Part of the conversation

Tor.com, the new all-singing all-dancing Web 2.0 site from Tor Books, launched at the weekend. Previously announced on Making Light some months ago (although the timelines have slipped a bit), that post made me feel favourably towards the site before it launched because a post with jokes about Vernor Vinge, underpants, and fanzines feels aimed directly at me.

Now the launch is upon us, what is the site actually about? We have some free short fiction, currently featuring two stories by some guys named Scalzi and Stross who might be famous authors or something. They’re not the most exciting short fiction authors to me, although I will read the new Laundry story, but they seem like good, solid, big-name choices to launch the site, and hopefully future offerings will highlight some excellent but less well-known names.

There are art galleries, featuring lots of pretty pictures by lots of artists. More information would be nice, because I know some of the images are book covers but can’t remember which, but my main use for this website will be when trying to decide who to vote for in the Best Artist Hugo.

And the final section is community, which encompasses a number of things: general user-started forum threads, front-page blog posts by a number of bloggers, and some rudimentary social networking functions. The social networking parts are probably closer to something like Metafilter than Facebook: you can add a brief bio, upload some pictures, see threads you commented in, and follow other users. Some really useful features, like custom RSS feeds to follow only your friends, are not in place yet, and I am having difficulty finding a link to display all posts by a particular poster, but it’s early days yet.

The key bits of content, for me, are the front-page bloggers. It’s an impressive line-up so far, covering wide-ranging areas of(to quote Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s introductory post), “the great conversation that is the subculture of SF—that river of talk, in person and in print, that has surrounded and informed science fiction and fantasy (and “the universe,” and “related subjects”) since SF fans began cranking out fanzines and organizing meetups in the early 1930s”. Jonathan McCalmont is less impressed so far, calling the site “a place of limited opportunity and cowardly commercialism”, but it seems to me that even if Tor.com is a commercial site funded by a publisher, it’s coming from a desire on the part of the site creators to be part of a larger conversation, to interact with the community, and if that happens to be good publicity for Tor and their books so much the better. I’m not convinced that yet another site is necessary, that it’s filling a niche which would exist if they hadn’t made the site to fill it, or that it wouldn’t have been more relevant and central to the conversation if it launched a couple of years ago, but I’m hopeful that Tor.com will be the site I hoped io9 was going to be.

The Short Story Nominees

I am usually underwhelmed by the Hugo short story nominees. I accept that my tastes are out of step with the pool of Hugo voters, as I am not a big fan of Michael Burstein’s short fiction, and the less said about most of Mike Resnick and Robert J. Sawyer’s previous nominees the better, but the one time I voted in the Hugos I put No Award first as a protest against how uniformly terrible the stories on that year’s ballot were. So it’s pleasing to report that the short stories, while not all great, range from pretty decent to really pretty damn good. Here’s my ranking:

Bottom of my ballot I would put Mike Resnick’s ‘Distant Replay‘. It’s the best Mike Resnick story I have ever read, and that’s why it wouldn’t end up below No Award, but the appeal of his work remains a total mystery to me. Yet another story about science fiction being used in some way to reunite a man with his love, (in this case, a man meets a young man and woman who are exactly like him and his (dead) wife, and hooks them up), it’s less cloyingly sentimental than usual and has a couple of nice ideas, and that’s about it.

‘A Small Room in Koboldtown,’ by Michael Swanwick, is a locked-room mystery noir in a fantasy setting. The internet informs me it’s a universe he’s written in before, and the setting is interesting, but then it uses the fantasy setting to pull a big cheat. I like mysteries, and they work best when they are clever enough that you can’t work out exactly how it was done but all the clues are there. When the resolution of the mystery is a magical solution I couldn’t predict, I feel cheated out of my ending.

