Saturday, 5 April 2014

Some books of note

In and amongst the Doctor Who and Star Trek and H.G. Wells I've been reading so far this year, there are some other books that have made an impression on me. As well as the ones described below, I've particularly enjoyed Unnatural Creatures, a collection of monster stories edited by Neil Gaiman; the third volume of Saga, still the best comic out there right now; and Paul Magrs's gorgeous novel Could It Be Magic? 

I conclude several things from my recent reading. Firstly, I really do read a hell of a lot of Doctor Who related stuff. Secondly, I am still mostly reading books written by men, and need to read more written by women. Maybe I should spend six months only reading stuff by female authors. Thirdly, I should probably spend more time with non-fiction.

Junk by Melvin Burgess, 1996

Recommended to me by my good friend Naomi. Quite why I'd never picked up a Melvin Burgess book before now is beyond me; I'd heard great things about him, but never read his work. Junk (called Smack in the USA) is a very adult children's book, telling the story of two teens who run away from home, and slowly descend into heroin addiction and its related joys and horrors. It's written in an easy style, but harsh in its truths, and doesn't flinch in showing the junkie lifestyle in honesty – both its attractions and its consequences. It's not a story where anyone really comes off well; everyone has their selfish reasons for doing what they do.

Adventures With the Wife in Space by Neil Perryman, 2013

An utterly charming account of the life and love of Neil and Sue Perryman, and their monumental quest to watch all of Doctor Who together, as long as their marriage could stand it. Neil is the sort of obsessed Doctor Who geek I can easily relate to, who has achieved such magnificent feats as planting a Cyberman at the peak of Kilimanjaro. Sue was never a fan, she didn't like Jon Pertwee because he looked like her mum, and she was more interested in carpentry than production styles. Who better to find new things to say about the series than Sue, who had no fan preconceptions? She calls the third Doctor a cunt and the first Doctor a “total knob.” It's a joyous read, funny and sweet, and now I have to go and read the whole blog from start to finish. And, like most men following it, I've developed a bit of a crush on Sue.

The Doctor and the Eye Doctor by Aboud Dandachi, 2014

A very different account of Doctor Who, this one. Aboud Dandachi is one of the many Syrians displaced by the civil war, and lived through some of the worst events of its first years, sneaking reports to the BBC. During the time before he finally fled to Turkey, he discovered Doctor Who, and his intermittent downloads of the latest series gave him a comforting distraction from the horrors around him. Comparing the Doctor's approach to that of the murderous dictator and incompetent Bashar al-Assad is a strange concept, but works surprisingly well. The Doctor and the Eye Doctor takes a look at life, death and warfare that is eye-opening and sobering, yet good-humoured.

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, 1995

Eric Lomax grew up with a love of trains. My own obsessions are self-evident, so I can understand a man with a desperate need to understand engineering specifications and line layouts. During WWII, Lomax was stationed in Singapore during its capture by the Japanese, and became a prisoner of war. He was part of the brutal slave labour team that was forced to build rail links between Bangkok and Rangoon. This was not the worst of it, though, and he was later imprisoned for crimes against Japan and interred in a truly appalling prison. The treatment of these prisoners by the Japanese was horrific, and enough to break any man's spirit. Lomax, however, was able, with great difficulty and support, to move beyond his experiences, and even came to befriend and forgive his former interrogator. It's a very upsetting read, powerful in spite of the plain prose, and quite humbling. Having been to Kanchanaburi, the location of the POW camp where Lomax was first imprisoned, and seen the River Kwai Bridge, and the graveyards there, made reading the first-hand experiences of one of the labourers all the more powerful.

One final conclusion: perhaps the best way to be happy with oneself is to be serious about hte silly things, and silly about the serious things. Spend less time dwelling on the failures and sufferings of our past, and more time on train timetables and episode guides. We all need something to obsess about.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Robert Rankin's ridiculous illustrated book, Alice on Mars, is being adapted into a film!

