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Brian Blessed – Timelord

August 8, 2020 Leave a comment

I note with interest that the UK tabloids have picked up on the fact that Brian Blessed hasn’t been out of the house in a while and is freely available to chat away online. Namely, there’s a headline floating around stating that Brian ‘shocked the BBC’ with his pitch for Doctor Who.

They are several problems with this. One is that it’s pretty hard to shock the BBC. Partially because corporations aren’t people1 but mostly because the people working for the Beeb have pretty much heard it all. The general public have many ideas and aren’t backwards about sharing them.2. Also this is an anecdote from the 1960s. But my main problem is this is a gag taken way out of context. And before we get started, yes, Brian has frequently made the point that name Who sounds like the Chinese surname Hu. It’s one of his standard celeb stories and he’s been telling it for decades.

I’ve seen Brian Blessed on stage quite a few times and have chatted away with him more than once, mostly back-stage3. It is possible to have a normal volume conversation with the man and he’s a very interesting and well-travelled chap.

Brian is a regular on the UK sci-fi convention scene and he has a ‘routine’, which is a highly charismatic ramble about the state of the world, science fiction and science in general. It’s something of a ‘feel good’ rally; Mr Blessed is a kind man with a wealth of life experience and mostly what he says is practical motivational stuff in which he tells us that the world can still be a bright and good place.

Brian Blessed

The Brian Blessed impersonator helpline is currently experiencing a very high call volume.

I once had the total pleasure of watching professional insult merchant John Robertson interview him on stage and goodness me was that fun; the two riffed on each other very well indeed and Blessed was a delight. John was in his element; he fed the lines and Mr B kept producing the funnies. All of which came with an added measure of joy, rude-words, mischief and love. Blessed’s bombastic nature is tempered by wisdom and respect.

Brian doesn’t simply swear; he produces artisan crafted profanity designed to delight. One of the few true Profanomancers, a wizard with the pun and the naughty word. Which brings us to ‘the Doctor Who thing’. Inevitably whilst on stage some member of the general public will ask if Blessed would ever play Doctor Who and you will get one of two responses; he’ll either talk about Blake’s 7 (which is close enough and he was actually in that), or he’ll claim that he wanted the character to be called Doctor Hu. Because that’s a Chinese name. And that’s the whole bit, a pun on Hu/Who4. Sometimes he’ll then point out that if they actually did that it should of course go to a more appropiate actor5. We would see Brian’s serious face. Then he’ll talk about his travels across the world. Then he’ll talk about Tibet and kicking the Dalai Lama in the bum. Which is a whole other story which again, taken out of context sounds terrible but is actually just a very silly story told by an elderly actor who’s been doing that all his life.

Because that’s the gig, and that’s the act. And a little thing like a global pandemic isn’t going stop Brian Blessed from telling ridiculous stories.

1: Let’s recognise corporate personhood for the nonsense it is. Though the idea of Amazon Prime suddenly manifesting a body and going to parties does amuse me. I’d imagine he’d be able to transform into a truck.
2: All I need to say is “Mrs Brown’s Boys”.
3: Be under no illusion; he has no idea who I am beyond ‘oh yes, Starburst.’
4: He also once declared he’d quite like to play The Corsair6 in Doctor Who, but of course that was a run up to some jokes about The Pirates of Penzance.
5: Not that anyone asked me, but let’s have Jessica Henwick as the next Doctor.
6: Once someone explained to him what a TimeLord Space Pirate was. Did you know Brian has trained to go into space? Because of course he has.

Worst Hugo Award Ceremony – Ever

August 1, 2020 3 comments

If you were a British teenager back in the 1980s, there’s a fair chance that you’ll remember the 1989 Brit Awards. Presented by Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox, it’s gone down in award ceremony history as how not to do the thing. Plagued by technical difficulties, presenters who had no empathy with the audience and a general lack of scripting and planning, I was pretty sure it was the worst awards presentation I’d ever see.