Having dispatched with the bottom two, we get to two stalwarts of the UK SF scene who are harder to separate – Ken MacLeod’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?’ and Stephen Baxter’s ‘Last Contact.’ Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359? is space opera from Ken MacLeod, in the same setting as his BSFA-award-winning Lighting Out. Proper hard SF, it has AIs and seedships and lots of future civilizations, I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t like it as much as I expected. I think it could do with being longer, to flesh out the events around the ending, and give us more of the central character. There’s just nothing which particularly grabs me, so I put it at number three.

Last Contact is a very English disaster story – the big SFnal idea is the end of the world, but the story is about two women preparing for the end in Oxfodshire, planting flowers that will never grow and sitting in the garden drinking tea while they wait for the ground to be ripped apart under them. It’s a cosy catastrophe, with a much lower degree of looting and general chaos and anarchy than what I think would actually happen if you announced the world was going to end in six month’s time, but I found it rather charming. I don’t think Baxter quite pulls it off, but it’s in second place for me.

My pick of the short stories is Elizabeth Bear’s ‘Tideline,’ which is a great example of how a small SF idea can turn into a lovely story. Lovely is the appropriate word, as it’s a heartwarming little tale of a shipwrecked war-machine, alone on a beach mourning her lost compatriots, and the human boy she meets and takes care of. The hints of worldbuilding fit around the well-drawn characters, filling out enough of the background to satisfy but leaving parts of it unknown, and Bear’s prose is probably the best of all the stories, bar maybe the Swanwick. It pulls off beautifully what Last Contact can’t quite do.

So I’d like the Best Short Story Hugo to go to Elizabeth Bear, but I won’t be upset if it goes to MacLeod or Baxter.

Other views:
Abigail Nussbaum mostly agrees with me, but doesn’t like Baxter as much. Nicholas Whyte doesn’t like the MacLeod at all, but agrees with my top pick. Karen Burnham agrees with my top two, but hasn’t read any of the others. John at SF Signal also isn’t fond of the Macleod, and likes the Resnick much more.

Wanted

James MacAvoy is Wesley Gibson, total loser, whose life is changed when he meets Angelina Jolie (Fox) in a drugstore. She tells him that a) his dad was a famous assassin b) his dad is dead and c) the man who killed him is standing over there in the cereal aisle with a gun. Then there is a big shootout with guns and explosions, and a car chase where Angelina drives a fast and sexy car with her feet while shooting out of the sunroof.

That’s pretty much the tone of the film. Director Timur Bekmambetov’s previous films were the Russian blockbusters Night Watch and Day Watch, and now Hollywood has let him loose with a larger budget and an R-rating to see what he can do. The result is a film which, while I am dubious about some of the morality and misogynistic overtones, can’t help but sweep me along with overblown stunts and serious violence.

Wesley’s life is changed by his meeting with the Fraternity of Assassins, where he discovers his panic attacks, which he takes as yet another sign of his loserdom, are actually an indication of his incredible reflexes and shooting ability. Guns as martial arts is not a new idea, but here it’s taken to extremes, with the assassins able to bend bullets, shoot other bullets out of the air, and generally ignore the laws of physics.

Once he’s over the initial shock of meeting a society of trained killers, Wesley tells his boss to fuck off, smacks his friend in the face with a keyboard, and takes this opportunity to become a man and learn how to kill people. This undercurrent of machismo runs through the whole film. Wesley isn’t just taking control of his life, he’s becoming a man, a lone wolf, fulfilling his destiny. To become an assassin first involves getting punched in the face a lot by Marc Warren until he admits he doesn’t know who he really is, then realising that what he wants is to follow in his father’s footsteps. (Not that this method of training is portrayed as a universal good, as it’s implied that it sent at least one of the Fraternity insane.)

Now we need a rationale so that we can have the main character go around shooting people in the head and not think he’s an amoral murderous dick, and it comes in the form of the Loom of Fate, which spits out the names of people who need to die. Yes, they may murder people in cold blood, but they do it because the loom tells them we’ll be better off for it. It’s taking one life to save one thousand, a message hammered home by the story Fox tells of a child who watched her father die when the Fraternity failed to kill the murderer in time, and in case you weren’t paying attention they spell it out to you that she’s talking about herself. All the targets of assassination are businessmen in suits and limos, often smoking cigars, and it’s a surprise when they don’t start cackling and stroking their cats.

