Sophia McDougall http://sophiamcdougall.com The website of author Sophia McDougall Mon, 12 Oct 2015 10:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fantasycon 2015 http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/10/12/fantasycon-2015/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/10/12/fantasycon-2015/#comments Mon, 12 Oct 2015 10:00:59 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=628 I got knocked out of Nine Worlds by the cold from Hades, so I am most definitely going to Fantasycon to make up for it, and here is my schedule.

Room: Suite 2

Sat 24 Oct 10.00am              

Welcome to my Place: Making Your World Better

Setting has a huge effect on the impact of your story, so how do you create a believable, interesting world which ‘feels real’ without info-dumping or losing the plot? Our panel of experienced world-builders and creative writers shares tips and techniques for  bring your fictional world into being.

  • what comes first: the story, the setting or the characters?
  • in what ways do they inform each other?
  • how much detail do you need and what role does research play?
  • balancing originality with familiarity

Moderator: Martin Owton

Panellists:  James Brogden, Adrian Faulkner, Megan Kerr, Sophia McDougall, Arianne ‘Tex’ Thompson

 

Room: Conference Theatre

Sat 24 Oct 2.00pm  War: What Is It Good For? Martial Conflict in SFF

War continues to abhor and fascinate us as writers and readers but portraying it brings many challenges. This panel goes into battle on the following campaign fronts:

  • are the reasons for war too simplistic in genre fiction?
  • depictions of combat, martial training and practice
  • writing about violence, injury and death in action
  • the after-effects of war on fighters and non-combatants
  • alternative resolutions, diplomacy and showing all sides

What do YOUR characters fight for?

Moderator: Natasha Bardon

Panellists: Steve Aryan, Bradley Beaulieu, Sophia McDougall, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gav Thorpe

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Nine Worlds — unfortunate news. http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/08/07/nine-worlds-unfortunate-news/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/08/07/nine-worlds-unfortunate-news/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 14:31:33 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=618 I’m very sorry to say I’m not going to be able to make Nine Worlds after all. I was really looking forward to it all, but — I’m sick. I didn’t get better as I hoped I would; in fact I have a chest infection and it just won’t work. I apologise to anyone who was hoping to see me — and I hope I’ll be able to make it to Fantasycon and see you there instead.

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SPACE HOSTAGES – video snippet 2, and Nine Worlds http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/08/03/space-hostages-video-snippet-2-and-nine-worlds/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/08/03/space-hostages-video-snippet-2-and-nine-worlds/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 12:51:47 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=616 Internet, I write to you most laboriously from the lobby of a hotel in Greece. This is the first holiday time I have been abroad in a decade without bringing my laptop and a novel to be finished or a heap of manuscripts to critique. Of course, to celebrate this,  I have come down with a cold. Neverthelss, the sea is blue and everything is very beautiful.

I was at SRFC last week to read from SPACE HOSTAGES. It was a lovely evening, and it was terrific to read alongside the splendid Emma Trevayne, Alex Lamb and Gareth L Powell. But if you missed it, my reading went a little something like this.

I shall be at Nine Worlds this coming Sunday and here are my events.

I Predict a Riot: YA perspectives of the future – 10.00am – 11.15am, Royal B

From near-future science fiction to harrowing dystopias, the YA vision of the future isn’t always a cheerful one. Are the stories we tell of a brave new world or a bleak new world? And what does that say for our main characters and our readers?

Kids in Space – 11.30am-12.30pm (Workshop and talk) Room 16
Explore alien worlds with Sophia McDougall, author of Mars Evacuees and Space Hostages, and create an alien or a planet of your own!

Come along — hope to see you there!

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SPACE HOSTAGES — video snippet. Of Conscious Spaceships and Romance http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/07/16/space-hostages-video-snippet-of-conscious-spaceships-and-romance/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/07/16/space-hostages-video-snippet-of-conscious-spaceships-and-romance/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 16:06:10 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=609 Space Hostages has been out for a fortnight!

I’ve been talking about it in various exciting places.