SamFoxBritsJPG

The 1989 Brit Awards are still painful to watch

All that changed when I made the mistake of tuning in to watch the 2020 Hugo Award ceremony, presented by George RR Martin.  The Hugo Award ceremony is never the most slickly produced thing. And this year, the convention organisers 1 had to do the whole thing via the internet.

And just before we get into it: The speeches were amazing. The technical achievement was incredible. The team did very well on short notice (Worldcons take years to plan) and the things the winners said were important and deserving of respect.  A super-cut, shorter version of the ceremony, can be found here:

You’ll note it’s shorter than the full ceremony. That’s because they cut out all the bits from Toastmaster, George RR Martin. The edited version is two hours shorter.

That’s right; the full ceremony was three and a half hours long. Two hours of this was George RR Martin reminiscing on his youth, whilst throwing shade at the new generation of Hugo Nominees and fans. Now had George been a gracious host, that might have been charming. But instead it was an old fan using his platform to lecture and bore his community, whilst disapproving of the community he claims to love.

For example, the award for new voices in sci-fi fandom got changed last year from being called ‘The John W Campbell Award’ to ‘The Astounding Award’.  This is mostly because Jeanette Ng pointed out that John W Campbell was a “fucking fascist” and a racist, during her acceptance speech last year for that award.

As Ng acknowledged later; the fans have been trying to get the award changed for years, it’s just that Ng took a stand, risked her career and made the point at a critical time. It prompted the name change.

Martin used his platform to not only mock the way the award had been changed, but to repeatedly talk about Campbell, the noted fascist and racist. Martin would go on to mis-pronounce names (despite given clear guidance to the contrary.) It was a 210 minute dis-fest, punctuated by actually relevant members of the community popping on to accept their awards and say important things about the state of the world.

Worse, Martin changed the narrative of the ceremony.  Most of the speeches mentioned the state of the world right now, which is correct for a science fiction awards ceremony.  Winners talked about the harassment and bigotry they had to cope with from within the publishing world. They talked about the state of Hong Kong and Hungary. They made impassioned speeches that acknowledged the poor state of our planet right now. It was strong stuff. It was stuff that should be said.

And yet, here we are complaining about Martin and his attempt to sweep that all under the table and talk about himself.

This is not the first time George has been rude to those nominated for a Hugo Award. Back before the days of inside toilets and wifi, Martin invented a thing called the Loser’s Party; a silly name for the Hugo Awards Ceremony after-party.  Over the years it’s become a bit of a legend, with talented types from the world of SciFi and Fantasy having fun. It’s become more than what it once was, much like the SciFi community itself.

Last year, at Dublin 2019– An Irish Worldcon,  it was held at the spacious Guinness Storehouse. Martin later admitted that he had under-estimated the number of guests attending and it’s clear that certain cliques got in over others.  You would assume that a Hugo Losers party would prioritise those nominated for a Hugo Award but didn’t win.  Instead, the venue hit capacity and a number of the ‘losers’ couldn’t get in. They were left, outside in the rain. For hours. Waiting to get in to their own party

Just let that sink in; the Hugo Losers party didn’t prioritise the Hugo Losers on the guest list. Though of course George and friends did get in.  George RR Martin, a man who cannot organise a piss-up in a brewery.

The seemingly deliberate disrespect Martin gave to Hugo Nominees last night puts that incident in a fresh light: Martin does not care about the younger, more diverse people who now get nominated for a Hugo award. He can’t be bothered to get their names right and to him, the past is more important than the future. This is unsustainable for an organisation that is all about speculating on what tomorrow brings.

Worldcon and The Hugo Awards need to change. Future Worldcons will not only need to be accessible to those who can only access things online, or who choose not to attend a particular location, but it also needs to acknowledge that this is a world that no longer trusts its elders.  Condescending and elite events like the ‘Loser’s Party’ need to go, replaced with something that respects the hard work of those involved with the awards.

The Brit Awards are a slick, well presented show these days. The Hugos need to learn this lesson – the conventions that host it need to spend the money, hire professional hosts and produce something worthy of those the world science fiction community wants to give its highest praise to. That means spending some actual money on the ceremony.