Criticising Wanted for lacking in subtlety is probably missing the point. Shortly after that scene, we have a stunt where Wesley performs an assassination by getting his car to fly through the air and shooting his target through the sunroof, and there’s a certain joy in watching them stage preposterous stunts with the only possible reasoning being “because it will look cool”. Bekmambetov has a familiar style from his earlier work, filled with slow-motion and quick cutting, and there are some really spectacular scenes in Wanted – a train derailment, Wesley on a roaring rampage of revenge, the car chase early on. On the level of brainless gosh-wow action, it’s a good film.

And yet I can’t help but poke at the problems with it. There are parallels between the character of Anton from Night Watch and Wesley Gibson – both are nerdy loser-types and not your typical action leading man despite MacAvoy’s newfound six-pack, who discover they have supernatural skills and get involved with a mysterious organisation with shadowy leadership. But while Anton is sympathetic when caught up in the plans of others, it’s hard to feel any real sympathy for Wesley and what little there is comes from James MacAvoy’s convincing fear as he gets brought into the Fraternity. It’s all so very masculine, and out of the three female characters, one is Wesley’s fat tyrant of a boss, and one is his cheating harridan of a girlfriend, with Jolie’s Fox as the only female assassin we ever seen, sharing a curiously sexless kiss with Wesley only to piss off his ex.

The other problem is that the plot twists are not so much twists as gentle turns you can see coming from quite a long way off, and that includes the ending. Again, though, you don’t go and see Wanted for the plot, and you don’t watch it for the characterization or the acting. You watch this film if you want to see exploding rats, cars driven into trains, and a man shooting people while his gun is embedded in someone else’s brains, and it turns out that sometimes that is what I want to watch even if it leaves a faintly nasty taste in the mouth.

HOWTO overthrow the government

Cory Doctorow’s first three novels are all filled with the gosh-wow science fictional ideas I love: fans taking over the Haunted Mansion and the reputation economies in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the ad-hoc traffic-jam P2P networks and time-zone-linked groups in Eastern Standard Tribe, and in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town the tech ideas are mixed in with truly out-there fantasy ideas in a way which shouldn’t work, but somehow does. Add to this his increasingly impressive short stories (I, Rowboat is my particular favourite), and you can see why I was eagerly anticipating the muchpraised Little Brother.

Which makes it a shame that it almost completely fails to work for me.

Marcus is 17, and lives in San Francisco in the unspecified near-future, in a surveillance society filled with gait-recognition cameras and spyware-filled school-issue laptops. Marcus lives to subvert and play the system, and when he’s up against the clueless school administration it’s all fun and games and teenage rebellion. Then San Francisco suffers a terrorist attack, and Marcus and his hacker friends are imprisoned by Homeland Security and released to a city where preventing another terrorist attack is the priority, no matter how much their hi-tech security measures infringe upon privacy and civil liberties. Marcus decides to use all his considerable tech abilities, and the friends and allies he has and makes along the way, to fight back.

Clearly this is a world not too distant from our own, which is what makes the infodumpery and worldbuilding so hard for me to swallow. The first part of the book is loaded with explanations – LARPing, ARGs, TOR, botnets, all explained in handy paragraphs of exposition. I’m not convinced that knowing exactly how anonymous routing or botnets work is necessary for the story, and I’m sure you don’t need to know about SMTP headers to appreciate a cool idea, but I have a certain admiration for just dropping it into the text without even trying to disguise it. Unfortunately I already know what all the acronyms mean, and how a botnet works, and by the fourth or fifth time I had modern technology explained to me it was pretty tedious work.

