High Rise Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system,

here is my spoiler-free review for the unique ‘High Rise’, with links below if you want to find out more.

high_rise_2014_film_poster

Quick Summary:

Having first read J. G. Ballard’s dystopian thriller a short time before seeing the movie, I was hoping the visualisation may fill in whatever gaps in enjoyment or interest that I was severely lacking from the book. Unfortunately, while the movie itself looks and feels interesting, the story, though tinkered with, remains as crude in its metaphors and violence as the original on which it is based. I still wonder if I missed something…

Laughs: 0/5

There is meant to be a kind of comedy noir to this movie I believe. The use of comic actors in supporting roles such as Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen / Inside Number 9) and Dan Renton Skinner (aka Angelos Epithemiou from Shooting Stars) would seem to imply this. But I just can’t feel it through the ultimately meaningless and grotesque plot I’m afraid.

Tears: 0/5

Like the book, if we ever really cared about any of the characters who are hypnotically indulging in their assumed roles both as victims and perpetrators, the premise would probably implode. It’s hard to care in such a dank bog of misery, and I don’t think the film really cared if we did anyway.

Cheese: 0/-5

A bit of cheese may have gone a long way to soften what is, to be fair, a very bleak story. But no, they didn’t go for that angle.

Cheers: 0/5

There is no one to cheer for, or barely even commiserate. Pathos doesn’t enter into it.

Bonus Category: Making the best of it +1

I can’t fault the realisation of the world J. G. Ballard conceived into this almost timeless and metamorphosing, oppressive tower block setting. Presumably the film makers and fans of the book would have loved this, as it does seem to me a good reflection of the source material, with fairly decent performances from all involved. It’s just that I don’t particularly ‘get’ the source material…

Total: 1

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Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Rise_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0462335/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, with links below if you want to find out more.

x-men_-_apocalypse

Quick Summary:

The freshness of this rebooted Universe is wearing a little thin and they are already retreading some old ground, but if like me you tend to leave your brain at the door for superhero movies, ‘X Men: Apocalypse’ will keep you entertained for the duration without trying too hard or getting the basics wrong.

Laughs: 1/5

Being the third film of this particular prequel incarnation of the X-Men Universe, we’ve now spent almost all the jokes about bad fashion and haircuts by this point. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is still the most fun we get in this movie though, with his now customary set piece of fast/slow time frolics providing one of the best scenes, again.

Tears: 2/5

It’s a little contrived and forced, but without giving anything away, there is some pretty hard-hitting plot lines early on that help slot all the goodies and baddies back into their respective slots. It would have hit harder if this hadn’t felt like a plot convenience rather than character development.

Cheese: 0/-5

Nothing to say here really… move along.

Cheers: 3/5

Part of the fun of the X-Men franchise is the sheer amount of superpower variations and intrigue that comes with every character and the conflicts and combinations that leads to. You have a flaming baddy? No problem, we have an ice man… etc. This is no different in that respects, and there are plenty of intriguing conflicts and epic feeling moments to go around.

Bonus Category: City Drop -1

Given the number of interesting character skills and possibilities, it is a little disappointing to see yet another superhero film descend into City destroying finale madness. It doesn’t distract completely, as there are other aspect to the final showdown of more interest, but as usual the human impact is almost totally absent from the comic-book, cityscape playground, and previous films in this series have found better and less clichéd ways to deliver a conclusion.

Total: 5

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Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Men:_Apocalypse

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3385516/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system,

here is my spoiler-free review for the ambitious ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, with links below if you want to find out more.

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_poster

Laughs: 1/5

The comic relief in this movie comes mainly in the form of the slightly unhinged, reprogrammed imperial droid K-2SO, voice by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, who does a good job in offering the occasional light relief to a movie that is full of morbid foreboding. More dry and less irritating that C3PO, more vocabulary than R2D2 and BB8, and do I even need to compare anything to Jar Jar Binks?

Tears: 2/5

Being a one-off and packed with action, this leaves little room to really get to know the characters well enough for big-hitting emotional impact at certain points. However, it still does enough to carry it through, given this self-inflicted restriction.

Cheese: -1/-5

We have a lot to get through in one film with a core cast that stands-alone in the Universe, so I felt some relationships were accelerated beyond what we had seen on screen and felt a little forced (and not in a midi-chlorions kind of way). Again, this does not distract, but is a product of what they set out to do here.

