Tag Archives: Unbound

The Alien DJ

Dodgy Space Themes album

A crime to art, music and science fiction, but this dodgy 1978 album got me hooked.

Is it me or am I the only one who finds it hard to separate Sci-Fi from soundtrack? It is almost impossible to think of the opening credits of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope without the adrenalin-surge of John Williams’ classic theme-tune blasted out to the backstory disappearing to its vanishing point (or Darth Vader and his stormtroopers without the Imperial march); the shock and awe of the apocalyptic opening of Blade Runner without the vertiginous electronica of Vangelis; and the opening of Kubrick/Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would not have the same sturm-und-drang impact with Richard Strauss’s ‘sunrise’ from Also sprach Zarathustra.

Growing up a Sci-Fi addict (thanks to Lucas’ gateway drug that made me watch anything with Special FX in however risible, and it often was) I received my ‘hit’ often via the opening credits and theme tune of classic TV shows such as Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Thunderbirds, Dr Who, Blake’s Seven, Star Trek, and The Prisoner. 

And as an adult connoisseur of big screen Fantastika, I often find myself enthralled as much by the soaring soundtracks as much as the visuals – as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Brazil, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, Sunshine, Interstellar, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049 to name but a few.  

So it is no surprise to discover that during the writing of my novels I often have an ‘unofficial soundtrack’ running in the back of my mind. Perhaps this is why I need to write in silence, as I need to be able to tune into this internal symphony – the mood and movement that underscores the scene or chapter I am writing. Sometimes actual music is cited in the prose. In my science fiction thriller, Black Box, the protagonist listens to Chinese death metal while out on the ice, conducting one of his endless routine maintenance circuits of the vast ice-shelf he is tasked to transport to the ends of the galaxy. Back in his tugship, out of his suit, Lake relaxes to Hendrix while shooting up an artificial opiate he has managed to synthesise. Other settings required different tracks, evoking a different ambience – very few of these are explicit, but they nuanced my depiction of each, through diction, description, and pacing – the micro-choices that create tone.

If, in some fortunate future, my novel gets turned into a movie – which since it was first conceived as one, would be a satisfying full circle – then I hope the director will choose one of the fine composers out there (Hans Zimmer, for instance!) to score it rather than opt for the populist ‘mix-tape’ approach, which worked for The Martian and Guardians of the Galaxy — initially, a refreshingly iconoclastic contra-tonal device, but one that’s become something of a cliché, a lazy form of film-making (like the cheesy pop song montage sequence of the 80s it emulates) that does a disservice to the craft of the film composer, the under-rated geniuses of modern cinema, for it is they who translate the music of the spheres into reality.

Black Box has been adapted into an audio drama by the amazing podcast team at Alternative Stories. The first three pilot episodes are due to be launched 20th November, 27th November, & 4th December. FFI: https://alternativestories.com/

Gods Playing Dice

Writing and RPGs

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The classic edition of Traveller, Game Designer’s Workshop, 1977

As a young man back in the spiked, crimped velveteen 80s I spent many an happy hour enjoying sessions of role-playing games (now suddenly fashionable). These undoubtedly nurtured my writerly imagination for it is through them I caught the bug for storytelling and creating detailed scenarios. The three systems that enthralled me the most were the classic version of Dungeon & Dragons, Call of Cthulu (based upon the works of HP Lovecraft) and Traveller – through them I experienced the immersive delights of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction. It is the latter that is particularly on my radar at the moment, for my SF novel, Black Box, is ready for launch (being published through the crowdfunding platform, Unbound). Although the novel has been consciously informed by a lifetime of reading and watching SF, by Climate Change, and by research into space exploration and artificial intelligence at the University of Leicester where I’m currently completing my PhD, looking back I realise that those lively sessions with fellow schoolmates (in particular Garrie Fletcher, who has gone onto to become a wordsmith too) really nurtured the ‘SF brain’ part of me. With its stylish series of black manuals, and hard edge, Traveller was always the coolest of the RPGs, the Fonz of the whole Happy Days bunch. Each session, usually held around ‘Budgie’s house’, another schoolmate from Mereway, felt like being inside an episode of one of our favourite TV shows – Blake’s 7, Dr Who, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica (this was pre-Firefly days and that show in particular captures the maverick freebooting attitude of the game – a motley crew taking on some dodgy mission for a fistful of credits, normally running the gauntlet of the Imperium, space pirates and hostiles). The main benefit of these games was, of course, the social angle – lifesaving for a bunch of awkward nerds (speaking personally): the sessions were some of the most enjoyable spent as a teenager – hearty laughter, shared creativity, and heart-pumping excitement. But in hindsight, as someone who has made writing the heart of their career, I see other spinoffs that have a direct benefit to novelists: immersiveness (far more visceral than any virtual reality); multilinearity (complex branching narratives effected by one’s choices); storytelling (how to engage and sustain an audience, create narrative traction, suspense and tension); characterisation (designing vivid characters, improvising dialogue); the importance of setting (almost a character in its own right – certainly spaceships can be); and fictionality (the giddy freedom of making stuff up, spinning a yarn, and weaving worlds out of thin air). These have all become of primary importance in my novel-writing. Of course novels seem, on the surface, less multi-cursory and multi-player – they are a direct interface between author and reader (although they can be shared by millions) – but in the composition of them, the malleability of the plot, the behaviour of the characters, and the volatility of the structure, makes it feel like being in a ‘session’ as DM,  player-characters, and non-player characters – a schizophrenic’s paradise. Aspects of your personality talk back at you: shock, astound and devastate – and you risk coming across as a complete loon, bursting out laughing or crying out in frustration at a screen. Anything can happen in the white void of the blank page. The lonely long-haul of writing a novel may lack the sociability of a RPG (except in the camaraderie with fellow writers and, if you’re lucky, readers), but in compensation one has complete creative control (eventually, if the wild beast of the book can be tamed sufficiently). It can bring out the emperor-god-being in you, the tyrannical deity that plucky characters loved to frustrate. As with the best DMs, who run a game ‘dice-light’, biasing the flow of storytelling over a punctilious compliance with the rules, the best writers always allow their characters to have a lucky break now and then, and to steal the show over a mechanical fulfilment of plot. And writers weaned on RPGs will always remember who the narrative is ultimately for – not the ‘god behind the screen’ but the reader-participant.