It’s also a world not too distant from our own in terms of politics, and the way that terror attacks are used as an excuse for the gradual eroding of our freedoms – San Francisco under Homeland Security rule is only a few steps down the line from where we are now. I happen to know the politics of the author, because I read his blog, along with probably several million other people, and being a card-carrying liberal I agree with Marcus/Doctorow’s arguments as to why we shouldn’t be letting this happen. What I don’t get along with is how much of a straw man the other side comes across. I don’t if it’s simplification of the political ideas for a teenage audience, or that I’m jaded to their arguments from too much time online, but when Marcus’s dad sounds like a better-spelled version of a poster from Comment is Free, I find it hard to read Marcus’s rebuttals as any more than lip-service to the arguments. The Homeland Security workers, both low and high-level, are black hats without a shade of grey to them.

So if it’s too didactic and infodumping to appeal to me through the politics and ideas, what about the rest of the story? Here it fares a little better – Marcus is likeable enough if a little too competent at everything he does, and his dilemmas at whether his tactics are causing as much trouble and harm as those of his opponents ring true. I could have done without the revelation that Marcus’s long-time female friend turns out to have feelings for him, especially when I was pleased that they’d managed to do the “hey, my nerdy female friend has grown up and become h4wt!” scene without it turning into a relationship. Marcus’s actual romantic interest is smart and geeky and cool, and basically a female Marcus but I can live with that. There are some neat ideas which have small but important twists on our world – using Livejournal quizzes as an information-gathering tool, the revolution will take places on X-Boxes running Linux, using flashmobs to cause a distraction in the real world. The writing is straightforward and functional, which mostly works – it falls short of conveying the terror of Marcus’s capture by Homeland Security early in the book, but the later scenes (I’m thinking of when Marcus meets Darryl’s father) work better.

For a book which is all about the power of blogs, distributed networks, and what one person can do to undermine the establishment, the ending is disappointingly conventional, as Marcus tells his story to a newspaper reporter – one from a free weekly paper, and not the mainstream media who are as hostile and stupid as you would expect when it’s an internet revolution they don’t grasp. It’s the journalist’s coverage of Marcus’s revolution and torture that finally turns public opinion against the security measures.

I’m probably giving a more negative view of the book than it deserves, but while it may succeed for many as a call to arms and an instruction manual on how to fight the government, it fails for me as a novel. If you’re not familiar with the rhetoric and the ideas it contains, I see it would work better. That’s going to include a lot of people in the target young adult audience, and I find the idea of indoctrinating a generation of young people with a guide to online revolution quite cheering even if the book isn’t for me.

Welcome to Shadow Unit

The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity’s nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn’t dream are real.
The Behavioral Analysis Unit sends those cases down the hall.

Welcome to Shadow Unit.

This is the premise of Shadow Unit, whose first season ended last week. It’s an unusual, possibly unique idea: a TV show told on a website, or fanfiction for a show that doesn’t exist, and either way a quarter of a million words of original fiction from five leading SF writers given away on the internet for free. (Although they would like it if you gave them some money for it.)

As Emma Bull explains in her introduction, it’s a show which wears its influences quite openly – a pinch of Criminal Minds, a bit of The Man from UNCLE, quite a lot of The X-Files. It’s a crime procedural drama, following a team of eight FBI agents who investigate crimes committed by the most horrible monsters you can imagine – human beings, albeit under the control of the mysterious “anomaly”, and not responsible for their actions. It’s a setup which lends itself well to an episodic drama, with a new investigation every week by a few members of the team, while the range of supernatural powers displayed by the literal monster of the week allows for variety. The episodes on the website stick pretty firmly to an episodic, 5-act structure as well, and at first I couldn’t understand why they would do that. Surely one of the strengths of fanfiction is that it can use structures and storytelling methods which are not tied into the necessities of television, it can cover timespans you can’t show on screen, it can even have bibliographies and graphs if you want them. Still, after reading a few episodes I changed my mind – I think the structure works, and even though I know I’m coming up to an act break I still get surprised by whatever plot revelation they have in store, plus there is enough variation to prevent it turning into a formulaic, “take the basic template and swap out the villains” show. And with a liberal fanfiction policy, it’s easy for the fans to play around in the universe themselves, but you can’t rebel against the episodic structure if there isn’t one on the show in the first place.