This should have been a celebration of New Zealand’s unique contribution to world of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This should have been a rallying call and an inspiration to the world. Instead it was an ageing white American millionaire rambling on endlessly about the last century, alienating his peers and throwing us back into the past.

Let’s do better in future.


1:  Worldcons are volunteer ran. It’s not a monolithic organisation – those in charge change from convention to convention. It’s a feature, not a bug. It’s incredibly hard work and all of the volunteers and technical teams involved have done an amazing job under difficult circumstances.

Categories: Books, Rants, Writing Tags:

On Starfury Speed and other stories

February 3, 2019 Leave a comment

One of the things about spending a chunk of your life writing about other people’s fictional tales is you think a lot about how stories get put together. And if you’re me, you then get kind of annoyed when other people miss the point and try and pull a good tale apart for all the wrong reasons.

I love good criticism. A well written review is an art in itself. And I adore it when someone takes a great story and takes it apart skilfully. What I can’t stand is when a work gets taken apart because the critic decides that the story itself is wrong. For example, someone complaining that a vampire movie is bad because the vampires can walk in sunlight without exploding1, ignoring the fact that it’s a story and the storyteller can do whatever the hell they like with the tale.

The Starfury Speed trope is a modern example of favouring story over accuracy. It comes from the 90’s TV show Babylon 5. The show featured small fighter craft that happened to be very quick and agile2. Various parts of the story had the ships turning up in the nick of time, or just too late. So obviously fans corner the show’s creator JMS and ask “How fast do Starfuries travel? Or for that matter, any of the show’s many cool spaceships?”

starfury

How does it work? Unless the story is about the science, or that engineering is part of the creators message, then rule of cool applies. And Starfuries are really cool. (Image via TMC-Deluxe )

 

His reply? “At the speed of plot.” It’s a perfect answer from someone whose job it is to tell stories. Expanding on this though, it should be taken as read that if, say, the tabletop miniatures game states that the SA-32A Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury travels at a certain speed, that doesn’t make it a rule that applies to all other media. It’s just a thing they’ve done to make the game work.

Looking for details that aren’t relevant to the story in order to criticise a story is not productive. If your argument that Superman is a bad movie because in the real world people don’t fly, you’ve missed an important step somewhere.

There are lots of examples available. My personal favourite comes from the UK LARP scene, were myself and friends happened to be playing Samurai Badger people in a fantasy setting. Various geeks wanted to impress upon us their knowledge of Feudal Japan by asking us stupid out of character questions and lecturing us at length about how ‘Samurai don’t work that way’. We had to patiently point out to people that we weren’t aware giant badger people existed in the real world.

All of this ties into another frustrating trope, called The Thermian Argument.3 You see, just because a thing works in a story, and you can justify it in the context of the story, doesn’t make you immune from real world criticism. Claiming its okay to overtly mock a whole section of real-world society because you’ve made up this thing that says it’s okay, doesn’t make it okay.

Good criticism is an art in its own right, and it’s healthy to bring stories into their real world context. It is not a contradiction to enjoy a story in its context and then pull it to bits when your pop it on the workbench that is a the real world, or even the context of another genre with different conventions. But deciding that one made-up thing is more valuable than another made up thing because they contradict each other misses the point of stories.

—————-

1: Vampiric allergy to sunlight of course, being something that’s toggled from story to story, and a clue that all vampire stories don’t share the same universe. You’d think this was obvious, but no.
2: The design was so simple that apparently NASA drew inspiration from it during their research into smaller space vehicles. I understand it was a ‘Why didn’t we think of that’ moment.
3: Coined by Folding Ideas here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxV8gAGmbtk. To be clear, The Thermian Argument is where you use a made up thing to defend yourself from criticism about problems wih the stories real world context. You justify something awful by saying ‘It makes sense in the story’.