Cheers: 5/5

You want Star Wars? You get Star Wars, in abundance, almost more than you do in last year’s fantastic ‘The Force Awakens’. Free of the need to advance the overall saga beyond its own boundaries, this movie explodes (literally) with almost every iconic Star Wars riff in the book. Space battles, blasters, shiny corridors, aliens, droids, baddies, John Williams… The only thing slightly lacking is ‘the force’ but that’s not entirely absent, and worth the wait.

Bonus Category: Force Majeure +3

This is actually a compound score, as I deducted points for the unfortunate use of CGI to resurrect Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarking. It was cool for a few seconds, when he was shown in the reflection of a window, in a dark room, but as soon as he joins the human cast the limitations of the technology took me out of the film slightly. I think they could have found a better compromise.

That said, this is more than made up by the sheer scale and ambition of a movie that for some reason I thought was going to be a modest affair. It isn’t. It is a visually stunning, high energy, full-scale Star Wars offering that will sit comfortably amongst the best of the cannon to date.

Total: 10

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Summary

An assured stand-alone addition to the Star Wars universe, bravely conceived and executed in an age where all franchises (even spin-offs) are slated for numerous sequels. An easily consumable film that I bet will stand up to many re-watches (which I plan to do when it gets home-released).

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_One

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3748528/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review of ‘Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods’, with links below if you want to find out more.

asterix_-_le_domaine_des_dieux_poster

Laughs: 2/5

I’ve always loved Asterix since my brother and I used to constantly check them out of our library as kids and go mad for every new animated film release (the Twelve Tasks was our favourite I think). The books always made me titter more than belly laugh, but the films seemed to up the comedy. As an adult watching the first animated version in over ten years (the franchise went live action for a good while), I found this at the same level – generally good fun without big belly laughs. It might be my age, or just that this outing wasn’t as whacky as the surreal ‘Twelve Tasks’ or ‘Cleopatra’ offerings, but it’s not a distraction, if you’re a fan.

Tears: 1/5

It’s heart-warming in places with Obelix’s relationship with the son of a displaced Roman family, but this is no Disney tear-jerker for sure.

Cheese: 0/-5

It is what it is – a film about invincible Gauls who take magic potion to fend off the Roman Empire. Cheese doesn’t enter into it if you are familiar with the world.

Cheers: 2/5

It was daunting at first seeing that this was the first fully 3D animated Asterix feature and worrying it was going to be sub-par. I forget that this is a massive French franchise, so while the movie wasn’t really publicised over here, it has good production values, and some of the comedy potion-fuelled action was rendered well into CG animation, giving great Roman bashing fist pumps along the way…

Bonus Category: Bearable Whitehall +1

My heart dropped when I saw ‘starring Jack Whitehall as Asterix’ on the description. I’m not a fan , to be honest. But fair play to the man, he did a good job of the voice acting, and along with the rest of the cast who I am more fond of generally (including Nick Frost, Matt Berry, Catherine Tate , Jim Broadbent and Harry Enfield), they brought the translation to life.

Total: 6

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Summary

A welcome animated return to the village of indomitable Gauls for fans of the franchise who have spent ten years trying to reconcile Gerard Depardieu as Obelix. I doubt it will convince many adults who aren’t already fans, but kids would probably love it, and its heart is in the right place.

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asterix:_The_Mansions_of_the_Gods

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3759416/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Ghostbusters Answer The Call Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the fun-packed ‘Ghostbusters – Answer The Call’, with links below if you want to find out more.

ghostbusters_2016_film_poster

Laughs: 3/5

Not every joke lands, but with Paul Feig and his muse of choice Melissa McCarthy at the helm, it’s no surprise that the comedy shines through the weight of expectation like an accelerated nuclear proton beam through ectoplasm. It’s a fun, funny film, which side steps the shadow of the original by bringing it’s own style of mirth to the party.

Tears: 0/5

Not one tear is shed. It’s just not that kind of movie, unless you have a soft spot for mischievous supernatural entities and don’t like seeing them smooshed.

Cheese: 0/-5

Happy to report this is a cheese free zone. The film is well aware of it’s own preposterousness and therefore coexists happily with it.

Cheers: 4/5

Plenty of fist pump moments here (including some predictable but welcome cameos), just falling shy of full marks, because let’s face it, this isn’t an original movie by nature, so you never get that sense of awe and inspiration at seeing something totally new (unless of course you’ve never seen the original, in which case you may well do… lucky you!).

It may not have been the movie everyone was looking for, but I think those people forgot that you can just watch the original if that’s what you were after. As a nostalgic homage, an assured reboot, an action comedy, and a welcome delve back into the world of busting ghosts however, it delivers throughout.

