Dec 9, 2009

Yes, I know this should have been written as soon as I finished the Evolutionary Void. But as someone once said: life happens. As to why this wasn’t written on time, well for the last four and a half years every time some piece of non-urgent household work came up (putting up curtain rails, picture hooks, bleeding the central heating system, trimming the hedge, etc) I simply said to Mrs H: I promise I’ll do it after I’ve finished the trilogy. So, the day after I typed The End, I was duly handed The List. I now know what it feels like to get a court summons. The List is now almost finished, which led into the Hamilton household’s pre-Christmas activities. For reasons I won’t bore you with we have three Christmas dinners in December. Like most blokes I regard roast dinners as my domain –and am starting to regret that. Do you know how long it takes to peel potatoes for over thirty people? Cookery Hint: for roast potatoes, parboil them in batches and freeze them in advance, it makes them a lot softer inside when you finally get round to roasting them. I’ve also been to two separate nativity plays. Felix managed to remember all his lines, and made a splendid Sheppard. And I never even knew he could sing that many carols. Sophie was also, coincidentally, a Sheppard at her school’s production, and performed beautifully. Strategically, I have loads of photos of how cute the both were, which I can get out and show to their friends when they’re teenagers.

I also have all the presents. When I say ‘I’ I mean Mrs H has got most of them, but at least I did manage to get Mrs H’s present -which I think she wants. Update in the next blog. There was also a trip to LaplandUK to see Santa himself. Which although pricy was well worth it. I’m just glad the kids didn’t have a camera to take pictures of me during the great ice skating debacle after the elves had taken them to meet Santa himself, or as Felix insists on calling him: farmer Christmas. Lapland in this country is down in Kent, about 150 miles from Rutland, so we made a small holiday of it, and stayed in a hotel in Tunbridge Wells. When we arrived we discovered there was a pantomime on in the town’s assembly hall theatre. For non UK residents: this is a great old family tradition, which sees odd collections of celebrities and actors performing the corniest shows you’ve ever seen, and which of course kids love. So we bought tickets and went along to see Peter Pan. I never knew you could still be that politically incorrect in the UK. References to Tiger Woods, extremely camp sailors, and a wholly inappropriate drunk Northern comic routine. J. M. Barrie would have been amazed. But it was fabulous stuff, with adults trying not to laugh at things that we really shouldn’t.

We also went and got the Christmas tree. Which just –really: just, fits in the kitchen, with the top almost an entire two inches lower than the ceiling. Given it would have put a huge dent in the roof of my car, even if I could have lifted something that heavy up there, a friend took it home in his van –many thanks John. It took half a day to decorate, and I have no idea how I’m going to untangle so many lighting cables when it comes time to take it down.

Then there’s Avatar, which I’ve basically been waiting a decade for, ever since Cameron filmed Titanic. Cinema showing digital 3D found, tickets bought for the opening night, all the boys ready to abandon our wives at home to look after the kids, the sushi bar chosen. And what happens? The only pre-Christmas snowstorm in my living memory. Arrrrrrrgh! So after a wait of several days for the roads to clear of snow and ice I finally got to see it. I have to agree with a lot of comments on line that the story is nothing special, and that it’s quite derivative. Basically: so what? As a visual medium it is truly spectacular. First a word about digital 3D itself. My inner sceptic was completely convinced by the format. It works. And yes, I even ducked at one point. As to the film itself: Yes the nerd in me can pick out a whole load of petty flaws, technological inconsistencies, how disjointed the evolutionary factors were, and so on. But no more than I do for any film. By any reasonable criteria, Cameron has succeeded brilliantly in producing a true modern spectacle which has, thankfully, set the benchmark high for the next decade. As I came out I said to my friend who watched it with me that we were at the twenty first century equivalent of the first talkie, and in the cold light of day I stand by that. The previews were also for 3D films, so this looks like the way the major studios are going to move forward. For SF in general this has to be extremely good news. The ideas and worlds we come up with are perfect for this new medium. Here’s hoping.

So what’s awaiting in the new year? I have to write an essay on Aliens (yes, the Cameron film) for Mark Morris who’s editing Cinema Futura which will be published by PS Publishing next year, and features a whole batch of SF writers reviewing their favourite SF film. See, it’s a hard life being a writer, having to sit down and watch films like that purely for work purposes. I hadn’t seen it for several years, and it still holds together very well indeed. And given what I mentioned above, it was fascinating to see how computer effects and general technological improvements have changed the whole style of filming from twenty years ago. Remakes are strong in Hollywood, which got me thinking just how many films like this would be even greater in 3D.

Once that’s done I’m going to write a couple of short stories. Yes Mr, Strahan, I haven’t forgotten New Space Opera3. The first will feature Paula Myo working out an alien biology puzzle. And then a story set after the singularity, which is something which has been churning round my subconscious for a while. It’s going to be a challenge to see if I can still write in a ‘short’ format, a shortcoming I mentioned in my web interview a few months back.

Then it’s onward to the next book. Hopefully (I say that because nothing is signed yet) it will be a stand-alone in a new and different universe. There’s a lot of reading/research I have to do, but the basic outline is already there. The central theme is about an expedition who are trying to find evidence of an alien on a planet where evolution apparently never produced animal life, except for someone who decades before tried to use ‘the monster did it’ as an excuse to explain away a murder she was found guilty of. This is of course a huge simplification, but I have high hopes that I can add some complexity to that situation. I normally do.

Wishing you all the best for the New Year.

Peter F. Hamilton

Rutland, December 2009

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