Categories: Rants, TV

Goodbye to The Nice Guy ™

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Friends and random internet denizens; it’s time we got rid of the term ‘The Nice Guy’. For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, it’s a dating stereotype that has evolved, grown then devolved over the years.

So much so that not only is it now a pretty useless time, it’s also toxic.
Let me break it down.

Back in the 80’s1 and 90s, ‘The Nice Guy’ was a chap who could never get past the first or second date. They’d ask a person out on a date and then never get beyond a nice evening, being let down gently2 with the words “You’re nice, but”3. Such gents would seek advice after the nth rejection. Idiots would tell them things like ‘treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen’, others would point out that maybe have a bath would help. Mileage varied. But the Nice Guy in this case was something of a doormat. Unremarkable and in media, the target of gentle mockery.

At some point, The Nice Guy turned into someone who didn’t even ask people out on dates. Instead, they mooned round after the target of their affections instead. Romantically incompetent and prone to whining that the people they fancy never fancy them back. Filled with fear and bad advice, this version is a common target of hilarious romantic comedies.4

That prick Ross from Friends.

Ross from Friends. Not your Role Model.

It was then a short hop and a jump to something a lot more creepy. It became Nice Guy™, someone who feigned affection in order to achieve goals, had an almost narcissistic expectation for people to like them and thought of other people as objects. This lead to a whole ‘people aren’t vending machines’ meme, in which everyone was helpfully informed that being nice to someone doesn’t mean they owe you anything.5

So what we have here is a mess. A shift in perspective from the shy and clueless to a mean and entitled predator. None of which addresses the issue. What we need, instead of Hollywood stereotypes and memes is a frank and brutal conversation about romantic intentions and expectations.

You see, I understand Romantic Incompetence. Dating is, for many of us, terrifying. It’s not just rejection; for every charming tale of love and adventure they are many real world anecdotes of embarrassment, harassment and bodily harm. Ending a date and simply being told ‘You’re nice but no’ is, in fact, a reasonable if not terribly satisfying ending.

But of course, when you’re young and filled with nerves and conflicting emotions, that is impossible to see.

It’s all made worse by the fact that others take to it easily. We are surrounded by love stories that make no sense when examined closely. Attraction, love and lust are highly individual things and humans like ‘one size fits all’ solutions. The lovely tale of how your grand-parents met might be someone else’s worst date ever, or the premise of horror novel.

We need to drop the notion of the ‘Nice Guy’. All versions of him. For a start, nice isn’t really a thing to aspire to. Nice is the lowest level of remarkable, it sits in the same set of words as okay and reasonable. People expect nice, so aiming for ‘above nice’ should be the target. Nice is a bit too close to boring, and that’s not something most of us want. Like anything worth doing, relationships can be hard work6 and we need to start being blunt about that. Men, Women and all points in-between need to have a frank and honest chat about their hearts. We need to stop laughing at the lonely, and stop pretending that it’s easy.

We need to work together to make a world where dating is less scary7, and romantic comedies are less awful.


1: I’m grew up in the 80’s. My timing is probably off, but this seems a decent yardstick.
2: No one like rejection, no matter how gentle. It’s easy to see how, after a while, frustration sets in.
3: “You’re nice but you don’t have a nice butt”
4: It becomes more common if you flip it so the Nice Guy is a Nice Gal.
Because Hollywood.
5: It makes me sad that it needed saying, but then the obvious often needs to be stated repeatedly. Look at traffic signs – people need to be reminded of basic things.
6: Though to be mushy for a moment, so much worth it.

7: This would be that ‘smash the patriarchy’ thing people keep talking about. But that’s another blog post.

Categories: Rants

The Lime In the Coconut

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I was listening to the Reservoir Dogs Soundtrack recently, a collection of music that many people who happened to be teenagers in the 90’s happen to own, partially because Reservoir Dogs was the coolest movie ever back in the 90’s and mostly because it’s a really good collection of songs. Anyway, after I’d finished my dive into nostalgia by jumping up and down around the room to Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling, I started to ponder the question of my generation.