Copyright ©Kevan Manwaring 30 April

Black Box has been adapted into an audio drama by the amazing podcast team at Alternative Stories. The first three pilot episodes are due to be launched 20th November, 27th November, & 4th December. FFI: https://alternativestories.com/

Magic Hat

Houdinis of Bewilderland by Kevan Manwaring Part 6

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With the advent of crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter, Crowdfunder  and Patreon many projects are getting off the ground which otherwise would languish in funding limbo. Paul Kingsnorth’s experimental novel, The Wake (2013), is a fine example of this. A tale of rebellion and radicalisation written in what Kingsnorth described as a ‘shadow tongue’, his hybrid of Old English, dialect and imagination, the unconventional novel challenges the reader. It was published to critical acclaim (long-listed for the Booker Prize and the winner of several others awards) via Unbound, which asks readers to pledge towards the publication of their preferred projects. This is actually a good old-fashioned approach – the subscription method – via which publishers used to assess the economic viability of a project. Here, the internet has helped publishing by enabling it easier for artists to reach potential ‘subscribers’, and to market and sell their work. Kingsnorth’s novel was helped by his Dark Mountain Project[i] – he already had a ‘fan-base’ as it were. Yet it is possible to achieve success in this approach through drawing internally upon an existing community as is the case with the team behind the much-loved Earth Pathways Diary, produced collectively every year from contributions sent voluntarily by artists and writers. They devised their own method of crowd-funding, which they called Moonshares:

In 2007 when the founder members met to gather and cement their ideas for a new UK Diary, we had a clear vision but little money between us to fund this project. We wanted it to be a celebration of the work of UK artists and writers who shared our deep love for this Land and the wish for a sustainable future for all. It was to be more than just a diary, more a networking resource, which would inspire people who actively create positive change in their lives for the benefit of this good Earth. While we had friends who as artists and writers would be happy to contribute work for the first edition, we needed a way to gather the funds necessary to print the diary. This was in truth a considerable sum and so the idea formed of creating “Moon Shares” as originally we were to be a Moon Diary. The Moon Shares were to be a generous loan which we planned to pay back as soon as we could support our own printing cost. A call went out and over the years, the loans from 58 wonderful souls and donations from friends and contributors, allowed us to print the first five diaries.

The time finally arrived when we had funds to cover our printing costs for the diary and enough to repay all Moon Shares. It was a long and eventful journey and we still frequently give thanks to all who have travelled with us. The continued sales of diaries to our wonderful community means that not only could we repay our Moon Shares but we can also put our profits towards Seed Funding small projects designed to support the Earth.[ii]

So, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Poverty consciousness can hamstring the imagination. Think what resources and skills you actually have at your disposal – collectively – to achieve your goals.

And if all else fails, you can always pass around the hat.

Rather than fret over ticket sales, put on an event for free if it means people turn up. If you need to cover some costs, then invite people to make a suggested donation. Don’t feel embarrassed. Mention it but let folk have the choice. It’s a risky gambit, but many productions are working this way in our cash-strapped age – the Edinburgh Fringe is full of these ‘free’ shows where you pay what you think it was worth. It incentivizes  the performer/s and makes the audience critically evaluate it. But instead of stars, coins (though a good review or word-of-mouth recommendation is often worth more). It’s reciprocation – but if that feels too much of a closed loop, then if you receive the gift of someone’s creativity freely ‘pay it forward’, by offering something freely yourself next time*. Keep the awen flowing.

[i] Dark Mountain Project: http://dark-mountain.net/about/the-dark-mountain-project/ [accessed 16.02.16]

[ii] https://www.earthpathwaysdiary.uk/about/moonshares/ [accessed 8.02.2016]

*as Lewis Hyde advocates in the inspiring book, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Vintage, 1983

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This article was commissioned by Doggerland. An alternative version is available in print form in their latest issue, along with other thought-provoking contributions.  Check it out. Available from:  http://www.doggerland.info/doggershop

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