Jim over at Middle Grade Strikes Back asked me some great questions about worldbuilding, alien (and human) genders and languages here, and I told Tales of Yesterday about creating aliens (and drew them a picture of a certain amazing technicolour teenage Morror) here.

You can read the first snippet from Space Hostages  back over there — and the next one is here and is a video snippet! I hope you enjoy my hair. — I mean, my reading. Thisa conversation between Alice and probably my favourite new character in Space Hostages, who happens to be a spaceship:  the Helen of Troy.

Helen came from a throwaway line — Mr Trommler, the CEO of Archangel Planetary, hits on Dr Muldoon and gets rebuffed. Unfazed, he says “At least my Helen loves me!” This was just supposed to be a characterisation note for him.

But then I thought, wait, what if that was literally true? So Helen is an intelligent, charming and friendly spaceship, who is also programmed to be in love with her captain — and she turned out to be so important in the plot I don’t know how I could ever have got by without her.

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SPACE HOSTAGES — the AMERICAN cover reveal. http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/06/26/space-hostages-the-american-cover-reveal/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/06/26/space-hostages-the-american-cover-reveal/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 18:37:22 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=601 So. Space Hostages. Pretty book. Funny, I think. Aliens. Robot goldfish. Sentient spaceships. Fruitbat people. You know, the works. Sequel to a book called Mars Evacuees.

If you happen to be in the UK or any part of the Commonwealth that isn’t Canada, you can have Space Hostages as soon as next Thursday. It comes out on July 2nd 2015.

If you are in the USA or Canada — you’ll be waiting until February 16th, 2016. But you get to see the cover now!

Space Hostages hc c

 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I have been stupidly lucky with the covers for these books. I love the dazzling colours and the slightly grungey, textured feel of Andy Potts’ covers for the UK. And I love the wide open spaces and sense of adventure of Goro Fujita’s covers for the US and Canada.

(Yes I am subtly hinting that I think there’s something, well, British about the mood of Andy Potts’ design and something more American about the sensibility of Goro Fujita’s, and that both bring out different aspects of the story,  and yes I have over-thought this.)

This is the first time we’ve got to a less-symbolic, more representative view of the Goldfish. It’s on both the UK covers, and it is a thing of glorious circuit-boardy beauty, but it’s more stylised than the big talking Fisher Price toy-like thing it is in the books. I really like that, and I  am really happy to see a  a young black girl — Josephine — is the closest to the camera here.

So what’s it all about? Well, it’s like this, you see…

And if you cannot wait (whether that would be a week or eight months), enter the giveaway here and win a copy of the UK edition — wherever you are, so long as it’s on this planet.

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SPACE HOSTAGES — the book trailer! http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/06/25/space-hostages-the-book-trailer/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/06/25/space-hostages-the-book-trailer/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 17:13:52 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=598 Don’t you think this is pretty? I am very proud of my aliens.

Alas, the trailer cannot show that the Krakkiluks are not merely ruthless and violent, they are also covered in jewels and fond of love poetry. Nor does it show you the Eemala, who are various shades of purple and red, six-limbed, and can fly. But if you would like to make their acquaintance, and you missed the giveaway over on The Book Smugglers — here’s another chance to win. For your best chance, link to the trailer on your social media of choice.

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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SPACE HOSTAGES –cover reveal on The Book Smugglers, and Snippet 2 here! http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/06/01/space-hostages-cover-reveal-on-the-book-smugglers-and-snippet-2-here-2/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/06/01/space-hostages-cover-reveal-on-the-book-smugglers-and-snippet-2-here-2/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 14:04:07 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=563 As promised last week, here’s the cover reveal  for Space Hostages on The Book Smugglers! It is so, so beautiful. I love Andy Potts’ work so much.

Here’s another snippet to celebrate. While the Goldfish and a certain alien from Mars Evacuees are back, an important new character is The Helen of Troy, a beautiful, interstellar spaceship with an advanced AI — who’s in love with her captain, Rasmus Trommler, the CEO of Archangel Planetary.