What the hell is Harry Nilsson’s song Coconut all about?

It doesn’t mean anything1. There’s no subtle message to the song, no hidden meaning. The simple truth is that both coconuts and limes are things that people eat when they’re feeling a little bit ill. Both bits of food are packed full of stuff that’s good for you (apparently) and the words have nice feel to them. The lyrics are sung in a very specific way and it’s fun to wrap your laughing gear round co-co-nut, preferably whilst shaking your bum and having fun.

"I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren't there"

“I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there”

That hasn’t stopped people from endlessly deciding that it must mean something. There’s something about humanity’s ability to take a simple song about nothing of real consequence and decide that it must contain the wisdom of the ages. For some of us it’s not enough to simply wiggle our bodies about and have a giggle, everything has to mean something. This makes everything terribly serious, even having fun becomes an academic endeavour.

“It means nothing” is as a valid and important meaning as any other.2 Sometimes simple is good. The world is filled with meaning and context after all, not everything needs layers. If you really need a meaning, try this one on for size; Coconut is a request to shut up and dance. Stop your jaw from flapping and your chin from pondering and have a little jiggle.


1: Okay, we could make a serious argument between Authorial Intent and Critical Response, but honestly if you’re critical response to a silly song about fruit is to turn it into something dark and mysterious then you’ve pretty much left the realms of valid criticism and moved into the mystical land of pulling stuff out of your arse.

2: As a response, it’s almost as important as that great and powerful answer “No one knows”, though the response to that should always be “well let’s find out”, even if the answer turns out to be a cosmic shrug of the shoulders.

Categories: Rants

Controversy Goblins

March 3, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m not going to talk about the Jonathan Ross/Hugo Awards debacle, or at least not come down on a side and try to analyse it. There’s been plenty of coverage both from the Geek and mainstream media, but long story short: Ross was announced as the host of the latest Hugo awards and then pulled out 8 hours later after twitter became filled with people objecting.

I ended up catching up on this particular rain of bird-poo1 after all the excitement was over, and one of the things I noticed wasn’t so much the insults, but the preening.

After a certain point, it would have been clear to anyone (especially the target of the attacks) that the LonCon’s choice of Master of Ceremonies was making people unhappy and yet people continued to join in to throw a stone or two; the barrage even continued after Ross stepped down. It had stopped being about the issue and had become about being seen to be involved.

What helped me understand why people kept throwing @ shaped stones after the fact was noticing how many made massively sweeping assumptions people were making so they could personally tie the events to themselves. In most cases this was done quickly with poor research and the most shaky of justifications, such was the rush to be seen as being involved.

Twitter is at least partially about ego; you make pithy statements in order to get people to ‘follow’ you and the more followers you get can equal a sort of approval rating.

It’s addictive, this sort of approval. Whereas web forums have their trolls, Twitter has the power to make even the meekest of person a sort of fast moving, rampantly self-involved creature desperate for the approval of others; a controversy goblin if you will.

Given the number of controversies the genre community has had recently, I’m rather worried that many of us have become addicted to goblinisation. That would be a shame; it’s a great community. Perhaps by looking out for such behaviour in the future, we can all avoid unleashing the little monster inside us and actually debate the issues like the forward thinking people we claim to be.

But then, I am an optimist.


1: There has to be a better phrase than ‘tweet-storm’ for these pointless fights.

Categories: Rants

Mr Banks versus The Grumpy

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

More and more these days, it seems every Hollywood movie that comes out immediately hits a wall of criticism for simply existing, often weeks before anyone has actually seen the thing. The movie that’s currently enjoying this sort of attention is Saving Mr Banks, a star studded retelling of the production Mary Poppins, focusing on media mogul Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the creator of the Mary Poppins and children’s author, PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson).