Fears: +1

I ain’t afraid of no ghost! And I don’t expect most of the film’s returning adult audience would find this half as creepy as the woman in the library… But, it definitely erred on the right side of creepy in places. Perhaps if I was 30 years younger this may have chilled me more.

Bonus Category: I ain’t afraid of no trolls… +2

Some ‘orrible people had their targets set on this film from the moment it was announced as being a female cast, and some even directed this against the cast on social media. Well, those people are dicks, and the way it was handled by the cast and crew, both within and outside of the movie, was admirable.

Total: 10

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Summary

It’s a shame the future of this franchise is once again in doubt given that the box office didn’t make enough to cover both the film and the extensive marketing campaign that one wonders may have been a direct result of the unwarranted social media thrashing by the darker side of fandom. I hope not. This was a good, enjoyable film, bringing the core ideals of the original to a new time and audience. Go watch it and buy it, then we might get more.

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostbusters_(2016_film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1289401/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Suicide Squad Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the disappointing ‘Suicide Squad’, with links below if you want to find out more (though I’m not sure why you would…).

suicide-squad

Laughs: 0/5

There were moments that had me thinking, ‘was that meant to be a funny bit?’, which isn’t usually a good sign. Like so many things in this film, the comic relief is spread too thinly around an ensemble cast who don’t seem to know who is meant to be doing what. Will Smith is too busy trying to be bad-ass and carry the film, Margot Robbie is more iconic than comic, and the several dozen other characters are either too anonymous and/or boring.

It wouldn’t have been a problem if the film wasn’t trying to be funny, but it was, and hard. All this in a film that actually has a character called ‘Captain Boomerang’ who has no special powers, but does have special boomerangs: and they still can’t raise a titter.

Tears: 0/5

We have two characters with family orientated motivations, neither relatable or developed, and a love tryst between a soldier, an archaeologist, and the ancient alien spirit she is possessed by, which is even less convincing than Cara Delevigne’s acting (more on that and her wobbly arms later).

Most of this is due to bad narrative plotting and focus which makes any emotional pay-off null and void as you flit from one poorly drawn back-story to another in a mirthless plod towards a welcome conclusion (in that the film is finished and you can go back to your life).

Cheese: -2

Suicide Squad tries almost intolerably to be cool at every turn, and although it doesn’t succeed, mostly it stays on the right side of tepid without going full circle into cheese territory. Apart from the baffling Harley/Joker back-story which has elements that are almost lifted straight out of the Tim Burton Batman films, which would be fine, if this wasn’t meant to be a gritty anti-hero cool-as-a-cucumber reimagining.

Cheers: 0/5

It’s hardly surprising given the lack of identifiable characters and absorbable plot that the pay offs are few, and limp. The premise is so convoluted that you never really care who is fighting who, or why, or how – only that at some point it will all be over.

Bonus Category: Wobbly Arms -2

This film may have been saved by a convincing and charismatic baddy, but we certainly don’t get that in the form of Cara Delevigne, no matter how much she stands around wobbling her arms about like one of those inflatable waving arm men at the side of the road. This was not a good casting decision and needed someone with more experience to create presence in a crowded film.

Total: -4

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Summary

A wasted opportunity. Tries to be all things  to all people and ends up being none. Less terrible than it is bland and pointless.

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_Squad_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1386697/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the excellent ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, with links below if you want to find out more (I strongly recommend you do…)

hunt_for_the_wilderpeople

Laughs: 4/5 

The only reason I haven’t given this film the top rating for laughs is that it pitches itself skilfully in the balance between out right farce and delightful buddy/chase movie. The laughs are where they are meant to be, and never done better than at the heart of the film with the interactions between the two main characters (underplayed brilliantly by Sam Neil and Julian Dennison). The central relationship is so good in fact, that even cameos from the likes of comedy stalwarts like Rhys Derby come second, as fun as they are.

Tears: 2/5

This film could have easily tipped over the edge into a total blub fest, but is always there with well timed light relief (look out for Taika Waititi’s cameo as a fumbling vicar) or section break to move you on and keep the journey going. A low score is reflective of what I think is evidently an intentional shunning of emotional hijacking by the makers.

Cheese: -1

Sometimes the villains can border on being a little bit pantomime, which just goes to show how delicately yet bravely each aspect of this film was pushed for maximum effect, so the odd transgression is forgivable, but does happen.

Cheers: 4/5

This is where the film hits home – you are invested in the characters so early on thanks to a great script, pacing and performances that you are taking every step with them, and feel every blade of grass along the way…

Bonus Cat: Majestical! +2

New Zealand’s amazing countryside is once again proven to be the ultimate back drop to movies of all shapes and sizes.

