation to be free, Grant knew he had won and gave a triumphant shout.  Life was a competition he was designed to win.

Later, as the fish lay belly up against the stern, futility overwhelmed him and he cut the dead thing free.

Waves slapped the hull as blood dripped from his fingers.

~

Here Comes Christmas

DSCN3105When I was young Christmas was, well – it was Christmas! The closer it came the more excited I got. I just couldn’t wait. As a small child tucked up in bed, wriggly with excitement and too excited to sleep, the anticipation of Christmas was about as exciting as things could get.

Decades pass, that anticipation hasn’t so much faded as moved to what feels like another season of gift-giving – Spring.

This time of year, watching the bulb tips emerge, the buds start to swell, seeing the early iris and clematis bloom, their colours so vivid in a landscape of brown twigs and cold earth, it feels like a kind of Christmas and every green shoot, every bud, is a present. Once again, I’m impatient, I can’t wait. I’m out in the garden every day, looking. Waiting.

Watching the sun-line creep down a frosty hedge.

One thing I didn’t properly learn as that young child was that wanting something doesn’t make it come any faster. Christmas still came on Christmas Day. Spring also makes me realise that many things come when they’re good and ready, and that there is also actually a great deal going on in these cold dark months. It’s there if you know where, and how, to look.

Even so, I can’t wait.

Friday Flash – A Spiral Staircase

A while ago I wrote a series of 100-word stories – exactly 100 words, including the title, with a group of other writers. It was good fun, an interesting discipline, and nothing much came of it.  Later on I reworked some of mine into a very loose structure I called ‘A Spiral Staircase’, and again did nothing with them.  So I decided I’d post them here, one a week.

So, here’s the first one:

Art for Art’s sake

It’s not that Tiffany wanted fame or wealth, or even notoriety.  It was a good feeling when a stranger appreciated what you’d done because they didn’t have to like it.  Too often friends said ‘Oh, yeah, that’s really good’, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  But that wasn’t what she needed to hear: it didn’t help her improve.  She really didn’t mind if nobody even knew that she did it, although it was nice sometimes to connect. 

In the end it all came down to self-expression, she thought, as her mark entered the sights.

~

2012 in Writing – Getting there

2011 felt like treading water.  In some ways that was OK – I’d just bought a house and there was lots of time to be spent and pleasure to be had there – decorating, settling into the garden, and putting a couple of not so great years behind me.  I was still writing though, short stories, and the start of a new novel, but I was also feeling a lot of the time that I was getting nowhere.  Especially with novel submissions – a seemingly endless series of rejections that really was going nowhere.

So it’s nice now to look back at 2012 and realise that a few of the things going on in 2011 came good.  And the year just past has now set some good things going into the future.  Also, I got lucky.  And I learned a lot.

To start with, the novel submission/rejection flip-flop continued, but spring brought a nice surprise in third place in the 2011 Aeon award run by Albedo One magazine for ‘Where the Sun Shines Brightly’.  I was really pleased that judges including Ian Watson and Mike Resnick liked my story enough to place it.

Out of the blue I had an email from Simon Ings, Editor of New Scientist’s ARC magazine.  He’d read one of my short stories and did I have anything that might work for ARC?  ‘Yes, sure,’ I said, ‘I’ve got loads.’  So I wrote ‘All Your Futures’ and that was in ARC 1.3.  This was just utterly brilliant.

My partner, Gaie Sebold, got an invite to Edge-Lit in Derby, a one-day con run by Alex Davis.  This was great fun, lots of nice people and some good panels and events, and then some good stuff happened in the bar.  I bumped into Terry Grimwood who runs The Exagerated Press, who said that, if I liked, he would like to do a collection of my short stories.  Then Jaine Fenn whizzed past, waved her hands in some sort of magic spell and said ‘Dave, this is Colin, you two should talk.’  Colin runs Clarion Publishing and had just signed Jaine for ‘Downside Girls’ a collection of short stories from the universe of her ‘Hidden Empire’ SF novels.  So Colin and I propped up the bar for an hour or more, the result was I sent him my near future SF novel, (Shopocalypse).  He liked, we signed a contract.