Predictably, it’s already drawn criticism that the film doesn’t focus on Traver’s back story enough; she was an interesting person with a rich and full life, and the movie focuses on a narrow band of her experience. Those looking to fling mud also point out that Disney have made a movie about their founder that paints him in a positive light, which is an odd criticism when you consider it; why would a light-hearted feature about the creation of a classic children’s movie overfill it’s plate with the darker side of the human condition? Critics seem keen to dig out their grudges against Hollywood and Disney and particular, and whine at length at about how unfairly the material has been treated.

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

This approach both confuses and amuses me. Because if I wanted to be educated and informed, I’d pick up several books on the matter, perhaps seek out a few documentaries. Movies like this are meant to entertain first and foremost1. Being critical of this sort of movie whilst failing to acknowledge it’s validity as a source material is to fundamentally miss the point.2. A word to the wise; simply ranting about how a dramatisation isn’t as historical accurate as you want it to be is one of those things people do to appear deep and clever, but typically reveals them to be pedantic, shallow and rather mean instead.

Disney can be relied on to entertain; that’s their job and they’ve gotten better and better at it over the years. If you’re expecting Disney to teach you the real and true history behind some of its classic works, then that’s either naïve or you’re deliberately looking for things to be snarky about.

Let’s be honest, most of us had not even thought about Travers until this film came out. The movie is almost fifty years old, so many of saw the film on telly when we were too small to consider who made the film or what its origins are. It’s a familiar thing that has always been there, so it’s likely that you’ve taken its existence for granted. That fact alone makes Saving Mr Banks something I want to see, I would hazard a guess that those who already knew about Traver’s life are now vastly outnumbered by those who have gone out and educated themselves as a result of this recent exposure.


1: Put it this way, you are as likely to learn real Scottish history from Highlander as you are from Braveheart.

2 : I call this the Daniel Day Lewis effect. To my knowledge, Lewis has never appeared in a movie based on history that didn’t take total liberties with the source material.

Categories: Geek, Movies, Rants

International Please Don’t Pirate Books Day

February 6, 2013 8 comments

Over on Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds he invited people to talk about Book Piracy. Now it being me, the first thing that sprung to my mind was a dystopian Waterworld style future in which the most precious things in the world are books.

After all, if most of the landmasses on the planet became flooded and we all lived on re-purposed ships and barges, things that float would be at a premium. Those floating villages that could rig up enough power to run electrical devices probably wouldn’t waste that precious resource on e-readers, so it would be down to keeping surviving collections of books in a safe and dry place. Librarians would be more heroic than they are today, carrying shotguns and strictly enforcing fines.

All of this would lead to book piracy, of course. Tricorn wearing men and women would roam the seas in powerful ocean-going vessels, seeking out the precious booty of books. Libraries would be the targets of these terrible raiders (who presumably speak in Cornish accents), and librarians would have to protect those who wish to steal these stores of knowledge for their own selfish gain. Huge campaigns would be waged over the last surviving copies of House on Pooh Corner and adventurers would go off on quests to find the legendary “Amazon”, a mythical place that they say is filled with books.

Floating Villages are not a good place to store books

Floating Villages are not a good place to store books

Of course, when they say “Book Piracy” they might mean illegal file-sharing. It’s an interesting problem that isn’t as modern as we like to think it is. Art, be it movies, music, or books, needs to be shared and enjoyed by the community in order to be worth anything. As someone who makes a very modest living from writing, I want my work to do two things; be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and I also want to be paid. If the work isn’t good enough, it doesn’t sell. If I charge too much, it doesn’t sell, and both of those are fine; it’s on me to make sure it’s good work, reasonably priced and on time. If everyone steals my work then I don’t get paid at all, and I have to find something else to do in order to stay safe, fed, happy and living.

People will always seek to share art. This is such a fundamental thing that we even have a whole skill-set devoted to it. People train to be librarians, museum attendants and curators. A society that seeks to punish someone for wanting to enjoy music, view dramas or read books has gone wrong somewhere; we need to feed our brains almost as much as we need to feed our bellies, and if you try and deprive them of this right, then the metaphorical pirate ships will arrive.