There are disadvantages to telling a TV story as prose, and the one big one I came up against is that telling apart your cast of eight people with similar occupations is much much easier when they’re all on screen. I read the first three novella-length episodes as a block, and it wasn’t until the third that I got the hang of who was who in the team. The first three also suffer slightly in that they do a lot of work building up the characters of Daphne, Chaz, and Hafidha, who form a strong friendship within the unit, and when I came back to episode four several months later I could remember the three of them but had to start from scratch with everyone else. As to why there was such a gap in my reading, while I enjoyed the first three episodes, and planned to read some more, when there was no more to read for a fortnight I drifted away and didn’t come back until last week.

It’s a good thing I did, because episode five, “Ballistic”, is where the first season kicks into high gear and pulled me in. Co-written by four of the show’s writers, it’s one of the episodes which rejects a whodunit and lets us know from the start that this week’s monster is a child, and that it’s not going to end well. Focusing on the perviously underused team of Brady and Lau, investigating murders in a small-town filled with servicemen and their families, it seems to deliver more of an emotional kick than the revious episodes, and a growing horrific realisation of where the pieces of a medical report scattered through the episode are going to lead.

While the next two episodes, “Endgames” and “Overkill”, are good solid installments with memorable and horrific moments, it’s all buildup for the multi-part season finale, Refining Fire. A whole novel penned by Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull (not that I could tell who wrote individual episodes anyway- it’s pretty seamless), it’s also the episode where it gets personal for one of the team, and does not shy away from having really nasty stuff happen. It’s also a fine example of really well done hurt/comfort angsty fanfic, without the tendency for everything to be fixed by the magical healing power of hugs. I will admit that I found it to be a gripping, emotional end to the season, and I will be sticking with it next year.

And if I get bored during the hiatus, there’s always the in-character Livejournals for me to read. I haven’t had time to keep up with them all year, because I like to eat and sleep, but the mixing of reality and fiction, watching real people comment on fictional journals as though it’s just another member of their friends list, and seeing fictional journals interact back with them in-character even when it’s all being done by real people who know each other, I find it slightly mindbending. Even if it does make the uncertainty of the ending to Refining Fire a little less uncertain, because if there’s a Livejournal post from a character it seems unlikely they are dead.

I’m assuming there is a second season planned, of course. Can you campaign against the cancellation of a show that never aired?

Return of the Hat

It’s hard for me to judge the new Indiana Jones film on its own – having watching the original trilogy over and over again on wet Bank Holidays, it’s inevitable that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will never quite live up to the rosy-tinted memories of my youth. So really, my criteria was this: has George Lucas stamped all over my childhood for the fourth time?

Luckily, the answer is no. Maybe it’s my downplayed expectations, after the Star Wars prequels were so very very bad, but I was pleasantly surprised with the film – it’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark, no, but it’s a reasonable return (and end?) to the franchise.
Continue reading “Return of the Hat”

Jenny-Sue comes to town

I have a strange love-hate relationship with Doctor Who. When it is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad it is torchwood. The Doctor’s Daughter doesn’t leave much doubt as to which category it falls into, and works as an example of the traps new Who falls into and why it so alternates so easily between excellent character-driven SF and utter bobbins.

Much internet speculation abounded before the episode as to why and how the Doctor had a daughter. Are we harking bad to the Hartnell era when the Doctor travelled with his granddaughter, or has that been retconned out of existence forever? It takes about half a minute for the answer to become clear – the Doctor, upon arrival at a mysterious planet, sticks his hand into a machine and faster than you can say “rearranging of haploid DNA to form a new diploid offspring” out springs his clone, already an adult. Bonus points for not using scientific words in a completely nonsensical way, minus several points for growing an entire human in less than ten second.