Bestselling writer of far-fetched fiction Robert Rankin, author of the Brentford Trilogy, Armageddon: The Musical and The Toyminator, among others, has joined forces with producer/director Martin Gooch, director of the award-winning films Search for Simon and After Death and contributor to such productions as Judge Dredd and The Muppets.

The team have launched an Indiegogo fundraiser with tons of perks to help finance this movie. They've also created a promo video to give a flavour of the production and introduce the cast. Check it out.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Star Trek: Axanar

I've just become aware of a very interesting fan production entitled Star Trek: Axanar, which is currently seeking funding through Kickstarter. Axanar tells the story of the Battle of Axanar, the pivotal engagement that saved the Federation. It takes place in 2245, the year of the launch of the USS Enterprise under Robert April, ninety years after the series Enterprise and twenty years before the original series. Garth of Izar, the legendary hero of Axanar who appeared in reduced circumstances in the episode 'Whom Gods Destroy' is the primary character, but several other new and established characters are involved too. has all the details. The test footage shows some really remarkable effects. Filming should have just begun, but the production is still seeking funding. It will be preceded by a documentary-styled 'Prelude to Axanar' which will set out the background of the conflict. There's an impressive cast that boasts some familiar faces. If all goes well, the film should be out by the end of year. I'm looking forward to this one.

HAMMERAMA: The Reptile (1966)

Hmmm, The Reptile... I'd expected good things from this one. It's supposedly a bit of a fan favourite. To be honest though, it was a little boring. By 1966, Hammer already had the “two strangers come to an isolated village” format down pat, but even so, this feels pretty formulaic and takes an age to get going. The Edwardian setting doesn't really add anything; this could take place at pretty much anytime with little change to the story. A great deal of the story takes place in the daytime, which is eminently sensible from a filming and logistics point of view but does rob the film of atmosphere. This is crying out to be filmed at night! The best scene is undoubtedly where the protagonist, Spalding (Ray Barrett) and his publican ally Bailey (Tom Ripper) exhume Spalding's brother from the cemetery in the middle of the night and the pissing rain. It's creepy as hell, with the sort of atmospherics that the bulk of the movie lacks.

The film only really gets going once Private Frazer – I mean, John Laurie – turns up at Mad Peter, an excitable vagrant, but they kill off this most enjoyable character quite early on. Jennifer Daniel is pretty good as Mrs Spalding, a more proactive heroine than most films of this genre tend to have, although she inevitably needs rescuing in the climactic scenes. The misguided antagonist, Dr. Franklyn – given great presence by Noel William – is a treat. Sinister at all times, he completely loses his shit with his daughter in one disturbing scene, leading Spalding to protest in the most English way possible. “I know it's not my place to interfere, but -” He's pretty useless for most of the film, even if he does man up when the Reptile bites him. Bailey from the pub is the real hero.

The Reptile itself is a great concept, but doesn't come off too well on screen. It's gimmick – a bite that injects a necrotic venom – is brilliant. The victims of the “Black Death” - more of a bluey-green death, really – die in a truly horrible fashion, their flesh putrefying as they foam at the mouth and collapse. Once we see the Reptile in all its glory though, it's disappointing. I realise the monster is an iconic Hammer image, but it's a frankly terrible make-up job, poorly designed and clearly impossible to see out of.

Jacqueline Pearce is wonderful as Anna, Dr. Franklyn's cursed daughter. She's sexual and innocent at the same time, terrified of her father yet doting on him, with an undercurrent of inappropriate attraction between them. Marne Maitland has little to do as her Malay keeper – he mostly just stands around, looking shifty and foreign. Pearce is excellent as Anna, but clearly suffering under the Reptile make-up once her character transforms. It's a shame that her experience under the make-up was so bad that it put her off this sort of role permanently. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

This is currently the wallpaper on my phone's lock screen. It's by Rachael Stott, a freelance illustrator who is both extremely talented and uber-geeky. You should check out her blog.

(Also thanks to my friends Tanya and Mlle de la Mort, who both searched the interwebs for me to find out drew this.)