The modern argument about file-sharing seems to be one of greed. On the one extreme you have people who wish to take everything for granted and never pay anyone for anything. On the other extreme you have people who want to charge people large sums of money for anything anyone has ever created. Neither of these are sensible approaches, a good book should not be the privilege of the wealthy or those with flexible morals. The middle ground for this debate is that of the public library, and subscription sharing services like Books Free. I like the idea of a service that mails books to me for a modest fee, though I’d be happier if they made sure the fee stayed modest and within the reach of everbody.

What is your take on this debate? Comments below please.

Categories: Books, Rants

Bring Back Jupiter Moon

January 28, 2013 1 comment

Once in a while, there’s a rush of interest when some actor/director/geek celeb mentions the possibility of a much loved TV series being remade, or coming back to TV in some way. In a way it’s the fault of Star Trek; there was a show that was cancelled, came back as a series of movies, and then went on to be re-imagined in many different ways. Collar a random nerd in the street and they will almost certainly have some show or other that they want to see re-done or just resurrected. These days it tends to be Firefly1, but it can easily be Blakes 7 or even Star Cops.

Do you know what TV series they should bring back? Jupiter Moon. For those of you who have never heard of it, Jupiter Moon was the flagship soap opera of the long defunct British Satelite Broadcasting company, and vanished shortly after Sky bought BSB out. The characters lived in a re-conditioned space ship that orbited Calypso, one of Jupiter’s Moons (hence the name). The ship, called the Ilea2 functioned as a university for students studying the cosmos. It had no aliens, no monsters, and at no point did anyone have a teleport accident and devolve into a weird lizard-duck creature. Set in 2050, all the technology was based on conservative estimates to what would be possible by then, so it had a very down-to-earth feel.

The ILEA. Beats the Rover's Return hands down in terms of awesome.

The ILEA. Beats the Rover’s Return hands down in terms of awesome.

So was Jupiter Moon any good? Well, not really. It spent far too much time telling the viewer that it was set in the future and not enough time on being a soap opera. However, when it did concentrate on the more mundane elements it really shone. This is because the show was really about people living in a remote place and having to work together to get on. Cramming characters into a confined space a letting them talk tends to work as a drama3, and the hazards and emptiness of space do a decent enough job of adding an element of the exotic to the show.

So why remake it? Because it would be a science fiction show for a people who don’t watch science fiction. In the same way that The Big Bang Theory isn’t for nerds, a remade Jupiter Moon would hand the wonder of the stars to those who have never really looked up. It would also allow the broadcaster to educate and entertain. The format would allow the public an ‘easy way in’ to the idea of space exploration, and could be used to gather more interest in the sciences. It’s also a rich vein of drama; sure you could do a similar show set on a remote island or oil rig, but neither of those settings are quite as awesome a reconditioned space ship orbiting a moon of Jupiter.

So the next time you watch a soap opera, ask yourself “Would this be improved by being in space?” Because surely, the answer is yes.


1: As much as I love the show and the movie, if they ever relaunch Firefly it will be with an all new cast. Though I can’t see it myself; Whedon has been given the keys to the Marvel toybox, I suspect he’ll be busy for a while.
2: A pun. Named after the Inner London Education Authority.
3: If you don’t believe me, consider why Big Brother continues to be on the air.

Categories: Rants, TV

How I review things

January 7, 2013 5 comments

In 2012, I wrote over a hundred reviews for Starburst Magazine, and plan to write many more this year. Writers often talk about their creative process and the like, so I thought you might be interested in what I do when I get something in for review.

The first thing I do is read the damned press release, if one is attached. Often this is just a fluff piece, and tends to be designed for journalists looking for filler. Some publications will do a ‘new releases’ page, and you can often find the press release slightly reworded in those sort of sections. Obviously, they don’t get used in proper reviews, but they can be a source of useful information, such as when the book is coming out and if the author is available for an interview.1

The next thing is to use whatever it is I’m meant to review. If it’s a book, I’ll read it, if it’s an audio, I’ll listen, etc. The awkward one in this set are boardgames; I prefer to play the game as many different times as I can with as many different people, as it allows for a fairer assessment of the game. With books, I’m blessed with a decent read speed; I don’t speed read, I just read really fast. If it’s an author I know well, I tend to read them faster because I’m familiar with their voice. I have a good memory for writing styles, so it doesn’t take me long to adjust to a known authors rhythm.2 I tend to have two books on the go at any one time, and use novels as a way to fill in the gaps of a day.