Can you turn the gravity off in just this corridor?” I asked, as I neared my cabin after getting a little lost. “Just for five minutes? …But I expect you can’t unless Mr Trommler says it’s okay.”

I think I can manage,” said the Helen, to my surprise. And I felt that indescribable lightness, as all the weight of my body faded away and I stepped off the ground into the air.

Pushing my way along the walls, I flew laughing back to my cabin in my dressing gown and slippers. I dropped to the ground as the gravity came back on, and got dressed in jeans and a pink top. When I came out again Noel and Thsaaa were sittingordering breakfast from the virtual menu-screens. Thsaaa had a cooling cape draped round their shoulders, a visible one in order to be sociable. I plunked down beside them and asked for some cereal with more strawberries, because I hadn’t got over being able to have those.

Carl stumbled in sleepily a few minutes later, talking to Helen. “So, do you need a pilot at all?” he was asking.

Of course I do,” enthused the Helen, her voice getting swoony and breathy again. She didn’t sound like that when she wasn’t talking about Mr Trommler. “I love my pilot.”

Yeah, but you could programme yourself to fly wherever you liked,” Carl said gloomily.

Oh no,” said the ship, appalled. “Without Captain Trommler? But I love him.”

Why?” asked Thsaaa.

Thsaaa!” said Noel. “That’s probably private.”

Is it? How can I know? It is very difficult to be sensitive to a spaceship,” complained Thsaaa. “It is bad enough trying to learn all those funny face movements you have instead of colours, and a ship does not even have those.

I don’t mind. I love talking about my Captain,” said the spaceship blissfully. “But I can’t explain love. Love is … it’s just love. You’re too young to understand.”

I’m older than you,” grumbled Carl.

“Why are you so being so grumpy, Kuya?” Noel asked.

I’m obsolete before I’ve even started,” Carl said, dropping his face into his hands. “What’s the point of a pilot when a ship can do everything by itself?”

What is the point? But I lo—” the Helen began again.

Yeah, well, but you have to,” Carl interrupted. “He made you that way.”

Yes, of course,” said the Helen. “I am so grateful to him! Suppose he hadn’t? What purpose in existence would I have?”

Well, you know,” said Carl. “Anything you felt like.”

You still need a person to decide where to go,” I said.

Do you?” Carl said, hollowly.

The Helen’s a long distance ship. You wouldn’t want to sit there at the controls all the way across the universe, you’d always need a computer for that. I’m sure it’s different with small craft like Flarehawks when you’re fighting …” I glanced at Thsaaa and finished awkwardly, “…enemies.”

I’m sure when you have a ship, she will love you,” said the Helen.

That’s great,” said Carl.

I wrote a poem about my Captain,” said the ship unexpectedly.

Oh,” I said, “did you?”

Yes. It goes:

I carry my Captain through space.

I love his adorable face.

I worship his genius brain.

I hope I can keep him from pain.

How happy a spaceship can be

Who loves such a Captain as he.”

There was only a small pause. “It’s very good,” said Noel.

I’m afraid it’s not,” said the ship sadly. “But it’s my first try. I have a version in Swedish, but it isn’t any better. I think it sounds best in Häxeri or binary, personally.”

I’m sure he’ll like it,” I said, sincerely. I didn’t think Mr Trommler would care whether a poem was great literature or not, provided it was about him.

I couldn’t tell it to him!” twittered the Helen of Troy, “I’m too shy.”

The food came, carried by more of those robot doves.

Where’s Josephine?” Thsaaa asked, and I was a tiny bit glad I hadn’t been the one to say it.

Miss Jerome is on her way to the lab,” said the Helen. “She is so busy!”

Well, let’s go and see her there,” said Carl.

Maybe she doesn’t want us there,” I said, and then wished I hadn’t. It made the weird feeling I’d had about Josephine too real.

Rubbish, of course she does,” said Carl easily.

I poked at my cereal. “Did Josephine have breakfast in her cabin?” I asked the ship.

I don’t think she had breakfast,” the ship replied.

