Monthly Archives: March 2014

Film Review – The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)

Movie poster

Movie poster

From the makers of the Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger comes what has been described in the press as the new Blair Witch Project, The Dyatlov Pass Incident (renamed Devil’s Pass or Mountain of the Dead in some territories). As is the norm nowadays, the tag line claims it is based on a true story. Unfortunately, the only tenuous links this film has to reality are some references to the original Dyatlov Pass incident of 1959 involving nine Russian hikers who were all found slaughtered amid very mysterious circumstances. Their tent had been ripped open from the inside, most of the bodies were found barefoot and partially-clothed in sub-zero temperatures, and several had suffered fractured skulls and broken ribs, even though there was no sign of a struggle. Strangest of all, one victim was allegedly missing her tongue and parts of her face.

The inquest was a shambles, concluding only that the hikers had died as a result of a ‘compelling natural force.’ Debate has raged over what actually happened to the group ever since. Over the years various theories have been put forward, none of which answer all the questions, and it still stands as one of the great mysteries of the twentieth century. But don’t expect to find any answers here.

The 2013 movie version sees a group of young American film makers head off into the mountains to recreate the doomed expedition and film a documentary. As you do. Soon, their equipment malfunctions and they find themselves lost and battling the worsening elements. Then they begin hearing noises and finding strange footprints in the snow, all of which leads up to the discovery of a long-abandoned military bunker in the middle of nowhere.

dyatlov_pass_incident_ver6

I can’t help feeling that the producers of this film would have been better served making a drama about the initial alleged events, which were far more interesting, rather than using them as a basis to spin off an entirely different thread. It is still a decent enough film, and credit has to be given to any project that manages to squeeze in teleportation, mutant humanoids, yeti, grisly murders, espionage, and government conspiracies, all in the existing framework of one of the most enduring mysteries of our time. But this film could have been so much better.

The original version of this review is from the Morpheus Tales review supplement (issue 25):

http://morpheustales.wix.com/morpheustales#!supplement/c14cx

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Adventures in Independent Publishing: Part 1

The New Punk Rock

Last month, I finally joined the swelling ranks of the independently published. I’d thought about it long and hard, but in the end it was a pretty easy decision to make. I was tired of greedy, clueless, often unethical publishers telling me what to do and how I should do it. Even calling them publishers is being kind in some cases. Too many are just wannabe entrepreneurs with no background or experience in the publishing industry, who simply want to jump on the bandwagon and make a few bucks. What they don’t realize is the bandwagon left years ago. In the modern world, publishers, like record companies, are becoming increasingly redundant. Both were only ever middlemen, reaping dividends from both sides hand over fist. As soon as musician and fan, or writer and reader, found ways to connect directly, their days were numbered.

I always found it difficult dealing with publishers. Most of them seem more intent on exploiting current trends rather than starting new ones, and were far too keen to jump in and tell me to make massive changes to my books seemingly on a whim. I often got the impression they were requesting changes just for the sake of it. Just because they could. I wanted complete control over the work I put out, from the editorial content, to the cover art and pricing. Under the traditional publishing model this would have been an impossible dream, unless you are a very rich writer who can afford to buy his own publishing company outright. But the power of the internet changed all that. Now writers can bypass publishers completely and make their work available directly to consumers. In 2012, a quarter of Amazon’s top 100 best-selling books were independently-published. At its core, this DIY attitude is the ethos of punk, when many bands spurned the advances of the major labels and chose to go it alone, sacrificing fame and riches in order to preserve creative control and perceived integrity.

Much Too Much

I decided the pricing issue was the main reason why most of the books I had with publishers weren’t exactly threatening the New York Times bestseller lists. At £6 or £7 each for 50-60 page novellas, they were woefully overpriced. I’m realistic enough to admit that my name isn’t that well known. As a reader, I wouldn’t part with that much money on a book by someone I’d never heard of. I raised concerns more than once with the publishers, but my protestations were quickly snuffed out. They said something about having to cover costs. Evidently, the notion that if the books were cheaper they would sell more copies, and therefore increase their profits, was completely lost on them.