Total: 11

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Summary

Quite simply a great cast telling a great story that thrive under the skillful direction of the excellent Taika Waititi (who is fast becoming one of my favourite directors thanks to this and What We Do In The Shadows), and the wonderful New Zealand back-drop and sensibility that continues to develop as a major force in modern movies.

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunt_for_the_Wilderpeople

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4698684/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the upcoming ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page…

Bernie II – A Dimension Scales Christmas Tale.

robot-dog

Bernie II

A Dimension Scales Christmas Tale.

By Garry Abbott.

 

‘Frisky little thing, isn’t he?’

The little Yorkshire Terrier was jumping up again at the bars of the cage, his bright green eyes shining under a fringe of curly snow white fur and his tongue flicking in and out of his dark mouth as he panted excitedly.

‘That’s up to you,’ said the engineer, sensing a sale. ‘I can adjust his docility settings if you like? Most people do, eventually.’

‘No that’s okay’ Gareth said quickly before the engineer could fish his spanner out from his tattered leather utility belt. ‘I like him just the way he is. He reminds me of my old dog Bernie, before the, you know, the thing.’

The engineer understood. His whole trade had grown from the thing that happened that one time. The thing with the animals. No one liked to talk about or remember it anymore, that’s why they only called it the thing. It was mostly unavoidable for the engineer though, having made a roaring trade from creating realistic robot pets to replace those that were lost.

‘You want me to leave him as he is then? The default is the most accurate representation of this particular breed’s average behaviour and temperament. You can always tweak it later on, it comes with all the instructions and even a little screwdriver’ the engineer said, waving his own rather large screwdriver at Gareth.

Gareth chewed on his lip. The engineer was a good salesman, with talk of settings and accessories before he’d even said he wanted it. But it was, after all, what he had come here for.

‘Just as he is please. Yes.’

***

Gareth named his new dog ‘Bernie II’ and chose to walk him home, declining the engineer’s offer to have him safely packaged in a foam lined storage crate and drone-dropped the next morning. He even fitted him with a collar and lead, ignoring the funny looks he got from passers by, some of which were being followed obediently and unleashed by their own mechanical companions. Unlike those fashionably placid automaton, Bernie II pulled at the lead, yapped at anything and everything, and even stopped a few times to eject water vapours on the occasional lamppost.

Back at home Gareth managed to dig out the old blankets and cushions that had been stashed in the loft behind the boxes that held all the Christmas decorations. It was Christmas that had made him think about going down to see the engineer in the first place. He had stood there, last December, half up the step ladder, wresting with the awkwardly stacked and sagging boxes, baubles bouncing off his head and tinsel getting up his nose, when suddenly a box pulled free and a cascade of junk came streaming after it, including a chewed up plastic food bowl that rattled to a halt on the landing below.

Almost a year to the day, he now held the same bowl in his hands and used his little screwdriver to scratch the roman numerals ‘II’ next to the embossed ‘Bernie’ that was written across the side. He set it down and filled it with the food the engineer had given him. It looked and smelled just like real dog food, and for the most part it was very similar. It had just a few extra ingredients thrown in designed to make Bernie’s digestive battery converter sparkle with energy, and keep his replaceable teeth nice and white.

As soon as he had filled the bowl and tapped the fork on the edge, little Bernie II came bounding over and began to chomp away greedily at the slimy contents. As Gareth watched Bernie II gorge himself, he heard the key turning in the lock of the front door. His wife was home.

‘What a day!’ he heard her say as he quickly shot up, closed the door to the kitchen behind him, and kicked the dog cushion out of sight behind the armchair.

As always Tina walked in to the living room dressed in her long cream coat and black scarf, dropped her handbag on the sofa, and threw her keys on the pine coffee table with a loud scratchy clatter.

‘How was your day?’ she asked as she carefully plucked the fingers of her burgundy gloves away one at a time. ‘Mine was awful. The printer wasn’t working, so no one could print any paperclips to hold all the papers together.’

‘That sounds annoying’ Gareth said with a half grimace. ‘I’ve had quite an eventful day.’

He smiled and waited for Tina to ask him what had happened, but instead she flung her gloves on top of her keys and headed past him into the kitchen before he had chance to stop her.

‘What is that!’ she yelped, amidst a chorus of even higher pitched yips from Bernie II. He had made straight for her and was attempting something biologically impossible with her shins, even if he had been a real dog.