On this mysterious planet, the human colonists are at war with the Hath. The Hath are one of those ideas which sound really cool on paper, but when you put them onscreen on a TV budget they are comedy fish-people with bongs attached to their faces. Martha is trapped with the Hath, while the Doctor and Donna stay with the humans, and all sides end up following a hidden map to The Source, supposedly the breath of their creator and a potential superweapon. There is running around, the Doctor bonds with his clone daughter Jenny who is perky and does backflips, Donna works out the war has only lasted for seven days and the Doctor saves everything by terraforming the planet. Except Jenny, who gets shot. Except she comes back to life again at the end and flies off into the sunset to save the universe just like her old dad.

The first problem I have with the episode is that it’s so impressed it’s got a proper science fictional idea going on, it doesn’t stop to sit down for a minute and think it all through properly. A war that seems to last forever where the duration is really much shorter and myths propagate faster is a cool idea, but the timescales and logistics don’t quite work for me. What happened to the original colonists? Supposedly the mission commander died and they were plunged into war, but did they all die? Surely one of them must still be alive to put their hand in the magic person-making machine, or does it start running by itself and churning out new soldiers? How many generations and battles and complete annihilations do you need to forget everything about the original mission? Why do they need the Doctor to stick his hand in the machine? Is Time Lord DNA similar enough to human that the machine will work? And for that matter, the Hath and human colonists can’t understand each other, nor do we see any means of translation even at the end where they’re working together, so how did a joint mission work? How can you terraform a whole planet with a fishbowl full of amino acids and gases?

Sometimes, the lack of thought put into the cool idea of the week is not enough of a problem to derail the episode. Setting fire to the atmosphere in The Poison Sky I can live with, but the ridiculous motorway setup in Gridlock , or the crazy DNA-transmitting gamma radiation in Evolution of the Daleks stretch it too far. You can argue that if I want proper SF, I shouldn’t be looking at Doctor Who which has never cared that much about the plausibility of its setup. I might buy that if it were consistently terrible, but it gets it right on so many occasions that I can’t forgive it when they muck it up. I find myself hoping they’re not going to try doing anything too exciting, because I’d rather have them aim for mediocrity and hit it than go for ambition and end up with a mess.

The second problem is that they want to do a really moving, emotional, heartfelt episode about the Doctor coming to terms with fatherhood, and by crushing it all into 42 minutes with the rest of the plot. (Including a seemingly pointless subplot for Freema Agyeman in which she befriends a fish-man who dies to save her in a quarry, which my cold-hearted self found to be really badly acted and hence very funny indeed.) The Doctor starts off hostile to Jenny, as well he might when his DNA has been stolen to make a super-soldier after he’s spent several episodes complaining about the military, but half an hour later he’s discovered she has two hearts and can do some backflips and has a complete change of heart, and it never feel earned. Tennant has rarely been better than when he’s talking to Donna about the family he had in the past, but his relationship with Jenny feels like half a dozen episodes worth of plot sped up to fit the episode. Was it really necessary that it be his daughter? Wouldn’t he have felt the same for any of the soldiers, born as adults with no knowledge but how to fight and no experience but war? Apparently only if we have Murray Gold’s overbearing soundtrack telling us how important it is she has two hearts.

And the frustrating part is again I know they can do this right. Just see everything written by Steven Moffatt, for starters, but Family of Blood last year gave us a similar theme with John Smith realising everything he must give up to become the Doctor again, the life he cannot have, and did it much much better. Even the Russell T Davies-penned three-parter at the end of last year brought more emotional wallop even if they both go on to a cop-out ending where the dead aren’t or might not be dead after all. I’m hoping the tail-end of the season will follow the pattern of last year and prove what the show can do, but right now I’ll be happy if we don’t have anything as bad as The Doctor’s Daughter for the rest of the year.

11 Minutes Ago

Hello everyone – Niall introduced me in his post below, but for anyone who doesn’t know me already, I’m Vector production editor and usually found in the Torque Control comments section, and now he’s given me the keys to the blog. You can expect more posts from me on media SF and other fannish topics, while I leave the serious book blogging to Niall. I’ll try not to lower the tone too much.