That was enough for me. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Can we have an energy bar or something for her, Helen?”

So when we’d finished eating, doves brought us an energy bar and a glass of orange juice, andwe all trooped down to the lab.

*

Dr Muldoon’s side of the lab was, as I expected, full of strange and disturbing things, such as a tree that I was almost sure you could see growing and a box of red rocks that smelled like farts and occasionally seemed to move by themselves. A tiny piglet was asleep on a workbench. Plainly it had had some kind of Morror gene treatment as bands of colour were flowing across its flanks as it dreamt – duller and simpler than Morrors, but there. Dr Muldoon must have upgraded it from experiment to pet, as it had a fluffy dog-bed to sleep in and a jaunty velvet collar round its neck. Dr Muldoon occasionally reached out to pat it absent-mindedly.

The other side of the lab belonged to Josephine’s sister, Lena. It was a lot tidier and only smelled of hot metal and plastic, but still it was full of peculiar stuff. There were things a bit like large, menacing, oddly shaped fridges, and racks of equipment, all punctuated by virtual screens hanging in mid air with data streaming across them. And there were tiny spiderlike robots everywhere that reminded me a little of the much bigger spider-robot we’d ridden on Mars. These tiny ones went crawling from shelf to shelf gathering objects – and passing them down a like ants with a morsel of food, down to where a great mass of them on the floor were busily assembling themselves into a lattice-like tower. A few of them noticed our presence and scurried across the floor towards us.

Uh,” I said, backing away,

They’re harmless,” Josephine said. She was sitting at a workbench doing delicate things with a tiny welding iron to the various peculiar components that emerged from a 3D printer. Her face was obscured by goggles.

Are you sure?” I asked, as several of them scuttled up Carl’s leg.

Get them off,” Carl cried, swiping at them. But the robots crawled determinedly up his torso to his neck. Lena, Josephine and Dr Muldoon didn’t turn a hair. Then the robots attached themselves to either side of Carl’s head and hung there in clusters as rather fetching earrings.

Hey,” said Carl, confused.

Noel giggled. “You look lovely, Carl.”

Lena gestured impatiently and the earrings pulled themselves off Carl’s ears and crawled away. I was a bit sorry.

They’re inventing things,” said Josephine. “A lot of the things aren’t that useful, but they turned themselves into a miniature molecular assembler the other day.”

And they also do jewellery design?” I asked.

Sometimes,” Josephine agreed.

Apart from the robots the most striking thing in Lena’s lab was that you could get out into space from it. There was a big window showing us the uncanny glow of hyperspace and an airlock pod with two sturdy sets of doors, leading out into the void.

What would happen if you jumped out here? I wondered, remembering what the Helen had said about passing through different places at the same time. You’d be lost forever, scattered.

An airlock looms larger in Alice’s future than she yet knows, and those spiders will be important! Check back soon for more snippets, and videos!

 

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SPACE HOSTAGES — coming soon! http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/05/27/space-hostages-coming-soon/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/05/27/space-hostages-coming-soon/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 13:50:37 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=549 Space Hostages is coming soon! Really soon, in fact.

 

 

Space Hostages is the sequel to Mars EvacueesAlice, Josephine, Carl and Noel are heading back to space — far beyond Mars, to encounter creatures no one’s ever heard of before. This time it’s supposed to be a nice, exciting holiday —  a reward for their bravery in Mars Evacuees. But as you may guess from the title, things go very, wrong when they encounter the Krakkiluks, warriors of the Grand Expanse, who are very sparkly, very much in love with each other and very, very dangerous.

The lovely Book Smugglers will be revealing the beautiful cover very soon. Here’s a little glimpse of the title and tagline in the meantime — and a snippet from Chapter 1.

(Be aware — you can read Space Hostages without having read Mars Evacuees but obviously implicit spoilers for the first book lie ahead. There’s )

I ran downstairs into the living room, where Dad and Gran were watching the snooker, and said, ‘We’re going back to space!’

What?’ said Dad and Gran at the same time. Mum was off on a mission so it was just the three of us.