‘That’s what I was trying to tell you’ Gareth extracted Bernie who was panting and grinning wildly. ‘I did it. I got one. Like I said. He’s a bit lively, but then, so was the other Bernie, you know, the real one.’

Tina comprehended the drooling fur ball in her husbands hands with thinly veiled disgust.

‘So what’s this one called?’ she sneered, holding her hands close to her as if the dog may bite them off at any moment.

‘Bernie II. Do you like him?’

‘Well you can sort that leg humping business out for a start’ was all Tina said before turning away and heading upstairs to get changed.

There was no point in arguing, Gareth knew, not after such an unplanned and frankly unflattering introduction. So instead he got out his little screwdriver and removed the panel behind Bernie’s neck. Before long he found how to turn the dog’s sexuality setting to ‘neutered’ and put him back together again. Gareth thought that was fair enough, the original Bernie had been ‘done’ after all, so nothing had really changed.

***

That evening, Gareth, Tina and Bernie II settled down together on the sofa to watch an old film on the flat screen. It was some farce about a mad scientist who accidentally blew up reality, and at their feet, little Bernie II lay rolled up with his eyes closed, gently wheezing with each breath.

‘He’s sleeping’ whispered Tina, craning over her drawn up legs to look down at the little bundle on the floor.

‘I know. Isn’t he sweet?’

Gareth was happy to see Tina smiling at the sight. Since that afternoon she had paid little attention to the new addition to the household, save to step over him when he got in the way.

Next Bernie started to twitch his eye lids and paws and make little whimpering sounds as he did so.

‘Chasing rabbits’ Gareth suggested, quietly.

‘Or running through…’ Tina stopped before she could finish the sentence, interrupted by what sounded like someone letting a little air out of a tightly filled balloon. ‘What was that?’

It didn’t take long before they knew exactly what that was. The smell of digested dog food mixed with battery fluid filled the room in a near an instant, and Tina’s smile soon was soon replaced by a look of shock and a wrinkled nose.

‘Good God that’s awful!’ she spat, as if the miasma had gotten into her taste buds. ‘Tell me you can switch that off?’

‘It’ll pass’ Gareth waved away her protestation, much as he waved away the dreadful odour, which was gradually diminishing.

‘I don’t care if it does!’ snapped Tina. ‘I don’t want to smell that ever again!’

Gareth went to laugh, but caught the seriousness in her eyes before he did. Instead he tried gentle persuasion.

‘But my darling, if I switch that off,’ Gareth found himself still whispering, as if Bernie may hear and take offence, ‘instead of feeding him to recharge his battery I would have to plug him in to the mains. The manual said that the, exhaust, was normal and necessary, just like a real dog.’

Tina on the other hand spoke quite loud and clearly in response.

‘But you only get the exhaust if you choose to feed him rather than plug him in?’

Gareth nodded.

‘Then plug him in. He stinks. And it will save money on food’ Tina said in a fashion that would brook no argument. She stared at Gareth until he understood that she also meant right now.

So Gareth took the sleeping Bernie out from the room in his arms, got out his little screwdriver, opened his control panel and found the ‘void’ button, being sure to hold him over a plastic bag in the back porch before he pressed it. The remnants of the digested food drained out of the system, along with a smell so foul it nearly knocked Gareth out, which made him think that maybe it was for the best to switch off the feeding mechanism. Not all dogs were smelly. The original Bernie was a little stinky, but it was hardly his best feature. He would miss the routine of feeding his new little friend and seeing him wag his tail and paw for attention when he wanted a meal, but there was still all the other stuff, all the good stuff.

***

That night Gareth decided not to plug Bernie II in as his battery was still full from the food and he didn’t want the little fellow to be restricted to just a few feet from the power point. Besides, it had always made him feel that little bit safer when he knew there was a dog downstairs, ready to bark at the first sign of an intruder.

Tina insisted that Bernie stayed downstairs, however, but Gareth didn’t mind that. When he was growing up they had never allowed the pets to come upstairs into the bedrooms, so it felt reasonable enough. He would be lying though to say it hadn’t pained him to see little Bernie’s sad eyes as they told him to wait and then closed the door on him.

It was about two in the morning when he first started to howl.

Gareth sprang out of bed. ‘I’ll go’ he said, as if there had been another option. Tina grunted and rolled over, pulling the sheets up to her ears.

When Gareth went into the living room he found Bernie sitting on his back legs in the glow of the moonlight that cast a thin monolith across the carpet.  The room was flickering with the shadows of branches dancing in the windy night. Immediately Bernie ran up and jumped into Gareth’s lap as he knelt down to pat him. He was panting so manically that Gareth was almost worried he would pant himself inside out.