The thing that held me back from ‘going indie’ for so long wasn’t a lack of self- confidence, as is no often the case. I’ve always thought that if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to believe in you? It was more a lack of technical know-how. I knew millions of writers all over the world were forsaking the traditional publishing model and going independent. But how the fuck do you do it? I’m not particularly tech-savvy, and didn’t have much of an existing platform to work from. But other people were getting sales. A LOT of sales. So one day, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. I would learn through trial and error. This series of blogs will document the experience. The good, the bad, the ugly, the stuff you probably know already, and the stuff you never wanted to know. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Nothing to Fear

As it happens, publishing an ebook turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. I just joined Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), filled out a few online forms, uploaded the content in a word document, added the cover and description, and hours later my first solo offering was online worldwide. I can set my own price, and get to keep 70% of the royalties on sales, much higher than any actual publisher has ever offered me. Most digital publishers offer 35-50%, while due to the increased costs, print publishers routinely pay as little as 10-15%. Amazon deduct their cut, then deposit the final sum, minus tax, directly into my bank account. Easy peasy. If you have a problem with Amazon, there are other options out there. Smashwords springs to mind. You don’t need one of those crowd-funding sites to help you. I always thought that route was a bit presumptuous, anyway.

Hey, I wanna be a writer, like, soooo bad. I have an idea for a book and everything. If you pledge $6000 I’ll write the book and it’ll be, like, totally AWESOME!

Nope. Don’t need it. If you are one of the people who dream about being a writer, then stop thinking about it, get off your ass, show some dedication to the craft, and write that fucking book. The art of creation should be all the incentive you need. Writers write, whether they get paid a load of money for it or not. If you are in it just for the pay day, you are probably in the wrong game, anyway.

Part 2 of Adventures in Independent Publishing looks at the importance of cover art, and priming a market.

My first indie offering, X: A Collection of Horror, is out now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/X-Collection-Horror-Christian-Saunders-ebook/dp/B00IGHTFC8


UFC Fight Night 37: London

UFC Fight Night 37: London poster

UFC Fight Night 37: London poster

So the UFC’s huge push for world domination rumbles into London, and lands at the 02 Arena, Greenwich, the second biggest indoor arena in the UK and one of the busiest in Europe. It’s a great venue, tailor-made for hosting big fights. In what could be a landmark achievement for the promotion, the 15,000 seats sold out in record time for a UK event, and the media hype has been unprecedented. This is the first time I recall seeing a main feature about UFC in a national tabloid (the Sun, 7th March). Proof, perhaps, that the British public are finally taking MMA seriously.

When Jimi ‘Poster Boy’ Manuwa was announced as the opponent for Number One contender and current UFC Golden Boy Alexander ‘The Mauler’ Gustafsson, many people responded with WTF? Not What the f**k, but WHO the f**k. Understandable, given that Manuwa has plied his trade mostly in the UCMMA (where he was light-heavyweight champion) and BAMMA promotions, and is therefore a largely unknown quantity outside the UK. Even so, a perfect record of 14 finishes from 14 fights, is not to be sniffed at. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Manuwa for a magazine I write for, and I can tell you he is one intense dude. If we hadn’t been in a controlled environment, I would have feared for my life. He’s the first to admit that all the media attention makes him uncomfortable, and would much rather just beat the shit out of people. Gus is right when he describes the Londoner as being ‘dangerous.’ With knockout power and the vociferous home crowd on his side, anything can happen. Dismiss him at your peril. That said, his strengths are obvious. If Gus can make it a wrestling match he’ll probably finish the fight. The thing is, the Swede is just ballsy enough to stand and bang. And if he does that, my money is on Manuwa to pull off the upset.

But there is a lot to get through before the hour of judgment. The undercard saw British loudmouth Luke Barnatt easily beat Mats Nilsson, and wins for Louis Gaudinot, Igor Araujo and Llir Latifi. The early-evening section was not without disappointment with Davey Grant, one of the great hopes of the UK MMA scene, being pulled from his fight with Roland Delorme due to a knee injury with less than 24-hours notice. With no time to organize a replacement, it left a small hole in the bill. The biggest talking point came when Claudio Silva was adjudged to have somehow beaten Bradley Scott on points. I might have to watch the fight again. I must have missed something, because on the night, it seemed the Brazilian spent most of the three rounds in escape and evasion mode.

On to the main card, and Icelandic welterweight Gunnar Nelson is another highly-rated European prospect boasting an unbeaten record of 12-0-1. Perhaps unusually for a European, he’s also a world class jiu-jitsu competitor. Tonight he is up against the Russian Omari Akhmedov, who with only one previous UFC fight under his belt (a KO win over TUF: Brazil competitor Thiago Perpetuo last November), will be a new face to many. He has a background in freestyle wrestling, apparently. Interesting. Unfortunately, the Russian just wasn’t up to par, and took a a serious beating before mercifully tapping out to a guillotine near the end of the first round. There was such a gulf in class between the two welterweights that it was hard to tell whether Nelson was really good or Akhmedov was really bad. I suspect a bit of both.