The Morrors want us to go to Aushalawa-Moraa,’ I explained. ‘Carl and Noel and Josephine and me, and Thsaaa, because we helped stop the war.’

Ausha . . . wa?’ Dad seems to have trouble hearing the difference between a lot of Morror words.

I thought that was what they’re calling Antarctica now,’ said Gran, with an edge of a grumble in her voice.

No,’ said Dad, understanding in his face now. ‘You know. Morrorworld.’

Alice! The Morrors want to take you to their planet?’ said Gran, horrified.

And fair enough. A year ago, when we were enemies, that would have been a really scary sentence. But things change.

They want us there for this ceremony, to sort of declare the planet open.’ I wondered if you could cut a ribbon on a whole world. ‘And we’ve got peace with them now. They’re nice.’

Alice,’ Dad said, looking a bit gaunt, ‘I’m glad the war’s over. But it’s a stretch to say they’re nice.

I got slightly upset. ‘I thought you liked Thsaaa.’

Thsaaa’s a kid – it’s one thing for you to be friends with a Morror kid . . .’

And what about Thsaaa’s parents? They were nice to you. They gave you baked fal-thra in Switzerland.’

I’m not saying they’re all bad people, Alice.’

Gran grunted. ‘They gave a good imitation of it for fifteen years.’

Gran!’ I said.

Of course, you can’t remember the world the way it was before.’

I have to live in the world the way it is now,’ I said. ‘And it has Morrors in it. That’s partly why I wrote that stupid thing. How’re we ever going to have proper peace if we don’t get to know each other?’

Your book is not stupid,’ said Dad, with automatic loyalty. He shifted to make an inviting space on the couch that somehow I couldn’t help but flop into. He put his arm round my shoulders.

Alice, I know you care about humans and Morrors getting along,’ he said softly. ‘And I know you want to see your friends. But I nearly lost you on Mars, and I didn’t even know how close it had been until it was all over. And Mars is, what, fifty million miles away? How far is the Morrors’ planet?’

I think it’s about . . . forty trillion miles,’ I admitted. ‘But this is different. We’re not in a war. And you and Mum could come. There’s no danger out there except the Vshomu and we’re good at dealing with them now. Dr Muldoon’s been helping the Morrors with the terraforming – she’s been flying flying out there and back for months and she’s perfectly fine.’

You can’t say that the Vshomu are the only danger in space,’ said Dad. ‘We don’t know what’s out there. It’s not so long ago we didn’t know there were Morrors.’

It seems like a terribly long time ago to me, being before I was born, but I didn’t say so.

Well, no,’ I admitted, ‘we don’t know everything,but that’s why it’s exciting.’

Dad’s jaw tightened. ‘I can’t stop you doing things you find exciting forever, but until you’re eighteen . . .’

Eighteen!’ I said, horrified. I realised that, even without this trip, I’d somehow been expecting to be back in space before long. I couldn’t stand the thought of it being five years. ‘But Carl and Noel are going.’

If Carl and Noel jumped off a cliff, would you?’ asked Gran.

Weeeell,’ I said, ‘there was this time, when Carl did jump off a cliff-like thing, to get across a crevasse. Although, Josephine went first, and it was the only way across, so . . .’

Dad put his face into his hands.

My point is, I would jump off a cliff only if I could see it was the most sensible course of action in the circumstances!’ I said. ‘And, Dad, you knew about that – it was in the book.’

Yes,’ said Dad. ‘Thanks for reminding me of that, and it wasn’t even the worst bit. Alice, after everything you went through, I can’t understand why you would want to go back.’

I didn’t give up. For days I tried various tactics, such as, ‘Can I go to space if I clean the kitchen every day?’ and, ‘Can I go to space if I get an A in Geography?’ But there was nothing good enough that I could do. I had to tell the others that it looked as if it they’d be going without me.