Gareth tried to sooth him, and for a while Bernie at least stopped howling, even if he did still twitch and slobber. But every time Gareth tried to settle him back down and close the door, the howling began anew.

Eventually Gareth found himself stood in the doorway of the bedroom, fiddling awkwardly with the hem of his nightshirt and wondering if Tina had actually managed to get back to sleep yet.

‘What?’ she eventually murmured, without turning from her pillow.

‘He doesn’t like being alone when the wind is blowing. Can he sleep up here?’

‘No’ said Tina abruptly.

‘Then I don’t know what to do’ Gareth pleaded.

‘Turn. Him. Off!’ Tina shouted into her pillow.

‘But I don’t want to turn him off. What if there’s a burglar?’ he said, cautiously.

‘Then he can bloody well take him! Turn it off. Turn it off. TURN IT OFF!!!’ she screamed once more, this time without the pillow, her voice joining the howl of Bernie from downstairs.

Gareth actually jumped with shock at her anger. He decided in an instant that he would do as she said, at least for tonight. He thought that maybe he could train Bernie II not to howl at the wind eventually, but that for now it was better just to put him on mute.

It didn’t take long to find the volume controls once he had opened the control hatch with his little screwdriver. Bernie still yapped and panted, but now he did it in total silence, which had rather an eerie and unsettling effect on Gareth, as if it was he who had gone deaf.

But there was still a problem. Every time Gareth left the room to go back upstairs, Bernie would jump and scratch at the door. He was probably doing it before, but all they could hear was the howling. Now all they could hear was the scratching, and it was one of those sounds that the ear latches onto and makes louder and more distracting with every second that passes until you just can’t take it anymore.

Gareth tried to ignore it, but he couldn’t ignore the tossing and turning of Tina in the bed besides him. He opened his eyes briefly to see if she was just dreaming and chasing rabbits, as it were, but her eyes were very much open.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

Tina slowly tilted her head to meet her husband’s eyes and said calmly, and steadily:

‘No. I’m not okay. And if you don’t sort that thing out right now, not only will I smash it into tiny, weenie little pieces and give it to the rag and bone man, I will also be staying at my Mother’s until I can find a man who has more going for him in life than A DEFECTIVE ROBOT DOG!’

Taking the hint, Gareth got up and powered down Bernie II completely and placed him on his predecessors old cushion. Gareth told himself that it was okay, and that Bernie II was just sleeping like a normal, real dog. Just like back in the days before the thing that had stopped people ever having normal, real pets ever again.

But it wasn’t okay, not really, and that night Gareth went to bed more depressed than he had been for a long, long time.

***

When the morning came the wind had settled down and Gareth had almost forgotten the trials of the previous night. That was until he came downstairs in his dressing gown to find Tina as usual nursing a cup of hot coffee, and the still  deactivated Bernie dumped on the table with his lead and open bag of food stacked unceremoniously on top of him.

‘What’s this?’ Gareth asked while blinking the sleep from his eyes.

Tina had barely managed to cover up the ever increasing semi circles under her eyes, even with a heavy foundation, but still she seemed calm and poised for work. She was dressed in her black skirt, striped shirt and long cream jacket with her burgundy gloves peeking out from the pocket.

‘You’ve got nothing else to do today have you? So you may as well take it back, see if you can get your money back.’

Gareth squinted back at her.

‘By it, I take it you mean Bernie II?’

Tina nodded.

‘Why would I do that?’

Tina lost her demeanour.

‘Because it’s useless junk!’ she whipped back at him, slamming down her coffee so hard a small tidal wave leapt out from the cup and onto Bernie’s tail.

‘Watch out!’ cried Gareth as he looked around fruitlessly for a tissue and then began to wipe up the hot steaming fluid with his sleeve.

Tina watched him as he fussed and fawned over the innate piece of metal covered in synthetic fur.

‘Pathetic’ she said, shaking her head. ‘What’s the point of him?’

Gareth drew a deep breath and turned his head away from her for a moment before standing up to his full height, which when he didn’t slouch, was imposingly greater than hers.

‘The point, if you had any inkling of such things, was to try and feel like I used to back when the real Bernie was alive, back when all the pets were still alive.’

‘But it wasn’t alive, and now it doesn’t even bark, or eat, or move for that matter.’ Tina waved a dismissive hand at the lump before her.