And I went to Milfiord again, on the spur of the moment, snaffling the last place.  This was a lovely week, I met some old aquaintances and several new ones, read some astonishingly good stories, and went for the wettest run of my entire life with Al Robertson & Guy Martland.  As before, I came away from Milford refreshed, energised, and pretty tired.

So, a good year, a splendid year.  II’m dead happy and have good things to look forward to this year as a result.  Things I learned are:

– Hang out at places. Meet people.  I met Jaine at my first Milford a few years back (she really didn’t like my story), Terry used to be in the writing group some years past.  If I hadn’t gone to Edge-Lit there would have been no talk about a collection, and no novel coming out.  (But don’t network, to hell with that, and anyway I can’t do it and hate the idea.  Just meet people and make friends.)

– Don’t give up. Shopocalypse had been rejected 136 times.  Agents, publishers large and small, sometimes it hurt like hell.  I still thought it was pretty fucking good and still kept submitting, even though some days I felt like a kind of masochistic weeble.

– Friends help you.  The truth is, absolutely now way whatseover could I have done it without them.  Thank you.

Dinosaurs in my attic

Dinosaurs are brilliant.  When I was young collecting tea cards was pretty good too.  These were illustrated cards that came in loose tea packets (tea bags weren’t proper, not in my house), for collection in albums.  I had a good few albums, and the best one, the only one I still have, was all about dinosaurs.

Front cover.I loved it then, for the tiny, detailed paintings and drawings.

I still love it now, for the mix of imagination, technical skill, and information, and the sheer effort that has been put into making something as trivial as a tea card album as good as it could possibly be.

The pictures were, and I still think are, wonderfully romantic, so full of colour and detail.  And now I know those ‘palms’ are tree ferns – you can see they are.  And those stubby bottle-brush plants are Equisetacea, plants that grew big as trees and helped form the coal beds.

Protoceratops vs spaceman

Unfortunately a younger me couldn’t resist a little bit of science-fictional vandalism…

 

 

Rhamphorhynchus and Pteranodon

 

I expect a fair amount of this is information is out of date, and the dinosaur colours?  These days we’re starting to get an idea.  When I was young I was just amazed that they somehow knew.

 

 

 

Still, it’s great.  And so are dinosaurs.Dimetrodon

Tylosaurus

 

 

 

My Writing Group – The T Party

If you’re interested in finding out more about my writing group, you can read about it here in an interview with Rebeccah Giltrow.

Also, there’s oodles of stuff on the group web site itself, natch.

 

 

Secret Pleasures

My slippers are muddy.  I’ve just been down to the bottom of the garden, built a bonfire, and watched it burn.  In my slippers.

Nothing’s changed, I used to do the same sort of thing when I was a child.  My mother used to tell me off for it, but it didn’t stop me, I just couldn’t be bothered to put my shoes on.  Actually, one thing has changed – I put the slippers on properly now, so the backs don’t get broken down.

Slippers in the garden is one of my two secret pleasures.  I seriously regard each one as a small but significant benefit of growing up, of being master of your own destiny – or at very least, when you get to wear your slippers.

The other one is leaving the fridge door open.  It used to drive my dad mad. He had his rules: Open the door; take the milk; shut the door; use the milk; open the door; replace the milk; shut the door.  This was the accepted method and everyone in the household followed it.  Except me.  And so I got told off.  Regularly.

These days  the fridge door stays open.  It’s so petty, but even after all these years it still gives me a little tweak of satisfaction to behave that way. My fridge, my fridge door, my rules – or lack of them.  Be my guest, feel free to leave it open, or shut it.  Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law regarding fridge doors.

So why the continuing desire to cock a snook at parents who I loved, both now long departed?  There are no emotional scars, no abiding sense of burning injustice.  They wanted things done one way, I preferred it another.

I’m still too lazy to put my shoes on, I still can’t be bothered to shut the door, but now there’s nobody around to tell me off.

I’ve got away with it.  It makes me smile.

Somewhere deep inside, I’m still that kid.