But you have to come,’ raged Carl on ChatPort. Carl is Filipino-Australian, with a voice almost loud enough to travel all the way from Sydney without technological help. He’d begun to get lanky over the last year, and he’d let his black hair grow out of the stubble it had been on Mars. ‘Mum and Dad are letting me and Noel go, and Noel’s nine. Can’t you, like, get some of the way by yourself? It’s not that far from England to Switzerland – Thsaaa could bring you the rest of the way.’

In cosmic terms it is no distance to Switzerland at all. If I’d had a Flying Fox or a Flarehawk, I could have flown there in twenty minutes. I’d been trained to fly spaceships, after all. But you can’t do that kind of thing on Earth.

Josephine sent me a strange little email: ‘My dad said yes at once. I hope you’ll be there.’

Nothing budged Dad an inch. I knew it was because he loved me, but I couldn’t help getting furious about it. It was not long ago that I’d had to make decisions like, shall I a) walk off alone with a single tank of oxygen across the Martian wilderness or b) stay with the wreck of the spaceship and wait to die? And, how can we persuade these aliens to stop attacking humanity? It is not fair to put someone in a situation like that and then stick them in a little house on a little island on a little planet, and tell them they have to stay where it’s safe, because they’re only a child.

And then Mum came home and said, ‘But of course she wants to go to space.’

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The Green Party http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/04/24/the-green-party/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/04/24/the-green-party/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 01:01:41 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=526 So, since a shocked world celebrated World Book Night with the discovery the Green Party wished to create an artistic utopia by stripping creators of copyright after 14 years, we have heard various defences.

1) that just because the Green Party puts a document called “policies” on their website, on purpose, we shouldn’t assume that things in that document are “policies” and really, we just shouldn’t look at that document.
2) That they update this document constantly, even though it means NOTHING, but because they’ve been updating it constantly (and thereby constantly approving what’s in it) anything in it we don’t like is probably really old — from the infancy of the party! and totally not something they would do and we should just close our eyes and think about ice cream or something.
And 3) they meant “14 years from the death of the author”, not just 14 years full stop, anyway.

There, it was all a silly misunderstanding!

Except the Green Party spokesman told the Telegraph: “It would be 14 years after publishing…”

…oh, but maybe he didn’t really mean…

“…as recommended by the Cambridge researcher Rufus Pollock.”

http://rufuspollock.org/tags/copyright/

Rufus Pollock very much does mean 14 years only, because fuck writers in old age, that’s why, and he meant it as of 2007 at the earliest.

This is a policy, it is recent, and it DOES mean 14 years in your lifetime. Think that is a gift to corporations? Congratulations, you’ve already thought about it harder than they did.

Confused, or liars? You decide!

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REVIEW Avengers: Age of Ultron http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/04/21/review-avengers-age-of-ultron/ http://sophiamcdougall.com/2015/04/21/review-avengers-age-of-ultron/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 21:32:20 +0000 http://sophiamcdougall.com/?p=521 I was going to review Avengers: Age of Ultron for Front Row tonight. At the cinema, I was asked to sign an agreement to an embargo on reviews until 10pm tonight. This was the first anyone at the BBC had been told about such a thing, and it seems awfully silly to me, especially as tweeting was allowed, but there it is – my appearance, which would have been at 7pm had to be cancelled. But now it’s past 10 pm, here’s my review.

Mild-to-moderate “spoilers” follow. (Scare quotes because I don’t think your experience would be spoiled.) No character’s final fate is revealed, but some mid-point reveals are.

 

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Busy, busy.

 

 

 

Like Tony Stark, Joss Whedon has an eye on his legacy,  the scale of the odds he is facing and how very much he has to get right. This, his last Avengers screenplay must juggle not six but nine superheroes; must remain at least mostly-compatible with their solo franchises and the various TV tie-ins; must be sufficiently different from and yet sufficiently similar to the first movie; must go a bit more serious, and yet not dark; must provide the villain with a spectacular world-ending final plan unlike any any world-ending final plan we’ve ever seen before, and somehow, with all of this going on, must lose neither the humour nor the heart.