‘Only because you told me to switch him off, piece by piece! The whole idea was to believe in him, faults and all. Real dogs made mess. Real dogs were noisy, and Real dogs sometimes smelled bad!’

Graham found himself red in the face and shouting at his wife only a few centimetres from hers unconcerned smirk.

‘And real wives,’ she said with a wicked pout, ‘tell their husbands when they are being pathetic!

Graham couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t make her see. He could never make her see. He realised that now, and knew what had to be done as he reached his hands around her throat.

‘What are you doing?’ she whimpered as his grip tightened.

‘Maybe you’re right’ he said gently to her as she struggled against the force of his hands. ‘Maybe there is no point in trying to make something that’s fake ever feel real.’

And with that he twisted his hands sharply, removed the panel from the back of his wife’s neck, and went to fetch his little screwdriver.

THE END.

 

New Release! The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting

It is finally here…

As you can see in the lovely sidebar to your right (or by scrolling down if you are on a tablet or phone) – my new book ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’ is now available to buy in hard back and eBook format! Please click on the link below or the picture of the cover to find out more!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garry-Abbott/e/B00FOY38ME

I thought I would take this opportunity to update my rarely updated blog with a little timeline of how this came to be…

The funny thing about writing and releasing a book, is just how much time it takes.

First of all you need an idea. Luckily I have lots of them rattling around and keeping me up at night, but that means you then have to figure out which idea is the one to work on.

I spent the first six months after the release of my last book (The Dimension Scales and Other Stories), working on an idea that was not the right one… I got 30,000 words into a draft before calling it a day on a manuscript that wasn’t going anywhere, fast… The last line I wrote before giving up was:

“Okay, so that might just do it. For now. At least until I know what’s happening.”

Just to be clear, that was me speaking, not a character…

I had made the error of setting off without a map. Even my short stories have a map before I start writing – usually a bullet point list of plot points and chapter arcs. And this time I was writing a novel, a whole 80,000 words+ of unified story! I needed a map, and was back to needing an idea.

I turned to a short story I had release on this very blog to start me off… a nice little premise about space travel through virtual reality being announced by NASA around 150 years in the future, combining citizen science with immersion entertainment to explore the Universe. They called it ‘The Great Connection’. This same story exists now as the Prologue to the novel.

So, that was a nice backdrop, but not a story in itself. Luckily, I had some other ideas, also based on projecting fledgling technologies into the future (which is the bread and butter of many a speculative/science fiction author). Namely about three-parent families, and how, if this was to become an established norm, it would affect the family units of the future.

Add to this my general worries about the rampant rise of consumerism and social division, a little bit of alien world building, and I had my scene set, my characters taking form, and a story map starting to emerge.

From here comes the drafting. The best bit. Usually writing a chapter or major section in one sitting. I couldn’t estimate how long this took specifically, but with other commitments, I know the drafting was at least 6-9 months in real-time. This included a major re-write where ‘Part 2’ of the novel (Lingua Franca) really took shape.

As any writer will know, however, the first draft is just the start. From here there is extensive editing, correcting, tweaking… Probably another 3 months of that before I was able to send it off to get copy-edited (I use a professional copy-editor. As this blog may evidence, sometimes my punctuation can be a little errant!)

And so, I am left with an edited, final manuscript. So what to do with it? Self publish? Send it to agents and publishers? I opted for both. My long term strategy, is anyone is interested, is as follows:

  1. Write book (with all the steps above, including full edit)
  2. Send to agents and publishers…
  3. Wait a bit…
  4. If no-one’s biting, self publish.
  5. Repeat… potentially forever.

I quite like this formula. You have to be exceptionally lucky to get your manuscript land with the right person at the right time to get representation and a deal. In the meantime, I want to know what people think, what people like (or not) and keep developing. Without feedback, how can I make my next book better?

I approached maybe 50 agents and a handful of publishers. Most didn’t respond. A few said thanks, but no thanks. That’s the way of it. People sent me lots of nice stories about famous authors who were rejected hundreds of times before getting their break. I get it. I’ve always known. That’s not why I do it, but it would be nice, one day, when the time is right.

So, I’m now on step 4, as you can see! There are a lot of sub-steps in those simple words ‘self-publish’ – and even having it released is not the end. Now there is marketing, worry, reviews, and pride too.

But I am also well into Step 1 of the next book. The manuscript for my next novel is at around 40,000 words, and, I’m glad to say, it has a very good map. It won’t be a follow up to this book (I’m going to see how it goes before deciding whether there will be a series of ‘Great Connection’ books. I hope so… I’ve designed it so there can be)… but I can, and will reveal, that the next book is called ‘Transported’. It is a comedy sci-fi (think Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett in tone, if not in voice) and is also a kind-of sequel to the the titular story in ‘The Dimension Scales’. All being well, I hope this will arrive mid 2017, but we’re having a baby before that date, so we will see!

