The Complicated Feels of Annihilation

Content warning: this essay discusses The 2018 film Annihilation, and particularly the character of Dr Josie Radek and her history of self-harm and suicide. Also here be spoilers. I read Annihilation when it came out in 2014, and I hated it. I left a long, angry 1-star Goodreads review about its poor writing, its terrible worldbuilding, its refusal to answer the questions it asked. That review, for years, was the top-rated Goodreads review for the book. A few years ago, I quietly deleted it. Knowing I wrote it in the first place makes me uncomfortable; I live in terror that I’m going to meet Jeff VanderMeer and he’s going to go “hey, aren’t you that 1-star asshole?”  Because he’s not wrong. I gave it a 1-star[…]

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The Jemaine Clement Sewer Goblin Incident: a retrospective

This is the story of the most Wellington thing that has ever happened to me. I wrote a breathless twitter thread at the time, but it has since vanished as part of my rolling deletion, and if it was lost to history I think our culture would be poorer for it. Anyway, in mid 2018 I was sitting in Satay Kingdom, grinning from ear-to-ear, reeking of raw sewage, with giant dark bags under my eyes, inhaling roti canai with a worrying enthusiasm and getting sauce everywhere. When I looked up, Jemaine Clement was staring at me. I have no idea what his expression was trying to communicate. Maybe he didn’t see me at all, and was looking intently at the wallpaper behind me, but from[…]

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A Spirited Defence of the Much-Maligned Hellboy 2019

My first pro sale was a story about a group of Guitar Wizards using the power of metal to literally melt the faces of an oncoming demon horde. I got home from a party at 3am, barely-coherent from a bad reaction of alcohol and psychiatric medication, and in my inbox I saw an email from a writer I’d met at a party years ago asking if I could write something for Esquire Malaysia’s Rocktober issue. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I remember the vibe: it didn’t matter what I wrote, but it needed to rock.  I barely remember writing it, and I do not remember sending it. I woke up in the morning with a second email in my inbox telling me it[…]

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Seeking Non-Exponential Decay

The Korekore cleaved through the between-ness, down the aeonic star-roads, timeloose. Somewhere in the darkness, a star turned inwards under its own immense weight, devouring itself – a symphony of shrieking magma vents and the low bass crunch of a gravity well. She turned away from this, and towards the little sound, a timetethered mayfly hum of a distant planet. Stepping between the veils, she walked into the world. The locals called her The Snail. Art installation, installed in the dead of the night. Legend had it they came back every night and moved her, maybe a fraction of a fraction of an inch. Nobody had ever caught the artist, though many had tried. The council tried to remove her once; a small group of[…]

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Critical Mass

I see: hands, delicate and doll-like, twin-thumb threefinger; slackface, two-halves stitched with care (for there is so little thread); the organ, furnacewhite death-to-plastic, radiant between the pipes; a Giant, four-foot tall, five dolls’ worth of parts, bent-back to fit into the rats’ nest of crawlspaces beneath the organ, to chase the errant children and drag them back to work; the Chirurgeon with his many hands, ready to stitch, ready to cut the fingers of children who steal, ready with paint thinner and glue to wipe away the mouths of the children who cry. Them-that-built are gone with the water but they left their temples down in the down-dark, fifteen-thousand PSI, enough to liquify bone; first a lab then a refuge then a church and finally[…]

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That’s Not A Plothole 2: The Devil All The Time

There’s no term that armchair critics love to misuse more than “plot hole”. I’ve shouted about this before and I’m gonna shout about it again. I haven’t seen people talking about this specific plot hole yet, but it’s a variety of “plot hole” people love to pick up on that bothers the fuck outta me. So, there’s a moment in The Devil All The Time where a character pours lighter fluid on a box of photo negatives before dropping a match in it and setting it on fire. Going into WHY is spoiler territory and largely irrelevant. There are two important things here: 1) Lighter Fluid2) Old photo negatives Why is that important? Because old photo negatives are super flammable. Infamously so. Maybe an expert[…]

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Satire and Clarity: Get Out vs The Hunt

It’s hard to find a movie that has drummed up more bullshit controversy than The Hunt. The goddam US president took to Twitter to shout about … really the opposite of what the film is trying to say. It’s a film about Coastal Liberal Elites hunting “deplorables” because they don’t consider them human, and the camera follows the deplorables—they’re not the bad guys here. Left and right were both furious at it for different reasons.  That confusion didn’t come out of nowhere, and I think The Hunt lacks a certain clarity in its satire that could’ve otherwise made it great. This might ruffle a few feathers, but I think its closest comparison point is 2017’s Get Out. They’re both satires of a certain flavour of[…]

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Thunderdome Rules: How to Judge Flash Fiction Competitions Quickly

In 2012, I joined a flash fiction competition on the SomethingAwful forums. I also joined the next week, and the week after, and I came to realise in February that Thunderdome has been running for almost 8 years. This week was Thunderdome #400. Our weird little writing weekly writing competition has got people into grad programs, dream jobs, got people publishing deals with Big 5 Publishing Houses; The Dawnhounds started in a Thunderdome side group; the Discord channels spun off it house a terrifying array of Serious Authors who I know started out writing flash fiction about sentient farts on SomethingAwful. Each week, Thunderdome has three judges. The head judge is the previous week’s winner, and the other two are people they’ve shoulder-tapped to help[…]

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Writer Advice #0: Embrace your Bullshit

The first draft of The Dawnhounds came from a group called WAD. It was 2013, and Brandon Sanderson was releasing a weekly video of his creative writing lecture at BYU, through a channel called Write About Dragons, or WAD. Every week, we’d watch a new Sanderson video on Youtube, discuss it in a video chat, then we’d crit somebody’s latest chapter.  If you’ve never run into Sanderson before, there’s two important things to note: He’s famously prolific He fucking loves rules Which I don’t mean in a negative way: Sanderson has a rule for everything, and I think it’s a big part of how he writes so effectively—when he comes to build a house, the scaffolding comes pre-installed. Probably the most famous are his rules[…]

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That’s Not a Plot Hole: Birds of Prey and internal consistency

I’ve mostly avoided the Birds of Prey discourse, because it seems like a magnet for the sort of exhausting dude with Comics Opinions who my life is blessedly free of these days. I also haven’t read the source material, so line up to shout about that if you wanna. I am going in mostly blind, but I got back from Birds of Prey and I think it’s a great illustration of two storytelling principles that the internet (and the CinemaSins nitpick crowd in particular) critically fails to understand.  External consistency is when a text aligns with our real world. Almost every text has some: we see a baseball bat and we know that it hurts to get hit with, regardless of whether the world of[…]

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