The seventh annual Sci Fi London film festival took place over the bank holiday weekend. As mentioned previously, it hosts the presentation of the Arthur C Clarke award as part of the opening night, but over the next five days they showed over twenty science fiction films. I think this was the fourth year I’ve attended the festival, and while the films are sometimes hit and miss as to quality, but for every Subject Two or Recon 2022 there’s a Primer to restore your faith in intelligent film-making.

11 Minutes Ago isn’t this year’s Primer, but it’s the obvious comparison to make to this ultra-low-budget time travel romance. Pack is our protagonist, a time-traveller from fifty years in the future, who can only travel back in time for eleven minutes before he has to return to the future. The film consists of eight of these eleven minute jumps, covering two hours of a wedding reception in our time, but two years of Pack’s life. The twist is that we’re following Pack’s visits chronologically for him, but they jump about in almost reverse order between 7 and 9pm on the day of the California Presidential Primary wedding reception.

If Pack can travel through time, why does he keep coming back to the same two hours? We see early on (for Pack and the viewers, that is, at the wedding it’s nearly 9pm) that the answer is Cynthia, a bridesmaid who seems to have fallen for Pack’s charms, and gives an enthusiastic yes to a question he hasn’t even asked yet.

The introduction to the film told us that it was shot in 24 hours. Even without knowing this, it’s clear that the film was made on a shoestring, which they try and turn into a virtue. The angle they take is that the time-travelling Pack is more interesting to the wedding videographers than the actual wedding, and we’re seeing their film, which not only gives Pack someone to explain everything to but means that any dodgy camerawork can be explained away as well. Setting it all during two hours in one location means only one set, but they shoot it well enough and from enough angles that it doesn’t get boring. What doesn’t fare so well is the sound – some lines are inaudible, and the music (which I suspect was being played in the background of the shoot) is overwhelming and almost continuous for the first half of the film.

What works really well are the interweaving plots of the people at the wedding reception, and the way they can set up mysteries for which the answers come from the beginning of the evening – explaining why the groom finishes the evening pissed as a newt when he starts off a tee-totaller, why the bride’s mother is continually making balloon animals, which of Nancy the bridesmaid’s many lovers bought her earrings. Only once do they take it too far, with a card trick from Pack which serves no purpose and feels like padding, even in an 84-minute film.

What doesn’t work as well is the actual science fiction. It seems that the time-travel is just an excuse to do an interesting and unconventional timeline, but while Memento managed to come up with a good rationale for this, 11 Minutes Ago has Pack coming back to our time to collect a sample of clean air so it can be replicated in the future and reverse the crippling lack of libido which is killing the birth rate, an idea which vies with the Doctor setting the poison gas on fire in this week’s Doctor Who for stupidest way to save the Earth.

Assuming you can get past this lack of science in your science fiction, there’s another problem, in that having set up the ending of Pack and Cynthia’s romance at the start of the film, they have to convince me that they would get so far in such a short space of time. Setting Cynthia up as extremely selective in her choice of boyfriends, and someone who is reticent to move too fast, makes their task even more difficult. Pack’s chat-up technique alternates between wannabe profound statements about the nature of time and the fleetingness of their moments together and cheesy lines about her beautiful eyes and soft skin, and if it were me I’d have run a mile after the first half-hour. Further complicating matters is that in a film filled with surprisingly fine actors, Christina Mauro can’t persuade me that Cynthia is a woman so instantly mesmerising that Pack will spend months and years of his life preparing for eleven minute visits to her when she seems like a fairly boring doormat,and that feeds back to make Pack even more of an obsessive stalker than he already is.

Even if the central romance falls short, there’s still enough interest in the supporting characters to make the film worth watching. You’ll need to pay attention, but if it’s not quite the mind-bending experience of Primer you will at least be able to follow it without resorting to diagrams, and the ending, while not unexpected, is neatly done. I don’t know if it has any chance of a release outside the festival circuit, but it’s worth catching if you get the chance.