That’s my potted history of ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’. I hope you take the chance to have a little look and, ideally, buy and read it.

Thanks, dear readers.

Garry Abbott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is what we actually want out of life in this whole rush-to-power malarkey?

martinlutherkingjr-063_0

It’s easy to forget with the 24 hour news carousel forever spinning, but there is a whole point to this politics malarkey – us.

I recently had a slightly frustrating and insulting exchange on Twitter in the wake of the Labour party NEC decision to (quite rightly) keep Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the potential leadership challenge. It went something like this:

 

Some bloke:

“Deluded Corbyn supporters can’t see Labour will never be elected again” yawn, etc…

Me:

“What’s the point of power for power’s sake if you don’t get the chance to enact polices you actually want?”

Some bloke:

“You really don’t understand government do you?”

Me:

“I suppose you do and are going to enlighten me with your superior knowledge?”

Some bloke:

“Power is all that matters. I guess you saw what the Conservatives achieved yesterday?”

Me:

“You mean May getting to be PM? What’s your point?” (I must stress, at this stage I am genuinely wondering what his point is – I am interested to know now that his initial insult against my intelligence has subsided…)

Some bloke:

“You really are a fool aren’t you? Goodbye.”

 

A fool! A fool no less! For asking someone to clarify a point they were yet to make.

The conversation ended soon after that with me wishing him farewell and good luck with his megalomania. I very rarely comment on other users tweets who I don’t already know, and this is why.

However, he kind of proved the point I’ve made before and will make again: what is the point of power for powers sake?

The reason I support Corbyn, more so than I do the Labour party, is because I agree with the things he wants to do i.e. his policies.

According to random bloke, that’s not important. What’s important is that we all support a version of a party being led by people who I massively don’t agree with, because “power is all that matters”.

I don’t feel I need to explain the false logic in that argument, do I?

Maybe I do, because I hear this all the time. Firstly I hear it in the mainstream media (none more so than the BBC), and then I hear it spilling passively out of the mouths of people who I know and meet.

“Corbyn is unelectable” they say… Well, no, actually, he isn’t. In theory, in a democracy, no fully-fledged citizen is, especially when you happen to be the democratically elected leader of a major political party.

“We don’t want to be a party of opposition” they say. Well, Labour, by definition, IS the opposition party. Perhaps the reason they didn’t pick up votes under Miliband in the last two election was because they didn’t represent a significantly opposing view and therefore didn’t enthuse those who would have turned out to vote for them to do so? Or many (like me) moved our votes elsewhere in search for some other world view even remotely aligned with our own?

It doesn’t take much prodding to unravel these arguments, does it? (They are barely even arguments) And that’s what we need to do, because no one in the mainstream media is going to do it for us like they do for the Tories/establishment.

I guess that random Twitter bloke was trying to imply that the way the Conservatives steered Theresa May into power was some kind of ‘achievement’ in terms of public/media opinion and opposition to having an actually unelected person take the reigns of power with seemingly little fuss. And if you are a Conservative, who supports May, then maybe that is an achievement, but, what has that got to do with me, and people like me, who want to see the kind of policies Jeremy Corbyn is proposing represented in our democracy?

Absolutely nothing.

Because it may be about the never ending rush for absolute power, but that doesn’t make it a good thing for the rest of us.

We live in a country now where idealism, socialism, disarmament, tolerance and welfare  are branded as being undesirable tenets on which to base a society. This is thanks to the power of the media, the capitalists and the complicit politicians who want us to think this way. And for once someone who says they want to break down the power held by the unelected media and business conglomerates over our lives and democracy is able (against all odds) to even be allowed a platform to say this, and the world turns against him, and by extension, anyone who agrees with him.

What’s worse is they are making us say it too… to ourselves, to each other, as if we know something. We don’t know anything about politics, not really, not most of us, only what we are told, and we are told, relentlessly, “he’s unelectable… he’s unelectable… he’s unelectable…”

You know what? Fuck them. Elect him. Or at least stop just repeating everything and at least try to think about it and put it into your own words so we can all talk about it and see if there is some valid reasons behind it all worth discussing.

Don’t just tell someone ‘they don’t understand’ and call them a ‘fool’ for asking… Get angry, yes, but direct it constructively. I don’t know, write a blog or something…