Next up is Brad ‘One punch’ Pickett taking on Neil ‘Two Tap’ Seery. I shit you not. The 34-year old Irishman, making his UFC debut tonight, is a slightly strange signing by the biggest promotion in the world as the veteran of the UK fight scene has lost nine of his 22 fights. The general consensus is that he is simply cannon fodder for local favourite Pickett, who has himself picked up two losses in his last three. The difference, however, is that Pickett’s two losses came against Eddie Wineland and Michael McDonald. In his six UFC outings, Pickett has won Fight of the Night four times and Knockout of the Night once. He’s an exciting fighter, and it’s easy to see why he is one of Dana White’s favourites.

Perhaps the biggest question of the night was how Pickett would deal with the drop to flyweight, and how he would finish his inexperienced opponent. The bookies had the Londoner 1/6 to win. However, it wasn’t that clean cut. Pickett looked fresh, busy and lean, but Seery proved a more than capable adversary, and had his moments on the feet. He had no answer for Pickett’s skill level and though there was no finish, the Londoner won a unanimous decision. Rather weirdly for a known striker, Pickett’s wrestling won him this contest.

Melvin Guillard should have been fighting Ross Pearson tonight after their non-event in Manchester last October, but the TUF alumni is out injured so in steps Michael Johnson, straight from his knockout of Gleison Tibau at UFC 168. Guillard seems to have been around forever. In fighting terms he has, despite still only 30 he has been active since 2002 and built up a record of 31-12-2. There are signs, however, that the Young Assassin’s powers may be waning. Before the No Contest ruling against Pearson in Manchester, he had lost four of his last six. Disappointingly, this fight was the first of the night to draw cat calls and boos from the crowd. These people pay a lot of money to be entertained, and if they are not they will let you know. That’s always been the tricky thing with London crowds. On any given night there are a a dozen or more huge events. To be honest, though, I don’t know why they were booing. The fight was entertaining enough. For the most part there were two guys going at it, with Johnson regularly getting the better of the exchanges on his way to a UD. The only person not willing to engage tonight was Claudio Silva… and he fucking won.

Alexander Gustafsson won legions of new fans in losing that brutal five-round war with Jon Jones last September. A fight many people thought he had won. Before I continue, I just want to be clear on something. Manuwa’s record says his last two wins, against Cyrille Diabate and Ryan Jimmo, came due to some kind of freak injuries. That’s bollocks. The truth is, Manuwa literally kicked their legs so hard they couldn’t continue. Pitting Manuwa against Gus is either a very shrewd marketing move by the UFC or a disaster waiting to happen, as one of these fighters will leave the arena tonight with their reputation in tatters. Obviously, if you listen to most of the mainstream MMA media, especially in the US, Manuwa hasn’t got a chance in hell of winning this fight. All that does is take some of the pressure off Manuwa, who literally has nothing to lose, and heaps yet more on the shoulders of Gus.

I have to be honest here. We all have loyalties. Anyone, journalist or otherwise, who claims to be completely impartial is full of shit. In MMA, you just can’t help it. You pin your colours, and you live or die by your decisions, just like the fighters. I like Gus, a lot. But Jimi won me over. I’m a sucker for a rags to riches story. I even put a bet on him, something I rarely do. Sadly, when it came down to it, Jimi just fell short. He rocked Gus more than once in the first round, and it was obvious Gus was shocked by his brute power. But the Swede’s superior skill set shone through, and in the second round he dropped his foe with a knee in the clinch followed by a lethal barrage of punches. At times Manuwa looked a bit static and overawed by the occasion. He didn’t shock the world as many had hoped, but neither did he embarrass himself as many had predicted. In the post-fight press conference, Jimi claimed he didn’t go out. Or at least, not to remember going out. Sorry mate, but you did.

This was a severe test for Gustafsson, and he came through it with flying colours. Strangely for a fighter from another country up against a local boy, the London crowd was at least split 50/50. If anything, Gus had the neutrals. Perhaps that’s a sign of his mass appeal. In the post-fight interview he, of course, called for a rematch with Jon Jones. He’s lived up to his end of the bargain, now Jones has to live up to his so the UFC can stage the fight everyone wants.


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