 

That this works more than it doesn’t is probably all you can ask. Age of Ultron is a long film, (don’t drink anything before going in, you won’t make it) but it doesn’t lag; despite numerous sub-quests the characters’ goals remain clear, without getting bogged down in incoherent McGuffin-hunting. No, it hasn’t gone “grimdark.” The quips feel a little more subdued but are still there, and it’s honestly a bit of a relief that the Whedonese is a shade less relentless. The CGI-enhanced battle scenes don’t descend into “screensavers crashing into each other.” The set piece action scenes are genuinely spectacular. The scene (which perhaps unfortunately, we’d already seen) of the heroes relaxing together after a party will remind fans of why we root for these characters in the first place.

Yet there are places where the strain shows, and it is the character moments that tend to fumble. It’s not that they’re forgotten, nor even that there’s an absence of pathos. It’s just that the glimpses of the heroes’ emotional lives feel static, rather than impelling them forward. Tony Stark is haunted by a terrifying vision of his friends’ deaths. This leads to the disastrous creation of Ultron –but to little beyond that – there’s no time to weave his fear and guilt toward a satisfying resolution, as there was in Iron Man 3. Some interesting insights into Black Widow’s past are revealed – enough to provide a little depth, but not enough to fuel a real character arc. Her left-field romance with Bruce Banner lurches between genuinely touching and awkwardly unconvincing. It’s sweet that she can soothe him out of his Hulk state and ride pig-a-back on his shoulder into battle, guns blazing. But the scenes where this intensely guarded character attempts to seduce an ludicrously oblivious Bruce by all but throwing her knickers at his head border on cringeably out-of-character, and his angst-ridden refusal of her overtures – “I can’t give you babies!” is more silly than heart-rending. Uh, maybe discuss the merits of dinner and a movie first, guys?

 

The character who perhaps receives the most fleshing out sadly rewards it the least. To make up for how little he had to do in the first movie, Clint Barton is given a farm, a pregnant wife, and two kids. (Yes, he and Natasha really are just good friends). This does produce a funny line – “You know I support your Avenging,” says the loyal Mrs Hawkeye – but it renders the character more more baffling than compelling. While it’s rather noble to attempt to break the mould of the privately angst-ridden superhero, this feels like a swing too far in the oppsite direction– especially when the character in the comics is the epitome of the screw-up managing to build heroism out of his own dysfunction. What would drive this perfectly contented Clint Barton to something as heroically ridiculous as taking on monsters with a bow and arrow? We have no idea. Mostly the domestic idyll serves as a clumsy and belaboured attempt to make the audience worry that Clint will die – not by placing him under any specific threat, but by evoking the audience’s knowledge of how genre tropes work. Gosh, do you remember his wife is pregnant??? the script nudges us as he heads into battle. He has so many plans for when the battle is over and the baby’s born. He all but sighs that he’s just one day from retirement.

The time could have been better spent developing the newcomers Wanda and Pietro Maximoff – never, alas, referred to as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and still less as mutants – they’re “Enhanced” now. The basics are there – orphaned by a Stark Industries bomb in a fictional Eastern European war, they’re out for revenge on Stark and by extension, the Avengers. But somehow the one line that can bring a character to life even in a crowded script (“There’s only one god, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,”) isn’t there for them, and despite Elizabeth Olsen’s proven talents, we don’t really share their either their pain or the exhilaration of their abilities.

Nevertheless Paul Bettany, finally getting onto our screens after eight years’ faithful service as the voice of Jarvis, is quietly delightful as The Vision. Even from behind layers of CGI and red makeup, he manages to convey a sense of post-human curiosity and nobility in very little screentime.

The Avengers end with a new – and pleasingly more diverse – roster. One can only hope the new blood will bring renewed energy, and the faint weariness of their forebears won’t overshadow their future. If I’ve spent a lot of time on flaws of this perfectly respectable blockbuster, it’s to explain that I left feeling relieved that it hadn’t failed, rather than overjoyed it had succeeded. I still support the Avengers in their Avenging. It’s just that they’re no longer making it look effortless.

 

 

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