Comic books are also different; I can read a 200+ page graphic novel trade paperback very, very quickly. Comics are the thing that got me into reading in the first place, and most of the ones I get these days tend to come to me digitally so the house isn’t littered with the things.3

(c) Charles Monroe Schulz

Review writing is still writing. You can still get stuck, it still requires discipline.

When it comes to writing the review, I have multiple considerations. First, the review has to fit the format of the magazine or blog I’m writing it for. Mostly, this is Starburst Magazine so it has to be a short (500 words or so) piece about something that is Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Horror themed. I can do in-depth analysis and the like, but really, anything over 1500 words is a feature, and should be approached differently.4

The audience are the reason why you are writing the review. You are not writing the review for the publisher or the author, the point of the piece is to function as a consumer guide to help others decide if they want to purchase it. You need to be clear, honest, precise and accurate. Readers rarely want spoilers, but they do want a rough idea of how complex the work is. This often means you have to talk in general terms, but it’s important not to get bogged down in the details. Plot summaries should be concise and explain esoteric concepts in broad terms. Even horribly complicated conceits can be dumbed down; the point of the summary isn’t to show the reader how clever you are in understanding big ideas, it’s to communicate those big ideas in order to help the reader. Your audience does not care about how smart you think you are, they want you to explain the work to them in clear terms.

If the thing I’m reviewing isn’t a book, I tend to talk about production values as well; the quality of the pieces for boardgames, the ease of use if it’s an audio piece, how easy it is to get to the venue, etc. I tend to avoid talking about how a book is put together; the formats for novels are pretty standard and are rarely remarkable. You also have to take care to not be too technical; this is entertainment, not a thesis.

Finally, we have the score. Like many reviewers, I don’t like giving out a score, I want you to read the article I worked hard on rather than just checking the number at the bottom. However, it is a useful tool, but readers should always remember it’s just another part of the overall critique, rather than the aim of the review. I tend to set my standards by similar works. For example, if it’s an urban fantasy novel, then to get a Ten out of Ten, it needs to be as good as Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a book I’ve read many, many times and I love dearly. That’s my bar, and I set it pretty high, otherwise a ten is worthless.

I also have a short list of books deserving the score of one and again, these are rare. Most of my calibration is done by considering previous works that I consider to be average, and working from there. I tend to be slightly more generous to output from small businesses, but I don’t have any time for vanity work. For example, that means I tend to give small press books a second reading, but if it’s clearly just been thrown out there to appease the writer’s ego, then I will be merciless.

I also love debut novels, and am delighted when a new author is brilliant from the very start. Context is also important to the score; a consistently brilliant five-part series impresses me far more than a rather good one off, though books that just stop rather than end (because they’re part of a trilogy) will never get a ten; each work should stand on its own merits.

Once the review is published, you then need to contact the person who gave you the thing you examined, and tell them it’s online. This is common courtesy, and ensures a good working relationship. I tend to housekeep at the end of every month, which means some suppliers get a boatload of reviews in one go.

So that’s my method, as raw as it is. My approach seems to work and people seem to like the reviews, so I think it’s valid. I am very lucky to have a platform to inflict my opinions on the world and hope to do so for some time.


1: I love interviewing authors. I tend to ask a bunch of specific questions and then a hand full of fun ‘standard’ questions. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that authors prefer truth to beauty but it’s still a nice question to ask.
2: They are some writers who mix it up every other book or so, however. This tends to make it very refreshing and these authors tend to be very prolific.
3: The house has many, many books. We need more shelves.
4: By which I mean more research. I do like research, who doesn’t like learning things?

Categories: Rants